Destruction Of The US. (Part Twelve – Religion)

It is well-known that many of the original European immigrants came to the US seeking freedom to practice their own versions of religion. For example, the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock had faced persecution in England when they quit the Church of England and established their own congregation in violation of the Act of Uniformity of 1559. The Quakers who settled Pennsylvania had faced similar persecution in England and Netherlands. Indeed, it was the hope of religious freedom that brought people of many denominations and faiths to the “New World,” including those who practiced Judaism and Islam. Yet, even in colonial America, many people were still subjected to religious persecution. In Virginia, Baptists and Presbyterians faced persecution from members of the Church of England. Similarly, other states established official religions forcing all residents to support the state church with their taxes.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Framers of the Constitution included the separation clause that forbade the establishment of state-sponsored religions?

Yet there are still those who have falsely denied that was the Framers’ intent. And they have continued to demand that our government proclaim the United States of America a Christian nation. Their demands only increased following the attacks on 9/11 which were carried out by Muslim extremists. Of course, they ignore the fact that many acts of terrorism carried out against Americans are committed by home-grown Christian terrorists.

In their push for conformity, these Christian zealots are, in effect, attempting to impose the type of discrimination their ancestors escaped. In fact, as a result of US tax policy, they are already engaged in a form of discrimination. Since all church property, even that used by church-owned businesses, is classified as tax-exempt, all Americans are forced to support their place of worship, including the 29 percent of Americans who do not attend a church. What if we did the same for private clubs? For other organizations?

Ironically, some of the darkest days in our history have been marked by discrimination excused and even promoted by religious leaders: Discrimination against people of different denominations and faiths or of no faith, discrimination against Native Americans, against people of color, and against the LGBTQ community. Religion has even been used to support slavery and war.

I believe that today’s religious fervor is fueled by fear – fear that religion is losing its sway. It’s not the first time. In the 1950s, Christian conservatives used the fear of communism to call for the end of separation of church and state. They pushed Congress to change the nation’s original motto from “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one) to “In God We Trust.” They succeeded in adding their new motto to all US currency. Under the same pretense, they got “Under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance. They also pushed for a National Day of Prayer which, not surprisingly, is almost entirely dedicated to Christian evangelism.

More recently, the GOP has aligned with conservative religious leaders to rile up its voting base by preaching “family values” from the pulpit. Not coincidentally, these values tend to encourage discrimination against women, gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, and people of color – all supported by the selective reading of the Bible.

And the influence of conservative religious leaders on the GOP has continued to gain momentum. The GOP and their evangelical Christian supporters have pushed for “freedom of religion” laws intended to make it legal for business owners to deny products and services to gays and lesbians. Some evangelical Christians have meddled in US foreign policy by investing in Jewish settlements on the West Bank based on the bizarre belief that the Messiah will return when the Holy Land is united under Jewish control. They support Putin’s Russia because he supports many of their narrow-minded views of Christianity. And they have been able to summon their faithful to help elect a president who would embrace their hatreds.

That’s right, Christian evangelicals have anointed Donald J. Trump, the pussy grabber himself, as the “chosen one.”

Their hypocrisy is stunning. They’re willing to ignore the fact that Trump has gleefully broken most of their 10 Commandments. Why? Because they see him as someone who, as long as they proclaim fealty to him, will do their bidding. Someone who will continue to pack the courts with ideological judges who will carry forward their hateful and narrow views on abortion and discrimination. Someone who will give them power to rewrite our laws, maybe even the Constitution itself. Someone who will institute God’s law as they themselves define it. Someone who will proclaim the US a Christian theocracy presided over by a leader “chosen by God.”

If we allow that to happen, the US will have come full circle. And we will require another revolution to achieve freedom from persecution.

The Three Rs: Republicans, Religion and Racism.

