Archive for the “American Religio-Politics” Category

Religion as it relates to U.S. politics

President Obama greeted families in an overflow room after speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque. / Drew Angerer for the New York TimesFor years now I’ve blogged about what I call “the Great Neocrusade.” In the wake of Islamist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the Neocrusade has gone from a rhetorical effort to a physical and violent one.

President Obama took note of this, it seems. Taking a page from his predecessor, as the New York Times reports, he knocked the Neocrusade when he visited a Baltimore mosque (WebCite cached article):

President Obama on Wednesday embraced Muslims in the United States as part of “one American family” and implicitly criticized the Republican presidential candidates in a warning to citizens to not be “bystanders to bigotry.”

In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first to a mosque in the United States as president, Mr. Obama recited phrases from the Quran and praised American Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future.

“And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Mr. Obama said.

The Right is, as one would expect, outraged over this. A lot of them still think he’s a “secret Muslim” (cached), and this visit will — for them — only confirm that delusion.

Look, I get it. These folk are angry. They hear about Islamist attacks and want all Muslims to be gone. The problem is, not all Muslims are terrorists. Being violent right back at Muslims who aren’t, themselves, violent Islamists is a form of “two wrongs make a right” thinking, and is fallacious.

Another problem is, Islamists aren’t the only terrorists who prey on Americans. Something else I’ve blogged about is the phenomenon of domestic Right-wing terror, which — despite our aversion to admitting it — exists, is real, and is at least as dangerous for Americans as Islamist terror.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer / New York Times.

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Rick Santorum lowering his head to pray at an Arizona Republican Party fundraiser in Phoenix, Arizona / Gage Skidmore, via FlickrAdd former Pennsylvania Senator — and current back-of-the-pack GOP presidential candidate — Rick Santorum to the list of militant Christianists who claim Islam isn’t really a religion and therefore isn’t protected by the Bill of Rights — which, ironically, was ratified 224 years ago this very day (WebCite cached article). Mediate reports on the Rickster’s idiotic Christofascist blather (cached):

Santorum even argued that Islamic principles are not entitled to complete religious protections due to the religion’s embrace of beliefs that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

“Islam is different. I mean that sincerely, Islam is not just a religion,” Santorum said. “It is a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is, Islam is a religion, but it is also Sharia law, a civil government, a form of government. So the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong.

Note Rickie’s yammering and whining about shari’a law. He presumes it’s part and parcel of Islam and that anyone who follows that religion is obliged to follow shari’a law as well. He forgets two important things: First, there is no single entity known as shari’a law … different sects and cultures view it differently; and not all Muslims, even devout ones, want to live by any form of shari’a law at all (many came to places like the US and Europe specifically in order to get away from it).

Like many Christofascists Rickie-boy employs his own subjective definition of “Islam” in order to argue that Islam is something other than a religion and therefore isn’t entitled to the religious freedom provisions of US law. It’s a ridiculous premise, of course, but these folk are so sanctimoniously outraged that Islam exists — and that there are actually Muslims still living in the world! — that they just can’t control themselves long enough to understand how fucking childish they are. They view Islam as Christianity’s main rival, on a global scale, and simply can’t get over that some people prefer it to their faith.

About the only thing I agree with the Rickster about is that, as far as I know, barring Muslims from entering the country isn’t specifically unconstitutional. Yes, it would be stupid. It would paint people with far too broad a brush. It would be difficult to enforce; visa applications, as far I’m aware, have no line item for “religion,” but even if they did, people could certainly lie. It would wall off the US from the entire Muslim world, which is enormous. It would, quite simply, be a petulant and childish overreaction to Islamist terror … which could be better handled in other ways. But even with all that said, people who aren’t American citizens and who are trying to enter the country, don’t — as far as I know — have any Constitutional right of entry. (I invite any Constitutional scholars who read this, and think otherwise, to instruct me further on the matter.)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

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'Here's the 2015 Capitol Christmas Tree' / House Speaker Paul RyanDid you know that, right here in the good old US of A, there have been efforts underway to “ban references to Christmas”? I hadn’t. Then again, I don’t subscribe to the Religious Right’s (incredibly baseless) belief that there’s a “war on Christmas,” in which “secular progressives” and atheists and agnostics and all sorts of other vile anti-American non-Christians are trying to outlaw Christmas so that, in turn, they can abolish Christianity altogether. I mean, it’s so ridiculous a scenario as to be laughable … if not for the fact that Christians actually believe it and are actually behaving as though it’s true.

