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Blogging Against Theocracy

Blogging Against Theocracy

Even if George W. Bush has succeeded in drastically expanding the power of the executive branch, there is no anointed king here in America. No president has claimed to be a god, and senators are not priests.

In the United States, claims to divine authority tend to be somewhat more subterranean and implicit, if no less powerful. The religiously-tinged ideas of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism” have served as covers for territorial acquisitions, genocidal violence, exploitation, and domination here and around the world. Domestically, I hope every American is aware of the costs to native tribal communities. Slavery was also rationalized under the banner of religion. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was dominated by Puritan ideology, and there were scattered theocracies across the colonies until they agreed to freedom of religion.

The pledge of allegiance, already a creepy nationalistic ritual, has claimed since 1954 the status of the nation as existing under (the protection of? guidance of? stamp of approval of?) God.

The literal meaning of theocracy is “rule by God or gods.” Theocratic governments can be formed of any significant mixture of claims to divine authority, the wielding of secular power by religious groups or figures, or a melding of the state with religion such that religious freedom is not possible. While there are subsets of society – intentional religious communities – that could be considered theocracies, these are protected under freedom of religion in the United States. We are in danger of – already in the the process of – forming a governmental theocracy here in the land of the free, and that is an entirely separate issue.

The specific theocratic threat to our nation right now is the erosion of the separation of the powers of church and state under an attempted coup by a very specific kind of christian ideology – dominionism.

Dominionism – a trans-denominational movement composed of radical fundamentalist, charismatic, and pentacostal protestants – openly seeks to establish totalitarian control over the nation and its people. To further their stated goals of secular domination, they have called for their followers to exert whatever influence they can – at any and every level and aspect of society – in order to bring our society into conformity with their beliefs.

Several years ago, these radical extremists found common purpose with the Republican party, which needed to expand its base (an interesting mirroring – al Qaeda: translation “the base”). Politics entered the congregations, and the congregations infused the party. Despite the uneasy nature of this unholy communion, the agendas of dominionists and their followers are now an established force in American politics. Their version of God’s requirements was very convenient.

Please remember that not all christians are dominionists. Many still understand that the kingdom of God is within, and that humility is a christian virtue. Some christians still remember and advocate forgiveness, compassion and kindness.

Dominionists, on the other hand, seem very comfortable with throwing the first stone (and any further stones that may be required). Instead of freedom and justice for all, they seek conformity to their warped (and very selective) biblical interpretations. Some do so because they honestly believe that it is ordained by God and destiny; others do so for even more unsavory reasons. All this under a paranoid fantasy of persecution, and in the name of a special – even exclusive – relationship with the divine.

In many ways, dominionism is an anti-christian movement. “Christian Reconstruction looks more like straightforward destruction of the Christian message and its values. Setting a christian example? Their version looks like a dance of hatred. I will never believe that power-hungry control freaks speak for God, or represent the teachings or example of Jesus, or stand for any profound religious insight at all. They do not help to bring people into a relationship with the divine, but instead appeal to the darker aspects of their followers while appearing to shine as angels of light. I believe that the beliefs and actions of such extremists are in profound contradiction with deeper spiritual truths.

I name you and yours false prophets
because you do define the phrase,
You lead the would-be faithful
always far and further astray.
Placing demon masks
on the faces of our kin,
undoing all the fragile good
that lets us breathe again.

More compassion-based religious people should continue to engage in debates and discussions about the issues – spiritual, ethical, even biblical – raised by dominionists, as well as the questionable interpretations that they rely upon. A wealth of credible biblical scholarship is available, and it is time for it to become more widely known. Contextual ethics needs to re-enter the public sphere as well.

No American should be forced to comply with (or participate in) any particular religious ideology, and this is especially the case for one that has such destructive repercussions on American life and liberty, and which seems to represent a fairly hateful infantile sort of God-character. In addition, let’s remember that freedom of religion also implies freedom from religion and its organizations.

