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The Myths of Christmas

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Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 4, 2013 at 3:37 pm

The Crackpot Consensus

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One of the most challenging aspects of adjusting to the NAO’s is the fact that so many of them are, well, stupid. Todd Akin’s absurd belief that women have some sort of magical control over their bodies if only they’d decide to use it is just the tip of a very large, annoying, and dangerous iceberg. The Times’ Timothy Egan gives a chapter and verse or two that barely scratch the surface but make the point quite clearly: many of the most powerful people in the country, all of them major puppets of the oligarchs, have demonstrated again and again that they have great faith but zero actual knowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

August 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm

The Myth of Christmas

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Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.

The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.

***

Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.

“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”

 by Thomas NastIt doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870′s and 80′s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.

Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday

The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.

  • Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
  • Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
  • Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
  • Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
  • Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity. Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….
  • The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney– Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.

    After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”

    So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.

    The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas(“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.

Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.

Written by Mick

December 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm

RW Blogger Admits He Hearts Witchcraft

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In the world of Right-wingnuttery, it is considered important to espouse only fundamentalist religious views: gays are evil, abortion is evil, Obama is the Antichrist, and Halloween is a symphony for the devil in which demons hide in candy and take over kid’s souls, turning them into Satan’s Little Helpers, ie witches.

But there’s Christine O’Donnell bragging about once being a witch and having picnics on a satanic altar, so here comes Glenn Reynolds, A-1, top o’ the heap RW blogger, bigger than Powerline and Mad Michelle combined, to tell us – and all his soon-to-be-ex-fundamentalist friends, I suspect – that witchcraft ain’t so bad. I mean, whatever evil lurks in those covens, being “a witch is better than [being] a Marxist. Which is undoubtedly true.” (Via Ray Edroso)

Apparently, backing up an embarrassingly incompetent and hopelessly insane TeaBag whacko is more important in the the RW World than any sort of religious belief one might hold. One wonders what the Values crowd is going to think about Glenn’s wholesale embrace of black magic.

Written by Mick

September 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Have a Tree With Your Tree

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O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” paranoids are fighting back.  Below is a Christmas tree you can order online in case your tree doesn’t have the right symbolic configuration. Or something. (Via Bill Berkowitz at TTA)

Um, yeah.

Written by Mick

December 14, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Religious Right

Marriage Ain’t All That Vulnerable

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Today is “Write to Marry Day“, viz:

Wtm Bloggers around the country will participate in “Write to Marry Day” on October 29, 2008, posting on their blogs in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples and against California’s Proposition 8. Prop 8 is a measure on California’s November ballot that would take away the right of same-sex couples to marry.

***

“Prop 8 is an unfair and unnecessary measure that would eliminate equal protections for same-sex couples and write discrimination into the California state Constitution,” adds co-organizer Dana Rudolph, founder of LGBT-parenting blog Mombian. “As marriage equality spreads throughout the country, people in all states have a vested interest in making sure this hard-won right is protected.”

Basically what happened is the usual right-wing folderol. The California Constitution was finally interpreted correctly by the State Supreme Court and gay marriage became legal. It’s pretty much the same thing that happened in Massachusetts last year and the response was equally typical: the Religious Right – Jimmy Dobson, the Devil’s Friend, and his bag of nuts in Focus on the Family are right in the middle of it no doubt – got a proposition on the California ballot demanding that the California Constitution and the rights of a group of people they don’t care for be violated in order to make the country safe for bigots and haters.

Let just get this straight (no pun intended) once and for all: gay marriage does not and cannot and will not endanger hetero marriage in any way shape or form. The whole argument against it is bogus from beginning to end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

October 30, 2008 at 11:56 am

Dominionists Get 2nd Spot on GOP Ticket: Palin and AIP

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I trust you know who the Dominionists are – ultraconservative, neofascist, fundamentalist Xtians who want America to become a theocracy run by Biblical laws.

If you are unclear about what this means, read the book of Leviticus in the Bible. Biblical law as interpreted by these folks means the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, and recalcitrant children.

