Beware the Religious

The woman named Asia had been held in solitary confinement for eight years. Finally, her case reached the highest court in the land. There, after reviewing the case, the judge ruled that she should be released because the charges against her could not be proven.

An immediate cry went up as mobs called for her execution. Angry demonstrators blocked major roads as the woman went into hiding. It’s expected she will have to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Her crime? She was “accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.”[1]

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against 55-year-old Asia Bibi, a Catholic, denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts were unprovoked despite the testimony of several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Any outrage we as Americans might feel about this situation is quickly tempered when we learn the episode took place in Pakistan. We proudly believe we’re not a nation where religious fanatics control the government, where any hint of blasphemy against the dominant religion is a capital offense. Unlike Muslim Pakistanis, we wouldn’t kill a governor because he defended the woman or murder a government official after he called for justice in the case.

But hold onto your sense of superiority. If the prevailing powers in our political sphere have anything to do with it, we will soon have a nation that no longer protects and accepts all religious belief systems. Or, especially, tolerates those who declare no religion. The current president, elected largely by agitated mobs of religious extremists, accepts and enables those who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation. His current position of power as the nation’s top elected official came about through the efforts of those who fully intend to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

They’ve started with the nation’s highest court, where through Kentucky’s Republican senator Mitch McConnell’s illegal refusal to hold hearings on a sitting president’s nominee for the court and with the placement of Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, a justice whose temperament, according to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, lacks the proper “temperament” to serve, the court comes to a conservative majority expected to amend or overturn Roe v Wade.

The issue of abortion has been the rallying cry of conservatives since the 1980s when Republicans figured out this one issue could be a highly useful political tool. Nothing else mattered as much as saving the fetus—not the murder of thousands in secret campaigns ordered by Reagan to foment revolution in Central and South America (Iran-Contra), not the encroaching monopolies of financial institutions  (savings and loan crisis), not Reagan’s crushing of labor unions.

…when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace. …Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.[2]

In hindsight, it’s not hard to see that Reagan’s genial manner served as an effective smoke screen to hide the brutal gutting of so many American ideals and freedoms. In an increasing number of places around the country, we no longer have the right to join with our fellow workers to demand safer working conditions or better pay.

We’ve learned we can no longer trust the federal government to conduct our foreign affairs in an open and just manner, and today face thousands of refugees fleeing their Central American homelands as a direct result of Reagan’s policies.

We’ve learned that our government is largely owned and operated by financial institutions that operate by an elite set of rules which protects their rapacious maneuverings, not the same codes of fairness that we must individually embrace in our daily affairs.

Reagan’s henchman in Congress, Newt Gingrich, operated by his own code in private, pursuing an adulterous affair while his wife lay in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

Gingrich went to Battley’s room with a yellow legal pad on which he had written a list of items related to the handling of the divorce. …Gingrich’s former press secretary reported that: “He wanted her to sign [the list]. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.”[3]

This set the model in which thirty years later our current president could brag about his ability to “grab women by the pussy” and get away with it, be accused by at least seventeen women of sexual assault, and conduct multiple adulterous affairs and still be the champion of religious extremists in a blatant tit-for-tat where they put him in power because he will give them what they want.

We need to pay attention to what they want.

It’s important to listen to voices such as the man whose recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter to the editor stated that God’s law overrules any laws crafted by men. He’s not the only one.

What happens when the extremists succeed in terminating a woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body? What religious edict will become the hue and cry of the extremists then? What will be the tool of hypnotic control exerted by Republicans to continue driving their “base” to the polls?

Will the new cudgel become our public schools, increasingly gutted of adequate funding so that religious schools can enjoy the benefit of our taxes? Will parental rights to educate their children as they see fit become the next altar upon which our nation’s laws and the advance of science are sacrificed in the name of God?

Will rabid rightwing terrorists continue to run rampant in our streets, killing those they perceive as enemies of their chosen leader and/or their belief system?

“Thousands of supporters of the [popular religious leader] took to the streets in protest, demanding Bibi’s public execution. Hundreds blocked the road linking the city with the capital, and protests were held in other cities…Three judges upheld the blasphemy law, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam’s holy book…”[4]

Will extremists in our nation succeed in their increasing effort to limit who votes?

The current president certainly thinks so. Yesterday he crowed to a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network about how much he’s done for the religious right and, in return, how much they will continue to support him and the Republican Party.

