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Posted by Time for change in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Mon Oct 06th 2008, 01:12 PM
There is no evidence that the move of fundamentalist Christians towards the GOP in recent years is because of Republican policies being more representative of the Christian religion than are Democratic policies. Jesus was a liberal.
Like most Americans of my age, I grew up surrounded by religion – even though my parents were not religious. Religion has always fascinated me, and I used to read a lot about it, though I’m not sure exactly what I learned from all that reading.

I believe, though I am not certain, that various religions have produced a lot of good in the world. Many of Jesus’ teachings form the core of the same kind of beliefs that permeate the Democratic Underground and other liberal/progressive organizations today. In the mid-19th Century, some Christian groups played a prominent role in the abolitionist movement, as well as other progressive causes. And religion provides comfort to hundreds of millions or perhaps billions of the world’s inhabitants today.

It even sometimes provides comfort to me, though I practice no formal religion, never attend church any more, and have only vague and unformed beliefs on the subject. But I never, as far as I can tell, base any of my decisions on whatever religious beliefs I do hold. To the extent that I believe in God (which varies over time), I believe that he/she/it expects us to make our own decisions. Why give us free will if we are expected to simply do as we are told?

Many have argued that, over the course of human history, religion has been far more destructive to humans, other creatures and our planet than it has been a force for good. Perhaps the biggest reason for believing that is that many or most wars and other abominations throughout human history have been justified on the basis of religion. But that is not necessarily the fault of religion per se. One of the major excuses that George W. Bush used for his invasion of Iraq is that he wanted to spread freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. That is no indictment against freedom and democracy. Those ideals merely served as convenient excuses for George Bush to do what he wanted to do. The truth of the matter is that any time a person or a nation does something horrible, that person or nation will always find some honorable intention with which to justify it. If religion had never been invented there would always be some other rationalization available to justify any atrocity that one is inclined to commit.

The highest ideals of religion

I recently read a brief description of religion at its best in a book titled “Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World”, by Paul Hawken. That book is not about religion. It is about a confluence of the environmental and social justice movements all over the world. But the last chapter in the book touches on religion at its best, or as it was meant to be, referencing another book by another author:

In a seminal work, The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong details the origins of our religious traditions during what is called the Axial Age… from 900 to 200 BCE, during which much of the world turned away from violence, cruelty, and barbarity. The upwelling of philosophy, insight, and intellect from that era lives today in the works of Socrates, Plato, Lao-tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Buddha, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others. Rather than establishing doctrinaire religious institutions, these teachers created social movements that addressed human suffering. These movements were later called Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, monotheistic Judaism, democracy, and philosophical rationalism; the second flowering of the Axial Age brought forth Christianity, Islam, and Rabbinical Judaism. The point Armstrong strongly emphasizes is that the early expressions of religiosity during the Axial Age were not theocratic systems requiring belief, but instructional practices requiring action. The arthritic catechisms and rituals that we now accept as religion had no place in the precepts of these sages, prophets, and mystics. Their goal was to foster a compassionate society, and the question of whether there was an omnipotent God was irrelevant to how one might lead a moral life. They asked their students to question and challenge and, as opposed to modern religion, to take nothing on faith… They urged their followers to change how they behaved in the world. All relied on a common principle, the Golden Rule: Never do to anyone what you would not have done to yourself…

Their objective was to create an entirely different kind of human being. All the sages preached a spirituality of empathy and compassion; they insisted that people must abandon their egotism and greed, their violence and unkindness… Nearly all of the Axial sages realized that you could not confine your benevolence to your own people: your concern must somehow extend to the entire world… If people behaved with kindness and generosity to their fellows, they could save the world.

If that’s a description of religion at its best, it sounds damn good to me. I read a book by Karen Armstrong many years ago. It was called “A History of God – The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam” (copyright 1993). I don’t remember many of the details, but I do remember that I considered the book to be scholarly, balanced, enlightening, and not too difficult to read for such a complex subject.

