Archive for February 28th, 2012
Theocracy and Its Discontents By TIMOTHY EGAN
Ah, the founders, those starch-collared English souls planting liberty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. For those who didn’t follow rules handed down by God through man, these New World authorities could cut out your tongue, slice off your ears or execute you. O.K., Puritans, wrong role-model founders.
Then let’s look west, beyond the Wasatch Mountains in the 19th century, where Brigham Young built a Mormon empire in which church rule and civil law were one and the same — the press, a military brigade and the courts all controlled by the Seer and Revelator of a homegrown religion. Oops, wrong founders again.
American political bedrock — God’s house and the people’s government guiding separate worlds — wasn’t always in place. Reason ultimately won out. But theocracy certainly had its colonies and its advocates; it might have prevailed but for a few outstanding voices.
One of those voices was Roger Williams’s. Banished by the Puritans, he established what became Rhode Island and created in 1636 “the first government in the world which broke church and state apart,” as John M. Barry writes in “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul,” a new book on this founding episode.
The idea that civil law and religious law are separate has coursed through American society ever since. It was a radical thought in 1636. It’s written in the Constitution now. And yet, with Rick Santorum riding high in the Republican primaries, it looks as if this issue will get another go-round.
Santorum, who makes Mitt Romney look blandly secular by comparison, has a well-known animus against accepted sexual practices that he believes defy “God’s law” — his words, not mine. He opposes sex for reasons other than producing babies, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, prenatal testing, and on and on. Contraception, he has said, gives people “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
“God gave us laws that we must abide by,” he said early on the campaign. Notably, Santorum, a far-right Catholic, has taken issue with President John F. Kennedy, a moderate Catholic, for having said that his presidency would not be dictated by his faith. This view, Santorum said in 2010, has caused “great harm to America.”
So, bring on the argument, once again, with history as the guide. Williams was a Puritan convert who left Britain to escape religious persecution by a king who was head of state and head of the Church of England. After initially being welcomed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he was persecuted for his more enlightened views and put on trial. He faced the possibility of torture, or execution. Ultimately, he was banished.
In founding Providence as a place of religious tolerance, Williams drew Jews, Quakers and nonbelievers to his new colony, and gave up trying to convert the Indians. “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils,” he said.
In Barry’s book, Williams is charismatic and heroic, but also far ahead of his time. “The Bay leaders, both lay and clergy, firmly believed that the state must enforce all of God’s laws,” Barry writes. Williams “believed that humans, being imperfect, would inevitably err in applying God’s laws.” And certainly, those heretics who were hanged in New England paid the ultimate price for such errors.
The Mormons, for all the cheery optimism of their present state, were birthed in brutal theocracy, first in Nauvoo, Ill., and later in the State of Deseret, as their settlement in present-day Utah was called. The Constitution, separating church from state, press from government, had no place in either stronghold. And it took a threat to march the United States Army out to the rogue settlement around the Great Salt Lake to persuade Mormon leaders that their control did not extend beyond matters of the soul.
Santorum is itching to add another chapter to this book. Last weekend, he seemed to question President Obama’s faith, alluding to a “phony theology” that supposedly guides his presidency. Who knew there was a religious test through the gates of the White House?
He also used his Biblical beliefs to deny climate change, saying, “We are put on this earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth.” You may think he’s running for chief deacon, and should swap his sweater vest for a clerical collar.
But his followers know exactly what he’s talking about. In Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona, Santorum defended his religious-themed campaign: “Just because I talk about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.” But in fact, he does. Santorum has long tried to get his Biblical principles taught to children in public schools — insisting that “creationism” should be in every American classroom, and trying to enforce that through riders to education bills when he was a senator. Better yet, the kids should read about Roger Williams, a man of faith, and of reason — the American model that will prevail long after Santorum has left the pulpit.
© 2012, agentleman.
The March of Christian Dominionism 1: What Is Christian Dominionism?
Or “Welcome to the Theocratic States of America”
Thirty years from now, a protestor stands alone on a corner. She is visibly pregnant. Her sign, written in blood red marker, says “I’m carrying my rapist’s baby! Thanks a lot, Jesus!” She has only been there for five minutes but has been called “slut” and “whore” by several passersby. One elderly woman stops long enough to tell her she deserved to be raped for not loving Jesus enough. Others look at her with sad eyes but quickly avert their gaze lest one of their neighbors notice.
