"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Why Do We Live In A World That’s Petrified Of Women Who Love Sex?

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Oldspeak:Men are expected to be constantly-horny fuckbeasts, and women are expected to not want sex all that much, but trade it for things they do want, like trinkets, cuddling, and babies. This ugly idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex, doling it out carefully as a reward, the entire conception behind “sexual economy” nonsense and most misogynist conceptions of women: made up by the church 400 years ago…. Women who are afraid to give enthusiastic consent because they don’t want to be seen as one of those women, those rare freaks who really like to fuck, those awful sluts. Unable to ask for what they want or even admit how much they want it, they end up feeding the same kinds of thinking, the same stereotypes, the same ugly behaviors. Lacking the freedom to say yes, they lose the ability to say no, leading to a terrible and all-too-common outcome: a woman who wanted to fool around a bit with a guy, but didn’t want things to go as far as they did, and now she isn’t sure if it was wrong, because if she wanted something, she must have wanted everything, right? There’s no middle ground in the virgin/whore dichotomy.” –Noah Brand Unbridled patriarchy is a hell of a thing. Women are having their genitals removed, their vaginas sewn shut, physically and psychologically abused and made to feel like whores and sluts for expressing their sexuality. Why? Why is our culture dominated by disdain for the wonderful perpetuators of our species?

By Noah Brand @ The Good Men Project:

I recently came across an interesting post about a very interesting study concerning high-libido women. It was striking for me how much it resonated with my own experiences as a high-libido man, and very revealing in how it differed.

The study talks about how the women interviewed all described needing multiple relationships to be sexually satisfied, and I thought “Whoo, I know how that is.” It’s not practical for me to ask any one woman to be everything I want in a lover, so I stopped trying ten years ago. Polyamory has proven to be a much better fit for me emotionally and sexually. The study also talks about high-libido women consciously organizing their lives around sex to some degree, and again I thought “Oh yeah, right there with you.” I prioritize nookie over some things other folks might consider more important, and when I think about the things I consider successes in my own life, getting laid a lot tends to be near the top of the list.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. My culture tells me I’m supposed to like sex, supposed to make it a high priority, indeed supposed to define my worth as a person by it. I’m a man, after all. The study also talks about very sexual women having to fight slut-shaming, both internal and external, and having to deal with a culture that wants to pretend they don’t exist. These are not problems I have as a very sexual man. One of the perks of male privilege, I guess.

Except that like all privilege, it’s got the fucked-up dark side. Yeah, I get validated by mainstream American culture, because I largely fit the stereotype of the horny dude. What about low-libido guys? They get erased and denied as much as high-libido women do, to say nothing of asexual folks. A guy who would rather finish his homework than fuck is basically flat-out told that he’s not a real man. That’s not cool, and it can’t be good for anyone’s GPA.

Hell, there have been occasions when I’ve told a sexual partner that I wasn’t in the mood. Of course, as a guy who questions gender assumptions and thinks deeply about these issues and so on, I was totally cool with saying that to them.

Nah, just kidding. It was awful. It was wrenching. I literally spent a lot of time trying to think of any alternative or excuse I could offer other than “I’m not in the mood,” and when I did say it, I felt like a failure. It felt like an admission of something shameful. I very keenly felt the idea that I had failed as a man by having one evening where I wasn’t wildly horny. And that’s going into it knowing that this stuff is bullshit.

So that’s the situation with regard to high-libido folks: horny men and horny women have, in my experience, a lot in common in terms of desires and lifestyles. However, we both deal with the same cultural shit that damages and constrains us in different ways. Not trying to say those ways are perfectly symmetrical or equivalent, just that I’m as validated by the current system as anyone is likely to be, and I still get mindfucked by cultural expectations.

Of course, assumptions about male libido, as godawful as they are, pale in comparison to the incredibly creepy cultural ideas about female libido. One of the earliest known postclassical joke books is the 15th-centuryFacetiae of Poggio, in which we find the following anecdote, presented in the painfully stiff English translation:

A woman who was once asked by a man, why, if the pleasure of cohabitation was equal for both sexes, it was generally the men who pursued and importuned the women rather than vice-versa, replied:
“It is a very wise custom that compels the men to take the initiative. For it is certain that we women are always ready for sex; not so you men, however. And we should therefore be soliciting the men in vain, if they happened to be not in the proper condition for it.”

Somewhat later, in the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, we find this bit, described thus in the DVD package for those who don’t want to watch the video:

Larry is drifting off when Cheryl asks him, “Why am I the one that always has to initiate sex?” Larry explains that he’s always available, and all Cheryl has to do is tap him on the shoulder. Otherwise, he tells her, “I’ll just be mauling you all the time.”

In other words, it is the exact same joke, but the genders have been reversed. (Also, the original version had a perfectly good boner joke, but 21st-century assumptions are forced to omit it. This is not a net gain, from a comedy-writing standpoint.) What the hell happened between the 15th century and the 21st?

Okay, admittedly, several things happened. But the one we’re concerned with is that women’s libidos went from being considered as powerful or more so than men’s to being essentially erased. Pre-Renaissance examples of horny ladies abound, from the Greeks onward: make your own list, but do include Chaucer. He’s such fun. This change in attitudes appears to have been religiously motivated, and based on the idea that women are more spiritual and sacred than men, meaning “less horny.” Again, make your own list of contemporary leftovers of this attitude: there are plenty.

By the 18th century, it was taken as read that a woman who did experience (or at least express) sexual desire was suffering from a disorder. One important 1775 study of the subject linked the problem to “secret pollutions,” i.e. wanking, and (I swear I am not making this up) eating too much chocolate. I guess that’d go a ways toward explaining this advertisement. Women were diagnosed with, treated for, and often operated upon for “nymphomania,” the dread condition that causes a woman to want sex. (Talk to your doctor; you may suffer from it yourself!) And yes, by “operated upon”, I mean clitoridectomy. And yes, that’s fucking appalling.

Now, this is not an attempt to draw an equivalency, but I for one can’t help thinking of drapetomania, a disease discovered in the antebellum South which causes slaves to want to escape. It sounds like a tasteless joke now, but back then, it was the subject of serious research. In both cases, we’ve got authority telling people how they’re supposed to live, and then labeling any desire not to live that way as a mental illness. Again, not saying women’s libidos are the same issue as slavery, but there’s a structural analogy between the two “diseases.”

So yeah, this ugly idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex, doling it out carefully as a reward, the entire conception behind “sexual economy” nonsense and most misogynist conceptions of women: made up by the church 400 years ago. Total construction, and a relatively recent one at that. Commence dismantling all worldviews and Cosmopolitan articles predicated on it, please.

So, those are the two gross, ruinously fucked-up stereotypes we’ve got: men are expected to be constantly-horny fuckbeasts, and women are expected to not want sex all that much, but trade it for things they do want, like trinkets, cuddling, and babies. Both of these are wrong, but they remain insanely prevalent.

Take, for example, the “porn for women” joke done both by 30 Rock and the utterly godawful Porn For Womenseries of books, calendars, and assorted junk. The joke here is that women don’t want men to have sex with them, they want men to do housework, listen to their tedious female jabbering, and explicitly promise not to fuck them. So since women hate sex, porn for women should depict no sex whatsoever! Tee-hee!

In the real goddamn world, porn for women looks nothing like the joke. The two examples linked are all about images of hot men, but as the late, lamented On Our Backs demonstrated, lesbian porn for women is also hot and joyous. The disconnect between the joke and the reality is too wide to be funny.

We live in a world where yaoi manga sells too fast to be kept on the shelves, where slash fiction is one of the largest gift economies on earth, where romance novels comprise fifty percent of all paperback book sales, and we’re told women don’t like porn. Some of you may think romance novels aren’t porn. I suggest you read one. That’s how deeply invested our culture has become in the women-don’t-like-sex lie. We have to throw out basically all of the data to make that theory fit, so we blithely do just that.

This grotesque misrepresentation of women’s experience has, with the usual cruel duality of gender stereotypes, created a terrible problem for men. Because straight or bi men want to have sex with women. That’s… kind of the definition, really. We are told, however, that women don’t want sex. Thus, those of us who desire women must believe that we our desire is unwelcome, barely tolerated, and kind of gross. It’s like being biologically driven to fart in crowded elevators.

This, of course, feeds rape culture. Because after all, if there is no situation where any woman genuinely wantssex, then having sex with women who don’t want it… well, that’s just how it works, isn’t it? So if you have to trick her or get her insensibly drunk or lie to her or ignore all the times she says no… that’s basically how everyone does it, right? And there we start down the road of a lot of rape apologists, the “I’m entitled to sex, and women dole out sex as a rationed commodity, so if I rape a woman that’s basically like a starving man stealing bread” theory. I trust I don’t have to explain to anyone reading this how impossibly fucked up that line of thinking is. Short explanation: REALLY fucked up.

The other rape-apologist meme that arises out of this set of cultural assumptions is “Men always want sex, so they can’t help themselves.” Geez, your honor, she shouldn’t have tempted my urges like that. You shouldn’t dress that way because you know what men are like. If you dangle meat in front of the animal cage, don’t act surprised at what happens. You’ve heard these lines. They’re a perfect example of dual-direction ugliness, as they reduce men to animals and blame rape victims for the crimes committed against them. That’s horrible coming and going.

Male rape victims being mocked or disbelieved, or simply afraid to come forward? Arises from the same shit. Because after all, how could he say he didn’t want sex, when everyone knows all men constantly want sex? It’s on simply every sitcom! These poor guys may even tell themselves they must have wanted it, it couldn’t have been rape, because they’re normal healthy guys, right, so they couldn’t have not wanted sex. People will go a long way to rationalize something if it means finding a way to live with it.

The libido meme feeds the same culture from yet another angle too, with women who are afraid to give enthusiastic consent because they don’t want to be seen as one of those women, those rare freaks who really like to fuck, those awful sluts. Unable to ask for what they want or even admit how much they want it, they end up feeding the same kinds of thinking, the same stereotypes, the same ugly behaviors. Lacking the freedom to say yes, they lose the ability to say no, leading to a terrible and all-too-common outcome: a woman who wanted to fool around a bit with a guy, but didn’t want things to go as far as they did, and now she isn’t sure if it was wrong, because if she wanted something, she must have wanted everything, right? There’s no middle ground in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

High-libido women may not get caustic agents up their ladybusiness any more, as was a popular 19th-century treatment for “nymphomania”, but they still get slut-shamed for being on the wrong side of that same old dichotomy. Being told that only sluts and whores want what they want may lead them to decide “Okay, I’m a slutty whore” and behave according to what they think that means. This can lead to a lot of bad and painful choices, when thinking “I’m a woman who likes plenty of sex” might have led to some better ones.

Then, too, there are the low-libido fellas, the guys for whom fucking just isn’t that high a priority. They’re told that they don’t exist, that they’re not men, that their experience is either mythical or deeply wrong. A lot of these guys will try to have sex just to prove that they’re “normal,” and being driven by a desperate need to fit in, rather than by their own natural urges, may lead them to make bad choices. Maybe they’ll hurt themselves with those choices. Maybe they’ll hurt someone else. Maybe they won’t hurt anyone, just feel lonely and freakish and wrong their whole lives. None of these outcomes are okay.

The way we think about libido in our culture now is deeply broken. It involves denying the experience of damn near every person alive, everyone who doesn’t fit into a binary men-horny/women-not framework, and since human experience falls into a spectrum far more subtle and complex than that, that’s everyone. Feminism has made a good start on helping women embrace their sexuality in a healthy way, as some of our blog friends are living exemplars of, but that’s only a start. We have a lot of work yet to do.

Noah Brand is an author, editor, raconteur, and man-about-town.

© 2012 The Good Men Project All rights reserved.



The Crucifixion Of Jesus: Killing A Radical

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Oldspeak: ‘It is unfortunate that the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics….Unlike the modern church that drowns in materialism and supports the military empire, Jesus advocated love, peace and harmony. As it did in his day, this message undermines the ruling establishment. Unfortunately, it is rare for the church today to challenge the status quo, a failing that Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in his famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” when he castigated the modern-day church for being “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are’ –John W. Whitehead

By John W. Whitehead @ The Huffington Post:

“[Jesus] was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years. It was not for nothing that I wrote an article called ‘Atheists for Jesus’ (and was delighted to be presented with a T-shirt bearing the legend).” –Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

For those who profess to be Christians, the week leading up to Easter is the most sacred time of the year, commemorating as it does the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet while Jesus is a revered religious figure, he was also, as atheist Richard Dawkins recognizes, a radical in his own right whose life and teachings changed the course of history.

Too often today radicalism is equated with terrorism, extremism and other violent acts of resistance. Yet true radicalism, the kind embodied by such revolutionary figures as Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, actually involves speaking truth to power through peaceful, nonviolent means. Separated by time and distance, Christ, King and Gandhi were viewed as dangerous by their respective governments because they challenged the oppressive status quo of their day.

Jesus, in particular, undermined the political and religious establishment of his day through his teachings. For example, when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” exhorting his followers to turn the other cheek and give freely, he was telling us that active peacemaking is the way to end war. Indeed, if everything Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount is true — a message that King, to his peril, adopted in protest of the Vietnam War — there’d be no need for wars, war budgets or military industrial complexes. Imagine that.

