Sunday, February 13, 2005

Don't Want To Intrude My Beliefs

By Peter Fredson

(A Political-Religious Satire)

President Jet Fratboy was speechifying to an executive session of Christian Conservatives the other day and we were lucky enough to record some of his speech before we were handcuffed, flogged and thrown out bleeding on the street.

"Friends, it's an honor to speak informally to this group of honest Christian reconstructionists, dominionists, Moral Majoritarians, and Christian Coalitionists. I told you in 1998 that if you got me elected, I would pay you back many fold. We all followed the strategy of misdirection, stealth, deceit, denial, and downright imposition and it worked. It worked real good! I told everybody that I wouldn't intrude my religion on anybody, and they bought the story. Whatta bunch of losers!

"Friends, you know that I'm President now by the grace of God, Jesus Christ and probably the Virgin Mary too. They selected me for this job and I'm gonna repay them. I thank Jerry, Billy, Jimmy, Rushdooty, Franklin, Gary, Paul, Dick and all the other 48,000 televangelists. Without their data bases, computer lists, Sunday sermons on voting choices, selecting me as the Christian choice, I couldn't have beaten those stinking liberals. I gotta good relationship with Jesus, which everybody otta have. Nobody otta be allowed to be President that ain't a True Christian.

"First of all, I'm tired of all the Christian Bashing going on. I'm gonna stop it. I'm passing a law prohibiting blasphemy and derogatory talk about religious leaders. Anybody attacking my friends Jerry, Billy, Jimmy, Johnny, Ronnie or others are gonna find themselves in jail for disturbing the peace. I'm gonna shut down all those liberal media and all those lyin' reporters. They'll never work again.

"Second, I'm sick and tired of all that ruckus about prayer in school. We always had it and we're always gonna have it. I've made up an executive order for it. Me and my good Christian friends have made up a non-denominational Christian prayer that everybody in school is gonna say every morning, just before they say the Pledge of Allegiance…the one where God rules this nation, you better betcha. By the time those damned activist judges know what hit them it'll be too late.

"And speaking of activist liberal judges…well, they ain't gonna be around long. I'm getting rid of all of them, one by one. And I'm putting in good solid Christian True Believers in the Supreme Court so no atheist sonsabitches can murder babies, commit sodomy, blaspheme, or worship any other Gods but our own really True God. And that's a fact!

"And starting tomorrow I'm issuing a proclamation declaring this is the Century of the Bible, the world's greatest book, and that every school is gonna teach those precious words that the Creator hisself said to Moses and other old Jews. And I'm making the laws conform to that dear sacred book to save all our souls. I don't mean to intrude my beliefs on anybody, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

"And next month I'm issuing an executive order to print a picture of Our Lord himself on our Fifty Dollar bills, with a picture of Moses carrying the Ten Commandments on the dollar bill. That'll show those sonsabitchin atheists.

"And them I'm gonna change the antiquated Constitution to reflect our Holy Bible. I kin do it. I got the entire Republican Party behind me on that. Orin says he can figger out how to do it without having a recorded vote.

"And then I'm issuing an order to print a million copies of parchment with the original words of the Ten Commandments and post them in every Court Room, School Room, Congressional Office and washroom. I'm gonna print the 10 Commandments on every driver's license and nobody will be allowed to vote until they swear they have accepted Jesus as Lord. My daddy was right when he said that atheists couldn't be citizens. Now we're gonna shut them up for good.

"And we're gonna open every session of court, congress and federal office with a nice little prayer made up by my wife, which nobody could possibly object to, except some sonsabitchin atheist. I'm putting up a nice little altar in the Oval Office, with a baptismal font, and anybody that wants a contract with me gotta be sprinkled first.

"Ya remember I said I would take care of your needs. Well, I'm starting a new Federal Bureau BELIEF AND FAITH IN GOD because I know I kin trust you guys with money. I'm giving you lots of money to go out and spread the good news about Jesus and God and all that other good stuff. I'm putting General Boycan in charge of that. We got too many heathen here in this country and it's gotta stop. I want you to figger out how to evangelize this entire nation, lock-stock-and barrel. I want everybody down on their knees, praying day and night. I want them feminist women to shut their traps and get back to cookin and cleanin, where God meant them to be. And they gotta give us nooky whenever we want it, like God said. But you gotta be careful at first. Some people are gonna make trouble, so you gotta do it with stealth, and deceit and misdirection… like I did. Always tell them that you won't intrude your sacred beliefs on them. That's the story, so let's stick to it.

