Most of us are aware that, more than anything else, religion has been used throughout human history to divide people into factions and as the pretext for inciting people to fight wars. The majority of us also feel that, knowing this, we of today’s sophisticated, science-based western societies no longer fall prey to any such crude manipulations. Most people in the U.S. today have been conditioned to believe that religious manipulations of this type are now occurring only outside of our Western societies, and in the form of “Islamic fundamentalism”. They are mistaken.
The freedom to believe and follow any form of religion one prefers was a primary reason for Europeans coming to and settling this continent, and it is one of the basic principles upon which the Unites States was established. But over the past two or three decades the Christian religion in the U.S. has become increasingly fundamentalist and intolerant of the freedom of non-Christians to believe and worship as they choose, to the point that today it is beyond merely disturbing – it threatens the foundations upon which this country was founded and could be used to subvert our freedoms.
Driving on Route 13 through the Eastern Shore of Virginia recently, I saw a sign that said, “If you are not with Jesus, you are against him”. Christianity is so named because it supposedly is based upon the teachings of Jesus – the Christ. But the basic teachings attributed to Jesus – love and compassion for all – are completely opposite to the message of that sign! If he were to see it, Jesus probably would tear that sign down with the same anger with which he is reported to have upset the money lenders’ tables! Yet here his name was being used in our country to preach fear of others, to separate us into factions – us and them, and if you aren’t with “us”, then you’re one of “them”. We heard George Bush use the exact same phrasing some years ago when he was trying to convince people to support his plans to invade Iraq. And even though many of us knew that it would be a terrible decision, the tactic worked. Bush got his war.
I also recently watched the beginning of a NASCAR race for the first time in my life and was shocked to discover that the race began with a Christian prayer that spoke of “Jesus Christ our savior”. Our Constitution guarantees us freedom of religious expression, but it also expressly prohibits “establishment of religion” by our government. While NASCAR isn’t a governmental body, their races are public events that people of all faiths can and do attend. And persons of other religious faiths, such as Jews or Buddhists, or even Atheists, should all be able to attend such public events without being subjected to overtly Christian prayers and the accompanying pressure to participate in them.
When a prayer is conducted discreetly, in self-contained groups, it remains simply a prayer, performed as part of private religious practice. But a prayer that is conducted over a public address system is not a simple prayer, meant only for those who desire to participate in it as part of their private religious practice. When broadcast throughout a public facility, a prayer is transformed into a coercive call to publicly practice a specific religion, in that moment. The prayer becomes in that moment a tool that serves, whether intended or not, to separate all in attendance into two groups; those who participate in the religious practice of the prayer and those who don’t. And those who don’t participate are thereby made identifiable to everyone who does and potentially vulnerable to ostracism and attacks, verbal and otherwise.
Many would contend that what I am saying here is an exaggeration and that people don’t have to participate if they don’t want to. But this is a head-in-the-sand attitude that misses the point. Freedoms are seldom taken from us outright, in one fell swoop. They are usually eroded via a series of seemingly innocuous changes such as this which lead us step-wise to a place that we never would choose to be if we were to ask ourselves at the outset if that’s where we want to end up. Like the sign that wants to force us into being either with Jesus or against him, with nothing in between, prayers that are broadcast throughout public facilities are yet another means of dividing groups of people into “us” and “them”, into those who are “with us” or “against us”.
NASCAR isn’t a church, and for it to align itself with one specific religion over all others is a discriminatory and dangerous practice that should not be allowed – especially in today’s world that is so emotionally charged relative to religion. While we might initially think that getting government involved here is a reach, we must keep in mind that those Christians who insist that it’s harmless for Christian prayers to be broadcast over public address systems would themselves not tolerate AT ALL the reading, over the public address system, of a prayer from the Koran, or even the Tao Te Ching! There isn’t a shadow of doubt that those Christians would insist that our government stop such open alignment of a public facility with any other religion. There is no way that would be allowed to stand.
To that point, we have seen a constant parade of state laws enacted over recent years designed to prevent any infringement whatsoever upon the rights, or even the beliefs, of Christians. One notable example is that Christians have been protected from merely having to sell wedding cakes to gay people. What do you think Christians would say if a Muslim-owned facility that held public events attended by large numbers of people, say an amusement park, was to broadcast Muslim prayers throughout the park? They would be outraged and would force its cessation! It is equally outrageous for non-Christians to be subjected to the same thing at NASCAR races, and their freedom from it should be protected just as vigorously.