Unfortunately, as the gruesome torture and crucifixion of Jesus make clear, there is always a price to pay for standing up to one’s oppressors. While the New Testament Gospels are the primary source for accounts of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death, his ordeal at the hands of Roman soldiers has been the topic of scholarly research for years. Indeed, as Time magazine reports, the latest topic of academic scrutiny involves claims by an Israeli television journalist that he may have uncovered the crucifixion nails used on Jesus — “smallish iron spikes with the tips hammered to one side.”

Certainly, the torture Jesus endured was agonizing. Yet, what was it about him that caused the Romans to view him as enough of a threat to make an example of him and have him crucified?

In the time of Jesus, religious preachers and self-proclaimed prophets were not summarily arrested and executed. Nor were nonviolent protesters. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors in Jerusalem would normally allow a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that even appeared to threaten the Roman Empire.

The charges leveled against Jesus — that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King as Messiah of Israel (the gravest charge, for which Jesus was ultimately crucified, as inscribed on the cross: “The King of the Jews”) — were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion. Crucifixion itself, usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals, was not only a common method for execution by Romans but was also the most feared.

The Gospels recount how, after Jesus’ arrest, temple guards brought him to the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, who declared him guilty of blasphemy. He was then ushered before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish council, which sought permission from the Romans to execute him. Whether an actual “trial” took place before Jesus was handed over to the Romans is uncertain. But more than likely, as he was moved from place to place, he was spat upon and beaten.

It is telling that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who alone had the authority to execute Jesus, focused on his political identity:“Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11). This seems to be primarily what mattered to Pilate, whose job it was to uphold the religious, as well as the temporal, power of the deified Caesars.

Jesus does not deny the allegation which, if true, will lead to his death. He answers: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

In other words, Jesus told Pilate — the one person who held Jesus’ life in his hands — to stick it. The cruel torture and killing of Jesus were certain to follow after that. The fact that Jesus was killed for claiming to be king of the Jews was not an afterthought pinned on the cross above his head. The Roman soldiers commissioned to prepare him for execution knew this was the issue. That is why they gave him the burlesque of coronation, clothing him in royal purple with a mock crown and scepter. Then they abased themselves and called out, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:3). Afterward, they beat Jesus.

The mob must have played a key role in Jesus’ condemnation, although there is little extensive historical evidence to support the scene played out in films and movies in which Pontius Pilate asks the crowd to choose between Barabbas the robber and Jesus. Most likely, the pressure to appease the masses would have forced the Romans to act. As author A.N. Wilson writes, “If the crowds could be pacified by the release of Barabbas, they could perhaps be cowed into submission by a cruel public display of what happens to Jews who use words like ‘kingdom’ … to the Roman governor.” Surrendering to the people’s will, Pilate granted an execution by crucifixion.

Matthew 27:26 indicates that Jesus was severely whipped in accordance with a Roman requirement that there be a scourging before each execution (except for those involving women, Roman senators or soldiers). A Roman flagrum, a leather whip consisting of three thongs, each ending with two lead balls designed to tear flesh, was the weapon of choice for inflicting scourgings. The Romans may have even used a similar instrument, a flagellum, in which small rocks or bone fragments were also attached on the end of the thongs. This instrument was typically used to tenderize a piece of meat.

Mayo Clinic scholars note that repeated floggings to the upper and lower back with iron balls that cut deeply into his flesh would have caused Jesus to nearly go into shock from blood loss:

“As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.”

In addition to the scourging, Jesus was also crowned with thorns. Scholars have observed that the thorns digging into his scalp probably severely irritated major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain for hours.

Medical experts speculate that the iron spikes used to nail Jesus to the cross measured from 5 to 7 inches long (the size of railroad spikes). The spikes were driven through his wrists (between the radius and the ulna and the carpals in his forearms), not his palms, and between the second and third metatarsal bones of his feet in order to support his body weight. Though the spikes were not nailed through major blood vessels, they were designed to sever major nerves, rupturing other veins and creating great pain. Added to this, hanging on the cross would have made it agonizingly difficult to breathe.

Doctors generally conclude that a combination of factors contributed to Jesus’ death on the cross: He had already lost an incredible amount of blood. He was exhausted from the beatings and from carrying his cross. Because he could only attempt to breathe by pushing his body upward with his knees and legs (often, Roman soldiers would break their victims’ legs with clubs), death by asphyxiation was inevitable. However, their most critical observation is that Jesus was already dead when Roman soldiers thrust the spear into his side.

Within a religious context, Jesus’ death was a sacrificial act of atonement for the sins of the world. In a historical context, his crucifixion sent a chilling warning to all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. As Mark Lewis Taylor, the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, observed in an interview with OldSpeak,

“The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, ‘Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.'”

Unlike the modern church that drowns in materialism and supports the military empire, Jesus advocated love, peace and harmony. As it did in his day, this message undermines the ruling establishment. Unfortunately, it is rare for the church today to challenge the status quo, a failing that Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in his famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” when he castigated the modern-day church for being “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

Written on April 16, 1963, while King was serving a jail sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was a response to eight prominent white Alabama clergymen who had called on African-Americans to cease their civil disobedience and let the courts handle the problem of desegregation. King’s words reminded Americans that the early church — the church established by Jesus’ followers — would never have been content to remain silent while injustice and persecution ruled the land:

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators” … They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

It is unfortunate that the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics.

“Christianity today often resembles an egg into which someone has poked a hole and sucked out all its contents,” writes Richard Smoley in Forbidden Faith (2006), “and then taken the shell, encrusted it with gold and jewels, and set it up as an object of veneration. In many ways, it remains a beautiful shell, but more and more people are finding that it no longer offers any nourishment. If they complain, they’re usually told that they just need to have more faith — which is of course no answer at all.”

Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire. As Mark Lewis Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus — the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be — is to be remembered.

Follow John W. Whitehead on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rutherford_inst

Army’s “Spiritual Fitness” Test Comes Under Fire

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

Oldspeak: Behold! America’s “Army Of One” a.k.a. “The New Crusaders”! And it’s no small irony that the test was test was designed by a psychologist who inspired the CIA’s torture program. 😐 Don’t think these facts are lost on the countless muslims being terrorized and torn asunder by American bombs from Afghanistan to Yemen… God IS Love…At the muzzle of an M-16. :-|”

From Jason Leopold @ Truthout:

An experimental, Army mental-health, fitness initiative designed by the same psychologist whose work heavily influenced the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program is under fire by civil rights groups and hundreds of active-duty soldiers. They say it unconstitutionally requires enlistees to believe in God or a “higher power” in order to be deemed “spiritually fit” to serve in the Army.

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a $125 million “holistic fitness program” unveiled in late 2009 and aimed at reducing the number of suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases, which have reached epidemic proportions over the past year due to multiple deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the substandard care soldiers have received when they return from combat. The Army states that it can accomplish its goal by teaching its service members how to be psychologically resilient and resist “catastrophizing” traumatic events. Defense Department documents obtained by Truthout state CSF is Army Chief of Staff George Casey’s “third highest priority.”

CSF is comprised of the Soldier Fitness Tracker and Global Assessment Tool, which measures soldiers’ “resilience” in five core areas: emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual. Soldiers fill out an online survey made up of more than 100 questions, and if the results fall into a red area, they are required to participate in remedial courses in a classroom or online setting to strengthen their resilience in the disciplines in which they received low scores. The test is administered every two years. More than 800,000 Army soldiers have taken itthus far.

But for the thousands of “Foxhole Atheists” like 27-year-old Sgt. Justin Griffith, the spiritual component of the test contains questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God or another deity, meaning nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly and will be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.

Griffith, who is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, took the test last month and scored well on the emotional, family and social components. But after completing the spiritual portion of the exam, which required him to respond to statements such as, “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world,” he was found to be spiritually unfit because he responded by choosing the “not like me at all” box.

His test results advised him, “spiritual fitness” is an area “of possible difficulty for you.”

“You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life,” Griffith’s test said. “At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.”

In an interview, Griffith, who was not speaking on behalf of the Army, said he was “deeply offended” by the spiritual questions he was forced to answer.

“It seems like my destiny is all messed up and that I am unfit to serve in the United States Army, if you believe the results of this test,” said Griffith, who has served in the Army for five years. “When I think of the word spirituality I go to the root of the word: spirit. I don’t believe in that.”

Lt. Greg Bowling agreed that the test “asks rather intrusive questions about soldiers’ spirituality – coming perilously close to violating the 1st Amendment.”

“There was no option to avoid the questions, leaving our atheist soldiers to wonder if their beliefs are tolerated in today’s increasingly religious Army,” he said.

According to a copy of the test, the Army maintains that the “spiritual dimension questions … pertain to the domain of the human spirit: they are not ‘religious’ in nature. The Comprehensive Fitness Program defines spiritual fitness as strengthening a set of beliefs, principles, or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional and societal sources of support.”

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of the CSF program, has said, “The spiritual strength domain is not related to religiosity, at least not in terms of how we measure it.”

“It measures a person’s core values and beliefs concerning their meaning and purpose in life,” she said. “It’s not religious, although a person’s religion can still affect those things. Spiritual training is entirely optional, unlike the other domains. Every time you say the S-P-I-R word you’re going to get sued. So that part is not mandatory. The assessment is mandatory though and junior soldiers will be required to take exercises to strengthen their other four domains.”

But despite the verbal gymnastics Cornum seems to engage in over the meaning of “spiritual” and “religious,” it has been established that the spiritual component of CSF is deeply rooted in religious doctrine.

press release issued by Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in January 2010 said renowned “Psychology of Religion” expert Dr. Kenneth Pargament was tapped to develop the spiritual portion of the test in consultation with Army chaplains, BGSU ROTC cadets, graduate students and officials at West Point.

Cornum’s claims that soldiers are not required to participate in remedial training if they score poorly on the spiritual portion of the test were not articulated to Griffith and other soldiers, who told Truthout they feared they would be disciplined by their superior officers if they didn’t act on the recommendations they received after taking the exam. In fact, nowhere on the test does it state that such training is voluntary.

Moreover, Cornum’s attempts to replace the word “religious” with “spiritual” as a way to avoid a lawsuit was not lost on one civil rights organization.

Last week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and General Casey, the Army’s chief of staff, demanding that the Army immediately cease and desist administering the “spiritual” portion of the CSF test. (Full disclosure: MRFF founder and President, Mikey Weinstein, is a member of Truthout’s board of advisers.)

“The purpose of the [spiritual component of the test] though couched in general and vague language, is to strengthen a solder’s religious conviction,” says the December 30, 2010, letter signed by Caroline Mitchell, an attorney with the law firm Jones Day, who is representing MRFF. “Soldiers who hold deep religious convictions routinely pass the spirituality component of this test while atheists and nontheists do not. The Army cannot avoid the conclusion that this test is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by simply substituting the word ‘spiritual’ for ‘religious.'”

“The majority of the spiritual statements soldiers are asked to rate are rooted in religious doctrine, premised on a common dogmatic belief regarding the meaning of life and the interconnectedness of living beings,” the letter further states. “The statements in the tests and remedial materials repeatedly promote the importance of being a believer of something over electing to be a nonbeliever. Moreover, the images that accompany portions of the CSF Training Modules make clear the religious aspects of the spirituality training.”

Mitchell says the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits such religious testing.

“And it’s not just the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which is being blatantly violated here,” Weinstein said. “Clause 3 of Article 6 of the body of our nation’s Constitution specifically prohibits any type of ‘religious test’ being used in connection with any government service. Thus, this ‘spirituality’ portion of the Army’s CSF test completely savages this bedrock Constitutional prohibition.”

Weinstein said MRFF currently represents more than 200 Army soldiers who are “vehemently objecting to this clearly transparent ‘religious test’, the majority of them practicing Christians themselves.”

He said he does not expect the Army to stop administering the spirituality portion of the test. Weinstein and his legal team intend to pursue legal remedies if they are rebuffed, he said.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has also sent a letter to McHugh calling on the Army to stop assessing soldiers’ spiritual fitness.

Additionally, Jones Day filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last week on behalf of Griffith and MRFF, seeking a wide range of documents related to the development of the spiritual portion of CSF. Truthout is also a party to the FOIA request.

A Defense Department spokesperson did not return calls or emails for comment.

“Dr. Happy”

CSF is based entirely on the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, a member of the Defense Health Board, a federal advisory committee to the secretary of defense, and chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, who the Army calls “Dr. Happy.

Seligman, who once told a colleague that psychologists can rise to the level of a “rock star” and “have fame and money,” is the author of “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.” The Penn Resiliency Program, upon which the Army’s CSF is based, “teaches cognitive-behavioral and social problem-solving skills and is based in part on cognitive-behavioral theories of depression by Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis” and Seligman.

Despite his “happy” reputation, in some circles, Seligman is best known for developing the theory of “Learned Helplessness” at the University of Pennsylvania more than four decades ago. As psychologist and torture expert Dr. Jeffrey Kaye noted in a report published in Truthout last year, Seligman and psychologist Dr. Steven Maier developed the concept of Learned Helplessness after they “exposed dogs to a situation where they were faced with inescapable electrical shocks.”

“Within a short period of time, the dogs could not be induced to escape the situation, even when provided with a previously taught escape route,” Kaye wrote. “Drs. Seligman and Maier theorized that the dogs had ‘learned’ their condition was helpless. The experimental model was extended to a human model for the induction of clinical depression and other psychological conditions.”

