Archive for Religion


How should we then rule?

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For a sub-sect of Christians, it is an attack on “religious liberty” when they can no longer tell equally free Americans how they can and cannot live. As Yul Brynner said, playing Moses, their god “IS God.” The Big G, the top dog, the Big Kahuna. Freedom of religion in America is fine, and all, so long as other, lesser faiths understand whose god IS God.

Fear of losing that top-dog status is behind the insistence by conservative Christians that America was founded as a Christian nation. White fear of having to share power with former slaves was behind decades of Jim Crow and KKK terror. Thus, it is “erasing white history and white culture” to take down a flag flown as a constant reminder of just whose race is boss.

“Religious liberty” has become the catchphrase for people who find their ability to lord it over their neighbors eroded by America extending freedoms they enjoy to “lesser thans” whom they fear. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges to extend the blessings of legal recognition of marriage to same-sex couples has them freaking out. The American Spectator calls the ruling “the Dred Scotting of religious liberty.”

It’s as peculiar a conception of liberty as it is a peculiar definition of persecution. Especially for a group so flush with cash and influence. Talking Points Memo reports on the Hobby Lobby Bible museum planned for just off the Mall in Washington. Among other things, it will be there as a staging area for lobbying efforts and marches by the Christian right:

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Categories : Labor, National, Race, Religion
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The plaintive cry of the perpetually oppressed

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A somewhat misanthropic friend once said if he ever wound up as an insider in some group he would have to create an outside just to feel like himself. Even as conservative Christians insist that they are America, inhabiting a country created by God himself just for them, and as sure as the prosperity gospel that he smiles upon and blesses them, they are most comfortable posturing as oppressed outsiders. So GOP presidential wannabes were on message yesterday in Iowa:

“The single greatest threat to all of our freedoms is the threat to your religious liberty,” Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, told the crowd in a speech that at times sounded like a church sermon. “Let me be clear tonight: I’m not backing off because what I’m saying is true. We are criminalizing Christianity in this country.”

That theme was predictably popular and reverberated throughout a five-hour-long summit hosted by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition that attracted more than 1,200 Republicans and churchgoers. The event kicked off with a prayer calling on the Lord to “restore this country through godly leadership.”

“You know, in the past month we have seen religious liberty under assault at an unprecedented level,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his White House bid last month. He was also met with repeated bursts of applause.

You know the drill. If you won’t let us dominate you, then you’re oppressing us.

Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal this week took to the New York Times to position himself as defender of the faith:

Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn’t an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?

In an America in which over three-quarters identify as Christians, a GOP that controls both houses of Congress, 31 governorships, and nearly 70 percent of state legislatures is, according to Jindal, beset on all sides by “left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom” and “seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence.”

As Heather Cox Richardson observed in Salon, Jindal laid bare Movement Conservatism’s Grand Bargain when he wrote that defending freedom “requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters.” And what’s really got Jindal and the religious right pissed is that after Walmart and NASCAR sided with marriage equality activists against recent “religious freedom” bills, the bargain is broken. Richardson writes:

Its end has been a long time coming. The toxic amalgam of economic and social reactionaries that Jindal identified began to mix after the Second World War. Americans in that era rallied behind the New Deal consensus. Reactionary businessmen loathed business regulation and taxation, but had no luck convincing voters to turn against the policies most saw as important safeguards against another Great Depression. Then, in 1951, a wealthy young writer suggested that social issues might be the way to break popular support for the New Deal. William F. Buckley, Jr. advanced the idea that unfettered capitalism and Christianity should be considered fundamental American values that could not be questioned. According to him, anyone who called for an active government or a secular society was an anti-American collectivist in league with international communism.

With communism a fading memory except among aging Cold Warriors, and with one-quarter of the world’s population Muslim, Movement Conservatives will have a hard time getting buy-in from multinational corporations in alienating an already huge and growing market. What the religious conservatives are waking up to post-Indiana is that their former partners no longer need them.

Perhaps capitalists should have betrayed them with a kiss?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Rapturous Bachmann

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Go ahead, Michele Bachmann. Break out your “THE END IS NEAR” sign. You know you want to. She came close in a radio interview:

Michele Bachmann says the rapture is coming, thanks to President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran’s nuclear program and marriage equality.

In a radio interview last week, Bachmann, the former Minnesota Republican congresswoman, told “End Times” host Jan Markell, “We need to realize how close this clock is getting to the midnight hour.”

“We in our lifetimes potentially could see Jesus Christ returning to earth and the rapture of the church,” Bachmann said. “We see the destruction, but this was a destruction that was foretold.”