Trump suggested this support stems from how his administration has “nullified” the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that forbids faith groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates…

He also referred to his expansion of the Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from foreign nongovernmental health organizations that offer women advice about abortion. In practice, the new policy has placed tighter restrictions on a wide swath of health organizations and applies to about 15 times the amount of foreign aid previously affected.[5]

Or consider the words of Trump’s doppleganger, Steve Bannon, who was quoted by journalist Joshua Green in his recent book Devil’s Bargain that:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” Green quoted Bannon as saying. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Bannon is far from the first to acknowledge the rise of women to positions of power and authority over the last one hundred years. In 2013, for example, Forbes reviewed Hanna Rosin’s “The End Of Men” which postulates “That the success of feminism, the decline of the patriarchy, has more to do with economic changes than anything else.”

If there is a hero in Rosin’s story, it is not women or men or progressive politics: it is the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus” — things that “are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men” and “seem to come easily to women.” And so, “for the first time in history, the global economy is becoming a place where women are finding more success than men.”

I’ve blogged before about the struggle of men to make a place for themselves in a time when a greater skill set is required than manhandling mules, plowing, hunting, and crafting shelter. The angry white men comprising the bulk of rightwing politics and extremism haven’t been able to successfully adapt. Perhaps, for many of them, recognizing the true basis of their rage is beyond their reach. Instead, projecting their fear and anger onto the Other—minorities, immigrants, non-Christians—successfully disguises their instinctual terror that Women will gain the upper hand.

Of course there are female rightwing extremists. And there are plenty of evolved men who embrace women’s rights as akin to their own. But, as stated in a quote attributed to Margaret Mead, we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