Seligman’s work in this area influenced psychologists under contract to the CIA and Defense Department, who applied the theory to “war on terror” detainees in custody of the US government, according to a report published in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In May of 2002, the timeframe in which the CIA began to use brutal torture techniques against several high-value detainees, Seligman gave a three-hour lecture at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape school in San Diego. Audience members included the two psychologists – Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell – who have been called the architects of the Bush administration’s torture program.

Five months earlier, Seligman hosted a meeting at his house that was attended by Mitchell, along with the CIA’s then-Director of Behavioral Science Research, Kirk Hubbard, and at least one “Israeli intelligence person.” Seligman claims he was totally unaware his theory on Learned Helplessness was being used against detainees after 9/11 and denied ever engaging in discussions about the torture program with Mitchell, Jessen, or any other Bush administration official.

“Learned Optimism”

Seligman, a past president of the American Psychological Association (APA), began consulting with General Casey in September 2008 about applying the research he and his colleagues have conducted over the past decade to the benefits of his theories on “Learned Optimism” to all of the Army’s active-duty soldiers. Seligman then met with Cornum in December 2008 to discuss creating the foundation for CSF as a way to decrease PTSD.

“Psychology has given us this whole language of pathology, so that a soldier in tears after seeing someone killed thinks, ‘Something’s wrong with me; I have post-traumatic stress,’ or PTSD,” Seligman said in August 2009. “The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary, to speak in terms of resilience. Most people who experience trauma don’t end up with PTSD; many experience post-traumatic growth.”

According to a report published in December 2009 in the APA Monitor, Seligman believes that positive thinking methods taught to schoolchildren who “were [conditioned] to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter every day” can also be taught to Army soldiers and the results will be the same.

Seligman said he is basing his theory on a series of 19 studies he conducted, which found that teachers who “emphasized the importance of slowing the problem-solving process down by helping students identify their goals, gather information and develop several possible ways to achieve those goals,” increased students’ optimism levels over the course of two years “and their risk for depression was cut in half.”

But unlike studies conducted on schoolchildren, there is no research that exists that shows applying those same conditioning methods to the Army’s active-duty soldiers will reduce PTSD. Seligman, however, seems to be aware that is the case. That may explain why he has referred to Army soldiers as his personal guinea pigs.

“This is the largest study – 1.1 million soldiers – psychology has ever been involved in and it will yield definitive data about whether or not [resiliency and psychological fitness training] works,” Seligman said about the CSF program.

“We’re after creating an indomitable Army,” Seligman said.

Positive Psychology’s Critics

While positive psychology, a term coined by Seligman, has its supporters who swear by its benefits, the movement also has its fair share of critics. Bryant Welch, who also served as APA president, said, “personally, I have not been able to find a meaningful distinction between [positive psychology] and Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking. Both emphasize substituting positive thoughts for unhappy or negative ones.”

“And yet the US military has bought into this untested notion to the tune of [$125] million,” Welch said. “This money, of course, could have been used to provide real mental health care to our troops. Instead, it is being used to tell military personnel that they can (and, thus, presumably should) overcome whatever happens to them on the battlefield with the dubious tools of Positive Psychology.”

PTSD “is is not a mental state that can be treated by suggesting to the patient that he or she simply re-frame how they think about the situation, as Dr. Seligman suggests,” Welch added.

Other notable critics include authors Chris Hedges and Barbara Ehrenreich, both of who say the practice has thrived in the corporate world where the refusal to consider negative outcomes resulted in the current economic crisis.

Hedges, author of the book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” wrote, “positive psychology, which claims to be able to engineer happiness and provides the psychological tools for enforcing corporate conformity, is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis.”

“Positive psychology is a quack science that throws a smoke screen over corporate domination, abuse and greed,” Hedges said. “Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction.”

Hedges added that “academics who preach [the benefits of positive psychology] are awash in corporate grants.”

Indeed, Seligman’s CV shows he has received tens of millions of dollars in foundation cash to conduct positive psychology research.

According to a report published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “People credit a large part of positive psychology’s success to the solid reputations of the field’s leaders – and Seligman’s ability to get science-supporting agencies interested.”

“The National Institute of Mental Health has given more than $226-million in grants to positive-psychology researchers in the past 10 years, beginning with just under $4-million in 1999 and reaching more than nine times that amount in 2008,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Seligman has equated his work for the Army to assisting the “second largest corporation in the world.”

Multimillion-Dollar Contract

Seligman’s biggest payday came last year, when the Positive Psychology Center received a three-year, $31 million, no-bid, sole-source Army contract to continue developing the program.

According to Defense Department documents, “the contract action was accomplished using other than competitive procedure because there is only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirement[s]. Services can only be provided from the original source as this is a follow-on requirement for the continued provision of highly specialized services.”

In 2009, several months after receiving the green light from Casey to develop the CSF program, the Army paid Seligman’s Positive Psychology Center $1 million to begin training hundreds of drill sergeants to become Master Resilience Trainers (MRTs), “certified experts who will advise commanders in the field and design and facilitate unit-level resilience training across the Army.”

More than 2,000 MRTs have been trained since CSF was rolled out in October 2009. The Army intends to certify thousands more MRTs.

The Defense Department’s justification for the no-bid contract said Seligman’s program “possesses unique capabilities, in that, [it is] the only established, broadly effective, evidence-based, train the trainer program currently available which meets the Army’s minimum needs.”

Seligman’s program was “explicitly designed to train trainers (teachers) in how to impart resiliency and whole life fitness skills to others (their students),” the contracting documents state. “Other existent programs are designed to simply teach resiliency directly to participants. The long-term outcomes of [Seligman’s program] have been examined in over 15 well documented studies.”

“Without the Army’s Resiliency Master Trainer Program [as taught by Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania] the exacerbated effects of multiple wars and other stressors result in a weakened corps and this directly impacts the Army’s readiness and ultimately compromises the national security of our nation … This program is vitally important to our forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The contracting documents go on to say that “market research … mostly through a thorough web search and networking with subject matter experts both within the Army, across services and in [academia] into other “positive psychology” programs was conducted between August and October 2008 before the Army decided to award the contract to Seligman because his program met the Army’s immediate needs.

Cornum said in July 2009 that similar resiliency tests used by the University of Pennsylvania for the general public would be “militarized” by the Army.

A Difficult Challenge

But according to Griffith, the atheist Army sergeant, the Army did not do enough to remove the religious connotatitions from the spiritual section of the test.

Even Seligman’s colleagues acknowledge that attempting to separate spirituality from religion is a challenge.

“Mapping the conceptual distinctions between what we refer to as ‘religion’ and what we refer to as ‘spirituality’ can be difficult,” wrote Ben Dean in an article published on the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness web site.

Griffith said there’s a simple solution: “Scrap [the] spiritual aspect altogether.”

How Republicans And Their Big Business Allies Duped Tens Of Millions Of Evangelicals Into Voting For A Corporate Agenda

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2010 at 8:41 am

Oldspeak:”Fear, end times fantasies, reconstructionist theology, the abortion debate… These were the hooks used by the corporatocracy to dupe millions of bible thumping middle and lower class white evangelicals in to thinking they’d “hit back at what they regarded as the nefarious forces trying to “take our country away.” They were bought, paid for, sold, traded and manipulated by the most powerful in the US election: a Billionaire Lynch Mob led by Rupert Murdoch, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and hundreds of millions in organize corporate cash. They peddled a fear agenda: fear of immigrants, fear of government control of our lives, fear that their country would become irrevocably changed.”

From  Frank Schaeffer @ Alter Net:

Here’s how it happened:

Where the fear and loathing began

A bedrock article of faith among many of the anti-Obama white voters is that America had “Christian origins,” and that today America must be “restored” to “our religious heritage.” The “Puritan heritage” of America is constantly cited as evidence for our need to return to our “biblical roots.” The Constitution is also waved around as if it too is some sort of Bible to be religiously believed in. Of course the Billionaire Lynch Mob doesn’t care about such quaint ideas as individual liberties, let alone “biblical absolutes,” but many of the people who believed the anti-Obama lies did care.

The earnest, mostly Evangelical dupes have a point: by calling for a “return to our roots” (be they biblical and/or constitutional) they are actually maintaining a grand old American tradition: religious delusion as the basis for conquest. The Puritans believed that they were importing “authentic Christianity” to America, especially as written in the Old Testament. They said that they were on a divine mission, even calling themselves “The New Israel” and a “city set upon a hill.” John Winthrop (governor of Massachusetts Bay) transferred the idea of “nationhood” in biblical Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company. And the Puritans claimed they were God’s “Chosen People.” They said that they had the right to grab land from the “heathen.” These were the American Indians whom the Puritans thought of as the “new Canaanites,” to be slaughtered with God’s blessing and in the case of the Pequot Indians burned alive.

There are many threads in the anti-Obama tapestry but three are ignored at our peril: 1) The End Times fantasies of the Evangelicals; 2) The rise of so-called Reconstructionist theology and 3) the culture war launched over the legalization of abortion.

These “threads,” not the economy alone, are also the source of the vote where white lower class and white middle class Americans voted in droves against their own self-interest.  Let’s unpick these fraying threads one at a time.

1. “End Times” Fantasies

The evangelical/fundamentalists/Republican far right is in the grip of an apocalyptic “Rapture” cult centered on revenge and vindication. This “End Times” death wish is built on a literalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. This fantasy has many followers. For instance to take one of many examples, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series of sixteen novels represents both a “reason” and a symptom of the hysteria that grips so many voters.

The “Left Behind” novels have sold tens of millions of copies while spawning an “End Times” cult, or rather egging it on. Such products as Left Behind video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms of End Times paranoia include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, freeze dried food (pitched to them, by the way, by Billionaire Lynch Mob-handmaid Glenn Beck), gold (also sold to them by Glenn Beck), adopting “Christ-centered” home school curricula, fear of higher education (“we’ll lose our children to secularism”), embracing rumor as fact (“Obama isn’t an American”) and fighting against Middle East peace iniatives, lest they delay the “return of Jesus,” for instance through Houston mega church pastor John Hagee’s Christian Zionist-centered “ministry.”

A disclosure: My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the American Religious Right. For a time in the 1970s and early 80s I joined him in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement. I changed my mind. I explain why I quit the movement in my book CRAZY FOR GOD — How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All – Or Almost All – Of It Back.

John Hagee, mega church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel said: “For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the Evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have Christians over a barrel you might say.” The assumption Hagee makes — that “Bible-believing Christians” will be pro-Israel — is the dominant view among American Evangelical Christians. These are the people who goad us to make perpetual war worldwide. And these are the people who supposedly follow a teacher who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Few within the Evangelical community have dared to publically question such Haggee’s approach. The Christian Zionists led by Hagee et al even went after their very own George W Bush for backing peace talks between Palestinians and the Israeli government. So can you imagine the hatred the Christian Zionists have for President Obama, who also wants peace in the Middle East?

The momentum for building a subculture that’s seceding from mainstream society (in order to await “The End Times” has irrevocably pried loose a chunk of the American population from both sanity and from their fellow citizens. The Christian Zionist franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that — at last — everyone will know “We born-again Christians” were right and “They” were wrong. But here’s the political significance of the Christian Zionist dominance: the evangelical/fundamentalists’ imagined victimhood.

I say imagined victimhood, because the born-agains are hardly outsiders let alone victims. They’re very own George W Bush was in the White House for eight long, ruinous years and Evangelicals also dominated American politics for the better part of thirty years before that by enforcing a series of “moral” litmus tests that transformed the Republican Party into their very own culture wars lickspittle.

Nevertheless, the white evangelical/conservative Roman Catholic sense of being a victimized minority only grew with their successes. “You are not alone!” said Glenn Beck, playing to these “disenfranchised” “victims,” who – as the midterm results once again proved — turn out to look more like a majority of white voters who had the power to turn Sarah Palin into a multimillionaire overnight and send the likes of Rand Paul to the Senate.

2. The Rise of Reconstructionist Theology

Where did the “victims” on the Far Right get their “theology” of perpetual damn-the-facts victimhood from? The history of theology (Christian or otherwise) is the history of people desperately trying to fit the way things actually are into the way their “holy” books say they should be. And since the facts don’t fit and never will, religious believers can either change their minds, embrace paradox, or find someone else to blame for their never-ending loss of face and self-esteem.

Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ (often indirect) influence over the wider Evangelical community. In turn, the Evangelicals shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the Religious Right let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its rage.

If you feel victimized by modernity (let alone humiliated by reality) then the Reconstructionists have The Answer to your angst: apply the full scope of the Biblical Law to modern America and to the larger world! Coerce “non-believers” to live in your imaginary universe! In other words Reconstructionists wanted to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible.

Most Evangelicals are positively moderate by comparison to the Reconstructionist “thinkers.” Most libertarians, who formed the backbone of the Tea Party (at least until the Far Right Evangelicals began to take the Tea Party over) would hate them. But the Reconstructionist movement is a distilled version of the more mainstream evangelical version of exclusionary theology that nonetheless divides America into the “Real America” (as the Far Right claim only they are) and the rest of us “sinners.”

The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra Calvinist, but like all Calvinism has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women, murder rival tribes and steal land. These justifications probably reflect later thinking: origin myths used as propaganda to justify political and military actions after the fact—i.e., to justify their brutality the Hebrews said that God made them inflict on others and/or that they were “chosen.”

