Gods and Governments — Religious and Secular mixed rule is always toxic

Gods and Governments

Religious and Secular mixed rule is always toxic

October 10th 2021

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

One sentiment you hear from religious fundamentalists in the United States is something along the lines of “God should be the government” It’s nothing new; religions have always sought to gain political and economic power and influence, and there are hundreds of examples throughout history where they have succeeded in doing that. These political cultures are broadly referred to as theocracies.

Usually in such a regime there is a religious hierarchy that interprets divine will (which is always most obliging to their wants and needs) and then passes edicts on to a secular authority who do the dirty work—mostly in the form of executing, banning, or enslaving.

Ancient Egypt is an example that is well known, as is China. The Byzantine Empire was an uneasy and often bloody power-sharing arrangement between the government of Rome and the Catholic Church. Most European countries had similar arrangements, leading to civil wars, pogroms, and the occasional genocide.

Edward the Second threw the Jews out of England, and those slow to leave learned to their regret that England was on an island.

King Henry VIII had 983 senior clerics killed as part of his drive to replace the Catholic Church with his own brand.

Elizabeth 1 killed thousands of Catholics in England, and in Ireland a million and a half Catholics died from cruel English policies based in large measure on the idea that idolaters should not be countenanced.

Adolph Hitler had Catholic support during his rise to power, but the relationship went sour and Hitler, too, sought to replace Catholicism with his own peculiar blend of Nordic mysticism, Christianity, and “racial science.”

The Test Acts codified prejudice against all non-Protestants in England. It’s still against the law in England for a Catholic to be Prime Minister, although since Tony Blair that law only gets lip service.

Pure theocracies in Europe are fairly rare: Münster and Zurich are the only well-known examples, and both rapidly turned into cults and collapsed.

Modern theocracies are mostly limited to the middle east these days: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and to an extent, Israel.

America was founded on the notion that keeping religious and secular power separate was the key to avoiding religious strife (nearly all the Founders had ancestors who, within the past 300 years, had been imprisoned or executed for religious reasons) and to a certain degree, that has been successful.

The first Christian-based religious strife in North America came when Protestants came to America seeking freedom of religion. No, not the Puritans—the French Huguenot, who settled in Florida, then a Spanish colony. The Spanish were unamused by the infestation of heretics, and proceeded to wipe the colony out.

While the founders wanted to end religious persecution (the Constitution explicitly bans Test Acts), the Protestant majority brought with them the attitudes and prejudices of the mother lands. Despite the noble intentions of the Constitution, many states actually had Test Acts in their laws, forbidding Catholics, Jews, or other unbelievers from holding office, or even owning property. I’m told that in six states, atheists legally cannot hold office to this day. Some communities mandated church attendance for all well into the 19th century.

Much of the genocide of native peoples was met with anything ranging from indifference to beaming approval by church authorities. “Godless heathen” very nearly became one word.

However, the anti-Catholic practices of England and other lands ironically made it harder to discriminate against Catholics in America because of the huge influx of refugees seeking freedom in America. By the twentieth century Catholicism was the biggest single Christian sect in America.

But it would be a mistake to think religious oppression—both oppressor and oppressed—ended there.

Catholics in Boston had to violently riot for the right to have their own schools—and were met by rioting Protestants who didn’t want to allow such a thing. Their Lord’s Prayer was the one true Lord’s Prayer, and people who didn’t accept that should not be allowed to teach their children.

But compared to Europe, America got off lightly (except for the aforementioned Godless Heathens, of course). Even as Churches in Europe lost direct control of secular governments—a long bloody process in itself—most European conflicts remained thinly disguised religious disputations.

The only way a society can be free is by holding religion at at least arm’s length from the centers of power. The Founders understood this all too well. They knew something about governments “run by God”–such governments are cruel, repressive, and deeply antipathetic to the notions of independent thought and individual freedom. One only need read the Bible, or the Talmud, or the Q’uran to see how deep this antipathy goes. How long can dissent last in a form of government where the Law says dissent should be punished by death? Well, you can find an answer for that with Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

All theocracies are viciously repressive. All require a steady stream of executions and terror to force compliance from the flock, formerly known as the electorate. Holy Books don’t discuss liberty, or freedom to disagree. They instead give lessons on disemboweling non-believers or forcing abortions on unfaithful women (Numbers 11, look it up). There has never been a theocracy that was multicultural, enlightened, or particularly literate. Ever. And it won’t start with the Christians Dominionists and Falangists of present day America.