 No, this is not a joke. Not an exaggeration. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, are Dominionists with all that that means. Todd is a dues-paying member of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) and has been for years. Sarah’s relationship is through him. The AIP wants Alaska to secede and become a Xtian nation on its own. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

September 3, 2008 at 11:16 am

Xtian-Fundy Biker Gang Charged with Attempted Murder

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One of the things that has always puzzled me about Xtian fundamentalists is the ease with which they interpret an anti-violence message (“Turn the other cheek”?) and transmute it into a call for violence. I sort of came the conclusion that it’s because Xtian fundies spend a lot more time with the pro-violence OT than they do with the anti-violent NT. Jesus isn’t as much fun as beating people up.

Seven members of a Christian biker gang remained in custody on $1 million bail late Wednesday after their arrest on charges of attempted murder in connection with a bloody barroom brawl in Newport Beach late last month. Three members of a rival gang were also arrested.

***

Overall in the case, 10 have been arrested, with police hunting for an 11th suspect, authorities said. Of these 10, seven are Set Free Soldiers arrested for alleged conspiracy to commit murder; each of the seven was being held on $1 million bail.

One of them is Pastor Phil Aguilar, 60, of Anaheim, police said. He is described as the founder and director of Set Free Churches Worldwide, according to the group’s Web site.

Another who was arrested – John Phillip Lloyd, 41, of Costa Mesa, a Hells Angels member – was being held on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, Sailor said. Two others, believed to be Hells Angels, were arrested for alleged drug possession.

The stabbings, which officials believe involved members of the the two motorcycle gangs, occurred the afternoon of Sunday, July 27, at Blackie’s By the Sea, near the Newport Beach pier, Sailor said.

Pastor Phil’s church is, well, different.

A neighbor to one of the Archer houses with Set Free Soldiers said that the group has been a nuisance.

“The neighborhood has been trying to get them out of here for years,” said Sharon Murphy, 50. “It’s supposed to be a sober-living place, but they’re always at the liquor store buying beer. They’re running their motorcycles all night long. They own three or four houses up and down the street.”

The collection plate must be full every Sunday.

I’m not saying that fundies are bad because a biker gang is fundamentalist. I;m saying fundamentalism is bad because it leaves room for people like this and often welcomes them while it rejects perfectly peace-loving gays and tolerates so much hypocrisy among its members that it’s become a joke.

Orange County is a very conservative, very far-right Xtian area. The kind of area where Pat Robertson would be considered middle-of-the-road, maybe even a Lefty. It’d no surprise at all that a violent, likkered-up gang would be welcome there as long as they were white, not obviously gay, voted Republican, and went to a sufficiently fundy church. In this case, the leader of the gang is – like Charlie Manson – also the leader of the church. A definite plus.

Written by Mick

August 8, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Hillary’s “Family”

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I’ve occasionally been asked why I don’t seem to go after Hillary with the same frequency or consistency as Obama. The primary answer is that as far as I’m concerned, Hillary is a foregone conclusion. There’s no more need to cover her than to cover Bill Richardson: she isn’t going to win.

The second reason is pointlessness. Hillaryites refuse to listen to anything negative about her, especially if it happens to be true. Trying to tell a Hillaryite something as obvious as the fact that she’s a conservative is like trying to convince a concrete block to do jumping jacks.

But the third reason is the one that concerns me today: everybody else (non-Hillaryites) go after her. When you criticize Hillary, you join a brigade from all sides of the spectrum doing likewise. It’s a crowded field. Still, occasionally there’s a reason: something important is being ignored. Today I was reminded of that something by Talk to Action’s Fred Clarkson.

In the wake of the controversy over Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Barbara Erenreich, writing at The Nation, thinks it is only fair and reasonable to ask Hillary Clinton about her relationship with Doug Coe, the controversial leader of The Family, and for that matter, The Family itself.

Barbara’s right, as usual. It’s more than fair, it’s about time. Jeff Sharlet wrote about that relationship in Mother Jones last fall. I remember intending to write about it then but got sidetracked by something else. Given the attacks on BO and Hillary’s sainthood in the eyes of too many Democrats, it’s time this got more of the attention it deserves.