In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a twentieth century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people I knew personally and worked with closely when I too was a Religious Right activist claiming God’s special favor. The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding Federal Reserve-haters, and creator of the modern Evangelical home-school movement),  his son-in-law Gary North (an economist, gold-buff, publisher and leading conspiracy theorist), and David Chilton (ultra-Calvinist pastor and author.)

Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct “our fallen society.”  Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation, which has been classified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the Chalcedon Foundation website, the mission of the movement is to apply “the whole Word of God” to all aspects of human life: “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.

It’s no coincidence that the rise of the Islamic Brotherhoods in Egypt and Syria and the rise of Reconstructionism took place in more or less the same twentieth-century time frame—as modernism, science and “permissiveness” collided with a frightened conservatism rooted in religion. The writings of people such as Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and those of Rushdoony are virtually interchangeable when it comes to their goals of “restoring God” to his “rightful place” as he presides over law and morals. Or as the late Reconstructionist/Calvinist theologian David Chilton, writing inPARADISE RESTORED–A Biblical Theology of Dominion (and sounding startlingly al-Banna-like) explained:

Our goal is a Christian world, made up of explicitly Christian nations. How could a Christian desire anything else? Our Lord Himself taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6: 10)… The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the worldwide dominion of God’s Kingdom… a world of decentralized theocratic republics…. That is the only choice: pagan law or Christian law. God specifically forbids “pluralism.” God is not the least bit interested in sharing world dominion with Satan.

The message of Rushdoony’s work is best summed up in one of his innumerable Chalcedon Foundation position papers, “The Increase of His Government and Peace.” He writes: “[T]he ultimate and absolute government of all things shall belong to Christ.” In his book Thy Kingdom Come — using words that are similar to those the leaders of al Qaida would use decades later in reference to “true Islam” — Rushdoony argues that democracy and Christianity are incompatible: “Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life,” he writes.  “One [biblical] faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state… Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.”

3. The Culture Wars Launched over the Abortion Debate

The significance and rise of the Reconstructionists and their (often indirect) impact on the wider evangelical subculture can only be understood in the context of the January 22, 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Roe energized the culture war like nothing else before or since. This war has even fed the passion that burned within the so-called Tea Party movement’s reaction to Obama’s moderate legislative health care reform predicting “Death Panels.” Roe also indirectly energized even those members of the Far Right – for instance the Tea Party’s pro-choice libertarians — who didn’t care about abortion per se. Roe had such far-reaching effects because reactions to Roe defined the scorched-earth, winner-take-all and rabidly anti-government tone of the culture war fights since 1973.

Fast forward thirty years to the first decade of the twenty-first century: The messengers and day-to-day “issues” changed but the volume of the anti-government “debate” and anger originated with the anti-abortion movement. “Death Panels!”, “Government Takeover!”, “Obama is Hitler!” and all such “comments” were simply updated versions of “pro-life” rhetoric.  And ironically, at the very same time as the Evangelicals who began the anti-abortion crusade (along with conservative Roman Catholics) had thrust themselves into bare knuckle politics over Roe, they also (I should say we also) retreated to what amounted to virtual walled compounds.

Evangelicals created a parallel “Christian America,” our very own private world, as it were, posted with “No Trespassing” signs. Our new “world” was about creating a Puritan/Reconstructionist-style holy-nation-within-our-fallen-nation.

This went far beyond mere alternative schools and home schools. Thousands of new Christian bookstores opened, countless Evangelical radio programs flourished in the 1970s and 80s, and new TV stations went on the air. Even a “Christian Yellow Pages” (a guide to Evangelical tradesmen) was published advertising “Christ-centered plumbers,” accountants and the like who “honor Jesus.” New Evangelical universities and even new law schools appeared, seemingly overnight with a clearly defined mission to “take back” each and every profession – including law and politics – “for Christ.” For instance, Liberty University’s Law School was the creation of the late Jerry Falwell, who told me in 1983 of his vision for Liberty’s programs: “Frank, we’re going train a new generation of judges and world leaders in the law from a Christian worldview to change America.” This was the same Jerry Falwell who wrote in America Can Be Saved: “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools.”

To the old-fashioned Goldwater-type conservative mantra of “big government doesn’t work,” in the 1970s the newly-radicalized Evangelicals added “the US Government is Evil!” Our swap of spiritual faith for the illusion of political power – I say “illusion” since even in the 70s and 80s the real power was in the hands of the Billionaire Lynch Mob — meant that we would tell people how to vote, but that we didn’t want our kids going to school with theirs. We’d wind up defending not just private schools and home schooling to “protect” our children from the world, but also private oil companies and private gas-guzzling polluting cars, private insurance conglomerates and so forth.

The price for the Religious Right’s wholesale idolatry of private everything was that Christ’s reputation was tied to a cynical political party owned by billionaires from the fast-food industry, raping the earth (not to mention our health), to the oil companies destroying our climate. It only remained for a Far Right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 (Citizens United V. The Federal Election Commission), that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns – anonymously — in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the super wealthy who long since were the only entities served by the Republican Party’s defense of the individual against the government. The “individuals” turned out to be Exxon, the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, McDonald’s and Goldman Sachs et al.


It’s a question of legitimacy and illegitimacy. What the Religious Right, including the Religious Right’s Roman Catholic and Protestant “intellectuals” (like my father) did, was contribute to a climate where the very legitimacy of our government, even any government, is up for grabs. Then the internet came along and Fox News came along and Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann et all came along and no fiction was too fantastical to be believed as fact. We passed into a high tech stone age, myth superstition and outright lies gained a new currency.

Following the election of our first black President, the “politics” of the Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Mormon Far Right was not the politics of a loyal opposition, but the instigation of race-tinged revolution first and best expressed by Rush Limbaugh when he said, “I hope Obama fails.” All that happened in the midterm election of 2010 was that the corporate interests (unleashed by the Supreme Court), the Republican Party leadership and the Tea Party built on and/or cashed in on, the “biblically-based” antigovernment passion.

This was the politics that won in the Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections. This was the logical conclusion of the process of delegitimizing the Federal Government that was launched by the Reconstructionists, the anti-abortion movement and of course is fed by the “Left Behind”/Christian Zionist apocalyptic revenge fantasy.

The Billionaire Lynch Mob’s only sacrament is fear. Their reward for cashing in on white religiously-believing middle class American’s addiction to Bronze Age biblical mythology is to walk away with our country. And fear-filled white Americans don’t get anything in return, unless you count their fleeting visceral pleasure of putting “that uppity black man” in the White House in his place.

The Family: Secretive Christian Group Of Conservative Lawmakers Building A ‘God-Led’ Government

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Oldspeak:”Genocide, rape, war, homophobia, adultery, zealous support for despots and dictators , fanatical promotion of religious authoritarianism and fundamentalism… All in the name of Jesus. ANNND alotta money… Islam isn’t the only religion with lost souls posing as pious men.

From Anna Clark @ Alter Net:

The Family, also known as the Fellowship, is a cohort of powerful lawmakers seeking to create a “God-led government” at home and abroad. Chief among the journalists who brought the Family to light is Jeff Sharlet, author of the new book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. (The title of the book refers to the Washington townhouse that serves as the gathering place and sometime residence of Family members.)

While Sharlet has been digging into the secretive Family for years, it wasn’t until last year’s trio of sex scandals that a glaring spotlight was cast on the group. The adulterous affairs of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Mississippi, revealed their common membership in the secretive group.

The Family was founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, who believed that Christianity made a 2,000-year-old mistake by focusing on the poor. Vereide believed God told him to minister to the powerful; the modern-day “kings” chosen to enact divine will. Since then, these “key men” — powerful politicians, well-placed executives and influential global leaders — meet for Bible studies and “prayer cells.” Members of the family try to cultivate powerful leaders around the world — many of them despots — to enact their Christian agenda globally.

The Family has always operated in secret; for more than 70 years, the group has influenced policy and business deals in the U.S. and abroad almost entirely without the public’s notice.

Family members have advocated for the violently anti-gay legislation currently before Uganda’s legislature; David Bahati, MP who introduced the bill to Uganda’s parliament, has been a longtime darling of the Family and a guest at the group’s only public event, the National Prayer Breakfast. Their involvement in the Uganda anti-gay bill isn’t an outlier: in the past, the Family has done business favors and supported dictatorships in Indonesia, Somalia and Haiti, among other nations under authoritarian rule. Meanwhile, Family forces connected to the U.S. military seek to spread fundamentalist Christianity. An organization of 15,000 officers is dedicated to what is described as “reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”

While elected leaders in the U.S. ostensibly represent a democracy, with ideals of transparency and the separation of church and state, the Family urges its members to choose secrecy and consolidated power. Journalist Jeff Sharlet has managed to break through the Family’s secrecy, writing two books that dig deep inside the shady organization. AlterNet spoke to him by phone.

Anna Clark: Do you believe members of the Family sincerely believe they are doing God’s work, or is that language consciously used by them as a cover?

Jeff Sharlet: Not all of them, but most of them do sincerely believe it. One guy—whose name I can’t put on record, but who was very intimately involved—I went to sit down with him because he wanted to know what I was working on. I told him that I’m not attacking religion at all. He told me ‘I don’t care. It’s about money.’ There are a lot of people there just using it, definitely.

But the more disturbing thing is that move you get with someone like Sen. Inhofe. He travels the world and talks to these oil-rich dictators, telling them he loves them, they melt his heart, their brothers in Christ. He becomes their champion back in America. Well, the oil industry likes that, they like that he’s speaking out on sanctions on the industry in Nigeria. Inhofe gets a lifetime achievement award from the petroleum industry, and the industry donates heavily to his re-election campaign. Inhofe doesn’t experience that as cynicism or corruption. He experiences it as that he’s doing God’s work.

[Members of the Family] are in it for the cash, but they’re in it for God too. Are they cynical or sincere? The answer is: yes. Both. Simultaneously.

AC: Does the Family have any other counterparts in U.S. politics – groups of people that, religiously based or not, are contracting the scope of democracy?

JS: Yes, absolutely. I’m not saying that these guys are the secret puppet-masters that control the world. All I’m doing with this story is adding one more power base to our pantheon.

But the real key thing about the Family is the secrecy. Now, I disagree with Pat Robinson and James Dobson completely, 100 percent. I know they do secret things, but they are out there in the public square. They engage in democracy. Sure, it’s for an undemocratic vision, but that’s legitimate. But [the Family’s] unusual and uncommon influence is that for so long they denied their own existence. That’s starting to change, though, because of all this publicity.

AC: It’s amazing that the strategy really works. The founder articulated that it would be more powerful and efficient if the Family denied its own existence, and he was right!

Ronald Reagan once said at the National Prayer Breakfast, the Family’s only public event, he said to the journalists in the room about the Family: ‘I could tell you more about it, but I can’t. It’s working precisely because it’s private.’ And then he said this: “I’ve had my moments with the press, but I have to commend them for their discretion.”

You’re a journalist, you know that any time a politician compliments you on your discretion, it’s a problem! But a lot of these journalists see that as a sign that they’re in, they’re in the inner circle. They say they’re “cultivating sources.” No, you’re not, you hack! You’re auditioning for a talking heads spot, that’s what you’re doing. … A lot of these journalists practice knee-jerk centrism. This idea that the center must hold – not that it will hold, but that it must hold. It’s when journalists see themselves as guardians of that balance that you get in a very dangerous place.

AC: While the Family came most forcefully into the public consciousness in the wake of last year’s scandals of three of its members, you write in C Street of the importance of resisting the urge to gloat about moral hypocrisy. Can you talk about why such finger-pointing is a flawed response?

JS: Because that liberal glee at right-wingers acting on desire comes from the same prudish, small, little, hard-hearted place. It’s the same counting of sins that right-wingers themselves do. Maybe it’s a bait-and-switch – people think they will buy this book and hear about all the naughty things Republicans do. And they will—but those things are about money and violence overseas.

Look at the story of [South Carolina Gov.] Mark Sanford in particular. He’s something of a tragic figure, right? He’s in this terrible, terrible marriage. Here was this guy evidently late in life going through this important stage where he realized that we love who we love and we desire who we desire, and that these things aren’t based on status or calculation.

So for Sanford, the awfulness wasn’t that he went to Argentina; the awfulness was that he came back. And C Street brought him back. C Street said “you must work on your marriage as an obedience to God.”

When these Republicans have their sex scandals, we should all say “great.” Here is an opportunity for these conservative politicians to realize that love and lust and desire are complex, that they are not about obedience. Which is not to say that you should go cheat on your wife or your husband – just that we want these guys to reach their emotional maturity. When liberals gloat over it, they just play the same game, and round and round we go. It’s the same kind of erasure of desire.

AC: Given what the real stakes are, why do you think the public is inclined to slip into the superficial criticisms of C Street?

JS: Well, let me clarify, I don’t think talking about sex is superficial. Here is where I differ from a lot of people. There are people who are gloating about [the scandals], and then there are people saying, why are we talking about sex when we should be talking about serious things? I think sex is a pretty serious thing. We need to understand that when people talk about sex, they’re talking about many things.

