by Joe Palmer
[ opinion - january 05 ]
"For the first time in history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted reality... the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts." - Bill Moyers, 'Battlefield Earth'
The country that was supposed to be religion-proof has turned out to be the one country in the West where religiosity is more important than any other feature of public personality. You can't get elected to public office or teach school in the USA unless you remain a true believer blessed by a bishop or a Protestant potentate, who may be only the local Baptist Ayatollah, but a powerful Imam nonetheless. In order to escape the attention of the arbiters of correctness, you must remain hidden in the closet, occasionally presenting one face to the world while secretly and fearfully minding your own business along with the hypocritical majority like you - the ascetics, homosexuals, pedophiles, intellectuals, free thinkers, atheists, agnostics, One Worlders, Tree Huggers, Goddess Gals, alcoholics, druggies, and forgiven felons.
The United States of America is a Christian country, state, or nation in the sense that as a modern political entity it came into being because the people who invented it called themselves Christian, sort of, when people were looking.
By this reasoning, Saudi Arabia must be a Christian country too because the British and the French decided the boundaries of most of the Middle Eastern countries when they divided up the area after the First World War. The British and French are nominally Christian too.
I'm only kidding. Those are Moslem countries, of course. Moslems live there. Egypt is a Moslem country too because most of the people there are Moslem, but many are Christian and Jewish. When I lived in Egypt I found that every Jew had a Christian assigned by the police to look after him and his family and to protect them against Moslems. Israel must be a Jewish country, not because Jews made it a country (it was the United Nations that created Israel), but because most of the people who live there are Jews. Not all, but most. Some Israelis are Christian or Moslem, and among the Israelis there are quite a few people who cannot be classified according to their religion as Christian, Moslem, or Jewish. Take the Baha'is, for example. So what can you make of all this? You should probably conclude that it is pretty silly to think of countries in terms of religion, and that you should regard religion as a worn out marker of "race" and ethnicity. Race is a term that has no scientific basis. Ethnicity, like language, is a matter of chance. If we throw away these words and the thinking that goes with them, we are all better off.Religion is a wall that people who do not want to face the real world hide behind.Try this exercise: If the USA is a Christian country, then Russia is ... ... country, and Japan is ... ... country, and China is ... ... country, and Indonesia is ... ... country, and Cuba is ... ... country.The best we can get out of this exercise is to guess the religion of the majority of people in a country when it came into the world and so was recognized by others, compared to other countries. So the United States is sort of a Christian country because when it was founded a lot of the people involved were Christian.
Nowadays the American people practice any of the religions of the world, because by law they can have any religion they please. The people who invented the United States saw that religion can get in the way of having a good society, so according to American law the government cannot do anything about religions, or have to do with giving preference to religions, or more precisely, cannot make any laws respecting religions. Why? Because millions of people have killed other people because they argued about religion. And they keep on killing each other for many reasons, using religion as an excuse. So in the United States there is a separation between the churches and the state. Belonging to a religion is not supposed to qualify you or disqualify you for a job or a raise. Americans are supposed to ignore religious differences, as if they are not there, because it is unfair to point them out and make something out of the essentially unimportant regional, tribal, cultural, generational, historical, and sexual peculiarities of a religious group. If a girl wears a hijab to school, we can ignore it. That's easier than making a big flap about it as they do in France. If you carry your bible to class at school, who cares? What you do is your business, and no one else's, but you take the responsibility for looking funny. You can wear a cross on a chain or a yarmulke on your head or ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday. That's your personal choice. The trouble begins when public money is used to sponsor events with religious messages - prayer at public meetings and sporting events, putting up Christmas decorations at the Court House, and so forth. Then some folks protest that religion is not politically correct, and so it must not be supported by the general public.
What's wrong with religion in public? What's wrong is that you must ask the question. Why should anyone offend other people with their peculiar ways? But what if nearly everyone belongs to the main religion? Why don't the outsiders just grin and bear it? Well, they do, and have, and most of them are tired of having their noses rubbed in it.The problem is one of meaning. What is the meaning of a question when everybody knows the answer beforehand? The meaning of such a question must be different from the obvious answer. Let's say you have just eaten four apples in a row, and I ask you if you like apples. What can I possibly mean? I am probably being aggressively sarcastic, complaining, or belittling you.
The meaning of a cross on a chain around a girl's neck may mean only that she likes to wear it, but more probably it means that she is special, a member of a particular group and therefore she is different from other people. If she erects a large cross on a Negro's lawn and lights it afire, how is that different from the necklace? How is the Ku Klux Klan's intimidation of colored and foreign people different from the public display of religious objects? How is the Evangelicals' plan to take over the world different from the Klan's protecting the wealth of early immigrants?