The usual critical take on Hillary – and it’s accurate as far as it goes – is that she’s power-hungry, a bit of a Mitt Romney-type who will say anything to get elected. Generally, that’s probably true but as Sharlet points out in MJ, there’s more going on than that.

Clinton’s God talk is more complicated—and more deeply rooted—than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the gop, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics. Over the past year, we’ve interviewed dozens of Clinton’s friends, mentors, and pastors about her faith, her politics, and how each shapes the other. And while media reports tend to characterize Clinton’s subtle recalibration of tone and style as part of the Democrats’ broader move to recapture the terrain of “moral values,” those who know her say there’s far more to it than that.

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. “A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation,” says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. “I don’t….there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer.”

A lot of political good, the critics would respond. But there’s a weight of personal history here. As far back as high school, Hillary was flirting with conservatism and right-wing religion as the result of her friendship with a 30-yr-old minister named Don Jones.

Under Jones’ mentorship, Clinton learned about Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich—thinkers whom liberals consider their own, but whom young Hillary Rodham encountered as theological conservatives. The Niebuhr she studied was a cold warrior, dismissive of the progressive politics of his earlier writing. “He’d thought that once we were unionized, the kingdom of God would be ushered in,” Jones explains. “But the effect of those two world wars and the violence that they produced shook his faith in liberal theology. He came to believe that the achievement of justice meant a clear understanding of the limitations of the human condition.” Tillich, whose sermon on grace Clinton turned to during the Lewinsky scandal, today enjoys a following among conservatives for revising the social gospel—the notion that Christians are to improve humanity’s lot here on earth by fighting poverty, inequality, and exploitation—to emphasize individual redemption instead of activism.

Niebuhr and Tillich’s combination of aggressiveness in foreign affairs and limited domestic ambition naturally led Clinton toward the gop. She was a Goldwater Girl who, under the tutelage of her high school history teacher Paul Carlson (whom Jones describes as “to the right of the John Birchers”), attended biweekly anticommunist meetings and later served as president of Wellesley’s Young Republicans chapter. Out of step with the era’s radicalism, Clinton wrote Jones from college, lamenting that her fellow students didn’t believe that one could be “a mind conservative and a heart liberal.” To Jones, this question indicated that Clinton shared Niebuhr’s notion of Christians needing to have “a dark enough view of life that they can be realistic about what’s possible.”

She may have lamented her compadres‘ lack of belief but it’s understandable given that Hillary was forcing a reconciliation between two opposing belief sets, thus violating each and proving pretty convincingly that she didn’t understand either. Hillary, to put it bluntly, wanted it all, iow she was a “compassionate conservative” long before Karl Rove came along to build a campaign on that lie. The difference between them, of course, is that Karl knew it was a lie. Hillary is so dumb she believes it to be possible to this day despite all available evidence to the contrary. Including her own husband’s version.

Eessentially what “compassionate conservatives” end up doing is pursuing conservative agendas while talking like compassionate liberals. Bill would make us feel like he had great empathy for the poor just before he “reformed” welfare and threw many of them off the rolls to get along as best they could. He portrayed NAFTA as a boon for US workers even as it helped drain working class jobs from the country. He would give speeches about protecting the working poor from scam artists and corporate skullduggery and then promote policies and laws that protected corporations from being accountable for scams and skullduggery.

If you understand Hillary’s determination to squeeze a round peg into a square hole despite repeated warnings that one of them would have to give, then you have to ask which she preferred to bring into reality. Sharlet notes:

When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian “cell” whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.

Clinton’s prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or “the Family”), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to “spiritual war” on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship’s only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has “made a fetish of being invisible,” former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan.

Sharlet exposed The Family back in January or ’04, and I wrote about it then in a post titled “Christian Theocrats Exposed“. The Family turned out to consist of such ultraconservative theocrats and hard-line GOP stalwarts as Jim DeMint and James Inhofe – the guy who thinks the Bible should replace science textbooks and that history books need to be rewritten so they line up with theocratic goals (Jefferson was a right-wing evangelical theocrat, according to Inhofe).