A case in point is House resolution 564 proposed by Christianist Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, which reads (WebCite cached version):

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

Yes, that’s right, Rep. Lamborn repeats the militant Christianist lie that there truly are efforts “to ban references to Christmas” in the US. I dare him — or any other of his Christianist ilk — to produce just one piece of proposed legislation, at any level (borough, municipal, county, state or federal) that has ever been offered which does any such thing.

I will assume he and his fellow Christianists would view efforts to keep Christmas out of government as being “bans” along these lines … but they’re not. Even if government officials can’t actively promote Christmas, that doesn’t mean Christians aren’t able to do so in their private lives, in their workplaces (employer permitting), or in their churches. They can — and do! — talk about Christmas endlessly. No one is trying to “ban” that. At all!

Again, and to be clear: Christmas doesn’t need any “protection,” whether from Congress or anyone or anything else. It’s not going anywhere. It’s not being outlawed. Period. If you think otherwise, you’re an idiot and need to grow up already. Yes, that goes for Rep. Lamborn and all the rest of this resolution’s proponents … they desperately need to fucking grow the hell up, too.

Photo credit: Office of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Facepalm (7839341408)By now my readers surely will have heard about the shooting in San Bernardino, CA yesterday that killed 14 and wounded 17 (WebCite cached article). Among all the yammering that’s been said about this horrific event, in the mass media and by officials, pundits and politicians, I’m not pleased to report that it’s been used as ammunition in the annual phantasmal “war on Christmas.” Raw Story explains how this connection was made this morning, on (you guessed it!) Fox News (cached):

Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. warned that Wednesday’s mass killing in San Bernardino could be a “literal war on Christmas.”…

“I don’t want to come to any hasty conclusions at the point,” Johnson continued, “but if you look at the dots, if you start to connect them in a way that’s rational and reasonable — and not political — based on simple things we know about terrorism, simple things we know about criminal justice then it leads inescapably to that one horrible conclusion: terror.”

“Is it based on politics? Is it based on religion? Is it based on hate? Is it a literal war on Christmas?”

Is this guy serious? What the fuck? How much lower can these people stoop, in their effort to bolster the lie that there’s a “war on Christmas” in the US and that it’s about to be outlawed, as a way of wiping out Christianity and its followers? You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!

P.S. I love how Johnson says he doesn’t “want to come to any hasty conclusions” … yet he proceeds to barge right ahead and do exactly that. Although I concede, based on reports that have come in all day today (cached), that this very likely is an example of Islamist terrorism. It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable assumption, but it’s still idiotic for him to make a point of professing not to make assumptions, but then go ahead and make one nonetheless.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Husité - Jenský kodexThe Paris attacks a week ago have brought out the raging Neocrusader which lurks deep inside most Rightists here in the US. GOP presidential contenders have tripped over each other — not to mention themselves — trying to exhibit their Neocrusading credentials. They particularly have their knickers in knots over plans to bring around 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US (WebCite cached article).

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has said the US should admit only Syrians who can demonstrate they’re Christian (cached). He hasn’t explained how they’re supposed to provide this proof. Plus, wouldn’t a committed Islamist terrorist be able to “fake” being a Christian in order to get into the US, assuming there’s a meaningful way to do so? (And no, don’t assume Islamists would never pass themselves off as belonging to some other religion; there are no safe assumptions one can make about them.)

Then there’s the Christofascist Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas, who likewise called for admitting only Christians from among the Syrian refugees vying for entry (cached). As with the Jebster, Teddie assumes it’s “safe” to admit any Syrian who says s/he’s a Christian, and he doesn’t account for any means to verify such a claim in any serious way.

But neither of these misguided Christianist notions holds a candle to what real estate mogul and leading GOP contender Donald Trump came up with. He’s declared that he wants Muslims in the US to carry special identification and/or be tracked in a special database (cached). Yes, that’s right, he’s proposing we treat Muslims in ways the Third Reich had treated Jews (cached).

Likewise embracing Nazi tactics is Rhode Island state senator Elaine Morgan, who wants Syrian refugees who end up in her state to be placed in special camps (cached). Gee, those sound like concentration camps or internment camps to me.