"Don't worry about the constitution because my lawyers figgerd out that I kin do anything I please. After all, I'm a War President! It don't matter that I started the war, once I got it going good nobody kin stop it. As you know, God told me that he's on our side. And, when I say God, it's not the fake one of the Muslims, no sir. And if anybody brings up that old junk about Separtition of Church and State just tell ‘em they have misunderestimated and underjudged …… "

At this point 50 men in heavy armor, gas masks, night vision goggles, black boots, black masks, rifles, pistols, grenades, tear gas and clubs stormed in to stop the dastardly recording of their beloved president. I knew I shouldn't have worn that T-Shirt that said:

Maybe someone will find this cassette recording, even if I never am released again. Whatta shame. It used to be a pretty nice country!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Fanaticus Mormonidae

By Tony Gill

I woke abrupt from a dream filled with oddities, obscurities and fleeting absurdities, to my doorbell. I had a hangover. What species of sadist, I thought, would ring my doorbell at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Fanaticus Mormonidae, of course. I opened the door to two fine specimens (they’re often seen traveling in small groups) perched on my threshold.

Where does the impulse come from to proselytize?

Intensity of conviction is not the main factor which impels a movement to spread its faith to the four corners of the earth: “religions of great intensity often confine themselves to condemning, destroying, or at best pitying what is not themselves (Burckhardt, Force and Freedom). Nor is the impulse to proselytize an expression of an overabundance of power as Sir Francis Bacon has it “is like a great flood, that will be sure to overflow.” The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have, it is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. From this perspective, it’s not difficult to see that the creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse. It is doubtful whether a movement that does not profess some preposterous and patently irrational dogma can be possessed of that zealous drive which “must either win men or destroy the world.” It is also plausible that those movements with the greatest inner contradiction between profession and practice - that is to say with a strong feeling of guilt - are likely to be the most fervent in imposing their faith on others. The slaveholders of the South became the more aggressive in spreading their way of life the more it became patent that their way of life was untenable in the modern world.

The passion for proselytizing and the passion for world dominion are both perhaps symptoms of some serious deficiency at the center. It is probably as true of a band of apostles or conquistadors as it is of a band of fugitives setting out for a distant land that they escape from an untenable situation at home.

After explaining my agnosticism and them looking at me like I sprouted horns, I told them that the only real difference between us was that they use words as if they were ignorant of their true meaning.

They said “Wah?”

And I said “If a doctrine, and the particular religion it supports, is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. Why else would one have to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine? When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the yoos guys to complicate and obscure it. Simple words are made Pickwickian and pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. Ergo, there is this illiterate air about the most literate true believer,” (Truth be told, I’m quite incapable of working both “Pickwickian” and “ergo” into my sentences that early in the morning.) At once, one of them reached for a clear glass vial strung from his neck. On the vial was printed “Incase of heretic, Break!” Inside the shattered remains was a piece of rolled paper that had a quote from their holy book. It was a thinly veiled threat concerning my fate in the "life to come." (Only later did I determine that this necklace thingy was part of the Universal Emergency Mormon Reply Kit.).

I concluded with a “
then I guess I’ll see you there” and sent them on their merry way.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Religion is Totalitarian

(Editor's note: This post was written by Alon Levy.)

Although I am an atheist, I am a God-fearing person. More precisely, I fear the people who speak for this entity and derive their ethics and general worldview from it. By subordinating the needs of human beings to the needs of a God, religion is clearly authoritarian. God’s will is not subject to dispute, except for a court-like debate on what scripture or oral tradition means. Even the US constitution, which Americans revere religiously, can be changed with a sufficient majority; God’s word cannot be. God can be benevolent at times, but so can a totalitarian dictator—in the Soviet Union, nobody starved after the collectivization programs of the 1930s unless the state wanted him dead, in direct contrast to many third-world countries plagued by famine.

The point that religion has done a great deal of good is irrelevant. It is true that Martin Luther King was deeply religious, and had religious motives. But his rhetoric was as humanist as it was religious, and the movement he led contained religious and secular people alike. Furthermore, Martin Luther King is an odd if saintly case; more common among leaders of progressive movements are religious people who are very oppressive on other issues, such as William Jennings Bryan, who crusaded for creationism in the Scopes trial. In general, religious groups often mobilize against communist oppression, but not against fascist oppression, which usually goes hand in hand with fusion of church and state. While the exceptions, that is religious groups that oppose all tyranny, including their own, are laudable, they are in the minority everywhere in the world.

Religion is totalitarian because of its near-complete destruction of the private sphere. The social structure of theocracy permeates all aspects of life, including not just the public space, but also private space issues such as clothing, food, sex, what books one is allowed to read, and what people one is allowed to associate with. In these spheres there is strict control; the Taliban’s beard patrols are the most egregious example of this, but it differs from John Ashcroft’s covering of a nude statue only by quantity, not by quality.