The role of ideology in justifying atrocity

Religions are ideologies – which is simply to say that they are a “set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.” Andrew M. Lobaczewski, in his book “Political Ponerology – A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes”, writes about the role of ideology in the process that leads to pathocracies (a pathocracy is a social movement, society, nation, or empire that is controlled by evil individuals and habitually perpetrates evil deeds on its people and/or other people.) The ideology itself is usually not inherently evil, and the ideology does not generally characterize the movement or group. Rather, the ideology serves as a mask, to hide the actual intentions of the group. Lobaczewski explains it like this:

It is a common phenomenon for a ponerogenic association or group to contain a particular ideology which always justifies its activities and furnishes motivational propaganda…. Human nature demands that vile matters be haloed by an over-compensatory mystique in order to silence one’s conscience and to deceive consciousness and critical faculties, whether one’s own or those of others.

If such a ponerogenic union could be stripped of its ideology, nothing would remain except psychological and moral pathology, naked and unattractive. Such stripping would of course provoke “moral outrage”, and not only among the members of the union.

The fact is, even normal people, who condemn this kind of union along with its ideologies, feel hurt and deprived of something constituting part of their own romanticism, their way of perceiving reality when a widely idealized group is exposed as little more than a gang of criminals.

That explains why so many normal Americans are willing to accept the Bush administration’s lame excuses for everything it does. Acknowledging that our President and Vice President are no more than criminal thugs and psychopaths is just too painful for most Americans. It is much more comfortable for them to believe that their President’s actions are motivated by a desire to defend Americans against danger, to spread democracy and freedom to other parts of the world, or any of a variety of pure “Christian” reasons.

The justification of religion as a reason for committing atrocities is probably as old as religion itself. One of the best known examples is the Christian Crusades. These were a series of military actions and wars conducted by European Christians, primarily against Islam, between 1096 and about 1272. The motivation for these wars was probably no different from that of most other wars, and as with many other wars, religion was used as the primary justification. Though Muslims were the primary targets, the Crusades also unleashed massacres of Jews and other Christian sects.

Here is a brief description of several other atrocities committed in the name of religion, including the Roman persecution of Christians, human sacrifices by the Aztecs, the Puritan witch hunts, the Medieval Inquisition, and Islamic Jihads.

The worst of religion

Bill Moyers, a former Baptist minister, describes in a speech titled “9/11 and the Sport of God”, the culmination of the worst of Christian tradition in our country, and how it has allied with the wealthy and powerful to threaten the very foundations of our democracy and the quality of life for most Americans:

The radical Religious Right has succeeded in taking over one of America’s great political parties – the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is – and they are driving American politics, using God as a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, social services, and so on.

What’s also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their viral intolerance – their loathing of other people’s beliefs, of America’s secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge – has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the Sign of Christ (the “Christograph”) on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome….

Alas, these “great moral issues” do not include building a moral economy. The Christian Right trumpets charity (as in Faith Based Initiatives) but is silent on social and economic justice. Inequality in America has reached scandalous proportions… None of these harsh realities of ordinary life seem to bother the radical religious right. To the contrary, in the pursuit of political power they have cut a deal with America’s richest class and their partisan allies in a law-of-the-jungle strategy to “starve” the government of resources needed for vital social services that benefit everyone while championing more and more spending on rich corporations and larger tax cuts for the rich.

How else to explain the vacuum in their “great moral issues” of the plight of millions of Americans without adequate health care? Of the gross corruption of politics by campaign contributions that skew government policies toward the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? …

This is the crux of the matter: To these fundamentalist radicals there is only one legitimate religion and only one particular brand of that religion that is right; all others who call on God are immoral or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. Behind their malicious attacks on the courts (“vermin in black robes,” as one of their talk show allies recently put it) is a fierce longing to hold judges accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as fundamentalists define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party – the GOP – has become God’s Own Party, its ranks made up of God’s Own People “marching as to war.”

Leaders and followers – The use of hate and fear to take over our country

There is no evidence that the move of fundamentalist Christians towards the Republican Party in recent years is because of Republican policies being more representative of the Christian religion than are Democratic policies. In fact, Democrats favor policies that are much more in accordance with the heart of the Christian religion than do Republicans. Jesus Christ was a liberal. As explained by Gary Vance, a Christian Evangelical Minister:

Jesus was the ultimate liberal progressive revolutionary of all history. The conservative religious and social structure that He defied hated and crucified Him. They examined His life and did not like what they saw. He aligned Himself with the poor and the oppressed. He challenged the religious orthodoxy of His day. He advocated pacifism and loving our enemies. He liberated women and minorities from oppression.… Jesus was the original Liberal. He was a progressive, and He was judged and hated for it.