Those are the people Hillary has been hanging around with – voluntarily – for the past 16 yrs: elitist right-wing Xtian theocrats.

Clinton declined our requests for an interview about her faith, but in Living History, she describes her first encounter with Fellowship leader Doug Coe at a 1993 lunch with her prayer cell at the Cedars, the Fellowship’s majestic estate on the Potomac. Coe, she writes, “is a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God.”

The Fellowship’s ideas are essentially a blend of Calvinism and Norman Vincent Peale, the 1960s preacher of positive thinking. It’s a cheery faith in the “elect” chosen by a single voter—God—and a devotion to Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers….The powers that be are ordained of God.” Or, as Coe has put it, “we work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.”

(emphasis added)

You can understand why a supposedly liberal Democratic presidential nominee might not want to grant an interview about her long association with a far-right conservative evangelical/theocratic prayer group. Not exactly the image she’d like to present, eh?

But if you think about it you’ll understand how the flow went. It’s simply the opposite of what we’ve always thought it was. Instead of Hillary being a liberal who played conservative for power, she’s a conservative playing liberal, a Goldwater right-winger who found the opportunity to gain power in pretending to be a Kennedy-style left-winger.

It fits. She’s a member of the financial elite who went to Wellesley College to become a corporate lawyer. She’s never been liberal, let alone progressive. She understands and values money and the people who make it. That she isn’t already a Republican is a matter of timing and pure, unadulterated ambition. No wonder it was so easy for Bill to steal GOP values – they’re the ones he and Hillary have believed all along: elitist corporate Xtian values.

The Family, from that angle, was an inevitable power connection. But 16 years surrounded by her enemies is more than ambition. It’s belief.

Personally, I don’t want her in a position to prove it.

Written by Mick

March 20, 2008 at 9:29 am

Theocrats Never Quit: Vouchers and HS 888

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Two recent posts at Talk to Action, the website that specializes in tracking the religious right, show quite clearly that despite our overwhelming rejection of mixing religion and education in the public arena, Xtian theocrats not only haven’t given up the effort to make the US a “Christian Nation” governed by Biblical rather than secular law, they’re surrounding their failed attempts with new arguments possibly scarier than the last bunch. Don Byrd opens yesterday’s post on Bush’s latest school voucher proposal by saying, “If there is one thing we should have learned from the Religious Right by now, it’s that they never give up.” Something we should remember always – you can’t take your eyes off them for a second.

Witness Bush’s latest excuse for proposing school vouchers yet again even though it’s been proved repeatedly that they don’t work. Under the typically Orwellian name, “Pell Grants for Kids”, misleading and inaccurate to say the least, Bush’s rationale verges on the creepy.

Non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have helped to educate generations of low-income students; however, they are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The buried assumption that it is the appropriate business of govt to rescue religious schools in financial trouble is directly contrary to our Constitutionally-mandated neutrality toward religion in a secular society. Byrd disposes of this argument in a few words.

Of all the stated reasons I’ve heard to offer school vouchers, propping up religious schools has got to be the worst. Religious institutions should make their own case for being, and should be supported by like-minded believers, not by taxpayer money. If they are “disappearing”, that is a concern to be addressed by the church, not by the government.

We certainly don’t want the mechanisms of the state to stand in the way of the church. But, we can’t be promoting them either.

(emphasis added)

Bush’s inability to either understand or accept that relatively simple concept is one of the hallmarks of his presidency and a key reason why it has failed. His “thinking” is so ideological, so limited, so shallow in nearly every respect that even patently improper ideas are never questioned. No matter how absurd they are or how much evidence exists that they’re wrong, ineffective, or even harmful to American society, he cannot see their flaws simply because he’s decided not to look for any. Anything he chooses to believe is true, and any evidence that it isn’t must have been faked or twisted. Like most ideologues, he always assumes that everyone else is also an ideologue. Like most corrupt Republicans, he assumes that everyone else must also be corrupt. Like most conservatives, he finds it easier to foster simple-minded beliefs than to do the work it would take to find the truth.