None of this should be construed as dismissing any possible danger from Syrian refugees. Of course it exists and is real, especially since at least one of the Paris attackers — all of whom were actually European nationals — had returned to Europe posing as a refugee and may have planted a fake or stolen Syrian passport he’d used to come into Greece posing as a refugee (cached). It’s undeniable that a terrorist might try to enter the US as a refugee. But the process of getting to the US is time-consuming — upwards of 18 months, and usually around 2 years (cached). While the vetting process is far from perfect, as administration officials admit (cached) — and Rightists love to use these admissions to justify their Neocrusading impulses — this scenario nevertheless forces enraged Islamist terrorists bent on massacring innocents to sit around and do nothing, somewhere in Europe, for around 2 years before they can reach America. This alone makes it an unlikely tactic for them to use. A much more efficient tactic would be for them to recruit terrorists from among people already in the US or Canada … which has actually been done (cached).

I very much understand the fear these Neocrusaders exploit. It has a basis in reality … but the measures being promised are far too draconian, and won’t guarantee Americans’ safety in any event. What’s needed is better intelligence, and better action on that intelligence, to better pinpoint who the terrorists are, where they are, what they’re up to, and whom they’re in contact with. Broad policies, such as blocking Syrian immigration altogether or applying a specious religious test to it, really aren’t going to be much help, if we’re not willing to apply the intelligence we already have available (which, as Edward Snowden revealed, is extensive).

Not to mention, the average American is much more likely to become a victim of domestic Rightist terror rather than Islamist terror. But that’s another story entirely … !

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Help! Help! I'm being repressed! (Dennis the constitutional peasant, Monty Python & the Holy Grail)Leave it to Texas Senator, GOP presidential candidate, and avowed Christofascist Ted Cruz to take advantage of Friday’s Islamist terror attacks in Paris as a foundation for his own attack on separation of church and state here in the US. He compared those attacks, as CNN reports, with American Christians having to deal with people whom they disapprove of:

Ted Cruz used the backdrop of the terror attacks in Paris as the latest evidence that Christians are under siege, making a pitch on Saturday to evangelicals here that tied together his take-no-prisoners foreign policy with his faith-driven domestic agenda.…

But Friday’s attacks in France recalibrated Cruz’s message and its overall tone: He began the event with a lengthy moment of silence, and Cruz spent nearly as much time discussing the perils of “radical Islamic terrorism” as he did government persecution of Christian merchants and educators.

“Right now as we speak, it is persecuting Christians. It is persecuting Jews. It’s even persecuting fellow Muslims,” Cruz said of Islamic extremists, as part of a prayer at Bob Jones University, a prominent Christian school. “We ask for unity for the people of America, and we ask finally, that you bless this gathering in celebration of the liberty to worship you with all of our hearts, minds and souls.”

This is just the latest example of a longstanding trend of Religious Rightists and preachers using terrible events — natural disasters, massacres, etc. — to promote their unrelenting and dour metaphysics. Usually their appeal is based on the presumption that their God allowed the disaster to happen because he’s angry about something. Other times — such as this one — the appeal is based on the idea that something happened because profane agents in “the World” are out to get all the “True Believers” and destroy them because of their holiness. Or something.

The comparison in this case is not apt, no matter how fervently Teddie or his sheep believe otherwise. Islamist terror has nothing at all to do with wedding-chapel owners who break the law by discriminating against gays, nor has it anything to do with public-school coaches who insist on leading public prayers even though it’s illegal and they’ve been ordered not to. Christianists like Teddie and his ilk love to bellyache and whine that they’re being “persecuted,” but in fact, they’re not. Actually, Christians are in the majority in the US and are not going anywhere. All that’s happened to Christianists is that they’ve lost their once-expansive privilege of controlling others’ lives, imposing their beliefs on everyone, and relegating people they hate to second-class status. That’s just not “persecution,” and Teddie or anyone else endlessly intoning that it is, cannot and will never magically make it so.

The reason these people think this way is because they’re delusionally paranoid, due to their religion’s own inherent psychopathology. They’re just not capable of comprehending that not being in control of everything and everyone — and being unable to harass and oppress people they dislike — isn’t “persecution.” Quite the opposite, it’s “freedom,” the very “freedom” they claim to want to promote. In truth, what they’re after is freedom only for themselves; they expect everyone else to knuckle under and just obey their every whim.