Ironically, given that one of the party’s founders was responsible for emancipating African-American slaves, racism has been an integral part of the GOP ideology for a very long time, most especially after a Democratic president signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Of course, the Republican party vehemently denies its racist appeal. But, if you examine the party’s electoral platforms from the 60s and 70s, you’ll see that states’ rights (aka Jim Crow-style racism) has long been a central theme. And if you look at the electoral maps before and after 1964, you’ll see that the South – the former slave states – suddenly turned bright red.

Lee Atwater, GOP strategist and advisor to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, admitted as much.

During an interview, he described the party’s southern strategy this way, “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

In other words, the party stopped using the overt language of Jim Crow and resorted to dog whistles, instead. But things changed in 2008 when the nation’s first black president was elected. It’s not coincidental that GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded to the 2008 election results by vowing to make Barack Obama a one-term president and by successfully blocking much of his legislation. And the party’s rhetoric, once again, became more explicit. Many of the party’s faithful and conservative pundits felt comfortable using the N word to describe the president and his family. They held up racist posters and circulated racist memes. They denied he was a citizen, they demanded to see his birth certificate and they talked about sending him back to Kenya.

In 2015, things only got worse when Donald J. Trump – the most vocal of the “birthers” – began his campaign for president as a Republican.

Trump had long been a racist. He was raised by parents who were members of the KKK. He had been charged with refusing to rent properties to people of color. He had run a full-page ad calling for the execution of five innocent young men of color who had been falsely accused. And when he took a momentary recess from tweeting, got off his gold-plated toilet, and came down the gold-plated escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president of the United States, he began by calling Mexican immigrants murderers, rapists and terrorists.

Central to Trump’s campaign was a promise to end “Political Correctness” – code for “It’s okay to be racist again.” One of his advisors and most powerful backers was Steve Bannon who, as editor of Breitbart News, called his website a platform for the alt-right, a nuanced name for white supremacists. In addition, many of Trump’s policies have been guided by Stephen Miller who has long circulated racist talking points by email and social media. Yet another advisor, and Trump’s first choice for Attorney General, was Sen. Jeff Sessions who clearly harbored racist beliefs. Even one of Trump’s campaign themes, “America First,” was originally used by Nazi sympathizers prior to the US entry into WWII. The theme has also been extensively used by the KKK.

Once ensconced in the White House, Trump not only surrounded himself with fellow racists, he embraced white “Christian” evangelicals who saw him as a vehicle to criminalize gay marriage, to end abortion, and to consolidate the Holy Land under Israel’s control in order to fulfill a prophecy that will hasten the return of their Messiah. Of course, the evangelicals’ hatred and bigotry are not confined to homosexuality and advocates of family planning. Many white evangelicals have long associated with white nationalism. Historically, they have not only excused the violence of the KKK and other racist groups. They have marched alongside them. And they have helped burn crosses on the lawns of black families.

Indeed, the symbolism of the white-hooded mobs and Christian crosses have long been intertwined.

So, when you see the Trump administration try to ban all Muslims from entering the US; when you hear Trump call predominately black nations “shit hole countries,” when you hear the administration order babies to be ripped from the arms of brown-skinned parents and placed in cages; when you see brown-skinned refugees being sent back to their countries of origin to face near certain deaths; when you hear the president excuse the violence of white supremacists against protesters by saying “there were good people on both sides”; when you hear him tell black congresswomen to “go back where you came from”; when you see Republicans use a variety of means to suppress and diminish the vote of African-Americans; when you hear white evangelical “Christians” say that Trump was sent by God to save the US; when you see polls that show Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 74 percent; when you see that 53 percent of Republicans believe that Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln, you arrive at one inescapable conclusion:

A majority of GOP voters and a substantial number of the “Christian” faithful are hopelessly and unapologetically racist!

Destruction Of The US. (Part Three – Racism and Discrimination)

One of the many ways that Trump and the GOP are destroying our democracy is through discrimination – creating fear of those who look different, who speak a different language, who practice a different faith, or who love someone of the same gender. Under the guise of rejecting “political correctness” the GOP and its propaganda outlets, such as Fox News, have emboldened their followers to blame the “other” for all of their social and economic problems.

Their political strategy has led to a divisiveness not seen since before or after the Civil War. It has also led to increasing violence.