In a secular society people are not segregated from each other because of their differences. The old markers of origins such as race and religion are done away with, except as precious indicators of originality, uniqueness and pride. Secular means being part of the modern world, of the present time, and not a curious relic of the past. Modern Western countries are secular in this sense. We preserve the unique identity of our populations as long as their practices do not impose their ways and beliefs on others.
But what if the majority of people say they have the only true, correct religion, and so everybody else is not only wrong in their beliefs but also evil? What if the preachers get together and tell their congregations how to vote, so that their own preferred kind of society can be forced on everybody through legislation and executive order? If they do not like abortion, out it goes. If they disapprove of same-sex marriage, homosexuality, euthanasia, books about sex or magic, the teaching of evolution, the use of marijuana or tobacco, for example, they will force their views on others.
Majority rule is called democracy, the best form of government. This statement is not meant ironically. In the Western world, in Europe and North America, a majority of the people determines social policy. That is as it should be. But those people are well educated. They have lots of good schools and smart teachers who earn a living wage. They know about history and science. They can make decisions on the basis of facts and clear thinking. They choose their governors and legislators among the best people, who then do the greatest good for the majority. Local Yahoos do not control their educational systems. They cannot force their beliefs on others. They do not let just anybody run the show, as in the United States. In the United States, even the most perverted, antisocial, ignorant persons can hold political offices. They only have to get elected. There are many, many ways to get elected - through bribery, or blackmail, or bearing false witness against your neighbor, that is, by lying loud enough and long enough so that people assume that what you say is true, and of course by paying people under the table.
Let us take the best-case scenario: we are caught up in competition and argument as usual. There is nothing new about that. That is the way democracy is supposed to work. But religious fanatics are among us. Much of the time we can ignore them, but now the people who can pull the trigger are nuts. Here is the worst case: the guys who can drop atomic bombs, the officials in positions of influence and authority in the American government, are demonstrably cuckoo for Christ. This time the true believers think that after Israel reclaims its lost Biblical territory, the Antichrist will attack and Armageddon will follow. There will be a holocaust, and complete destruction of the world by fire, but the true believers will not suffer. They are immune to retribution and suffering by virtue of their belief. The Rapture will occur - they will be transported, lifted up to heaven, eating Tootsie-Rolls, and Jelly Babies while watching the wicked perish down below. They know for sure that the Rapture is coming. They are atom bomb proof.
Rapture is supposed to be a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to knowledge of divine things in passion and ecstasy. It is the carrying of a person to heaven, Christ's raising up his true church and its members to a realm above the earth where the whole company will enjoy celestial bliss with its Lord. If these words have personal, practical meaning for you, if they signify real world possibilities like the words one way, adults only, or poison, please do not tell anyone. They will think you have lost your mind.
The root of the word rapture is the same as rape, a participle of Latin rapere, the act of carrying away a person by force. The Rapture is a rape of the minds and souls of needful, gullible people in which the rapist is raped. Like many thoughtful people they are afraid of death, and so they turn to religion for comfort and solace. Faced with the ultimate reality, death, they go bananas and will believe anything. They do not understand the fact that death is nothing at all, merely a return to what they were before they were conceived. They are certainly not going to avoid it by buying a ticket to a big rock concert in the sky, the Rapture.When you google the phrase "Rapture Index" you get "The End of Time News Bites" in Rapture Ready, a web site devoted to the end of the world, telling us how the world will soon become hell, and when, and why. It explains the rise of the Antichrist, the tribulation, the Rapture, and the Day of the Lord. The Index tells us how close we are to annihilation or salvation, according to assessments such as how many pagans there are in the United States, and whether the death of Yasser Arafat should speed things up, our fate depending, of course, on whose ministry we support. Rapture Ready also contains "Donation Depot" and "On Line Store Gift Shop" where you can buy a t-shirt or a mug that has a drawing of a Christian bible and the words HOMELAND SECURITY, helping to support those who ask for your money so that they can keep on offering some 8,000 pages of text on six main internet servers, and answering their mail, and going to the bank to deposit their lucre.Evangelism is a multi-billion dollar industry that the government has nothing to do with. The evangelists' huge income is not taxed or regulated in any way, because of the separation of church and state, so they can, and do, manipulate gullible people, making immoral money from those simple people's need to believe in something or anything. In particular televangelism and radio evangelism, or selling their message on television and radio, is the work of thousands of people involved in some twenty-five hundred ministries ["churches" and programs] worldwide. The largest network of programs, Trinity Broadcasting, uses some fifty satellites and seven thousand broadcasting stations around the world.Where do they get this stuff with which to convince you to give them your money? They get the inspiration for it from the Holy Bible, that book for which you have learned to have the greatest reverence, called bibliolatry, worship of the Book. "It's in the Book," is the cry of all preachers who use the authority of the Bible to make you believe their subtle arguments.You are offended when your reverence for the