The Threat of the Religious Right (1985)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

The Threat of the Religious Right (1985)

I want to tell you tonight that there is a movement in America today, a disparate movement of many parts; secular, church-based, political; a movement that doesn’t want you to think of it as a movement per se, but one which is moving inexorably forward with its own vision of America – a vision that you and I and our Founding Fathers do not, and cannot, share.  And all we are doing, for the most part, is looking on.

In times of hardship, voices of stridency and division always replace those of reason and unity, and the results have always been a deterioration of free and open dialogue, a tension among races, classes and religions, and the temptation to grasp at simple solutions to complex problems.

In our time of hardship, it is the ultra-fundamentalist evangelists of the electronic church and their absolutist counterparts, in and out of politics, that feed on the deep and valid concerns of the mass of Americans.  With the growing division between the haves and the have-nots, the shifting, uncertain nature of jobs and job opportunities, the increase of street crime and violence, the surging growth of our drug problems, the splintering of American family life, the mounting concerns over nuclear proliferation, our people may be more anxious, frustrated and fearful than at any time in recent history.

Responding to this time of crisis is a new breed of monopolists, monopolists of truth and values, with their simplistic solutions to our most complex problems.  We have lost our way, they say, because we have turned our back on Jesus and followed the devices and desires of our own hearts – and America’s purity and strength can be restored only if the nation submits to the political and moral answers which they see as Biblically self-evident.

To disagree with this extremist coalition on numerous matters of morality and politics is to be labeled “satanic,” “anti-religion,” “unpatriotic,” or “anti-family.”

These moralists see the dissonant variety inherent in this blessed pluralistic society; they see Christians who disagree with other Christians; they see Jews and Buddhists and Muslims, people of all races and religions and lifestyles; they see hotheads, sybarites and ascetics, mockers and madmen; they see people who decline to submit to an ordered morality….and it frightens them.

And so they would tame the dissidents.  They would contract this multi-faceted land into their own tiny garden of saints.  To make us properly moral, they would settle for a nation where there is no way of life which differs from their notion of a Biblically oriented family.  This is their vision for America – a society composed of solid, middle-class, one-morality families, leading conformed lives on the model of a colony of ants.

From “Whose Vision for America?” at the Central Synagogue, New York City, May 10, 1985, upon receiving the Shofar Award.