Yes, she’s serious. In the westernmost mountains of North Carolina, for example, one of the most frequent questions congressional candidates will be asked is what version of the Bible they read.

Eschatology has been quite the rage among Bachmann-like believers pretty much forever. They take Revelation very seriously. Especially the “Rapture,” a word that appears nowhere in the New Testament. They’ll even argue over whether the Rapture comes before, during, or after the Great Tribulation that precedes the Second Coming and the Millennium. A preacher I knew was once asked whether he believed in a pre-Trib, mid-Trib, or post-Trib Rapture. He answered that he was a pan-Millennialist. He figured it would all pan out in the end.

I’m not sure Michele Bachmann would get the joke.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Bow your heads as we pray the Pledge of Allegiance

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The reason business interests want to undermine public education, I argue, is to get their hands on the largest portion of the annual budget in all 50 states. At Salon this morning, Thom Hartmann argues that conservatives hate public education because “it’s hard to sell the Conservative brand” to people who know their own history:

So now, thanks to the war on education that began with Ronald Raegan, we have come to that remote period in time Jefferson was concerned about. Our leaders, ignorant of or ignoring the history of this nation’s founding, make a parody of liberty and flaunt their challenges even to those rights explicitly defined in the Constitution. And, perhaps worse, they allow monopolistic corporations to do the same.

Our best defense against today’s pervasive ignorance about American history and human rights is education, a task that Jefferson undertook in starting the University of Virginia to provide a comprehensive and free public education to all capable students. A well-informed populace will always preserve liberty better than a powerful government, a philosophy which led the University of California and others to once offer free education to their states’ citizens.

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Wait. I got this.

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McClatchy asks an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry how the Islamic State justifies its blood lust:

They cherry-pick Quranic verses out of context, apply the most rigid interpretations of jurisprudence and excuse just about any brutality by saying they’re waging a defensive jihad on behalf of aggrieved Muslims worldwide, according to Jocelyne Cesari, a renowned scholar of Islam who’s part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s working group on faith and foreign policy.

Swap out “Quranic” with “Bible,” “jihad” with “preemptive war,” and “Muslims” with “Christians” and this could describe death penalty proponents in Texas or torture apologists across America.

See if this doesn’t sound familiar:

Q: What religious grounding does the Islamic State give for its atrocities?

A: They say they’re in survival mode. They believe that conditions for Muslims today are a danger to your soul as a Muslim. They don’t see their jihad as an attack; they see it as defensive jihad.

Wait. I got this. “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Preemptive jihad. Who’da thunk that strategery would have become so popular?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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A zombie faith

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It was kind of stunning, actually, to see the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson invoke “the common good” in a national newspaper, as I mentioned yesterday. Speaking of that sort of thing (like “public trust”) being so gauche and all. Pitting people against each other? Now that’s how you get ahead in politics. At least, for a certain kind of politician.

Long ago, President Lyndon Johnson explained how this conservative schtick works:

If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.

The Fox News business model, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve just expanded the palette a little.

Regarding pitting people against each other, Michael Hiltzik yesterday looked at how the Republican Congress is dealing with Social Security disability funding — not by solving the problem, but by “intensifying the crisis.” Someone must be punished, and Republicans are pretty sure it’s the Poors, the aged, and the infirm:

In practical terms, the rule change sets up a confrontation over Social Security’s finances by pitting the program’s retirees against its disabled beneficiaries and their dependents. The confrontation is totally unnecessary, because the required reallocation would have minimal effect on the old-age program. The old-age trust fund, which is still growing today and has not yet been tapped, is expected to last at least until 2034; the reallocation would make both the disability and old-age funds solvent until 2033, according to the latest estimates by the Social Security trustees.

The rule change does, however, reflect Republicans’ cherished disdain for disability recipients, whom they love to caricature as malingering layabouts. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slathered himself in iniquity last month when he told a New Hampshire audience: “Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.”

Digby dealt with this at Salon yesterday, noting that at $1,130/mo on average, nobody’s living large on disability. But:

Apparently, even that’s too much. The government needs to crack down on these lazy moochers and put them to work. Back in the day they used to sell pencils and apples on street corners, amirite? And in third world countries you see plenty of horrifically disabled people making a tidy living by begging. They show the kind of gumption we are denying our paraplegics and mentally ill by molly coddling them with a poverty level stipend.

“Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,” the apostle wrote mockingly of false piety, teaching that faith without works is dead. But that zombie faith is much in vogue.