Which brings us to Chris Rodda’s post on HR 888.

HR 888 is a bill introduced by Cong Randy Forbes (R-VA) that would try to force the phony “history” of our Founders’ supposed Christianity into the school system.

This resolution, which purports to promote “education on America’s history of religious faith,” is packed with the same American history lies found on the Christian nationalist websites, and in the books of pseudo-historians like David Barton. It lists a total of seventy-five “Whereas’s,” leading up to four resolves, the third of which is particularly disturbing — that the U.S. House of Representatives “rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation’s public buildings and educational resources,” a travesty of the highest magnitude, considering that most of the “history” this resolve aims to promote in our public buildings and schools IS NOT REAL!

(emphasis in the original)

In his latest post, Rodda catches us up on what Forbes has been saying to sell his bill and, true to form, he’s lying, this time about who he claims is against the bill.

The first is Mr. Forbes’s implication that the ACLU is somehow at the forefront of the fight against his resolution:

“You know it’s amazing to me — we get groups like the ACLU that are fighting so hard against this resolution, and yet you know some of the things that they have fought to allow people to do and say which so undermines the strength of this country, but yet they’re right out there fighting saying that we don’t even want these words discussed — we don’t even want ‘em put out there for the American people to talk about ‘em and see ‘em, and you know, it just isn’t a lot of intellectual honesty that goes around.”

The ACLU? As far as I know, the ACLU has had nothing to do with the fight against this resolution.

But the ACLU is a favorite – and therefore easy – target for the Right, so why not another lie? After all the others, one more will hardly be noticed.

Dan Barton’s influential – and very short – book, The Foundations of American Government, purports to prove that the Founders intended America to be a Christian Nation ruled by Biblical principles through a combination of seriously warped interpretations, out-of-context quotes, and just plain invented “history”. It has been debunked by both legitimate history scholars and experts in religious history so often that it’s astounding there’s anyone left who doesn’t know how bogus this “information” is. Yet that is the version of history that Forbes wants to foist on the country’s educational system. By force of law, if necessary.

And at no moment do any of these clowns, from Bush to Barton, have a moment’s hesitation when confronted by facts. They believe what they believe and facts are what they say they are, even when they make them up. Despite overwhelming evidence that Americans don’t want a theocratic govt, they’re going to shove it down our throats anyway, even if they have to do it under the radar when we’re not looking.

They’re fanatics, and fanatics NEVER QUIT. Neither can we.

Written by Mick

February 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Cardinal Demands Catholics Stop Supporting Amnesty International

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The National Catholic Register reports that the president of the apparently ironically named Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, is telling Catholics they should withdraw all support from Amnesty International. Three guesses why and you won’t need the last two.

Abortion has driven a wedge between the Catholic Church and an organization that began as an ally.

Amnesty International (AI) was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a British convert to Catholicism. But today, as a result of Amnesty International’s recent decision to promote abortion rights, Church leaders say that Catholics should withdraw all financial support from the London-based human-rights organization.

“I believe that, if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support, because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission,” Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in an e-mail interview.

(emphasis added)

Sadly, a man I used to greatly respect for his dedication to justice for all has caved in to his church’s primeval stance.

The abortion policy has already cost Amnesty International the support of one long-time Catholic backer: Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan.

Said Father Berrigan, “One cannot support an organization financially or even individually that is contravening something very serious in our ethic.”

This was a man who fought for the right of Catholic Americans to divorce, who supported Bill Baird when he was illegally passing out condoms in public, and who supported Roe v Wade because he had seen the results of too many back-alley abortions. After being beaten about the head and shoulders with the blunt instrument of ultra-conservative Catholicism for 40 years, he has apparently had enough. Perhaps Benedict threatened to ex-communicate him if he didn’t publicly renounce AI, I don’t know.