Bible is violated, when intellectuals and scholars write that the Bible would not have much influence if it made much sense (Galbraith), but worse, it was written by a committee (Louis B Mayer), that it is literary fiction, not dogma (Santayana), that if we "obeyed the moral precepts scattered throughout the Bible it would mean sudden death" (Whitehead), and that it is poison (Russell).So who do you believe, the finest minds of our times, or a bunch of crack-pot, money-grubbing preachers and opportunistic politicians? Please be offended.The Rapture business started back in the 19thC when a preacher in England, John Darby (1800-82) helped form the Plymouth Brethren, who evangelized in England and America. One of them, Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921), wrote the basic Reference Bible, an interpretation of the Book, which became the standard teaching tool in Bible colleges in America and the UK, where ministers went to become accredited to teach the Bible and minister unto their congregations, that is, to tend their flocks as pastors. Oxford University Press produced more than a million copies of the book between 1909 and 1930. This way of looking at the scriptures owes a lot to astrology and fortune telling. Unconnected, disparate, and gnomic statements are taken together to presage whatever the seer wants to see. Like palmistry and Tarot reading, the result is a fabrication in every case. Usually the moral of the preacher's sermon, the story told by the preacher, is good for the listeners, or at least it usually doesn't make them crazy. He often gets his sermon from a crib sheet, a "fake book" that preachers pass around among themselves. They don't have to write their own sermons, and so a preacher frequently does not really understand what he is preaching about. Consequently, preaching the End Times and Apocalypse, the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom, is either the work of a lazy preacher or a dirty trick. Try making sense out of the Revelation of St. John The Divine, the last book of the Bible. I'll bet you can't. Several ancient writings of the period 200 BC to AD150 tell that the world will end soon. Only faithful enthusiasts, that is, crackpots, have the generosity to make sense out of such writings and the preaching based upon them. And now these faithful enthusiasts are running the world from Washington DC.
However, it could be the case that they dissemble, that is, that they are telling lies. Maybe they are pretending to go along with biblical prophecy because it suits their purposes of imposing a Pax Americana on the entire world and profiting thereby, making money while Iraq burns, for example.Given the threat from Islamic fundamentalists, who are offended by our licentious Western ways, they consolidate their political power at home by pretending to agree with Christian fundamentalists. A majority of voting Americans is fundamentalist Christian of one sort or another, or the voters are politically challenged, that is, they lack respect for and find distasteful the give and take of politics, preferring to be told what to do by an oligarchy, that is, by a dictatorial committee, the President and his cabinet, who were put into office and paid for by the rich who profit from the government's policies, for example, by selling gasoline and turkey dinners to the American soldiers in Iraq.The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against fifty years ago has the technique of making money down to a science now. There is no more kitchen police in the army. The food service is catered on contract. The transportation is hired and leased. Big companies now run wars for profit without having to pay the military for anything. The cost of the killing comes out of the public purse. Private contractors provide all the support systems, and even the administrators for the conquered territories, all at a profit, often without competition or bidding and winning contracts.
Most people do not know that the American president chooses his cabinet from among private individuals who have their own special interests and knowledge. He has the right to choose cabinet members who share his beliefs and vision. They are not elected. They do not have to hold offices by virtue of the political process. They hold office by virtue of the special interests they represent, such as the companies that supply the military, and the companies that reconstruct the roads and cities that the military destroys. They must, however, be approved by the Senate. The senators have their own special interests at heart, like military contracts for their states, for instance.
Condoleezza (con dolcezza) Rice, former national security advisor and now secretary of state was a director of Chevron, an oil company that named an oil tanker after her when she joined the GW Bush cabinet. Vice-president Richard Cheney has an interest in Haliburton, a company that services the oil and gas industries, helping pipelines make their way across disputed territory. As the Chief Executive Officer of Halliburton, in 1998 Mr. Cheney said:
"The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the US... We go where the business is."
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, an extremely able lawyer and educator, and an evangelistic fanatic with an apocalyptic messiah complex, holds the distinction of being the only sitting US senator to lose his seat in an election to a dead man. During the ceremony when Ashroft was sworn in as a senator, his father, a minister of an evangelical sect, anointed his head with Crisco, a vegetable shortening, because there was no oil available.
The President once showed his trust in Ashcroft when asked by a reporter how he would advise the Attorney General. The President replied, "I'd tell him, General, you're doing a great job." The President thought that somehow the principal legal adviser to the government had the rank of general. He did not know that the Attorney General is not a military officer, and so he is not addressed as "General." The President's ignorance and the religious views often expressed by the Attorney General seemed to belong to the same sort of mental emptiness, a cast of mind signified for generations of comic book readers by Mad Magazine's character Alfred E Newman, whose slogan is "What, me worry?"We are fortunate to have Miss Rice, Mr Cheney, and other immensely capable people at the controls, piloting the ship of state, so to speak. Look at it that way.