08/28/2012 05:13 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Calling It What It Is

When people hear their god and act according to his instructions, we either medicate them or elect them to public office, depending on their actions. We should not have to do is follow those who received those instructions if we don't wish to.

The Republican Party seems to have forgotten that this is a nation with a lot of Christians, not a Christian nation. Our founding fathers made sure that that would be the case, and that people who did not choose to follow any particular religious dogma would not be compelled to do so. The principles they inculcated into our governmental system may be called god-given, but they would be the same in any enlightened society.

The recent melee over Todd Akin and, by association, Paul Ryan, does as much damage to the image of both their belief systems as it does to their political images. Once again, the abortion debate is tied up with phony, religion-driven conceptions of scientific fact. When science is contorted to fit preconceived religious constructs of what the universe is like, you end up with Galileo recanting his observations on the workings of the universe. Had his facts not been derisively shoved in his face, Akin would have gone to his grave believing that raped women had special protection against pregnancy. Deep down, he may still believe it.

People like Akin and Ryan believe that our nation is beset by godlessness, and that they must rally us under the banner of religion, whether we choose to follow or not. As a result, abortion and gay marriage become anathema. The same natural science responsible for laptop computers and putting us on the moon suddenly fails in carbon dating, making the earth 5,000 years old. Darwin is a fool. Intelligent design explains how men could have hunted dinosaurs. How much of a leap is it to pronounce two divided cells a person, or to ignore all the studies showing that gay Americans are perfectly capable of raising children? Let's compound this by putting Todd Akin on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (upon which he does serve), and legitimize his brand of zealotry with the imprimatur of an important committee membership.
Everyone dances around the simple pronouncement of what the abortion and gay marriage debates are about: religion, which is itself grounded in the exigencies of our distant past. At one time, propagating the species was the most important thing the human race could do. Society was agrarian and warlike. Men were needed to plow the fields and carry spears. Women were needed to feed the men and make more of them. Anything that reduced the likelihood of cranking out cannon fodder (or, arrow fodder in those days) was forbidden in the way that it could be enforced most easily, through religious caveat. If a god forbade homosexuality or birth control, one could not argue with the rectitude of the concept.

The Republicans face the dilemma of trying to rule a nation where religious belief is not only not homogeneous, but is not required at all. This begs the following question: why can't an atheist have an abortion or engage in a same-sex marriage? The truth is that there is no scientific basis for declaring when a fetus is a person (sorry, ensoulment doesn't count). Even if one states that a fetus should be considered a person once it is capable of existence outside the mother's body, which might be reasonable, it would not mitigate against abortion in the first four months of pregnancy, nor would it prohibit abortion in cases of genetic abnormality that would lead to the inevitable death of a fetus, either during or immediately after gestation. As a result, an anti-abortion constitutional amendment based strictly on a religious concept and with no scientific foundation would contradict the first amendment and set up the kind of constitutional crisis we've never faced.

The origin of the idea that marriage must be between members of opposite sexes is tribal, and, by extension, religious. My wife (who is a woman) suggested to me a simple solution to the issue. Let all unions be civil unions carried out in simple civil ceremonies. Then, anyone interested in religious validation could go ahead and have as large a church wedding as one wished; a simple solution that will never gain any traction in a puritanical nation that is still uncomfortable with its atheists.

Todd Akin would probably have been more comfortable being born 1,000 years ago. He could have taxed his constituents (it was OK in those days) to buy his armor and warhorse, and he could have ridden to the holy land to fight the infidel. For many of us, those days are over. For the Republicans, however, religion still trumps science, and we are still fighting the infidel. Sometimes that infidel is in the Middle East, but, at others, he's right here at home.