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Written by Mick

June 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment Defeated

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Yesterday the Mass legislature defeated an amendment to the State Constitution that would have put an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in front of voters next year. This wasn’t a surprise. Even though the forces from the religious right who have poured people and money into the state since the Mass Supreme Court overturned anti-gay marriage laws only needed a quarter of the legislature to back them up – 50 votes – the word was they didn’t have it.

And they didn’t. The measure lost by 5 votes. New Democratic Gov Patrick Deval put a lot of time and energy into cooling down any potential hotheads, which was good of him and maybe it made a difference. But the truth is that the right-wing whackos who have been inundating us with prophesies of doom if the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t overturned have been terminally embarrassed by the total lack of any negative effect of the law. Or any positive effect, for that matter. No one can find any difference in the way life proceeds in the state of Massachusetts between pre-gay marriage years and post-gay marriage years.

The sky, you see, contrary to all the predictions by the members of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family who’ve been shooting off their mouths for the last 3 years, didn’t fall. Crops didn’t fail, goats weren’t born with two heads, straight marriage rates didn’t change, teenagers didn’t start fornicating in the streets, and Satan didn’t buy a place in Back Bay.

Really, nothing happened. Nothing.

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Written by Mick

June 15, 2007 at 9:44 am

What’s Really Behind the DoJ Politicization: Creating a Theocracy

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On both sides of the political aisle now, you hear the same dumb question: “What’s wrong with putting religion into government?” This has to be in the Top Ten List of the Stoopidest Questions of All Time. It may be Number 1.

The argument, such as it is, goes that one’s faith, as expressed by religion, makes one a better, more humane, more thoughtful, more generous, more forgiving, etc etc etc person who will bring those fine qualities to govt where they will do some good. In the eyes of many people, having politicians and govt officials bring their religion into a central decision-making role can only be positive. Even moderates and centrists initially supported Bush’s program to ladle out govt contracts – and therefore public tax money – to faith-based organizations for any number of social functions, from rehabilitating criminals to combatting teen pregnancy. What harm could it do? they wondered.

The problem here is that virtually all religious folk see their faith as exclusively positive. In theory, that’s true of almost all religions – they all preach brotherhood, tolerance, respect, charity, and peace – but in practice, any institutionalized religion can be turned into an instrument of intolerance, meanness, sanctomonius arrogance, and/or authoritarian rigidity, any one of which characteristics can – and usually does – devolve fairly quickly into a warlike antipathy toward infidels and unbelievers.

The framers of the Constitution knew this, even though they were religious themselves (sort of – they were primarily Enlightenment Deists, which is kind of a religion and kind of not a religion). They had reason to: they had seen what happened to Britain when the monarchy allied itself with the CofE to create a state-sponsored, state-enforced religion. Wisely, they wanted no part of it, thus the Establishment Clause.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The Establishment Clause has been interpreted by various Supreme Court decisions as forbidding the US govt from actively supporting a single religion or denomination, thus separating religion from law. In his letter to the Baptist Church of Danbury, CT, Jefferson (then President) explained:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

To make a long story short, the letter was written in response to a concern expressed by the leadership of the Danbury Baptist Church that “in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature – as ‘favors granted.’” At the time there was a movement by so-called “Establishment Religionists” to declare a state religion in Connecticut – an early attempt at legalizing a theocracy at the state level. The Baptists were worried because theirs wasn’t the religion that would be picked – that honor would go to the Congregationalists – and they were afraid that it would be outlawed.

As, indeed, it might well have been if the Connecticut legislature had gone along with the Establishmentarians, but it didn’t. The movement never gained much political traction and died out in only a few years, but the Baptists were right to be concerned. They were a distinct minority in Congregationalist New England, and the establishment of a state religion would make them criminals, subject to fines and possibly either jail or banishment from the state. Certainly their form of worship would be banned at the very least. Worse, laws could be passed demanding their adherence to practices they considered to be forbidden by their faith.

And therein lies the connection between Jefferson’s famous phrase and the supporting cast of the US Attorney controversy now raging.