When my first book came out, I got a fair amount of press, but reporters didn’t really get it, and people weren’t really interested in it. The secrecy was really complex. But then the sex scandals and affairs come up, that’s a kind of secrecy the public understands. Suddenly the sex and secrets become a metaphor. The public can easily see that politicians may be keeping things from us. They may not have our best interests at heart. People understand it because most of us have done, or have had done to us, something like it. That’s what makes it a great news story. You’re a journalist, you know that people don’t want a new story; they want stories they know. And I’m not making fun of people – people want a story they already know because they’re thinking about things, working it out in their own mind.

So I don’t think it’s superficial to talk about sex. You begin the conversation with sex … and I suppose if you’re very lucky, you end it with sex. But in between, we must move on to serious things. We must see that the same justification that C Street uses to cover up the sex scandals of Ensign and Sanford and [Rep. Chip] Pickering is the exact same move for what their doing with their involvement in Uganda, and Nigeria, before that, Papa Doc in Haiti. It’s the same erasure of desire. 

AC: You write that the threat of the Family isn’t theocracy, but ‘the conflation of democracy with authoritarianism.’ Logically, how does the Family reconcile these two seemingly oppositional ideas?

JS: They do it through the soft sell. They do it through the appeal to unity. Unity and harmony sound good. The subtitle I originally wanted for my book was “The Fundamentalist Abduction of Democracy.” That idea, that conflation of democracy and authoritarianism, is very learned. Authoritarianism is kind of a bad word. But then you take one step over to paternalism. Well, that’s still a bad word, but now you’re talking about fathers. You get into the evangelical expressions of Father-God, and now you’re talking about love, and love as an expression of authority.

People love hearing powerful white men telling them they’re just a nobody, they didn’t do anything, instead of telling them, ‘I’m a leader, I like being in charge. I have ideas about what we can do. I have what Martin Luther King called the drum major instinct.

That’s where leaders come from. Leaders engage the prophetic voice. How does the Family conflate democracy with authoritarianism? They basically take Christianity and strip it of its prophetic voice. Cornel West writes a lot about this is in his theological work. The prophetic voice is a kind of democratic speech; it’s about speaking truth to power. It’s asserting that things as they are, are not as they should be. The prophetic voice means conflict, it means argument. It means we have different ideas. People don’t like conflict, and that’s where authoritarianism comes in – it’s called harmony. The Family in its early days thought that after World War II, we would become a one-party state and they thought that was a great idea. Democracy is sharp edges, but that’s how they reconcile it – that’s their word, “reconciliation.” It’s cutting off the sharp edges and saying, “come over here where there’s common ground and we all agree.”

AC: It seems like the same people who would chafe at hearing a politician advocate authoritarianism don’t recognize it when it doesn’t show up in words, but in actions.

JS: Yeah, exactly. If it doesn’t come articulated, people don’t get it. [Members of the Family] do tend to be nice people, and I’m not just saying that. Most of them are very charitable on a personal level. It’s the bigger picture they miss.

The fundamentalist abduction of democracy is the way they’ve abused the word reconciliation. It’s the way of valuing common ground at all costs, even if some people will be left out, or erased, or forgotten, because they can’t be reconciled to that story.

The reality is both this book and the last book is about fundamentalism, but in a way, it’s speaking to and against liberalism as well. Liberalism bears a lot of responsibility for loving this myth of harmony more than they love democracy.

AC: Your book makes it clear that this fundamentalism conflated with politics isn’t going to be vanquished by simply not electing one or another legislator; it’s too pervasive for that. What, then, is the impact you hope this book will have on the November election?

Oh, how dare you ask that question! … My publishers want me to say that this is a rallying call. But the thing is, C Streeters aren’t in danger. Jim DeMint in South Carolina is facing Alvin Greene – I think he’ll do just fine. There are very few competitive races right now.

But on the other hand, I am going down to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Rep. Joe Pitts has been part of this organization since 1980. He keeps saying he doesn’t have a connection to the Family, but that’s not true; there’s a long paper trail. So he’s a dishonest man. Now, this is a conservative area and he’s been around for a long time. Based on his votes, they aren’t going to throw him out [of office]. He could’ve supported all his issues and been supported. But the reason the race is this close for the first time in a long time is because he was shady about it. I’m going down to talk at the Democratic banquet there for Lois Herr. I wouldn’t normally do that, but this guy has got to go. He doesn’t understand the Constitution, he never read the First Amendment, he lied to his constituents, and most dangerously, he’s involved in overseas work.

The real danger of fundamentalism, to be honest, is the long shadow of the right wing overseas. That’s why I spend so much time on the Uganda chapter [of C Street]. The real danger of C Street is not here, but there. Toufic Agha, who I write about in the Lebanon chapter of the book, he’s been getting death threats for talking to, quote, “that Jew Jeff Sharlet.” That’s the danger.

In the end, though, I didn’t write this book as a campaign book. I wrote it because there’s a story. If you restrict all your conflict and all your debate on this electoral ritual, you’ll sacrifice the real conversations about authority and where it comes from – top up or top down.


Anna Clark’s writing has appeared in The American ProspectUtne Reader,Hobart, and Writers’ Journal, among other publications. She is the editor of the literary and social justice Web site, Isak.




“The Secret” and “The Power” What’s Behind Rhonda Byrne’s Spiritual Empire?

In Uncategorized on September 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

Oldspeak: “You know you the shit when you can hustle Oprah… Ms. Byrne made out like a fat rat, selling limitless materialistic indulgence by promising to collapse thousands of years of religious faith and spirituality into one minimalist creed.  The result is a pair of religious books curiously devoid of ancient lore and esoteric beliefs, history and holiness—curiously devoid of religion itself. Snake oil salesperson for the 21st Century.”

From Kalefah Sanneh @ The New Yorker:

On February 8, 2007, Oprah Winfrey greeted her television audience by brandishing a DVD and asking, “Have you heard about it?” The DVD was “The Secret,” a low-budget inspirational documentary that was already a cult favorite; with Winfrey’s endorsement, it went mainstream. “My guests today believe that once you discover the Secret, that you can immediately start creating the life you want, whether it’s getting out of debt, whether it’s finding a more fulfilling job, even falling in love,” Winfrey said. “They say you can have it all, and, in fact, you already hold the power to make that happen.” After Winfrey interviewed the film’s creator, a former television producer from Australia named Rhonda Byrne, she paid “The Secret” her highest compliment. “Watch it with your children,” she said, looking into the camera, narrowing her eyes for emphasis. “I think this would be amazing, to start your children with this kind of thinking—don’t you, Rhonda?”

The film that made Byrne a star—a spiritual leader, even—contains surprisingly little information about her. She appears on a gloomy street, with platinum hair and in a black sundress, lugging a suitcase. “A year ago, my life had collapsed around me,” she says, in voice-over. “I’d worked myself into exhaustion, my father died suddenly, and my relationships were in turmoil.” That started to change when Byrne’s daughter gave her a book about the law of attraction, which decrees that thoughts have physical power, and that thinking about something is the way to get it. If you want to stay poor, keep obsessing about your poverty; if you want to be rich, imagine yourself rich. The film consists mainly of interviews with motivational speakers and teachers—emissaries from the law-of-attraction industry. Joe Vitale, an ecumenical healer, strikes an exultant note. “You are the Michelangelo of your own life,” he says. “The David that you are sculpting is you.” And Esther Hicks, who emerges as the film’s guiding light, delivers a series of mini-sermons that have a strange, hypnotic force, owing partly to her faintly musical voice and untraceable accent. “You are the only one who creates your reality,” she says, nodding reassuringly. “For no one else can think for you. No one else can do it. It is only you.”

“The Secret” was released around the same time as the film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” and it was cleverly packaged as a historical mystery. There are lingering shots of faded cursive script on parchment paper, often accompanied by pounding drums or wordless choirs, and Byrne talks about “tracing the Secret back through history,” revealing all the great thinkers who have harnessed its power. (According to one title card, “The Secret was suppressed,” though we never learn how, or by whom.)

Eight months after the film came out, Byrne published a book, also called “The Secret,” which eventually sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide. It urges readers to rid themselves of illness through “harmonious thoughts,” to attract love by loving themselves, and to express gratitude for what they want before they get it. There are also scientific claims meant to demystify the law of attraction, although they invariably have the opposite effect. (“Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency.”) And there are paeans to the mysterious power of joy. In one passage, Byrne offers seekers a grand bargain: “You can have whatever you want in your life, no limits. But there’s one catch: You have to feel good. And when you think about it, isn’t that all you ever want? The law is indeed perfect.”

The final pages of “The Secret” are given over to biographies of its teachers and inspirational figures, but Esther Hicks is not among them. By the time the book was published, Byrne and Hicks had parted ways, after a financial dispute; Hicks even disappeared from later versions of the DVD. Two months after endorsing “The Secret” on television, Winfrey conducted a sympathetic radio interview with Hicks, who said that she had been ill-treated by Byrne. “It felt to me like we were drawn in, in one way, and utilized, and then sort of discarded,” Hicks said. (She said that Byrne did some of the filming for “The Secret” on a cruise organized by Hicks and her husband, Jerry.) Then another teacher from “The Secret,” James Arthur Ray, made headlines last year after he led a sweat-lodge ceremony in Arizona that caused the deaths of three participants; Ray was arrested and charged with manslaughter. (He has pleaded not guilty.) By then, Winfrey had started distancing herself from the movement. When she returned to the topic for a 2008 show, she sounded a note of skepticism: “It’s been a year since ‘The Secret’ caused a worldwide stir. There were cheers for its focus on positive thinking, and some jeers for its emphasis on getting stuff, on getting cars and money and things.”

In an interview with Larry King, when the frenzy around “The Secret” was at its peak, Vitale, the healer, made a bold prediction. “I’m attracting a sequel,” he said. “So we’re going to have a sequel, one way or another.” The sequel to “The Secret” is called “The Power” (Atria; $23.95), and it has just arrived in bookstores as a No. 1 best-seller. Unfortunately for the likes of Vitale, “The Power” does away with teachers altogether; this time, Byrne is the sole guide, although she includes brief quotes from inspirational figures, most of whom are guaranteed not to sue her or embarrass her, being dead. It is no spoiler to reveal that “the power” Byrne has discovered is love, and that her basic thesis is a restatement of the law of attraction. It begins with a ringing proclamation—“You are meant to have an amazing life!”—and for two hundred and fifty pages the ringing never stops. If “The Secret” explained the law of attraction in slightly clinical terms, as a system, “The Power” explains it in more expressive terms, as a process. “Nothing is impossible for the force of love,” Byrne writes, and her task is to implore you to love more—more strategically, to be sure, and also more intensely. She is partial to list-making, both as a spiritual tool and as an authorial practice. “Make a written list of everything you love,” she writes:
Include the places you love, the cities, the countries, the people you love, colors you love, styles you love, qualities in people you love, companies you love, services you love, sports you love, athletes you love, music you love, animals you love, flowers, plants, and trees you love.

Byrne’s doctrine is ruthlessly simple, and efficient, too: it promises to collapse thousands of years of faith and science into a single thought.

One of the most telling epigraphs in “The Power” underscores the steely resolve that Byrne’s creed requires: “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” She attributes these words to Oscar Wilde, but it would be more accurate to attribute them to Wilde’s best-known creation, Dorian Gray. We are in Chapter 9; after Dorian’s cruelty has driven his true love to suicide, he decides to spend a pleasant evening at the opera. A friend is horrified at Dorian’s insensitivity, but Dorian offers no apologies. “If one doesn’t talk about a thing, it has never happened,” he says. “I am a man now. I have new passions, new thoughts, new ideas.”

Some of those new ideas weren’t so new. In 1836, half a century before “The Picture of Dorian Gray” appeared, Ralph Waldo Emerson published “Nature,” which included his famous call to arms: “There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” Emerson’s treatise was a work of philosophy but also, avowedly, of self-help. “Build, therefore, your own world,” he urged. “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions.” A generation of thinkers and seekers took up Emerson’s challenge, and by the end of the nineteenth century a loosely defined movement had emerged, taking its name from Emerson: New Thought.

One of the progenitors of the movement was a clockmaker from New England named Phineas Quimby, who was a firm believer in the occult powers of mesmerism and clairvoyance and faith healing, until, in the eighteen-fifties, he had a revelation: sick people could be healed solely by the belief that they would be. He taught students to reject faith in anything but faith itself. By the eighteen-eighties, the “mind-cure” movement had spread widely, although Quimby’s best-known patient and disciple, Mary Baker Eddy, the future founder of Christian Science, later insisted on the central importance of Biblical scripture, as well as her own writings. In this, she separated herself from her New Thought rivals, who viewed the existence of religious institutions as a hindrance. As Ralph Waldo Trine, one of the most popular New Thought writers, wrote in 1897, the law of attraction was bound to dissolve creedal squabbling:
Minor differences, narrow prejudices, and all these laughable absurdities will so fall away by virtue of their very insignificance, that a Jew can worship equally as well in a Catholic cathedral, a Catholic in a Jewish synagogue, a Buddhist in a Christian church, a Christian in a Buddhist temple. Or all can worship equally well about their own hearth-stones, or out on the hillside, or while pursuing the avocations of every-day life.

This urge to transcend religious difference is also an urge, thinly veiled, to transcend religion itself. In Trine’s utopia, every house of worship is equally valuable—which is to say, equally superfluous.