Photo credit: PsiCop graphic, based on Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

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When the Fail is so strong, one Facepalm is not enough / Picard & Riker / based on HaHaStop.ComI’ll grant that Dr Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and current Republican candidate for president, is probably a very smart guy in many ways. Correction: Make that “he must be” a very smart guy in many ways. You can’t do the sorts of operations he’s done without being intelligent. It’s just not possible.

That said, being smart doesn’t make one impervious to stupidity on occasion. Even the smartest people are known to be stupid, once in a while (WebCite cached article). For better or worse, that’s just human nature.

And Carson is no exception. Recently, Buzzfeed reported on an ancillary remark Carson had made during a 1998 commencement speech about the Egyptian pyramids having been used for grain storage (cached):

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson told graduates during a commencement address in the late ’90s that he believed the pyramids in Egypt were built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain, and not, as most archeologists contend, as tombs for pharaohs.

At the 1998 commencement for Andrews University, a school associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Carson also dismissed the notion that aliens were somehow involved in the construction of the pyramids.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves.”

Let me be clear before we go any further here: The Egyptian pyramids were not built as warehouses — to hold grain, or anything else. They were, instead, tombs. They had some interior chambers, as well as tunnels or shafts to access those chambers which were usually filled in once the late pharaoh was interred, but overall, they weren’t hollow. This has been known for a very long time, and — aside from occasional wild, unsupportable claims by various cranks and pseudo-archaeologists — there’s really no question about it. Yes, even though Carson explicitly dismissed everything archaeologists have to say about them.

One wonders why someone smart would come out with such a demonstrably pseudohistorical claim … but one needn’t look far for an explanation. As Carson himself said, it was the Old Testament hero Joseph, Jacob’s favored son, who built it while he’d been in Egypt and had worked his way up from slave to pharaoh’s vizier due to his magical dream-interpretation ability. Joseph’s story takes up a significant portion of the book of Genesis (chapters 37 through 46). His dream interpretations told him there’d be seven years of plenty followed by seven more of famine; pharaoh put him in charge so he could prepare and allow Egypt to get through the famine without trouble.

Christian fundamentalists like Carson (yes, I’m aware he’s a Seventh-Day Adventist, but that sect is essentially a Protestant fundamentalist one) are convinced the Bible’s contents are historical and accurate, therefore, the patriarch Joseph actually did save Egypt (and subsequently his own people) by stockpiling large amounts of food. Having made this assumption, they further conclude that this event must have left some extant impression on Egypt … which is exactly what Carson said as he continued in his comments at the time:

“But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

Yes, it’s bizarre logic. But it’s precisely what I expect of fundamentalist Christians. They can’t help themselves, because they simply can’t imagine anything else! To them, everything that exists points to their Bible’s literal veracity, without regard to whether or not it actually does. They relentlessly intone the mantra that “archaeology confirms the Bible” even though, in fact, it does not do any such thing.

One thing I’ll give Carson credit for: He did disparage other crank theories that the pyramids had been built by extraterrestrials. That’s been widely claimed by “New Agers” and other assorted nutcases, because they simply can’t imagine the ancients had been capable of building anything so big, and because they keep saying no one knows how the pyramids had been built. In fact, though, the Egyptians really did build them, and we do know precisely how they were built … from primary sources, no less!

Now, Carson might have said this back in 1998 — 17 years ago. So it wouldn’t seem very relevant now. And I wouldn’t have blogged about it. But with the passage of time, Carson hasn’t relented. Having been asked about the Buzzfeed story, CBS News reports he’s sticking by his weird Christian-literalist theory (cached):

Ben Carson stood by his long-held belief about ancient pyramids in Egypt, that they were used to store grain, rather than to inter pharaohs.

Asked about this Wednesday, Carson told CBS News, “It’s still my belief, yes.”

Yes, folks, this is a man who wants to be president. Either he genuinely believes this, in which case he’s clinging to an erroneous notion in order to back up his own irrational metaphysics, or he’s just saying it in order to appeal to Christian fundies who make up a large proportion of GOP primary voters so that they can back up their own irrational metaphysics … but either way, it’s not good.

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