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Trickle-Down Stupidity: Education and the RWNM (Updated)

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Reagan conservatives are big fans of trickle-down economics and have foisted it on us several times. The idea is that if we let rich people get richer, some of it will eventually “trickle down” to the rest of us. That’s a pretty good description of Bush’s economic “plan” over the last six years, and it has been a dismal failure.

But there is another trickle-down theory that has worked, and worked brilliantly:

Trickle-down stupidity.

For a solid quarter-century, conservatives have relentlessly preached against eggheadism, denigrating smarts not attached to the making of money because the smarter and more educated you are, the more likely you are to be liberal. Liberals are less frightened, less stingy, and less likely to go into anaphylactic shock if someone uses a word with more than two syllables.

Because both conservatives and the religious right depend on blind faith and a near-total ignorance of history, science, and logic for their existence, they have spent a good deal of that 25 years attacking education and educated people. After all, it’s almost impossible to sell someone who has passed a junior high science class the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. You need a nation of morons to do that, and the Right has pursued and encouraged the entitlement of universal stupidity – the doctrine that every American has the right to be dumb as a brick – with undying fervor.

And it’s working. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

March 31, 2007 at 1:12 pm

Conservative Christians Pull Bush Strings

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Two years ago, ultra-conservative Christian fanatics forced Junior–not that he wouldn’t have done it anyway–to cut off the US share of financing intended to support the UN’s family planning/population control efforts. Charging that providing birth control information was virtually the same as advocating abortion (a standard anti-abortion tactic), they intimidated the Admin into withholding $34Mil in funds for the UN agency responsible for those efforts. Now, under intense election-year pressure from the same radical conservative Christian groups, the BA is threatening every govt or agency that works with them.

Pressed by opponents of abortion, the administration withdrew its support from a major international conference on health issues this month and has privately warned other groups, like Unicef, that address health issues that their financing could be jeopardized if they insist on working with the agency, the United Nations Population Fund.The administration also has indicated that it hopes to persuade the United Nations’ Latin American caucus to back away from a common position on population and development that was adopted in Santiago, Chile, in March on the grounds that the document’s discussion of reproductive rights could be interpreted as promoting abortion.

The actions are part of an administration effort to ensure that international agencies and private groups do not promote abortions overseas. In its first days in office, the Bush administration reintroduced the Reagan-era that critics call the “global gag rule,” which denies money to groups that even discuss abortion as an option, except in cases that threaten life or involve rape or incest.


The administration’s position has frustrated some United Nations officials and family planning advocates, who have complained that advances in education and awareness on reproductive issues are being undermined by the United States, where abortion is legal. Those critics, most of whom spoke anonymously because the United States government is the leading contributor to their agencies, charged that the administration was pandering to conservative supporters, and said that doing so placed the United States in alliance with tradition-bound Islamic countries and the Holy See.

Radical conservative religious groups are, in effect, holding US participation in efforts to slow global population growth hostage to their private beliefs, beliefs not shared by a good deal of the world’s population. Not that that bothers them any. But for once the Democrats aren’t standing mute on the sidelines waiting for the whole thing to blow over.

In a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Friday, four Democratic members of Congress demanded a legal explanation for withholding money from the fund and for the “threatened defunding of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.”Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat at the fore of efforts to restore support to the fund, said the administration was jeopardizing programs in women’s and family health that should not be considered contentious.

“When will the president’s right wing be satisfied – when they close down the U.N.?” she asked, adding that the tough White House stance contrasts with its appeals to the United Nations for help in the Iraq war

Not to put too fine a point on it, Carolyn: Yes, that’s exactly what they want, and No, they still won’t be satisfied. These groups are almost all closet theocrats and the truth is they won’t be satisfied until the US is a theocracy run by fundamentalist ministers instead of secular politicians. While their feral opposition to abortion is genuine, it’s also a stalking-horse, a way in through the backdoor for religious control of politics first, and later of the govt itself, openly and literally turning the US into a ‘Christian nation’.

Whether Junior wins or loses, keeping them at bay will be our next great challenge.

Written by Mick

June 21, 2004 at 3:43 pm

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