Finally the police arrive to take the woman into custody. She has not spoken a word. She has no bullhorn. She has not accosted a single person on the street. Yet she is still arrested by men who barely contain their contempt for her. She has broken no laws that we would recognize but still, she is roughly handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser. Of course, they take great care not to harm the baby she is carrying; the bruises she’ll have later won’t be anywhere near life-threatening. In this, she is lucky to be pregnant; others do not fare as well.
She is not read her rights because she has none. She is a blasphemer against the Lord and has been stripped of all legal protections. Her pregnancy will ensure that she survives long enough to perhaps repent and beg forgiveness. If not, she will be stoned to death in a public square by devout followers. Her child will be raised by the State to be a patriotic, loyal and, above all, God fearing citizen.
Welcome to the Theocratic States of America.
This may seem like a scenario out of a bad science fiction film but you would be wrong. This is what the world should be according to Christian Dominionism.
What is Christian Dominionism? It’s exactly what it sounds like: a world dominated by Christianity. Not just under the control of Christianity but completely and utterly dominated by it. According to Dominionists, every aspect of our lives is subject to the strictures of the Bible. Our personal lives and social lives must be lived in accordance with the word of God. Economics, politics, science, the arts and the law are all to be placed under the auspices of Christianity. It is, in essence, exactly what people claim Sharia law is. Minus Islam.
Such a system is, by its very nature, a totalitarian one. There can be no freedom of expression. There can be no free press. There can be no freedoms of any kind except the freedom to obey the Word. This is a very appealing concept to those interested in power for its own sake. Such a concentration of power would be free of morality, ethics, decency or accountability of any kind. The ability to shape the world at will is very alluring and the perversion of religion is a powerful tool to reach that goal.
At the same time, to those without power or hope, the idea of surrendering to such total control is more than a soothing balm; it is something to be craved. The world remains cold and indifferent to the struggles and pain we all go through. Self-direction can be hard and messy. Deciding what is right and what is wrong by relying on your own moral compass can be exhausting. In an environment where a steady diet of pious, theocratic messaging can make it seem a virtue to let someone else tell you how to live and what to believe it is easy to surrender control. At that point, the absolute moral certainty of Dominionists becomes an anesthetic for the confusion and doubt of the everyday world. Is it any wonder the desperate seek it like an oasis in the desert?
Let us clear up two possible misconceptions; while I am an atheist, this article is not an “ATTACK ON CHRISTIANITY!!” as many on the Right, and no small amount on the Left, will claim. This is NOT about religion at all, that is, beyond its use as a means to an end. Dominionists do not care about the teachings of Jesus. They care about the control those teachings will provide over the desperate, the lost and the wounded. Their cries of persecution by evil liberal God-hating heathens like me are camouflage. By wrapping themselves in the trappings of piety, they deflect, successfully if you allow it, any direct critique of their agenda.
This creates an obstacle on both ends of the political spectrum. First, while Dominionists are always found among conservatives, not all conservatives are even remotely Dominionists. The problem is that many on the Right use religion in much the same way: as a prop to claim a moral high ground they have laughably failed to reach. This makes it difficult for Right Wing opportunists to separate themselves from the Christian Dominionism movement. In fact, it is nigh impossible to reveal Dominionists for the power hungry hypocrites they are without leaving themselves open to the very same charge. How does the wolf in sheep’s clothing denounce the other wolf hunting the same flock and stay hidden?
On the other hand, the Left does what is ALWAYS doesL refuse to make judgments. Oh sure, they’ll cluck their tongues and shake their heads but they won’t meet the threat because they are afraid of being accused of secularism or not being “tolerant” of diverse viewpoints. Excuse me, but that is load of bull puckey! Should we “tolerate” the Taliban? Or Eugenicists?[i] Better yet, WHY should we “tolerate” a group that seeks to install a theocracy where democracy now flourishes? It is madness to think otherwise but that is exactly what liberals do. Terrified of offending someone, somewhere, many stand impotently by and wring their hands when faced with anything that falsely cloaks itself in piety.
Of course, we’re not ALL afraid of our shadow. Some of us are proud to be filthy liberal scum and we don’t give a sack of beans about hurting someone’s feelings. Sometimes it really is OK to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Particularly when the theater really is on fire!