Further, variation on the approved line of thought is not tolerated. Academics base their research on reality rather than scripture, and are hence vilified and, when religion gains enough power, persecuted. Disagreement with scripture is heresy, punishable by death in theocracies. Books are banned; heretics are murdered; science is suppressed; freedom of thought is nonexistent. Some religions are milder about this than others, but this is always because somebody is forcing them to; in India, for example, Hindu mobs rather than the state burn Muslims because the constitution is forcing the state to be secular.

Many religious people claim that their religion is actually tolerant and peaceful, and the extremists are hijacking the religion. The claim about peace is sometimes true, since many Christian and Muslim sects oppose both American imperialism and Al Qaida. As far as scriptures go, both the Koran and the New Testament contain passages promoting the holy war to spread the word and passages exalting peace, so this is not a good test. However, these devout Christians or Muslims seldom oppose other oppressive aspects of their respective religions. When the time came to take a stance on the religious statement in the USA’s pledge of allegiance—itself a fascist concept—hardly anyone opposed it, not even the churches that support gay marriage and abortions. Liberal Muslims who oppose anti-Semitism, veiling, and homophobia exist, but are insignificant in power and numbers compared to conservative, mainstream Islam.

Further, opposing the bad apples in your group is not enough; you have to also show that following your ideology does not lead to totalitarianism. Liberalism has its shady past too, in particular the corporate supremacy of the late 19th century in the West, but modern liberalism has absorbed enough socialist ideas for this to never happen again in a liberal state. The left-wing radicals of the 1960s were generally against authoritarianism as well as against capitalism, so if the student protests of May 1968 had toppled the French government, there would have been no risk of communist tyranny ensuing. However, this break with the shady past hardly exists in religions. Nowadays the Catholic Church is recurrently apologizing for past atrocities while still committing some, with strict opposition to abortion being the greatest. Protestants no longer murder Jews, but demonize Muslims instead; there are still no massacres only because the basically secular governments will not allow it.

Therefore, we have several world religions, which oppress women, invade people’s privacy, make shambles of free speech, and murder heathens. Further, although only the extremists actively pursue totalitarianism, the moderates are by and large very shrill and afraid to take a stand. Only when there is violence do moderate factions voice their dissent, and even then, they fail to answer the question, “How do you know you are immune to this?” What do Muslim pacifists do to quell the beheadings in Iraq? The religious liberals’ actions are commendable, but the religious conservatives do little more than wash their hands off this barbarism. The same applies to Christianity and Christian atrocities, although these are more confined to the past.

Now, I should get back to my original point about fearing religion. In the past twenty-five years, religion has been on the rise in several key areas of the world: the United States, the Islamic world, and India. Europe is not exactly undergoing religious revivalism, but runs the risk of one if Christianity is seen as the only counter to Islam. China was never religious, but it has always been authoritarian, and is now only taking baby steps toward liberal democracy. Latin America’s religious revival is very recent and not encompassing all countries, but still exists.

This revivalism is problematic, to say the least, for it goes hand in hand with decrease in individual liberty. If we should have learned anything from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, it is that authoritarianism and modern technology mix to form a catastrophic result. American liberals are decrying the lack of social justice in the Religious Right, but not the fact that the rise of religion is necessarily oppressive. Saddam Hussein and the Shah were brutal tyrants, but offered women many more rights than do the fundamentalists who took control of Iran and are nigh taking control of Iraq.

If indeed large swaths of the world slip to religious totalitarianism, this will be worse than when communism seemed invulnerable in two ways: one, theocracy plays on people’s tradition and culture, to which communism has never really connected, and two, religious revival is in progress in several areas of the world, so there will not be a great power opposing fundamentalism the way the USA opposed communism. The faint light at the end of the tunnel is that communist states did not fight one another too much, whereas fundamentalist states of different religions are very likely to, given the rhetoric of Pat Robertson on the one hand and Osama bin Laden on the other. Still, it’s likely that a properly configured global system of theocracies will result in a second Dark Age similar in length to the first.

While Hindu fundamentalism suffered a setback in the 2004 election, this does not reflect any permanent improvement, and meanwhile, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism are only on the rise. In the United States, organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition are getting stronger by the day, a trend that outweighs the increasingly liberal attitude of Americans toward gay rights. In the Islamic world, there simply isn’t any strong liberal organization; there are writers and activists who try to revive the rationalistic tradition of ijtihad, but they are weaker than the religious fanatics by several orders of magnitude.

The power of religion is increasing, and with it, so do the prospects of totalitarianism in the 21st century. Along with China, nonreligious but authoritarian, we have the Islamic bloc, India, and the United States, plus possibly Latin America. The religions these last four regions sport are all anti-humanistic, anti-individualistic, and anti-liberty. All the good causes they support pale in comparison to the suffering they cause. Their rise terrifies me, for it has the potential to cast a long shadow on the future of humanity.