The last thing anyone wants, or needs is ‘government under God.’ If someone could figure out a way to ask God, they would probably find he was pretty much against the idea himself. He has enough smiting to do as it is.

Prejudicial — Cowardice breeds contempt


Cowardice breeds contempt

March 25th 2021

When people hear the term “prejudice” they usually think of the cowardly and despicable practice of bigotry; the deliberate denigration of a group of people, usually for social and economic unearned advantages. It is the recourse of a fretful and unconfident population, this need to systematically cheat and harass people who are guilty of no crime but easy to target. It isn’t courageous—quite the opposite. Systematic bigotry is the province of cowards.

There is a second type of prejudice, and with this as well as the first, the American South is all too familiar. It is the type of prejudice that people have against bigots, those cruel small authoritarians who cheat and steal from the weak.

It’s often as unfair and capricious as the first type of prejudice, and the fact that there is a basis for some of it doesn’t excuse it.

But for years it was applied to white people in the American South. The world noticed the systematic and cruel exploitation and subjugation of what were then called “coloured people” and recoiled in disgust. Segregation, Jim Crow, Bull Conner, fire hoses, the Freedom Marches, all of that. All this in a country devoted to the notions of freedom and equality.

And for years the South was subject to scorn, contempt, and ridicule. If you were white and from the South, you were presumed to be a backward and hate-filled moron, a toothless hick whose own sense of self worth lay upon blowing up children and denying people the use of bathrooms and drinking fountains.

The number of Southerners who deserved that sort of contempt were far outnumbered by the millions who didn’t support Jim Crow and segregation. Many of them did so silently, subject to intense social and economic pressure from their neighbors, their town councils, their churches. Yes, Christianity played a fundamental role in the more disgraceful practices of the Old South.

It took the South over half a century to partially claw its way back from the self-inflicted black eye its behavior in the 50s and 60s caused, to the point where it wasn’t automatically assumed that a southern white male was a moonshine-guzzling unkempt yahoo who burned crosses on the weekend. Part of it was a lot of good-faith hard work by people in the South to turn the page on a disgraceful past, and part of it, in the wake of Boston and Watts, the realization that racism and vicious bigotry wasn’t limited to the South.

But now, in the wake of the corrupt and unAmerican Brian Kemp and the GOP of Georgia, that image of the South being a bastion of racism and vicious cruelty is being resurrected by new voting laws that Joe Biden called “despicable” and which are draconian, deeply unfair, and against all American values. It’s so vicious and overreaching that a large majority of Georgians across the entire spectrum oppose it.

It will dawn on the country over the next few months that it isn’t just the Southern disease resurrecting itself. It’s a national problem with voting and Democracy under attack in a large majority of the States, not just in the Bible Belt but in the West, the prairies, and the Midwest. It isn’t a Southern thing, this vile paroxysm of bigotry and cowardice: it’s a Republican thing.

The Republican Party has two main sides these days: the mainstream fascists who put corporate power and Ayn Rand ahead of people, and the Nazis and Nutzis of the Trump movement. Neither side has the faintest interest in holding office with the consent of the governed; they simply want to rule, and are willing to crush anyone who stands between them and that goal.

But it is first manifesting in Georgia, a state that has, for a decade, been the bloody Kansas of the cold civil war being fought between Americans and Republicans.

Which means the South has lost much of the good will it worked so hard for. It adopted Republicans when they opposed civil rights legislation, they stayed with Republicans when they tried to make themselves the avatars of patriotism and godliness, and they are doggedly clinging to them even after they’ve gone fascist—and worse.

They don’t want Americans to vote. They are changing voting laws wherever they can, and with no regard for deliberations or democratic process. Georgia passed their voting law today, savage as it is, in the space of six hours between introduction in the lege to a ludicrous shout of approval in the Senate to a behind-closed door signing by the reptilian Brian Kemp (whose own election was one of the most corrupt in American history) even as a Democratic legislator was dragged away and arrested by Georgia state thugs for demanding to witness the signing.

Republicans don’t want Americans to vote. They don’t want Americans to have any say in how they are ruled. They pass laws against peaceful assembly, make it a crime to insult a cop, anything they can in the cause of turning the world’s second-oldest Democracy into a authoritarian shit hole.

If they succeed, they will fail. John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

If Republicans want to suppress Americans, it will blow up in their faces. And the toothless bigots of the old South won’t be able to save them. Nobody can.

Aborting America – “Pro Life” shows its pro-death face

May 15th 2019

Imagine if some religious cult sprang up that declared that cancer was God’s way of calling his children home, and thus it was a sin to do anything to treat cancer. Thus anyone trying to eliminate cancer, including the removal of tumors, should be punished, up to 99 years in prison.