Many exhausted progressive activists have embraced the comment to bolster their efforts in causes ranging from reproductive rights to environment. But the quote works both ways. It applies to rightwing extremists, too, those who won’t rest until we are as crippled by religion as Pakistan.

~~~

[1] Pakistani court acquits Christian woman…” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nov 1, 2018. 6A

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/opinion/reagan-vs-patco-the-strike-that-busted-unions.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aspects-of-gingrich-divorce-story-distorted/2011/11/17/gIQA8iY4YN_story.html?utm_term=.ee17cf62bc0f

[4] “Pakistani court” article

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-claims-no-one-has-done-more-for-religion_us_5bdb1316e4b019a7ab5aeb8d?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR2St6FrAd2j5cr14i4MBG6ToeGflsLGSd7eAzAAMEUEn8aTXbXPYZGi2tY

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Treason In The Name of God Is Still Treason

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The United States now faces a Republican government whose members openly state their wish to make the country a Christian nation. Vice President Pence, among others, has proudly proclaimed that his God comes before country. Legislators compete to ‘out-Christian’ each other in conservative Congressional districts.

What are these people thinking?

The Founding Fathers set down rules about this new nation. The constitution specifically restricts government establishment of religion. Do Pence et al not know this? Or are they too wrapped up in zealotry to realize what’s at stake?

A recent Pew Research Center poll delivers the news that while only 71% of Americans identify as “Christian,” over 90% of legislators do so.

Why have the ‘nones’ grown in the public, but not among Congress?” asked Greg Smith, associate director for research at Pew, referring to people who check “none” on surveys asking their religion.

One possible explanation is people tell us they would rather vote for an elected representative who is religious than for one who is not religious.[1]

Evidently voters assume that a religious legislator is more trustworthy, this despite the fact that a long list of religious elected officials have been indicted and/or convicted of  crimes ranging from sexual abuse to fraud. In the Obama Administration alone, the dirty laundry of seven legislators (three Democrats, four Republicans) came to light. Under George W. Bush, six legislators fell from grace (three and three) while five members of his executive branch—all Republicans—also were found guilty of various crimes.[2]

That doesn’t touch the continuing eruption of scandals involving Christian church leaders. In 2015, Christian TV celebrity Josh Duggar was outed for molesting his younger sisters and was soon thereafter found to have joined (twice) an online service for cheating on your spouse. In 2016, just one of many church leader sex eruptions involved another Arkansas preacher, lay pastor David Reynolds, “who in addition to “discern[ing] the will of Christ through study, mutual exhortation and prayer,” to quote his former(?) church’s website, allegedly had a habit of exchanging child pornography on the Internet—with irresistible social media screennames ‘sweetoothcandy3,’ ‘Ethanluvsts,’ and ‘Luvsomecandy.’”[3]

Then there are the Catholic priests and little boys.

You’d think that some of this would tip off the voting public that Christians hold no moral high ground. Religion and morality are not synonymous. Morality does not depend upon religion, though for some, this is “an almost automatic assumption.”[4]

Yet the cognitive dissonance between the reality of Christian misdeeds and the public’s continuing belief that Christians are somehow less flawed than the average human continues unabated. Add that to the decades of Republican strategists wielding hot-button issues like abortion and prayer in schools, and it helps explain how well-intentioned voters simply do not understand that the foundations of our great nation cannot be trusted to Christians.

If Republican voters read a bit more history, they would appreciate the context of our constitutional mandate. They would understand that it was state-sponsored religion that drove early colonists to brave the Atlantic Ocean. History has a lot to teach about our hard-won freedom to live and worship as we see fit.

In 300 AD, the late Roman Empire enforced Christianity at the point of a sword. The useful concept of government empowered by God’s will spread through Europe. Those who wouldn’t swear fealty to a Christian God and the anointed King died a brutal death. Along the way, compulsory tithing (crops, coin, whatever you’ve got) supported both kingdoms.

As Europe descended into the Dark Ages (450 – 1100 AD), only the priests knew how to read and write. People were captive of whatever the priests told them. Religion became a tool of strong men who gained power and wealth at the expense of the working man. It’s a model that apparently hasn’t lost its usefulness.

This week for example, Trump and his Congressional minions installed an education secretary who plans to divert tax dollars toward religious schools that don’t have to meet standards.

… In a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, [DeVos] and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.[5]

The European religious wars between 1524 and 1648 erupted after Martin Luther protested Catholic corruption such as buying forgiveness and ignoring priestly orgies with prostitutes. In response to this heretical bunch of Protestants, the Catholic inquisition targeted anyone who questioned the teachings or practices of the church. Thousands of Protestants, Jews, and other heathens were tortured and burned at the stake.[6]

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, the uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics …[7]

In 1659, the first enactment of religious liberty in the new colonies, the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: “No person or persons…shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.”

This became the central theme of the First Amendment which states, in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

All this is lost in the inflamed rhetoric of today’s evangelical right-wingers. Hard lessons won over the centuries leading up to the founding of the United States are now at risk of being entirely forgotten in a growing rush to create a Christian nation.

The 20th century saw the most rapid social and economic change of any time in human history. Conservatives, by definition, loath change. Spotting opportunity amid the fear provoked by such radical change, Republican strategists began inciting certain segments of the voting public. The so-called Silent Majority elected Reagan on the promise that their traditional lifestyles would once again become the national norm.

Despite the impossibility of this promise, Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech—one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century—was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. That speech included references to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, “a great spiritual awakening in America,” America’s own “legacy of evil,” school prayer, the Ten Commandments, and this telling litany: “an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs.”[8]

In the face of such resistance and without pretending to be a religion, progressives have pursued very Christ-like goals for generations. Ending slavery was part of that. Banning child labor was another. The long string of progressive political change has produced everything from a five-day work week to Social Security. There’s no equivalent political agenda whose objective is to benefit the human condition. All the conservatives can offer is an appeal for the good old days.

The great American experiment has been a fraught journey of defining what it means to offer ‘liberty and justice for all.’ The courts have relied on the constitution and its amendments in deciding what those promises meant. Their decisions have confirmed the rights of women, minorities, and homosexuals and sharpened the separating line between church and state.

Not happy with how all that has filtered out, extremists now want a ‘go-back’ option that takes away those rights and blurs the line so that teachers can lead prayers in schools, churches can campaign for candidates, and Christian teachings dictate national policy. Too many have been led to believe this is possible, thanks to Republican strategy in motivating voters through inciting religious passions.

Well, it is possible. We can make the United States a Christian nation. But it won’t be the nation our Founders intended. It would be like primitive nations where students are told what—not how—to think, where nonbelievers are subject to torture and brutal execution, where religion instead of reason dictates policy.

By overturning the fundamental concept upon which this nation was founded, every effort to convert the United States into a Christian nation is an act of high treason.

~~~

[1] http://religionnews.com/2017/01/03/religious-make-up-of-the-new-congress-overwhelmingly-christian/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_federal_politicians_convicted_of_crimes#Executive_branch

[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/22/why-do-conservative-christian-clergy-keep-screwing-around.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_and_religion

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[7] https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.htm

[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/juneweb-only/6-7-12.0.html