There is a meme in science fiction B-movies where the village or town or nation has been taken over by aliens or zombies who look just like us. Outsiders coming into town can't tell the difference between the aliens and the townsfolk, and the law is definitely NOT on their side. It's fiction, right?
In the desert twin town of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, with a shared police department, most of the 9,000 population are followers of Warren Jeff's polygamous and legally-challenged Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These followers consider Jeffs to be a prophet and a tenet of their faith is total obedience to his commands. Fred Barlow, police chief of the twin towns, recently wrote to Jeffs -- facing trial for rape in a case that centres on a forced marriage he ordered on a teenaged girl -- to confirm his allegiance:
"I would first like to acknowledge you as the one man that was and is called of God to stand at the head of his priesthood and the Kingdom of God on the earth in this day and time ... I love you ... and know you have the right to rule in all aspects of my life. Without priesthood I am nothing ... I am praying for you to be protected and yearn to be with you again. I and all of the officers have expressed our desire to stand with you and the priesthood."
This is the Chief of Police writing to a man who was recently featured on the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitive List. Can you imagine life in these places if you are not a Fundamentalist Mormon? I'm sure it really would be like living a B-movie.
Fucking For God and Power
Kathryn Joyce who was associated with the late-lamented Revealer blog has written a fascinating and terrifying story for The Nation this week. Called "Arrows for the War" it tells the tale of the Quiverfull Movement; fundamentalist Christians seeking to have as many children as possible, with the declared aim of swamping all non-fundamentalists beneath their weight of numbers. They point out that,
"if just 8 million American Christian couples began supplying more "arrows for the war" by having six children or more, they propose, the Christian-right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century ("assuming Christ does not return before then"). They like to ponder the spiritual victory that such numbers could bring: both houses of Congress and the majority of state governor's mansions filled by Christians; universities that embrace creationism; sinful cities reclaimed for the faithful; and the swift blows dealt to companies that offend Christian sensibilities."
Their philosophy is couched directly as anti-feminism. They believe that feminism has unleashed the following ghastly evils onto society: contraception, women's careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse. All of which need to be abolished, by force if necessary.
"Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship--"Father knows best"--and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. Quiverfull began with the publication of Rick and Jan Hess's 1989 book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ, which argues that God, as the "Great Physician" and sole "Birth Controller," opens and closes the womb on a case-by-case basis. Women's attempts to control their own bodies--the Lord's temple--are a seizure of divine power ... They borrow their name from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement but as an army they're building for God."
Joyce points out that this is still a small movement today, but one that is growing rapidly. It has the high-powered support of people like Senator Brownback of medieval Kansas. This is something to watch.
Harris For Jesus
The soon-to-be-disappeared-and-never-brought-to-mind Kathleen Harris, who is being crushed in her congressional re-election bid can still spit bile and ignorance:
"If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she told interviewers, citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples of that sin. "Whenever we legislate sin," she said, "and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don't know better, we are leading them astray and it's wrong . . ."
Friend and foe alike have dumped on the unlikable Ms Harris:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she was "disgusted" by the comments "and deeply disappointed in Rep. Harris personally ... [it] clearly shows that she does not deserve to be a Representative." State Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, demanded an apology, saying the statements were "outrageous, even by her standards. "What is going through this woman's mind?" said Slosberg.
Ruby Brooks, a veteran Tampa Bay Republican activist, said Harris' remarks "were offensive to me as a Christian and a Republican." And Jillian Hasner, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said: "I don't think it's representative of the Republican Party at all. Our party is much bigger and better than Katherine Harris is trying to make it."
During the same interviews, Harris said that separation of Church and State was wrong. Separating religion and politics is
"so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's (sic) certainly isn't what God intended."
University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said the comments will appeal to Christian fundamentalists who typically turn out for Republican primaries. "It's insane," he said. "But it's not out of character for Katherine Harris."
Maybe the depths to which she has fallen in the polls gives her a certain freedom to just say what she feels without concerning herself with the political consequences. That's a good thing in and of itself. And politically, as Sabato says, she will now attract a certain kind of fundamentalist voter that a more centrist Republican would eschew.
Either way she's a goner in the primary. Hopefully she will make the next few weeks' campaigning laughingly memorable.
A Ray of Hope?
In a long article yesterday, the New York Times tells the story of Rev Gregory Boyd who runs what they call an "evangelical megachurch" in Minnesota. While remaining a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, the Rev. Boyd has banned politics from his church and pulpit.
"Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.
“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross" ...
In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.
“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. “I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public. “Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”
The church which he founded in 1992 had 5,000 active members before his sermons; one thousand left, horrified by his preaching. The good news -- the ray of hope -- is that four thousand have stayed. Further, Rev Boyd's move away from politics is not a solitary act:
“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment. “More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”
Now, being the way I am, these are still not folks I'd be comfortable spending my Sundays with. But I certainly appreciate their attempt to turn the church back to theology and away from politics.
The Folks Behind The Bush Catastrophe
How about this for an opening:
With huge torrents of cash from Richard Mellon Scaife, the Ahmanson family and other super-rich ultra-rightists, the fundamentalist church has formed the popular network that has spawned the Bush catastrophe. The totalitarian alliance between pulpit, corporation and military is unique in U.S. history.
With contempt for the Constitution, and unholy opposition to separation of church and state, ultra-rich ultra-right preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, self-proclaimed messiahs like Rev. Moon, and sanctimonious errand boys like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, have turned America into a “Christo-fascist” empire whose twice-unelected executive claims Divine right to rule.
Not a bad start, eh? The rest of it is just as much fun. Bob and Harvey tell it like it is.