If that sounds pretty whack-a-doodle, reflect on the strange things the mainstream religions in America teach. Bible literalists have to believe such utter nonsense as the talking snake story in Genesis, the Ark story, and the sun holding still in the sky for three days. Non-literalists have to accept such oddities as virgin births, miracles, and power of prayer as being a real thing.

So having a group rising up and declaring that blastomas are an expression of God’s love and must be protected at all costs really isn’t all that far fetched.

That there is no biblical basis for such a belief is pretty irrelevant. After all, ‘God’s Will’ has been used to justify most wars, even against other Christian enemies, an unending bitter strife over mostly worthless land in the middle east, slaughter of indigenous tribes in Africa and the Americas, and even the massacre of cats in Europe (led to the plagues, that, as the rodent population exploded). Jewish and Islamic countries have (and still have) similar atrocities stemming from similar beliefs. Indeed, many of the worst elements of religious savagery in all three main faiths stem from the same source—the Mosaic Law of what Christians call the Old Testament.

But religious-based lunacy can exist independently of weird texts translated hundreds of different times that were originally written by people who didn’t know the Earth was a globe or that lobsters weren’t fish.

This leads to the abortion movement. In America, the Catholic Church always opposed abortion on grounds similar to my hypothetical pro-cancer faith; they thought all human seed was sacred, an expression of divine love, and thus it was a sin to waste seed. At various times and in various places, the church punished and even executed men for the ‘sin’ of masturbation.

When fundamentalists glommed on to the notion of stopping abortion in the wake of Roe v Wade, they brought their own brand of fundamentalist lunacy to the table. Every zygote possessed a soul and was an expression of God’s will.

Years ago, I came across a ‘public service announcement’ put out by some of the religious lunatics that featured an animation of a full-term baby being aborted, and as she (curly blonde hair and pink bow in her hair, the way most female babies are born) is dying, she’s screaming “Mommy! Mommy! Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you LOVE me?”

I laughed at the sheer absurdity of that cartoon, but here we are, 30 years later, and millions of Americans believe a truly savage blood libel spread by Republicans and Fox News that babies—real, actual babies—are being aborted after they are born because that is what Roe v Wade demands.

John Oliver had a clip of some intellectual abortion standing in the Alabama Legislature, droning on about “Baby Fetus” and even providing supposed quotes from this etymological absurdity. Two days later, Alabama passed a draconian law banning all abortion and providing life sentences to anyone performing or getting an abortion.

There’s an old saying: “People who can be persuaded to believe absurdities can be led to commit atrocities.”

It’s not even Biblical. The Bible doesn’t mention abortion, although it does condone ripping babies from the wombs of the women of vanquished foes and dashing their brains out against a rock. The New Testament has nothing to say about abortion, even though Nazareth had no shortage of midwifes who had abortifacient herbs and crude tools to physically induce abortion. Further, in many levels of society in that time and place, it wasn’t uncommon for female babies to be drowned or used to break rocks because female children were expensive and of limited use. For some reason, Jesus never did have an opinion on that.

Dressed up as a religious and moral crusade, the anti-abortion movement is neither. It doesn’t really care about “the life of a child,” as witness the fact that few if any of the people running the movement have any provisions whatsoever for the care and feeding of these involuntary children, or helping the mothers in any significant way, or otherwise assuming any responsibility.

It is, instead, a naked authoritarian power grab. It places a large segment of the female population in a precarious role where they can be effectively enslaved, either by pregnancy or the mere fear of pregnancy. If Alabama’s law is allowed to stand, the move will be on to ban birth control of all kinds. In the name of God, of course.

It’s a political movement, as well. The brownshirts of the GOP have long used the religiously insane as a handy bludgeon to enforce their more authoritarian dictates, such as enforced worship of the police and military, and to justify discrimination and segregation.

And if you take a look at the states joining the rush to knock down Roe v. Wade, with the exception of Ohio, all are in southern states with long histories of repressive authoritarians backed by the iron dictates of corrupt pastors.

It’s time to recognize the ‘pro-life’ for what it is: it’s not pro-anything. It’s anti-women, anti-choice, anti-individual, and anti-freedom. It opposes everything America stands for, including the right for every person not to have someone else’s religious dictates imposed upon them. No woman should be enslaved by some politician lying about God’s will. Nobody should have to follow the religious taboos of some church if they don’t want.

They are anti-America, and should be treated, not as voices of some god, but as enemies to American rights and freedoms.


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