It was the creed of the self that would have its say. In “The Conquest of Poverty,” from 1899, a New Thought proponent named Helen Wilmans used language that any regular viewer of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” would recognize: “If search be short or long, I say, discover self! Then, know thyself, and then record a solemn vow and let it be, I can—I will—I dare—I do.” In 1910, Wallace D. Wattles published “The Science of Getting Rich,” which is the book that first got Byrne interested in the law of attraction. Wattles offers his readers some harsh-sounding advice: “Get rich; that is the best way you can help the poor.” By then, the New Thought success manual had become a genre of its own, a genre that concentrated less on what Trine called “the infinite” and more on the finite. Your fortunes were what you made of them: the secret was out.

In “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” (Picador; $15), Barbara Ehrenreich subjects the new New Thought of Rhonda Byrne and others to scrutiny. She argues that “positive thinking has made itself useful as an apology for the crueler aspects of the market economy,” and she blames overly optimistic thinking for much of what alarms her about this country: the recent housing bubble, the protracted wars, the failure to take climate change seriously, and even Americans’ mediocre performance on a barrage of international happiness tests. She worries that our single-minded obsession with happiness is, contrary to the law of attraction, making us sad.

She came to the subject honestly, and painfully. After receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, she was horrified to find herself beset by well-meaning therapists and fellow-patients and marketers, all of them urging her to accept “the gift of cancer” (which is the title of an upbeat book written by a survivor), to festoon herself with garish pink ribbons, and, above all, to stay positive. Her defiance of these directives seems both mischievous and righteous, although equally mischievous readers might recognize the outline of a rather conventional story. Most self-help books start this way, with frustration, and most of them end with the protagonist at peace, or closer to it, having reconciled herself to a more sophisticated form of the thing she started out by rejecting.

Ehrenreich is alert to the hidden demands of Byrne’s seemingly undemanding faith, which asks its followers to monitor their thoughts for evidence of negativity, much the way Calvinists once inspected their souls for signs that they were among the Preterite. She asks, “Why spend so much time working on oneself when there is so much real work to be done?” By “real work,” she means, for example, political activism; her main problem with positive thinking is that it does nothing to advance the project of political reform that she espouses, and might even retard it. (In the Presidency of George W. Bush, she sees the pitfalls of excessive optimism; of course, someone with different political priorities might level the charge at President Obama, whose 2008 campaign demonstrated one way to harness the political power of positive thinking.) She is offended, most of all, by the notion that “poverty is a voluntary condition,” and she accuses Byrne of “depraved smugness,” because of Byrne’s insistence that the law of attraction allows for no accidents and no exceptions, even for victims of a natural disaster, like the 2004 tsunami.

For Ehrenreich, the alternative to the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of justice—except you don’t have to choose. (This is the happy ending that astute readers knew was coming.) She promises that we can find a deeper, richer form of happiness by “shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.” Social progress—and personal fulfillment—begins with casting out New Thought and its pernicious legacy.

In fact, for much of its history, New Thought was viewed as a progressive project—a way to help ordinary citizens seize control of their fate. The historian Beryl Satter has argued that New Thought was, in large part, a women’s movement, and one that reflected a pattern of shifting expectations. “Until the turn of the century, women’s New Thought texts only ambiguously praised desire and wealth,” Satter writes. “They could not be too overt, because late Victorians linked desire and wealth with manliness.” By the early years of the twentieth century, books and magazines had sprung up around the movement, with an increasingly practical bent. When New Thought writings shifted in emphasis from mastering desires to fulfilling them, they were presaging a feminist revolution.

And perhaps a more general one. Byrne’s cherished precursor Wallace Wattles was no apologist for the existing social order. The son of a Midwestern farmer, he was heavily influenced by the “social gospel” preacher George D. Herron, and in the years before he published “The Science of Getting Rich” he twice ran unsuccessfully for public office, in Indiana, as a candidate of the Socialist Party. “The Science of Getting Rich” is a self-help book, but it is also a political manifesto: it urges its readers to acknowledge not only the importance of wealth but also the arbitrary nature of its distribution. “Studying the people who have got rich,” Wattles writes, “we find that they are an average lot in all respects, having no greater talents and abilities than other men.” He portrays the economic élite as a parasitic class, the demise of which is a matter of historical inevitability: “The multi-millionaires are like the monster reptiles of the prehistoric eras; they play a necessary part in the evolutionary process, but the same Power which produced them will dispose of them.” Indeed, “Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, et al. . . . will soon be succeeded by the agents of the multitude, who will organize the machinery of distribution.” In one of the book’s more startling passages, he suggests that the proletariat use the law of attraction to attract a new era of communism:
If the workers of America chose to do so, they could follow the example of their brothers in Belgium and other countries, and establish . . . co-operative industries; they could elect men of their own class to office, and pass laws favoring the development of such co-operative industries; and in a few years they could take peaceable possession of the industrial field.

By such means, he believed, “the working class may become the master class.”

A century later, Byrne betrays little interest in workers’ coöperatives; Wattles’s radical influence appears in “The Secret” only in inverted form. Early in the book, a success coach named Bob Proctor poses a conspiratorial-sounding question: “Why do you think that one per cent of the population earns around ninety-six per cent of all the money that’s being earned?” He doesn’t quite have an answer (“It’s designed that way,” he says, ominously), and neither does Byrne. Where Wattles was convinced that the “plutocrats” were abusing their mental power, Byrne is more likely to conclude that they must be doing something right. Confronted with the injustice of the world, she can only promise, like many religious figures before her, that deliverance is almost at hand:
An epidemic worse than any plague that humankind has ever seen has been raging for centuries. It is the “don’t want” epidemic. People keep this epidemic alive when they predominantly think, speak, act, and focus on what they “don’t want.” But this is the generation that will change history, because we are receiving the knowledge that can free us of this epidemic!

This is the language of faith, not scientific theory or political struggle; it can’t be refuted, only disbelieved. But what makes Byrne’s creed so powerful isn’t simply that she offers revolution purged of politics; it’s that, in the best New Thought tradition, she offers religion purged of religion.

In 2007, during a show about “The Secret,” Winfrey took questions from the audience. “My husband and I, we’re Christians, and our kids are Christians,” one woman said. “I was wondering: Is God anywhere in this?”

One of Winfrey’s guests that day, a “non-aligned, trans-religious progressive” named Michael Beckwith, said, “ ‘The Secret’ doesn’t contradict any religion.” And Winfrey added her personal testimony. “I was raised a Christian, I still am a Christian,” she said. “The No. 1 question that I had was ‘How does all of this metaphysical thinking, this new way of taking responsibility for my life and co-creating my life with the Creator, how does that mesh with everything that I’ve been taught?’ And what I realized is exactly what they’re saying—is that it reinforces. Because, above all else, God gave us free will.”

The woman persisted: she said she believed in the existence of Heaven and Hell, and wondered whether that, too, was compatible with “The Secret.” This time, James Arthur Ray responded. “I totally honor your belief system,” he said. “But just consider that Jesus, the Christ, said the Kingdom of Heaven is within. . . . So is it possible to consider that the Kingdom of Hell is within as well?” This is Trine’s religious doctrine, restated warmly but firmly: all religious tenets are equally valuable, and equally illusory.

Perhaps the discussion might have gone differently if Esther Hicks had been there. In the original, pre-purged DVD of “The Secret,” she was identified with a four-word title: “The Teachings of Abraham.” Viewers weren’t told what that meant: Abraham is what Hicks has described as “a group consciousness from the non-physical dimension,” speaking through her. (Strictly, that musical voice and that untraceable accent are Abraham’s, not Hicks’s.) For Byrne’s purposes, Hicks’s belief system is too demanding, specific, and singular; which is to say, too religious. Winfrey herself seemed a bit spooked when, during one of her radio interviews with Hicks, the consciousnesses took over. “That’s why I thought I would do my virgin run with Abraham on the radio,” Winfrey said. “In case some weird ol’ thing happens.” Hicks—that is, Abraham—was cheerful and unperturbed. “We are not really as strange as all of that,” the group consciousness said.

Even without Hicks, the book version of “The Secret” is enlivened by an exotic spiritual subtext. Some photographs from that time show Byrne wearing a sparkly bindi on her forehead, and in the book she refers in passing to “all the great avatars throughout history,” casually positioning Wattles and the other New Thought pioneers as incarnations of the Hindu divine. Throughout, Byrne portrays herself as an open-minded seeker, illuminating a secret history that readers (and viewers) could discover along with her, and implying that much more remains undiscovered. At its best, “The Secret” is less a treatise than a treasure hunt.

By contrast, “The Power” unfolds as one long pep talk, underscoring Byrne’s increased confidence in her own pronouncements. In one passage, she advises readers to imagine that the front of a dollar bill is the “positive side,” associated with “plenty of money,” and the back is the “negative side,” associated with “a lack of money.” Accordingly, she suggests a ritual: “Each time you handle money, deliberately flip the bills so the front is facing you. Put bills in your wallet with the front facing you. When you hand over money, make sure the front is facing upward.” One can imagine devotees in the distant future holding fast to this practice and repeating this explanation to one another, doing this in remembrance of her. Certainly, she is a grander and more remote presence now than she was three years ago, not least because she has gone into media seclusion. In the weeks before the publication of “The Power,” the publishers announced that Byrne “chooses not to do interviews.” All we have is the scripture.

An alert reader of that scripture might notice some subtle changes in Byrne’s approach. More of the epigraphs come from writers identified as Christians than from writers identified as scientists, or as non-Christian religious figures. The turn-of-the-century New Thought movement, not least Wattles, is well represented, to be sure, but the final epigraph comes from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the maverick Jesuit philosopher and mystic.

Another clue is hidden in the acknowledgments section, in which Byrne reserves her highest accolades for “Angel Martín Velayos, whose spiritual light and faith causes me to lift myself to new levels so that I can fulfill my dream of bringing joy to billions.” Velayos turns out to be the name of the imperator of the Rose Cross Order, a religious group based in the Canary Islands. The order is one of a number of groups aligned with Rosicrucianism, a mystical movement that traces its roots to early seventeenth-century Europe. At times in his writing, Velayos sounds as if he could be a long-lost teacher of “The Secret”—he holds that “when a person is in harmony with the Cosmic the result is balance, health, peace, harmony, etc.”—and Byrne’s interest in Rosicrucianism isn’t new. In the opening scene of “The Secret,” the camera zooms in on the first page of a yellowing treatise, and a blizzard of words fly by. Watch it in slow motion and you’ll see that one of those words is “Rosicrucian.”

There is nothing odd about Byrne’s growing inclination toward Christian mysticism. What is odd is that the doctrine she propounds has no room for it, just as “The Secret” had no room for the story of Hicks-as-Abraham. Byrne must be one of the most influential religious writers in the world, and yet she seems to consider her own evolving religious beliefs to be unmentionable.

The creed promulgated by “The Secret” and “The Power” is finally noteworthy not for its audacity—many religions promise more—but for its modesty, its thinness. In distilling a spiritual message that claims to be compatible with all religious traditions, Byrne has had to bracket all possible points of disagreement, discarding anything that might seem, as Winfrey put it, “weird.” The result is a pair of religious books curiously devoid of ancient lore and esoteric beliefs, history and holiness—curiously devoid of religion itself. Byrne’s hope is that this minimalist creed will be enough for her readers. But surely some of them will notice that it doesn’t seem to be enough for her.

Christian Right Bigots Are Hiding the Truth — Early Christians Condoned Gay Marriage

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 10:55 am

Oldspeak:” Well  woudja lookit that…. God really is love, not the hate that many of these zealots are spreading. ‘Many of the world’s religions — including Christianity — supported same-sex unions, a reality obscured by modern-day shrill, conservative commentary.’ ”

From Daniel C. Maguire @ Consortium News:

Through much of history, especially prior to the Fourteenth Century, many Christians did not share the view that marriage was a reward for being heterosexual, nor that a same-sex union was objectionable.

An icon from St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai illustrates this point. It shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their pronubus (official witness, or “best man”) is none other than Jesus Christ.

It is a standard Roman portrayal of a wedding. The difference: the two saints are both male, Fourth Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus, close friends in the Roman army who were purportedly singled out for their secret adherence to Christianity before being tortured and killed.

Their unity, considered romantic by some historians and depicted through the image of marriage at St. Catherine’s monastery, was commemorated in many subsequent liturgies. The late Yale historian John Boswell found evidence for other Christian same-sex marriage ceremonies continuing even into the Eighteenth Century.

It is broadly and falsely assumed that the world’s religions uniformly condemn same-sex unions. That error is even repeated in the recent favorable decision on same-sex marriage by Chief Judge of Federal District Court in San Francisco, Vaughan R. Walker.

It is true that all major religions exhibit some heterosexism, a bias in favor of heterosexuality over homosexuality. However, religions also have shown openness to same-sex unions, a reality that shrill conservative commentary, which dominates the public square on matters religious and sexual, has blocked from public view, even from the view of Judge Walker.

Conservative Christians who swarm onto center stage in the current debates cite the anti-gay texts from the Bible, but even they do not take those passages seriously since the texts call for capital punishment for active gays. Not even the Tea Party folk favor that.

Leviticus says that anyone who has sex with someone of the same sex “shall be put to death: their blood shall be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 20:13)  Paul writing to the Romans says those who do such things “deserve to die.” (1:26-32).