This morning, Stephen Richter examines the need conservative lights such as George Will have to keep flogging the welfare horse, writing:

If there is a resurgence of the level of transfer payments to welfare recipients now, that is not due to any relaxation of the standards under which people qualify for welfare. (Indeed, the bar to obtain and keep benefits remains quite high.)

Nor is it the result of some sweeping cultural degradation foisted upon the good and hard-working American people by “progressives,” as Will ultimately insists. There is little to suggest struggling Americans have become newly enthusiastic about being compelled to seek help – including from the government – to make ends meet.

That the United States is at the bottom of rankings of social mobility among OECD countries matters little to theoreticians like Will, Richter writes.

Facts be damned. Hands up as well as handouts are for the weak, and against the natural order. The Founders may have mentioned tending to the “general welfare” twice in the U.S. Constitution, but they didn’t really mean it. Social Darwinism and The Market are hungry gods.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : National, Poverty, Religion
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Did we mention the stonings?

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On a local Facebook political page the other day, a resident conservative was fear mongering about Islam and posted the address of the local Islamic Center as evidence of something somehow threatening. It’s next door to an office where I spend a lot of time. Nice people, I replied, you should drop by sometime. And they are.

Sadly, given the Charlie Hebdo attacks and other recent events, Islam’s fundamentalists are much higher profile. I feel for myth neighbors. It’s like mentioning America and every time having someone bring up Timothy McVeigh or the Westboro Baptist Church. Having lived and worked within a few miles of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, religious fundamentalism is a topic of some interest to explore in detail when there is more time. But right now, Christian fundamentalists are not what’s news. This is:

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have publicly executed a woman accused of adultery in northwestern Syria, a monitoring group said Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in total 14 people had been executed for alleged adultery or homosexuality in the war-torn country since July, half of them women.

It released a video showing fighters from Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, tying up a woman and shooting her in a square in the town of Maaret Masirin in the province of Idlib.

Stonings. Did we mention the stonings? And it’s not just Syria:

Raif Badawi, the Saudi liberal convicted of publishing a blog, has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday – the second part of his 1,000-lash sentence which also includes a 10-year jail term.

The US, Britain and other western governments had all called for the punishment to be dropped but there has been no sign of any diplomatic action against Riyadh. Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the UK government to challenge Saudi Arabia, which has ignored all protests over the case.

Badawi will be given 50 more lashes outside a mosque in his home city of Jeddah unless a Saudi prison doctor determines he is not yet fit to face the punishment owing to injuries sustained last Friday. If nothing changes, he will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director, wonders why British authorities are so vocal about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet “tone everything down” when it comes to the Saudis. U.S. authorities, too, we might add.

Why is it that people who talk about faith the most seem to understand it the least?

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

Categories : International, Religion
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Apologies excepted

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News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch tweeted this on Friday about the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Murdoch’s sweeping indictment of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims drew its own round of apologies for Murdoch from other Australian men, conveniently aggregated by the Independent, including this none-too-subtle rebuke:

As Vox observed, a ritual apology is expected of the Muslim world after every incident resembling the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris:

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Categories : International, News, Religion
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Lies we tell ourselves

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America has lost faith with itself.

Grazing on the Net this morning, one story after another pops up where a common thread is the lies we tell ourselves and the ugly truths about ourselves we struggle to hide.

Paul Krugman:

According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage.

Matt Taibbi (on securities fraud at Chase and collusion between the company and the Justice Department to cover it up):

When [Alayne] Fleischmann and her team reviewed random samples of the loans, they found that around 40 percent of them were based on overstated incomes – an astronomically high defect rate for any pool of mortgages; Chase’s normal tolerance for error was five percent. One mortgage in particular that sticks out in Fleischmann’s mind involved a manicurist who claimed to have an annual income of $117,000. Fleischmann figured that even working seven days a week, this woman would have needed to work 488 days a year to make that much. “And that’s with no overhead,” Fleischmann says. “It wasn’t possible.”

But when she and others raised objections to the toxic loans, something odd started happening. The number-crunchers who had been complaining about the loans suddenly began changing their reports. The process she describes is strikingly similar to the way police obtain false confessions: The interrogator verbally abuses the target until he starts producing the desired answers. “What happened,” Fleischmann says, “is the head diligence manager started yelling at his team, berating them, making them do reports over and over, keeping them late at night.” Then the loans started clearing …

“That’s the thing I’m worried about,” she says. “That they make the whole thing disappear. If they do that, the truth will never come out.”

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Watch This

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Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post, argues that if Islam is a violent theology, then 99.99 percent of its 1.6 billion followers have failed to get it.

[h/t Jill Boniske]

Categories : International, Religion
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