These developments are very ominous. We have in the United States today a society that has been dominated for many years now by an extreme and pervasive fear and uncertainty about our future and security, much of which has been centered around the false “boogey-man” of the “terrorist” which was created years before 9/11. Sure terrorists exist, but they are nowhere near the all-pervasive and powerful threat that we have been brainwashed into believing they are. And since 9/11, that event itself has been used constantly to amp up the fear even more and to enact laws that take away our freedoms in the name of “protecting” us. This kind of fear mongering, combined with a severely depressed economy and secret passing of laws to monitor the populace and reduce our freedoms of assembly and expression, creates a situation ripe for some charismatic person to maneuver into a position of authority and take over through martial law while convincing the population (who have been numbed into complacency by TV, consumerism, sports, an acquiescent media, etc.) that this is being done to protect us from the exaggerated threat.
The “threat” starts when some ethnic or other group of people, such as non-Christians, are labeled as “other” than us and out to do us harm. We have already passed that point, as evidenced by the rampant fear in our country of “radical Islamic” terrorists. The fear of “other” is then expanded to include additional groups that may somehow be seen as potentially threatening, such as immigrants in general. Considering that we are seeing that now, too, we aren’t far from the next, much more dangerous step in the process.
This is when anyone who speaks out against the radical policies being enacted to supposedly protect us from the “other” people, anyone who begins to question whether the crazy new laws really do protect us or if they go too far, are then jailed or otherwise silenced. Those who have bought into the fear-mongering then begin to do the work of policing the rest of us by ostracizing us, such as could be done as just described at NASCAR races and through the use of slogans such as, “If you aren’t with us you are against us!” They ridicule those who don’t go along with the changes and attack any who dare to defend themselves. The sheep begin policing each other and doing the work for the wolves in power, identifying the “non-believers” and deterring any dissent from the party line.
Far from an exaggeration of the situation, this is the exact manner in which Adolf Hitler was able to take over Weimar Germany. He used the same type of incendiary, religious language to incite people into viewing themselves as superior over others. In his speech in Munich on April 12, 1922 he said, “My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter…. I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. As a Christian I have a duty to my own people”.
The extremist, far right Republican party we have today is dominated by the most fanatical and violent of Christians here, and has given Fundamentalist Christianity far too much power in the government and control of our country. As Mathew Fox explains in his book The Hidden Spirituality of Men, this is a dangerous development: (I know this is a somewhat lengthy quote, but it is too important and apropos to edit it here)
“In many ways, in the United States today, the unholy alliance between right-wing political ideologies and right-wing Christian movements goes beyond confusion and creates a situation that is reminiscent of when Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany with the explicit blessing of the so-called German Christian Church, whose pro-Nazi sympathies were surprisingly uncriticized by many at the time. Dr. James Luther Adams, a former ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, fled Germany in 1936 after being interrogated by the Gestapo for having supported the Confessing Church. Twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other radio hosts and televangelists began talking about a new political religion to create a global, Christian empire, Adams warned of the coming rise of American fascism and religion’s role in that rise.
The founder of The Promise Keepers, a modern-day Christian Men’s Movement, is Dr. Tony Evans, a Dallas minister. He gathers thousands of men at a time, usually in football stadiums, and preaches about creating a Christian state in America governed by biblical concepts and that ‘dominion’ has been given to the ‘elect’ to rule the Earth and America in particular. This society would, among other things, prescribe the death penalty for adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy, and homosexuality. And biblical law would replace our secular legal code.
Dominionism found a home not only with The Promise Keepers but with influential political figures who were close to Tony Evans, such as George Bush, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson, and Zell Miller. God chooses such people, Evans tells us, to battle the forces of evil embedded in ‘secular humanism’ and to create a Christian and God-fearing nation. As Pat Robertson has put it, ‘Our aim is to gain dominion over society.’ The movement aims to appeal to the lower middle class and to people feeling the economic squeeze. Chris Hedges, a former student of Dr. Adams and a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist writes: ‘This image of Christ as warrior is appealing to many in the movement. The loss of manufacturing jobs, lack of affordable health care, negligible opportunities for education and poor job security has left many millions of Americans locked out. This ideology is attractive because it offers them hope of power and revenge. It sanctifies their rage and stokes the paranoia about the outside world.’ Hitler too built his movement on the backs of an angry, disenfranchised working class.