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and I have seen some of the costs of pseudo-religious authoritarian control in terms of the real human lives it affects.

Jehovah’s Witnesses describe themselves as a theocracy. In their case God lives in Brooklyn, so to speak. God’s power, spirit and guidance are believed to be directed through the members of God’s channel (a group of men known as the Governing Body) and transmitted through the Watchtower magazine and other publications. Their somewhat anonymous leaders and authors claim to be a few of the 144,000 “slave class” who they believe are intended to rule with Christ over the post-apocalyptic paradise earth. Ever “faithful and discreet,” this slave class has created a very lucrative publishing empire with an unpaid sales force – the “great crowd.” The great crowd are second-class citizens, although they do not recognize themselves as such since most of them would rather live in Paradise than in Heaven. Still, they are unworthy of even partaking of the wine and bread at their yearly memorial of the last supper. In addition to their publications, the Watchtower corporations control their followers with circuit overseers, district overseers, local uneducated elders, multiple weekly meetings of repetitive pseudo-bible study, family and congregational peer pressure, and the threat of shunning. Their followers live in expectation of God’s immanent (and loving) slaughter of most of humanity at the hands of the Prince of Peace. Their judgment of society is just as rigid as the dominionists, with many of the same hatreds and prejudices, but their reaction is to separate their people from “worldly influences.” They don’t vote or salute the flag. They don’t fight in worldly wars. They don’t run for office, or join the boy scouts, or celebrate “pagan” holidays like Christmas, or even accept the blood of others to save their children’s lives.

From my perspective, dominionists are something like an example of “When Jehovah’s Witnesses Attack.”

America’s contract with its citizens is to be (or at least try to be?) a land of freedom, with liberty and justice for all. The rise of religion in America is directly associated with the national experiment of religious freedom. Without the separation of religion and the government, and the accompanying protection of religious freedom, religious groups could never have thrived as they do in this country. We have an amazingly diverse religious population, and this is because every American is free to choose the path of his or her own religious journey.

This weekend, many Americans are celebrating the risen Christ – whether with or without the traditional elements of spring fertility signified by the Easter bunny, bright clothing, and the hunt for colorful eggs filled with candy treats. Other Americans are observing the traditions of Passover. Others celebrate something else, or nothing at all.

Whatever your religious tradition or inclination, I would ask you – please – to take a moment or two to reflect upon the nuggets of spiritual insight that you may have collected and found to be valuable and wise. Consider whether any of them involve hatred, domination, or control over others.

It is an insecure (and I think inauthentic) kind of faith that cannot stand on its own merits and inspire others with its goodness. It is pure spiritual arrogance – hubris, really – to believe that anyone has the whole truth about God, or that they must impose it on everyone else. We are human. To target fellow humans simply because they do not subscribe to one fallible interpretation of what God may want of humanity is profoundly anti-religious. To do so at the level of government is anti-American. And to do so under the mantle of a claim of divine authority may be the closest thing I know of to blasphemy.

Is this not a sin against the spirit of love? Does this not take God’s name in vain?

There is no authentic spirituality based on fear and hatred of others or on the endless quest for power.

“There is no disguise that can for long conceal love where it exists or simulate it where it does not.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.” – The character of Jedi master Yoda, in Episode I of the Star Wars films

Be sure to check out the other blog posts on the Blog Against Theocracy swarm. The logo was designed by Tengrain of Mock, Paper, Scissors.

A big thank you to Jolly Roger at Reconstitution for the invitation to join in. Thanks for thinking of me (smile).

First Freedom First: Sign the Petition Now!

Evangelical Atheists Oppose Christian Nationalism

Evangelical Atheists Oppose Christian Nationalism

I would like to see more opposition to the (so-called) christian nationalism (or dominionism) movement that has such a destructive effect on the American values of liberty, justice, and freedom.