For example, inspired by Trump, two Boston brothers brutally attacked and urinated on a homeless Hispanic man. Three Trump supporters in Kansas planned to bomb Somali immigrants. A white male in Washington stabbed an interracial couple, citing Trump’s rallies. The young man who rammed his car into a crowd of people protesting the racist Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia killing Heather Heyer was emboldened to act by the election of the most overtly racist president since Woodrow Wilson or, perhaps, even Andrew Johnson. An ardent Trump supporter in Miami was moved to send package bombs to Democratic leaders and the media he believed engaged in “fake news.” Likewise, the mass killers in Pittsburg and El Paso were inspired to act by Trump. In addition, there have been many less visible and less successful domestic terrorists who were inspired to violence by Trump.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to dozens, maybe hundreds, of threats and hate crimes against brown and black people – some of them US citizens – for daring to speak Spanish or to look like immigrants. In addition, there has been a growing number of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. GOP-nominated judges have sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians on so-called religious grounds (the religion of hate). And the rhetoric of GOP candidates and supporters has inspired anti-abortion protesters to murder doctors, nurses and patients at medical clinics.

At the same time, the Trump administration has used ICE and CBP to engage in a form of violence against immigrants – many of them seeking asylum from dangerous and hopeless situations – by ripping their children from their arms and, in some cases, placing the children in foster homes or putting them up for adoption. They have crammed immigrants into cages with no toiletries, no soap, no showers and no beds, often without sufficient room to even lie down.

All the while, Trump’s supporters, including many so-called evangelical “Christians” have cheered.

And, for decades, the GOP has practiced racial discrimination by gerrymandering districts to minimize the impact of black voters. They have purged people of color from voting lists. They have demanded photo IDs from state motor vehicle departments then closed the locations in black districts. They have also closed polling places in black areas, forcing voters to stand in line for hours.

The GOP has intentionally positioned itself as the party of choice for white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-immigrant militias, and “Christian” evangelicals. Its candidates have all been endorsed and funded by the NRA, which has made gun violence possible, perhaps inevitable. And Trump has even been endorsed by the David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK.

What do all these groups have in common? They are all paranoid, feeling that they are persecuted by the educated and secular “elite.” They fear that our white Christian culture will be “diluted” by people of color and people of other religions. They fear they’ll lose the advantages of their white privilege. And they fear a government that limits their freedom to rape and pillage the land, air and water; a government that forces them to pay for their fair share of infrastructure; a government that denies men the right to control women; a government that denies them the ability to discriminate without consequence.

For more on the subject, I encourage you to read Bring The War Home, The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew.

Healing Our Political Divide Must Begin With The Church.

On a local level, the traditional neighborhood church can be quite useful in helping individuals and families cope with crises in their lives. But, on a national and international level, the church has too often engaged in self-serving politics as a means of increasing its power and diminishing or demeaning people of other faiths. Indeed, unscrupulous pastors – most especially greedy televangelists – have used their positions of authority to help elect those candidates who will be most supportive of their beliefs. This has never been more clear than in today’s political environment.

If you study polling data as I have, you will find that we are not as divided as you might expect – at least not with regard to issues. If you remove the political labels, there is substantial agreement on many issues such as wealth inequality, climate change, common sense gun safety, immigration, health care, safety nets and government spending.

To a great degree, the chasm between us is the result of the church having been co-opted for personal gain and political purposes.

It began in the 1970s when, following President Nixon’s fall from grace, Paul Weyrich saw an opportunity to rebuild the Republican Party by pandering to evangelical fundamentalist Christians. He reached out to them by partnering with Jerry Falwell to found the so-called “Moral Majority.” Their message, which was quickly embraced by other fundamentalist Christian pastors such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson, was that all of the terrible events which plague our nation – mass shootings, drug abuse, even hurricanes and natural disasters – could all be traced to our supposed abandonment of Christian beliefs. The events were God’s punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. The result of moral decay enabled by the secularist political elite.

