As I watched the election returns, I felt a profound sense of despair and hopelessness. If the accusations of voter fraud were not true, the American people had chosen to re-elect one of the worst administrations in history, in spite of the debacle of the last four years. How could this have happened? What were they thinking?
And then I saw the exit polls: people cited "moral values" as one of the top reasons they voted for Bush. Even those who felt that the war in Iraq was wrong and that Bush had hurt the economy still voted for him because of his "strong moral beliefs."
At first I thought about leaving the country or giving up on activism altogether. But then I realized that this election was a wake-up call.
Battle lines had been drawn. Those of us who think that government (indeed, people in general) should make decisions based on reason and enlightenment were beaten by those who think decisions should be based on religion -- specifically, fundamentalist religion.
But it goes beyond this election. I feel that fundamentalist belief systems are inherently damaging to the individual and to society. I know this because I once was a born-again Christian (I even prayed in tongues). I know that when you adhere to a rigid set of beliefs that allows for no questioning or individual thought, things become "clear" in dangerous ways. It's one of the reasons Islamic fundamentalists have been able to recruit terrorists to do the horrible things they've done. And make no mistake -- fundamentalists in America are enacting their own form of terrorism, albeit without physical violence.
We've all watched the fundamentalist movement grow in America. We've seen creationism returning to schools; efforts to replace sex education with "abstinence only" programs that falsely claim condoms don't work; efforts to censor textbooks and TV shows; Halloween "Hell Houses" that use high-tech theater to scare teens into thinking that everyone who is gay will die of AIDS and go to hell; the list goes on and on.
A 1997 poll found that 43 percent of Americans who believe in heaven also believe there are harps there! The possibility that those people are taking over our country is frightening. If this movement continues to snowball, it could throw us back into another Dark Ages. The Age of Reason could be coming to an end, replaced by an Age of "Faith" -- rigid, uncompromising, intolerant faith that leaves no room for debate or discussion.
Those of us who believe in freedom of thought and empowerment must accept that this is war. The radical right has known it for years and has even said as much. But we've been too timid to call it that, for fear of sounding elitist and trampling on people's right to their beliefs.
But I'm saying it now: fundamentalism, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, is dangerous and wrongheaded. It prevents people from doing what we are all here to do: to learn, to grow, to become more enlightened. It blocks the flow of information to people who need it -- and AIDS activists know that the main weapon in our battle has always been education and self-empowerment.
So from this day forward, I dedicate myself to fighting any belief system that prevents the human race from moving forward. Anything less, and we risk a return to the time when superstition and magic prevailed over science and reasoning.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating a war on organized religion or spiritual beliefs. This is a call to stop the kind of fundamentalism that reduces people to sins rather than seeing them as human beings. It is a non-violent call to arms against the kind of "moralism" that used the bible to support slavery and the oppression of women. It is not, I repeat, an attack on religion in general.
Where do we start? Well, we have one weapon in our arsenal: the truth.
Many people who voted for Bush didn't know the facts: 70 percent thought there was "clear evidence" that Saddam Hussein worked closely with Al Qaeda; a third thought that WMDs had been found in Iraq. We know how ignorance has harmed people with HIV; now we're seeing how it can harm our country. Let's fight back with the facts on every issue.
I'm sure others have more ideas. So let s start the discussion -- maybe we can turn this increasingly "faith-based" country back into a reality-based one.