Tolerating the Intolerant
Malene Arpe of the Toronto Star has written a most marvelous piece about the intolerance shown by fanatics -- most recently by Muslims complaining about cartoons. She makes some wonderful points throughout, but I'll just quote her close:
"I work hard, as an atheist, at not being angered by the increasing inclusion of this, that or whatever god in areas of life that should be secular. I succeed because I tell myself it's none of my business what people believe, although every time they pray on Survivor or I hear another one-hit wonder thanking God for His direct hand in securing a People's Choice Award, I do feel the need to say a dirty word. Just to counteract.I happen to think religion is destructive, oppressive and overburdened by silly hats.
I also think the only reason Christianity has more adherents and respectability than, say, the Raelians or the Scientologists, is that the Christians came along first. Don't let that keep you from looking heavenwards. Do what you will in the comfort of your own home or place of worship and rest assured that when I visit I will behave politely, cover up whatever vile parts of my body offend your particular god, and refrain from eating ham sandwiches while you pray.
If being offended is such a necessity to your enjoyment of life or your sense of self, think about the censorship you implicitly advocate. Consider that you may not be the one who gets to decide what is offensive and should be banned. Maybe it will be me. I guarantee you wouldn't like it."
Definitely couldn't have said it better myself.
This Is The Bush Base Speaking ...
A British TV News organization has secretly filmed the Bush Base in action. Here is their report:
Fred Phelps says that terrorist outrages and natural disasters such as Hurricane Rita are examples of God's wrath against countries such as America and Britain for tolerating homosexuals and homosexuality. Phelps, who set up the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, told our undercover reporter about the attacks, which killed 52 people:
"Oh I am so thankful that happened. My only regret is that they didn't kill about million of them. England deserves that kind of punishment, as does this country (America)".
The church, which has 150 followers, recently started picketing funerals including those of American soldiers killed in Iraq, waving banners such as "Thank God 9/11", "God Hates Fags" and "Aids Cures Fags". [emphasis added]
We remember, of course, that more "mainstream" religious leaders (think, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell) said pretty much the same thing about America "deserving" it immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
This is the base that got Bush elected twice. This is the base about which we should have great fear and loathing.
Happy 6,009th Birthday World!
According to the calculations of Archbishop Usher of Armargh, today is the earth's birthday. His calculations led him to believe that God created the world on October 23rd, 4004 BC. Now, there are those who say his math is wrong, but let's not quibble on our birthday!
Death Of A Thousand Cuts
The following is a very important warning from The Mainstream Baptist:
Two weeks ago Paul Pressler, the architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, described how the Religious Right intended to deal with Roe v. Wade. After expressing his elation with the selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he said, "Roe v. Wade won't be revoked, it will die the death of a thousand cuts and qualifications and regulations until it gradually disappears."
I suspect that Pressler has described the Religious Right's strategy for dealing with more than Roe v. Wade. They are already applying the same strategy to repealing the First Amendment and civil rights legislation.
First, this administration opened the flood gates for churches and religious groups to receive billions of dollars from the federal treasury. Now they are permitting the churches and religious groups to ignore laws protecting the civil rights of minorities when using that federal money. Already they have seized on hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to distribute more federal money to faith-based organizations and give vouchers to private and religious schools.
It's not hard to see what is happening here if you just ignore their pious sounding rhetoric and look at the reality of what they are doing. They are slowly creating an established church. It is being established not by a direct act of congress (that would violate the First Amendment which says "congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion"), but indirectly by government appropriations. Christian churches and religious groups are being funded while minority faiths, with tokens here and there for the Jews, are being marginalized as a matter of public policy.
A good example of this establishment of religion by appropriation is taking place in Houston. A couple weeks ago Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman told participants at an Americans United forum that Second Baptist Houston "bought" the right to direct relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the city. He said they came in with a million dollars and offered it for the relief efforts on the condition that they take control of the effort. He also indicated that the church's much publicized assent to work with the interfaith community was forced upon them by the mayor of Houston. Coleman asked, "Why is this church that never showed an interest in helping the poor in the past suddenly interested in leading this effort?" He answered, "They are making an investment. They know that billions of dollars are going to be funneled into this and they are the ones who will be in position to control it."
By the time the graft, corruption and injustice of what is now being done in the name of "faith-based initiatives" and "hurricance relief" is widely known and publicized, the Supreme Court will be stacked with jurists who will deny minority rights and interpret the constitution to mean that Christianity has always been the established religion of our nation.
Just stand back and watch this all unfold. Thank your God that I am in Canada and away from that madness.
A Watching Brief
I've read what seems to be an endless stream of opinion pieces about Ratzinger since his election as Pope Benedict XVI, and the best I've read was in yesterday's Globe & Mail. The article makes clear that Benedict's papacy may be a lot more interesting than some of us may have thought. The crux of the argument is here:
As for Benedict's appeal to the cardinals, several church scholars pointed out that his background as an academic theologian — and a first-rate one — needs to be understood.
The Canadian theologian who spoke off the record explained that Benedict's Vatican job as guardian of Catholic orthodoxy and the instrumental role he played in shaping some of the theological advances in the church's great reform council of the 1960s, Vatican II, are two distinctly different things.
As John Paul's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his job was to enforce church teaching. But as a theologian, his role is to explore new understandings and interpretations of church teaching.
"Theologians push the envelope," the Canadian theologian said. "It's their job to think out of the box. These are two different roles, prefect and theologian. And now as Pope, he's going to occupy both positions.
University of Toronto's Prof. Silano emphasized the same point. He said that even though the past and present Popes were close, Benedict's style of thought as a theologian is going to make him very different from John Paul, who was a philosopher.
We'll see, but I am intrigued how the difference between philosopher and theologian plays out in practice.