These isolated texts – like other biblical passages permitting slavery, animal sacrifice and polygamy – are not applicable to today, though they continue to do mischief in modern churches and in the chambers of lawmakers.

These passages also run counter to Jesus’s teachings in the gospels where he defends the persecuted, including those accused of sexual offenses, famously demanding of Israelites who were preparing to stone to death an alleged adulteress that “he that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”

That tolerance, often in the face of cruel intolerance, guided many early believers in Christianity. And, like early Christianity, other world religions have demonstrated tolerance toward same-sex unions.

Many Buddhist authorities insist that privileging one sexual orientation over another is not the path of wisdom and insist that the successful management of sexual desire is the moral issue, not the orientation of that desire or the gender of your lover.

Jewish scholars show that compulsory hetero-normativity is not supported by basic Jewish values.

Pioneering scholars in Islam argue that in spite of the negative Qur’anic texts on homosexuality, a solid Muslim case, based on Islamic justice, can be made for same-sex unions. Observant Muslim lesbians, known as the Samadiyyah, are living out this expression of Muslim life and tolerance.

Some Native American religions portrayed “two-spirited,” persons, i.e. sexual minorities, in a very positive light.

Hindu scholars have shown that respect for diversity is at the heart of Hindu cultures.  Since early times, the Hindus saw that persons were not divided neatly into male and female and spoke of a “third sex” which opened space for and normalized gender and sexual variety and same-sex unions.

The religious view supporting same-sex unions coexists with equal standing alongside the conservative, restrictive view.

Lawmakers take note: because religions give this warranty and allow for this freedom of same-sex unions, laws that would legalize only the conservative religious view are in violation of religious freedom.

Religions are pluralistic on same-sex unions. It is not the function of law to curtail freedoms granted and authorized by mainstream religions.

Conservative Christians who insist that “traditional marriage” has always been “between a man and a woman” are wrong and historically uninformed. Thus, they are poor guides for lawmakers and judges.
There is strong support in world religions for the view that homosexuality is not the problem; heterosexism is.

The principles of justice and equality that pulsate through those flawed but powerful classics that we call the “world religions,” are moving toward seeing heterosexism, with its resistance to same-sex loving unions, as a prejudice in a class with sexism, racism, anti-Arabism and anti-Semitism.

Humanity needs its exuberant diversity but humans shrink from it.

As theologian William Sloane Coffin said: “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with — and perhaps the most dangerous thing to live without.”

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu

Not “Ground Zero mosque” Debate Echoes Europe’s Fears Of Muslims

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

Oldspeak: “Let’s wrap our heads around some indisputable facts constantly overlooked. #1 This mosque is 2 blocks away from Ground Zero, not ‘At Ground Zero’ . #2 The muslims who are building this mosque did not attack WTC. #3 All muslims are not terrorists. #4 There was no hew and cry to halt or ban construction of churches, when so called christians, crashed planes into a building, blew up a federal building, firebombed black churches, burned crosses in peoples front yards etc etc etc. Incalculable death, destruction and suffering has been wrought on this world in the name of christianity. The hypocrisy and xenophobia needs to end.

From Robert Marquand @ Christian Science Monitor:

PARIS — As they weather a steamy August, Europeans are dimly aware of a convulsing U.S. debate over the so-called ground zero mosque in New York, an Islamic center that’s scheduled to be built two blocks from where al Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001.

In Europe, America is seen as a harbor of religious freedom whose embassies promote interfaith dialogue and protection of minority faiths. President Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech to harmonize Islam and American values was perceived as typical, as is the American inclination to push Europeans not to ban small churches and “cults.”

In Paris and London, opinion seems split between those who support and even admire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s acceptance of the Islamic center and those who say the 16-story center is inappropriate or a provocation Americans shouldn’t accept.

In France, stories on Bloomberg’s decision registered surprise that America, which they often see as narrow-minded and Arab-hating, proved more open and tolerant in some ways than current French opinion.

“What we see (in New York) is a fair, balanced treatment of communities ….Let the Americans do it their way. …Most of their founders settled in the U.S. in order to obtain absolute religious freedom, and this is what is being upheld by this decision,” one Francois Bogard commented in a Le Monde forum.

Yet striking among pundits, websites and bloggers is an often articulate though sometimes churlish depiction of Islam as a monolithic form of faith, inherently violent and extreme, and of Muslims as incapable of being moderate.

An essay on the French leftist website Agoravox spoke of incomprehension and shock that in the same week that German authorities closed a radical Hamburg mosque, New York approved the Islamic center: “The mayor, instigated by an imam who is said to be ‘moderate,’ plans to build a mosque extremely close to ground zero, where stood the Twin Towers that Islamist fanaticism reduced to rubble. …You rub your eyes and read again. No, it is not a hallucination. … You look for the justification … but instead of understanding, you dive deeper into an impression of unreality.”

To be sure, Europeans who are familiar with the U.S. see the brouhaha as largely driven by the same nativist sentiments they hear about in the upstart U.S. “tea party” movement. They know the U.S. has something called a First Amendment that guarantees religious rights even when faiths are unpopular or different.

“I understand the sensitivities of many speaking against the mosque; their wounds are still raw, nine years later,” pointed out Nick Spencer at Theos, a faith and public policy center in London. “But reacting against it is counterproductive … for reasons of religious liberty. … But it also is a positive opportunity. Those responsible for building the center know the eyes of the world, and America’s eyes, will be directly on them. That’s a chance to show Islam as conciliatory, and a chance for Islam and the U.S. to exchange.”

Yet the controversy plays out as Europe, long proud of its cosmopolitan tolerance, is roiled by rising Muslim populations, has banned minarets and burqas and is seeing populist anti-Islamic sentiment in its politics. The rise of “Islamophobia” here five years ago hasn’t ended. Rather, it’s become more comfortably settled. Social politeness and taboos on talking about Islam are eroding.

The fact is, Europeans aren’t exactly sure what they think about Islam, analysts said. Its educated classes grew up in a multicultural world and imbibed values of getting along, but a shadow is falling between the idea and the reality. The French and Belgian burqa ban is a symbolic pushback against growing numbers of Muslims, not yet embraced by the countries but whom the nations want to assimilate. The burqa discussion hit Great Britain powerfully in July, before the new Conservative government put its foot down against such a ban.

One British religious scholar points out that public opinion in Great Britain today on the Islam question bounces back and forth between the “positions of guys like Tony Blair, who argue absolutely about positive pluralism and the need to support moderate Muslims, and the concerns of us who for the first time are thinking it isn’t that simple, as we see the identity of Britain changing.”

In early January a proposed “mega-mosque” in London was sidelined after four years of increasing opposition. The mosque would border a London Olympics 2012 site. The symbolism of the site and the size of the mosque — designed to hold 12,000 worshippers, when most British churches hold 500 — brought considerable opposition, led by a Christian evangelical politician. Many Muslims also opposed the project, initiated by the controversial Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat.

Even many hard-core religious pluralists finally said they thought the idea was a bad one, but the long debate added to the poisonous and exaggerated positions in the general atmosphere.

London, Paris and Barcelona cosmopolitans still insist on an ethic of tolerance and fairness, but there’s an uneasy fear about how a growing melange of peoples and faiths is going to turn out. The Swiss, Austrian and Dutch have elected political figures who are committed to curbing Islamic expression, if not erasing it.

Noam Chomsky, the linguist and public intellectual, a Jew long critical of Israeli policies, recently stopped in France after being prevented from lecturing at an Palestinian university in the West Bank, and observed that, “Europe has always actually been more racist than the U.S.”

Such opinions are deeply unappreciated in Europe. Yet in the past week of comment on the lively website Rue 89 and on Le Monde, the majority of those who chose to express themselves on the ground zero subject, though a self-selected group, expressed hostility to Muslims without much qualification. There were other views, including the humorous French position that a mosque or any other building would be fine on the site so long as it wasn’t a McDonald’s, but a majority took the case as a chance to air a “clash of civilizations.”

Islamophobia: A Threat to American Values?

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘Islamophobia needs to be taken as seriously as Anti-Semitism. Attempts to limit public discourse and debate, to silence alternative voices speaking out against ignorance, stereotyping and demonization of Islam, discrimination, hate crimes or threats to the civil liberties of Muslims must be turned back if America is to be preserved as the country of unity in diversity and free speech and opportunity for all. Word.’ ”

From John Esposito @ The Huffington Post:

We are passing through difficult and dangerous times. The impact of staggering economic crisis and fears of a continued terrorist threat have spawned a culture of hate that threatens the future of our American way of life and values.

The legacy of the 9/11 and post 9/11 terrorist attacks has been exploited by media commentators, hard-line Christian Zionists and political candidates whose fear-mongering targets Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia is fast becoming for Muslims what anti-Semitism is for Jews. Rooted in hostility and intolerance towards religious and cultural beliefs and a religious or racial group, it threatens the democratic fabric of American and European societies. Like anti-Semites and racists, Islamophobes are the first to protest that their stereotyping and scapegoating of these “others” as a threat to all of us, incapable of integration or loyalty, are not Islamophobic. Yet, examples that illustrate the social cancer of Islamophobia that is spreading across the United States, infringing upon the constitutional rights of American citizens, abound:

• Across the US a major debate has erupted over building an Islamic community center a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Amidst the voices opposing this venture, even the ADL (the organization devoted to fighting defamation and prejudice) decided to oppose the building, not because Muslims do not have a right to build the center but rather to protect the feelings of those opposed! Is this a criterion the ADL has used or would subscribe to in its own struggles against anti-Semitism? The ADL’s position contrasted sharply with that of J Street, rabbis and Jewish activists.

• Today, opposition to mosque construction with claims that all mosques are “monuments to terrorism” and “house embedded cells” in locations from NYC and Staten Island, to Tennessee and California, has become not just a local but a national political issue.
• In California, a Tea Party Rally to protest an Islamic Center in Temecula, encouraged protesters to bring their dogs because Muslims allegedly hate Jews, Christians, women, and dogs.

• Christians from a right wing church in Dallas, Texas traveled to Bridgeport, Conn. Mosque to confront worshippers. These Christians, shouted “Murderers!” at the young children leaving the mosque. Carrying placards, they angrily declared “Islam is a lie,” …”Jesus hates Muslims” … “This is a war in America and we are taking it to the mosques around the country.”

• Politicians use fear of Islam as a political football. Newt Gingrich warned of the danger of Shariah taking over American courts. Republican Rex Duncan of Oklahoma, declared there is a “war for the survival of America,” to keep the Shariah from creeping into the American court system. Even the new Justice Kagan is being accused of being “Justice Shariah”

• Congresswoman Sue Myrick from NC and Congressman Paul Broun from Georgia recklessly charged that Muslim student interns were part of a secret infiltration of Muslim spies into key national security committees on Capitol Hill.

• Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise across the country.
“What constitutes an Islamophobe? Islamophobes believes that:
• Islam, not just a small minority of extremists and terrorists, is the problem and a threat to the West
• The religion of Islam has no common values with the West.
• Islam and Muslims are inferior to Judaism and Christianity
• Islam is an inherently violent religion and political ideology rather than a source of faith and spirituality
• Muslims cannot integrate and become loyal citizens
• Most mosques should be monitored for embedded cells
• Islam encourages its followers to launch a global jihad against all non-Muslims but in particular against the West
What fuels the fires of discrimination against Muslims?

There is no lack of hate speech in the media and in print to empower Islamophobia. The media, whose primary driver is sales and circulations, caters to explosive, headline events: “What bleeds, leads.” The primary focus is often not balanced reporting, or even coverage of positive news about Muslims but on highlighting acts and statements of political and religious extremists. Political and religious commentators write and speak out publicly about Islam and Muslims, asserting with impunity what would never appear in mainstream broadcast or print media about Jews, Christians and other established ethnic groups. If one takes out the word “Muslim” and substitutes “Jew” or “Catholic” in many of the articles targeting Muslims, the negative public reaction would be monumental

The net result? All Muslims have been reduced to stereotypes of Islam against the West, Islam’s war with modernity, and Muslim rage, extremism, fanaticism, and terrorism. The rhetoric and hatred of a violent minority has been equated with the “Anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism of a peaceful, mainstream majority, all lumped together in the question (more a belief) “Why do they hate us?” Islam and Muslims, not just the small minority of Muslim extremists and terrorists, are cast as the peculiar and demonized “other” with serious international and domestic consequences.
What do many Americans think about Islam?

In the Gallup World Poll, when U.S. respondents were asked what they admire about the Muslim world, the most common response was “nothing” (33 percent); the second most common was “I don’t know” (22 percent). Despite major polling by Gallup and PEW that show that American Muslims are well integrated economically and politically, a January 2010 Gallup Center for Muslim Studies report found that more than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims — more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%). Nine percent of Americans admitted feeling “a great deal” of prejudice towards Muslims, while 20% admitted feeling “some” prejudice. Surprisingly, Gallup data revealed a link between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, that contempt for Jews makes a person “about 32 times as likely to report the same level of prejudice toward Muslims.”

Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, will not be eradicated easily or soon. We all (governments, policymakers, the media, educational institutions, religious and corporate leaders) have a critical role to play in countering the voices of hate, the exclusivist theologies and ideologies. Islamophobic campaigns force even the most moderate and open-minded Muslims to question the value of integrating into the larger society when the leaders of that society look at all Muslims with suspicion and prejudice. This is not reconcilable either with Judeo-Christian ethics or the civic moral values of America and Europe.