Dr. Adams, who lived through Hitler’s fascism, did not use the word lightly when he sensed its rise in contemporary America. ‘The Nazis,’ he said, ‘found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.’ He recognized a kind of deja-vu in the emergence of the right-wing in America.’ The speeches of Hitler were thoroughly laced with religious language and imagery.” (bold emphasis mine)
People have been sounding this alarm for some time now. Anyone who has studied how Hitler used the same fear tactics that I have briefly described here, along with religion, to take control of post WWI Germany and do what he did can see very ominous similarities with that history and what is occurring in the United States now.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as: “A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, a capitalist economy subject to stringent governmental controls, violent suppression of the opposition, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism”. With the exception of being run by a dictator, the U.S. today meets these criteria.
Chris Hedges’ words in the quote above apply directly to Donald Trump, whose policies “sanctify and capitalize upon the rage” of our increasingly disenfranchised population and “stoke their paranoia about the outside world”. Whether he is consciously intending it or not, the policies Trump appears to be pursuing would, if fully enacted, take us further in the direction of fascism. Although the man doesn’t possess the eloquence and charisma often associated with a dictator personality, if the broader population beyond the far right, fear-consumed minority doesn’t rouse from its static complacency to become politically active then that becomes a distinct possibility for us. Because our country right now is poised for it, and it’s already apparent that Trump will take as much power as he is allowed to assume. In addition, he is aligning with the Christian Fundamentalists among us.
The stated goal of Christian “Dominionism” to have the United States become a country where our secular laws are replaced by biblical law, is exactly the same as that of the Islamic Fundamentalists we have all been conditioned to fear. Islamic and Christian Religious Fundamentalists both want to make their religion be the law of the land. Such notions are completely subversive of the Constitution of the United States. And, of the two, the religious fundamentalism that most threatens this country is right here within it. The combination of this Christian fundamentalism with the totalitarian laws that were put in place after 9/11 and a fearful, angry and disenfranchised population that is becoming increasingly intolerant and racist, has us poised for disaster. It’s a very dangerous path we have been walking, and it’s time we step off of it.
The most basic teachings attributed to Jesus are in fact at the core of all religions – to love one another and treat each other as we would want to be treated ourselves. The only thing that will put this country on a more positive course is for those of us who want freedom for all and who try to live by that foundational principle, no matter what our religion, to get involved in our own governance. We are the true silent majority. But remaining politically silent, inert and immobile except for casting our votes in presidential elections every four years (maybe) will only ensure that the angry, fearful and belligerent among us chart our course. We all must stand – truly stand – for freedom of expression, and freedom from oppression, for all people, of any and all religions, by making our voices frequently and loudly heard, too.
It’s time for us all to stop idling through life telling ourselves that there’s nothing the individual can do or that it will all take care of itself. If we want things to change, then “we the people” must take responsibility, for our personal lives and our own governance. We have to get involved and do the work of informing ourselves about what is happening in our country and the world by seeking out alternative sources of news and information. The Internet has become the place to do that. Mainstream media has at this point long been used to keep us distracted, uninformed and misinformed. It does not deliver any news to us about the important things happening in our world – in fact, it intentionally hides this from us. The little it does say about items of import is pure propaganda, meaning there is a corporate, war-based agenda behind it.
I have often heard people say that there is so much frivolous, faked and false information on the Internet that you simply can’t trust any of it. This is far more true about mainstream media than it is about the Internet! What’s more, it is a total cop-out to use that as an excuse to dismiss everything available through the Internet. It’s a lazy justification for being unwilling to do the work of sifting through the crap to get to the gold. We all know B.S. when we hear it from people we personally talk to. And that same B.S. meter can be used to judge alternative media sources. We simply have to learn to apply the same skill in seeking out reliable sources of news and information on the Internet, i.e., to teach ourselves to know B.S. when we hear it there, too!
If “we the people” are too distracted, tired, uninterested, scared, bored or whatever else we may claim as our excuse for not knowing what the hell is going on around us, then “we the people” have no right to complain or whine about the fact that our government “of the people” is no longer “by the people, for the people”. It can’t be “by the people, for the people” if “the people” don’t pay attention and make their voices heard. From the time this country was founded up until the advent of the television, Americans actively kept themselves very apprised of what was happening in government and politics. Every adult was paying attention to and participating in the discussion about the nation’s governance. It’s time for us to make it so again.
If we want to know what that looks like today, it has shown itself beautifully in the Standing Rock protests. Those people aren’t buying the mainstream media reports of “studies” showing how safe pipelines are. They did their homework and informed themselves of the real risks. They are very aware of what is at stake and are letting their opinions be heard – loudly and unwaveringly. They’ve taken a stand, even though it isn’t easy for them. What are you willing to stand for?