Only by following conservative Christian doctrine, they said, could we return America to its former glory which had been ordained by God.

At Weyrich’s urging, Republican candidates began to embrace fundamentalist Christian issues labeling themselves “family values” candidates. At the same time, they began fomenting fear of the “other” – gays, immigrants, transgenders, and non-Christians. As a result, the Republican Party, which had long been the party of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, turned its focus to various forms of discrimination. At the same time, the party pushed for states’ rights which would enable it to circumvent the restrictions of federal government. The party became staunchly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-transgender, and anti-socialist. The more extreme party members began supporting dominionism (the belief that the nation should be governed only by Christians according to biblical law).

As a result of Weyrich’s efforts, many of our churches today are more political than spiritual. Instead of preaching love and compassion, many pastors subtly foment discrimination and hate against those who don’t believe as they do. Some tell their followers that they will go to hell if they vote for a pro-choice candidate. They use selected passages from the Bible to portray their political enemies and people of other faiths as evil. They use the Bible to justify racism and misogyny. They label as baby-killers those women who have made the heart-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy (usually for health reasons).

Today’s evangelicals and many of the “family values” Republicans have become the ultimate hypocrites – the ends-justify-the-means crowd – willing to overlook the adultery, corruption and predatory behavior of Donald Trump as long as he appoints conservative judges who will rule against legal access to abortion and base their decisions on biblical law. They are obsessed with forcing others to accept their beliefs and practices. They claim piety. But, in reality, their actions are less about religion than control.

That should surprise no one. For millennia, religions competing for control over the minds of people have engaged in wars and destroyed nations to further their interests. We must now acknowledge that that could happen here. As long as one of our two major political parties continues to blend a specific brand of religion with politics; as long as its elected officials continue to view issues through the lens of an unwavering religious belief; as long as they assume their political opponents are evil; there will never be room for compromise. (Would God compromise with Satan?) And the political chasm between us will continue to grow.

If we truly want to heal our nation – to remove the vitriol from politics – we must first acknowledge that the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. And we must be willing to focus on issues that will benefit the nation as a whole. Not any particular belief system.

Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

Middle East Peace Held Hostage By Four Terrorist Groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel is withdrawing from US-brokered peace talks with Palestinians came as no surprise. He and his conservative Israeli supporters have long looked for an excuse…any excuse…to avoid peace. That excuse presented itself when Palestinians announced that Fatah and Hamas, the two largest political parties in Palestine, had joined hands for the negotiations.

Certainly, Hamas has been an enemy of Israel. But so has Fatah. In return, Israel has been an enemy of Palestine. Exactly what is the difference? In the past, none of these groups has believed the others have a right to exist. But if warring parties want to achieve peace, they absolutely must negotiate with their enemies. That’s why they’re called peace talks! If you’re unwilling to negotiate with your enemies, you are doomed to be perpetually at war.

The other player in this standoff that is seldom recognized is the organization of Christian evangelicals that sponsors and finances the expansion of Israeli “settlements” in the occupied territories of the West Bank. These “settlements” are, in reality, large suburbs of Jerusalem built to ensure that the territories, and all of Jerusalem, remain under Israeli control.

Why, you may ask, would Christian evangelicals care about the settlements?

The answer is that they hope that complete Israeli occupation of the “Promised Land” will hasten Armageddon and the return of Christ. They believe that, when the “Promised Land” is fully occupied by Jews, the Messiah will return and they will be magically, and immediately, transported to the golden city in the sky.

Seriously.

So let’s review. The players in this bizarre melodrama include Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat, that engaged in terrorist acts from the very beginnings of Israel; Hamas, the fundamentalist Islamic political party allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades; Israel, the Jewish nation that has ignored the nuclear proliferation treaty, spied on its allies, trampled on the civil rights of Palestinians and believes in disproportionate response to any form of attack; and Christian zealots who are in such a hurry to get to heaven that they are willing to foment terrorism and armed combat.

Ironically, these characters all claim to be following the teachings of their respective religions! I guess those teachings don’t include compassion and common sense.