Opposition from the perspective of atheism(s) is one method:

As an “out atheist,” Collette-Van Deraa said she often feels scorned as the other – “capital O in quotes.”

“There are misconceptions that atheists hate anyone who is in organized religion, or that atheists are baby killers or old-people killers,” she said. “There is a sense that atheists to some extent can’t be sensitive to the spiritual views of others.”

Though theologically not a religious group, the courts have increasingly ruled atheism deserves the same protections.

“And it should,” said Derek H. Davis, a Baptist who has written about atheism and is dean of the college of humanities and graduate school at University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in Texas. “Nonreligion as a worldview needs to be treated like a religious worldview in terms of giving people protections to live out their conscience.”

A cyborg alliance across groups that would suffer should the ideas of dominionist movement gain further traction would be helpful. The issue of net neutrality has shown that there can be unlikely alliances between people and groups who agree on little else, but can work together on a specific issue. Right now, many decent people are being manipulated into giving up many of the central messages of christianity – compassion, forgiveness (and perhaps most importantly) kindness toward others.

I was involved with the JWs for many years; their rule-based authoritarian regime looks less and less “fringy” in American life. Just when it seemed (to me, at least) that we were actually moving toward a society of freedom and justice for all, intolerance and hate went on the upswing.

From within organized religion, spiritual leaders of various paths must raise their voices to oppose fear-hate-control religious movements – and remind their people of the ethical paths of wisdom and compassion within their diverse disciplines. You can’t force spiritual insight or affinity using the methods and ideas that are antithetical to the whole point, just as you just can’t force “democracy” at gunpoint and expect that it will be democracy.

Whether by opposition or better example, the time is now to hold the manipulation up to the light. Atheism is not the only position to take, but the rights of those who do not believe in the God of contemporary hardline right-wing-affiliated Christianity matter just as much as anyone else in America. There is plenty of ammunition to support atheism these days – especially if you actually associate dominionists and other such power-mongers with God. (We’ll leave the issues of hypocrisy and cynicism to the side for the moment. I personally believe that it’s really all about the power and the money.)

There is no “generic” atheist. There are atheists who oppose any notion of God, there are atheists who are just not interested in ideas about God, there are atheists who are more humble toward religious reality than the ones who thump their chests about it, there are atheists who believe God is dead, there are atheists who see atheism as a religious position, there are atheists who really only oppose the views of God to which they have been exposed. There is a diversity of opinion on any given issue, except that – overall – there is some agreement that agenda of the christian nationalists should be opposed on the basis of freedom of (and freedom from) religion. This is something that affects everyone (even christians!). Americans should not be forced to be christian. The particular pseudo-christianity that is being shoved into being is powerful insult upon injury.

Once when Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, they were refused lodging in a Samaritan village. “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village” (Luke 9:54-56).

The results of the recent election give me hope, but when you consider the wide range of Republican offenses, the numbers were still very close. Too close. It should have been a landslide in every race. Now is the time for Democrats to show what they can do – and there is a lot to do. If they are successful across many fronts, perhaps this country can begin to reorient itself, to recover and thrive. The damage to our system of government and to our citizens has been great. The next several weeks will be very dangerous as the last session of the current Congress tries to push through whatever it can while Republicans still hold the majority.

Americans shouldn’t be traveling with people who want to regulate the whole country under one theology, especially this theology of power and control. The power-hungry manipulators (of any religion) who use religion as a tool to control the masses have missed the central messages of faith. This reality resonates with people of deeper and kinder and more loving faith – in American, in the Middle East, and all over the world. If a messiah or prophet showed up, for the first or second or thousandth time, these would be the first in line to scapegoat, jail, institutionalize, behead, hang, or stone her/him to death. And in the name of God, too.

If there really is a God of Love, I say that God weeps to see what is said and done in God’s name.

“I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding”
— Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

“What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. The rest is commentary” –Hillel the Elder

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