The other most likely misconception is that this is a full on assault against the Right. Well, yes and no. Don’t get me wrong, I despise the Right Wing of this country and take pretty much every opportunity to knock the GOP as the greedy, selfish, corporate whores that they are, but this is less about the conservative movement than it is about a specific subset of it. You could write an entire book about how much you hate Catholics or Mormons and still not have anything negative to say about Christianity itself. In fact, Christians do this all the time. Dominionists, however, naturally gravitate to the Right because, among other things, that is where the anger and fear is. Christian Dominionism relies heavily on these two emotions to attract, shape and, ultimately, control their followers.
You may be thinking that such a small, radical group (and they are a small group in comparison to the overall conservative movement) would be marginalized and ineffective. Not a threat at all. Yet, somehow, in 2004, seven of the Bush White House’s interns were students from Patrick Henry College. Sound like a small number? It sure does! Until you consider the total number of interns was 100 and they can be picked from any of the thousands of colleges in the country. Also consider that Patrick Henry College accepts less than 100 students per year and specifically caters to homeschooled evangelicals. Suddenly, seven percent seems to be a remarkably high number for a college you’ve never heard of with such an incredibly small student body. Just to make you more uneasy, over twenty conservative Congressmen have had one or more Patrick Henry interns on their staff. And here’s the icing on the spooky cake: Patrick Henry College was only founded in 2000! So many interns attached to high powered conservatives is quite the achievement in so short a time.
In the same vein, caucuses are flooded with the furthest of the Far Right Wing ideologues. This forces would-be Republican candidates to veer wildly to the Right, usually on social issues, in order to even be nominated. This, in turn, drags the entire GOP to the right, not always willingly. We’ve seen a sharply accelerated version of this with the Tea Party but Dominionists have been at it much longer. You may recall the days when Jerry Falwell and his so-called “Moral Majority” exerted a tremendous amount of influence despite being, in reality, a small, widely dispersed group that merely made a lot of noise.
This is how a small, but highly organized and extremely well-funded, group of fringe radicals can control the entire process. Put the right pressure on the right spot at the right time and you elect Congressmen and women who do not believe in science and wholeheartedly support turning the country into one nation under a very specific God.
This concludes our short introduction to the concept of Christian Dominionism. Next we will examine how they capture and hold their followers in my next pack of filthy liberal lies: The March of Christian Dominionism 2: Where Did It Come From and How Does It Work? Or “It’s NOT a cult! My beloved leader and all of his followers tell me so!”
© 2012, agentleman.
The New Conservatism: Don’t Bother With CollegeBy DAVID FIRESTONE
DETROIT – Rick Santorum opened a new beachhead in the culture wars over the weekend with one of the stranger positions in what passes for conservatism in the Republican Party these days – arguing for a reduction in the number of people who seek higher education.
Mr. Santorum called President Obama “a snob” for urging students to go to college. Why is the president exerting so much pressure, he asked, campaigning here in Michigan in advance of Tuesday’s primary, when some people don’t want to attend, or lack the skills to succeed?
To make this a national goal, he said on ABC’s This Week, “devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college — you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.” (It’s doubtful that any college could assist that sentence.)
Actually, President Obama has been encouraging students to attend community colleges to pick up specialized skills that companies need. But that’s quibbling. Throughout his term, he has indeed encouraged all students to strive for some form of higher education, whether a year or a graduate degree, and has pushed to make college more affordable.
On Monday morning, the president told the National Governors Association that “we can’t allow higher education to be a luxury in this country” and that college shouldn’t “be a partisan issue.” The research strongly suggests that studying after high school improves the chances of finding a job, and of making more money.
Is Mr. Santorum really saying that the president is somehow sneering at those who don’t go to college? Is he upset about the hurt feelings of those who go to air conditioning school instead?
As it turns out, Mr. Santorum is concerned that conservative students who attend a four-year college will emerge fully indoctrinated as liberals. He even called colleges “indoctrination mills.”
“Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college,” Mr. Santorum said. “He wants to remake you in his image.”
Mr. Santorum apparently sees students as easy prey to bearded professors and their dangerous ideas, but all ideas are subject to challenge in college. Some students may emerge more liberal, others more libertarian or conservative; some may lose their faith, or adopt a different one.
When his brand of ideas is put to the test, Mr. Santorum seems worried it might not hold up. If this new rant represents the current quality of conservative thinking, he is right to be worried.
© 2012, agentleman.