Attempts to limit public discourse and debate, to silence alternative voices speaking out against ignorance, stereotyping and demonization of Islam, discrimination, hate crimes or threats to the civil liberties of Muslims must be turned back if America is to be preserved as the country of unity in diversity and free speech and opportunity for all. Education in our schools and universities and seminaries (as well as our churches and synagogues) that train the next generation of policymakers, religious leaders, educators, and citizens will be critical. What is at stake is the very core of who and what we are as a nation and a society, the foundation of our identity. Islamophobia and its culture of hate is not only a threat to the civil liberties of Muslims but also the very fabric of who we are and what we stand for, the principles and values embodied in our constitution and which have historically made our democracy strong.

Do You Care Whether the Religious Ideas You Believe In Are True or Not?

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 at 11:57 am

Oldspeak: “Skepticism is a discipline. It does not come naturally to the human mind. The human mind is wired to believe what it already believes, and what it wants to believe. The habit of questioning whether the things we believe are true — and letting go of beliefs we’re attached to when the evidence contradicts them — takes practice. When pressed to the wall in debates, believers will often wind up saying things like, “Why do you care what I believe? Living in my self-created reality where God loves me and I’m never going to die makes me happy. What difference does it make to anyone else?” But rejecting evidence about reality doesn’t just affect ourselves. It means rejecting the reality of how our actions affect other people. It means rejecting the realities of money, of sex, of showing up to work on time, of foreign policy, of global warming… in favor of stories we find familiar and comforting.”

By Greta Christina @ Alter Net:

What do you say to religious believers who don’t care about reality?

I don’t mean people who unconsciously don’t care about reality. I don’t mean people who unconsciously resist or rationalize evidence when it contradicts the things they believe. I get that. That’s universally human. Everybody does that. Atheists, believers — everybody. Me and you, and everyone we know.

I’m talking about people who consciously, intellectually state that they’re less interested in what’s really true about the universe than they are about their personal interpretation of it. People who consciously, intellectually state that reality can’t be completely understood, and therefore all interpretations of it are equally valid. People who consciously, intellectually state that it’s less important to understand reality than it is to not offend people by pointing out that their beliefs are inconsistent with the evidence. People who consciously, intellectually state that, even though there’s powerful evidence against the belief that (say) consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul that survives death, or that life was shaped into being by a loving God, or what have you… it’s still reasonable for them to hold those beliefs. People who consciously, intellectually state that, when it comes right down to it, they don’t care whether the things they believe are true.

And who firmly defend that position.

What do you say to them?

As an atheist writer, I’ve been having this weird series of conversations about religion with believers who take this position. Some of them take it in a very hard-line relativist way; they insist there’s no reality other than the one we create in our minds. Or they insist that, even though there probably is an external reality, there’s no way to truly understand it… so it’s completely reasonable to live in the world as we create it in our heads, and to interpret reality in whatever way gives us comfort and pleasure. Regardless of whether that interpretation jibes with, you know, evidence about how reality works.

Others are more slippery about this position. They’ll state their religious beliefs… and then, when challenged to provide some evidence supporting those beliefs, they’ll say something like, “That’s just what I believe. None of us can prove for 100 percent certain whether our beliefs are right. We all choose what to believe. So what’s the point in debating who’s right?”

I’ll be honest: I find it very hard to argue against this position. Mostly because I find it so utterly baffling. The idea that reality matters? The idea that we ought to care whether the things we believe are true? To me, this is close to a fundamental axiom. And when people say they don’t care about that, it leaves my jaw hanging in dumbfounded silence.

But that makes it a topic worth getting into. I like questioning my fundamental axioms. So, why should we care whether the things we believe are true?

Why should we treat the external, objective reality of the universe as more important than the internal, subjective reality of our personal experience?

Why is the universe more important than me?

Perspective as a Moral Obligation

Well, for starters: The universe is about 13.73 billion years old, and it’s about 93 billion light years across. I am 48 years old, and I’m five foot three. Not to be ageist or a size queen… but really. When I look at those numbers, do I honestly have to ask why the universe is more important — and more interesting — than the inside of my head? Or of anybody’s head?

I’m not saying the insides of people’s heads aren’t important or interesting. Of course they are. They’re what make art interesting, and literature, and so on. And they’re what make psychology and neuropsychology interesting as well. The insides of people’s heads are fascinating. And they matter.

But the world inside a person’s head is just one tiny fragment of the vast, ancient, wildly freaky complexity of existence. Why would I give that tiny fragment greater priority than the vast, freaky complexity? Even if the head that this tiny fragment is inside happens to be my own? To me, that seems like the absolute height of arrogance.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s more than just arrogant, it borders on unethical. Understanding that our own experience is not the only one? That other people matter to themselves as much as we do to ourselves? That none of us has a pipeline to truth? Understanding that we are not the most important being in the universe; having the ability to view life from an outside perspective, and acknowledge that we don’t, cosmically speaking, matter more than anyone else? That is the core of human ethics.

To argue that our personal view of reality is every bit as important as reality itself? To insist that it’s valid to frame reality any way we like, without regard to the actual evidence about it? It’s placing ourselves at the center of the cosmos. It’s saying that our personal experience really is the most important one. It’s defending the validity of being out of touch, of living inside our heads.

Perspective is more than an intellectual discipline. It’s a moral obligation. The willingness to step back from our experience, to examine our beliefs about the world and let go of them when the evidence contradicts them, is a huge part of how we gain the humility we need to see our true place in the world. Caring whether the things we believe are true is a crucial part of caring, period.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

This isn’t just about philosophy, though. It isn’t even just about the vital branch of philosophy known as ethics. There are purely pragmatic reasons for caring whether the things we believe matter.

We need to understand reality, so we know how to behave in it.

If we believe things about reality that aren’t true, we’re going to make bad decisions. If we believe that we failed our English test because our teacher has it in for us, we’re not going to study harder for our next test. If we believe that we keep getting stomach-aches because we hate our job, we’re not going to quit having Doritos and Red Bull for breakfast. If we believe that we can turn on the TV by hitting it with a rock, we’re going to miss “America’s Best Dance Crew.” It’s like data processors say: Garbage in, garbage out.

And this applies to religious and spiritual beliefs as well. If we believe that we failed our English test because Mercury was in retrograde, or that our stomachaches are God’s punishment for thinking impure thoughts about Lady Gaga… we’re still not going to study or knock off the Doritos.

Understanding reality is how we know how to behave in it. Understanding cause and effect, which causes lead to what effects, is how we make better decisions — decisions that are more likely to lead to outcomes we’re hoping for.

And if we’re going to understand reality, we have to care whether the things we believe are true. We can tell ourselves that we create our own reality until we’re blue in the face… but if we don’t create our personal reality based on the best possible understanding of the larger reality around us, if we don’t create our personal reality by eating a healthy diet and doing our English homework and so on, reality is going to bite us in the ass.

Of course there are some very pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts ways that our beliefs about reality affect reality. Being optimistic can help us see more opportunities; being good to people draws other good people to us; etc. But there’s nothing magical about that. It’s just human psychology. Based, I’d like to point out, on observable cause and effect. Exactly the kind of reality I think people should care about.

What’s more, if we care about reality, we have to apply reasonable standards of probability and plausibility to it. When faced with solid evidence strongly suggesting that our beliefs almost certainly aren’t true, we can’t tell ourselves, “Well, my belief can’t be absolutely disproven with 100 percent certainty — therefore it’s reasonable to keep believing it.” We can’t tell ourselves that hitting the TV with a rock might turn it on this time, we can’t be absolutely sure that it won’t, it’s hypothetically possible. Not if we want to watch TV.

Now, when pressed with these kinds of questions, many of these “We create our own reality and don’t have to care if our beliefs are true” believers will agree. They’ll say that, when it comes to petty, mundane, physical matters, of course they understand cause and effect, and want to understand it better so they can create good consequences and avoid bad ones. When they’re on the twentieth floor of a building, they don’t exit that building by jumping out the window. They don’t act on the principle that they can create their own reality and gently float down from the window to the sidewalk. They believe in reality, in physical cause and effect… enough to take the elevator. When it comes to practical matters, of course they care whether the things they believe are true. It’s just the grand metaphysical issues, the issues where cause and effect isn’t blindingly obvious, the issues of God and the soul and eternal consciousness and whatnot… that’s where they feel they can make up any interpretation of reality that makes them happy.

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that.

It’s not so easy to believe whatever you find comforting in some cases… and then question, or challenge, or let go of your beliefs in others.

Skepticism is a discipline. It does not come naturally to the human mind. The human mind is wired to believe what it already believes, and what it wants to believe. The habit of questioning whether the things we believe are true — and letting go of beliefs we’re attached to when the evidence contradicts them — takes practice.

I know that in my own life, when I still had New Age woo beliefs — and my “we make our own reality” rationalization of them — I was much more prone to hanging onto other, non-spiritual beliefs I was attached to. And I was much more prone to attaching myself to beliefs in the first place if I found them comforting or easy. My belief that I could make things work with my loser boyfriend; my belief that there was no connection between my weight and my health; my belief that if I ignored my student loans for long enough the university would give up and go away… all these were much easier to fall into, because I was so practiced at convincing myself that it was reasonable to believe pretty much whatever I wanted.

What’s more, my spiritual beliefs were very slippery. (A phenomenon I’ve noticed in many other believers.) When confronted with strong evidence that contradicted my beliefs, I’d pull out the “this may not be literally true but it works for me” line. But when I was alone, or with others who shared my beliefs? I bloody well believed those things. Entirely and literally. And again, that slipperiness — that willingness to slide back and forth between wishful thinking and critical thought, depending on convenience and who was watching and how attached I was to the ideas — slopped into the practical areas of my life. Often withtruly lousy consequences.

But after I started applying skepticism to religion, and eventually let go of my spiritual beliefs, I became much better at critical thinking. In all areas of my life. Politics, relationships, money, health — everything. I became much better at asking, “What’s the evidence for this? Is this consistent with what we know about the world? What are the arguments for and against?”

This is often not easy. I’m human, with a human tendency to believe what I already believe or what I want to believe; and better critical thinking often means letting go of ideas I’m very attached to. But the practice I had letting go of religion makes this much easier, and much more natural. Again: Skepticism is a discipline. It takes practice. And when we let ourselves believe whatever the hell we like about God or the afterlife, it gets far too easy to let ourselves believe whatever the hell we like about everything else.

Which leads back to the question of ethics. When pressed to the wall in these debates, believers will often wind up saying things like, “Why do you care what I believe? Living in my self-created reality where God loves me and I’m never going to die makes me happy. What difference does it make to anyone else?” But rejecting evidence about reality doesn’t just affect ourselves. It means rejecting the reality of how our actions affect other people. It means rejecting the realities of money, of sex, of showing up to work on time, of foreign policy, of global warming… in favor of stories we find familiar and comforting.

And I see that play out with religious believers, every day of my life.

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

But beyond all that — beyond my philosophical objections, my ethical objections, even my pragmatic objections — I have another, stronger, far more serious objection to people who say they don’t care if the things they believe are true.

I don’t believe them.

If you really don’t care whether the things you believe are true… then why are you defending those beliefs in an atheist’s blog?

Why are you arguing so passionately, and at such great length, that your solipsistic cultural relativism is a valid viewpoint? Why don’t you just shrug off my arguments for atheism and materialism, and go about your merry way in your self-created reality? Why do you care what I think?

Here’s the thing. I think religious believers do care whether the things they believe are true. The ones who comment about their beliefs in atheists’ blogs sure as heck do. I think they comment in atheists’ blogs because they want validation for their beliefs. They want atheists to say, “No, your beliefs aren’t like all those others, those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.” Or they want atheists to say, “Wow, I haven’t heard that one before — how fascinating and well thought out!”

It’s only when that response isn’t forthcoming that the cultural relativism gets dragged out. It’s only when atheists say, “Actually, your belief isn’t any more consistent with evidence or reason than anyone else’s,” when we say, “Yes, I’ve heard that one before, about a hundred times, it still doesn’t hold up”… it’s only then that believers start insisting that they don’t care about stupid old reality anyway.

I think religious believers do care whether the things they believe are true. And they should. Caring about reality is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Human beings are explorers. We’re curious. We want to find out what’s behind that rock, that mountain, that ocean, that galaxy. We want to find out what’s inside that tree, that flower, that cell, that atom.

And that curiosity is one of the best things about us. That curiosity has led us to a greater understanding of the vast, ancient, wildly freaky complexity of existence than we ever thought possible. That curiosity is why we understand about galaxies, and continental drift, and matter being mostly empty space, and everything that’s alive being related, and any number of compellingly fascinating, completely counter-intuitive realities. What’s more, that curiosity has led to innumerable advances in the quality of human life. That curiosity is why we understand that diseases are caused by germs and viruses and genetics and so on, instead of evil spirits or imbalances in the bodily humors. That curiosity is why we understand that we ought not to let raw sewage run in the streets or in our drinking water. That curiosity is why we can talk to each other on the Internet.

Curiosity about how reality works is one of the finest things about humanity. We ought not to abandon it whenever it makes us uncomfortable or forces us to let go of beliefs we’re attached to. We ought to care more about reality than we do about the stories we tell ourselves about it. We ought to care, more than just about anything else, whether the things we believe are true.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.