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|31 March 2005|
Rejoice!Terri Schiavo's death is a reason for hope. Because it was an affirmation of her wishes (as determined by extensive legal struggle). And because it thereby heralds a victory for the American experiment in democracy, which is based on the premise that we have a right to determine our own lives.
We've just won a battle against the forces which want to see the destruction of our constitutional system and the introduction of theocratic fascism. Forces which want to remove your right to control your own life, your own body, and impose their religious beliefs as the final criteria for your actions. Make no mistake about it: the stated goal of those who wanted to insert the powers of the state into the private matter of a husband seeking to fulfill his wife's wishes not to be kept artificially alive was to impose their beliefs on Terri and Michael Schiavo, regardless of the law. They have admitted as much. James Dobson of religious group Focus on the Family, aligned with the Republican leadership on the Schiavo case, said recently "I don't believe in a right to die. I think that God is in control of our destiny."
Fascism is the consolidation of the powers of the State in service to the goals or ideals of a particular party, individual, or belief. Theocratic fascism would be the alignment of the powers of the State with a particular religion, such as we've seen with the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Ayatollahs in Iran. Most Americans recoil at the idea of a theocracy here, and say that it would never happen. But then, before the Taliban took control and promised law & order in the midst of the civil chaos most Afghans didn't want a theocracy there. Reportedly, most Iranians would be happy to see their politics decoupled from religion, to have the religious police and courts butt out of their lives. It doesn't take a majority to support the onset of theocratic fascism - it only takes a majority not to oppose it.
And that's where the Schiavo case has made a huge difference. The ham-handed intrusion of the Congress and the President on behalf of the religious right into this matter caught the attention of the general public in a way that the protests at her hospice never did. Watching the full weight of the federal legislature come crashing down on what was a very personal matter made the vast majority of American realize just how close we are to losing control of our democracy. The politicians involved, sensing the outrage they had created, decided to back off and let the courts handle the case. The courts, in keeping with well-established precedent, did just that, allowing Terri Schiavo to die a natural death.
This past Sunday I took my elderly mother-in-law to her Baptist church for Easter services. The nice man at the front of the church told how Christ's disciples, when first confronted with the reality of the Resurrection, didn't really seem to understand the full import of what had happened. It was like they couldn't wrap their brains around the idea that their world had just fundamentally changed. Death no longer held sway. There was a new covenant, and for those of faith, there was the promise of redemption in an afterlife. This basic premise of Christian belief was too new to them, too hard for them to accept at first. Obviously, it changed for them, and the disciples went on to establish what we now understand as Christianity. But it took work, and sacrifice.
Perhaps in the same way we've just witnessed another fundamental change. No longer are the forces which want to impose their radical beliefs more or less invisible to the majority of the American public. And those who thought that they could use the religious right as foot soldiers without paying a price with the rest of the electorate have now been caught red-handed. The responsibility we all have now is to remember what we've seen, and to see that those who tried this are held accountable.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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