Then how have the radical right leaders of the Republican Party managed to convince fundamentalist Christians to vote for them in such large numbers? They do it through hate and fear. Mostly, they convince a certain segment of fundamentalist Christians that liberals are out to destroy their religion. They say that liberals have proclaimed war on Christmas; liberals are out to destroy Christian marriage by pushing for equal rights for homosexuals; and they say that by keeping prayer out of the public school system liberals would deny the right of Christians to practice their religion.

This is all a smokescreen. Liberals have no interest whatsoever in destroying Christianity. They simply believe in the separation of church and state, and they believe that minorities should not be discriminated against in the interest of those Christians who are intolerant of the beliefs of others.

Vance puts this all in perspective and asks Christians to consider behaving in accordance with the best traditions of their religion rather than the corrupted version that their political leaders have tried to sell them in recent years:

I am glad that conservative Republican candidates advocate for the family and a few Christian issues, but we must quit pretending that they are the only ones that Christians should consider voting for. People should not call themselves pro-life if they are only anti-abortion and yet feel no twinge of conscience over the unfair application of capital punishment or wars fought for dubious motives. A true pro-life position cares just as passionately for the born as the un-born and views war as a last resort when all other options are exhausted.

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The Unfulfilled Promise
The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream: The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals

Time for change

Notwithstanding the lofty sentiments and purpose of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the reality of the United States of America did not then – and never has – lived up to its ideal. Our nation remains today a long way from fulfilling the promise implied by those ideals. Yet, our Declaration was a great start, and it has long shone as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

Throughout our history, while many have striven to close the gap between our highest ideals and the reality of our nation, others have focused on the accumulation of private wealth and power, at the expense of everyone else. In recent decades the latter have gained much ground, leading to increasing imperialism abroad and deteriorating democracy at home, characterized by routine (and legal) bribery of our public officials, the fusion of government and private corporate interests (corporatocracy), a corrupt election system largely in the hands of private corporations, a corporate controlled communications media, and the widespread acceptance of Executive Branch secrecy, routinely justified with little if any questioning, by the magic words “national security”. All of this is rapidly turning our country from the democracy proclaimed at our founding into a plutocracy (government by the wealthy and for the wealthy). The result is the most obscene wealth gap our country has ever known, the highest imprisonment rate in the world, rampant militarism, routine flaunting of international law, the least efficient health care system in the developed world, a pending environmental catastrophe that threatens to destroy the life sustaining forces of our planet, and myriad other problems that threaten to destroy our nation and tyrannize our people.

My new book, The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream – The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals, explores the roots and consequences of the demise of our democracy, and why most Americans have been unable to understand this process or even become aware of it. A good understanding of why and how we have deviated so greatly from the ideals of our nation is the first and necessary step towards getting back on the right track and revitalizing our society.

The book is currently being sold in electronic PDF format and can be purchased at for $3.99. It will also soon be available in Amazon Kindle format. DU members who cannot afford to buy the book but would like to read it can pm me with your e-mail address, and I will send you a free PDF copy.

I’ve previously posted on DU a slightly earlier version of the introduction to the book, which is also posted at my site. Here is the Table of Contents, followed by a brief description of the three parts of the book:


Prologue – What is Wrong with the United States of America?

Part I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy
Chapter 1 – Legalized Bribery
Chapter 2 – Human Psychological Factors
Chapter 3 – Corporatocracy
Chapter 4 – Corporate Control of Media
Chapter 5 – Corrupt Election System
Chapter 6 – Government Secrecy
Chapter 7 – American Exceptionalism

Part II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions
Chapter 8 – Slavery and its Legacy
Chapter 9 – Early U.S. Imperialism
Chapter 10 – U.S. Imperialism in Cold War
Chapter 11 – Iraq War and Occupation
Chapter 12 – Afghanistan War

Part III – Consequences
Chapter 13 – Election of George W. Bush
Chapter 14 – War and Imperialism
Chapter 15 – Class Warfare
Chapter 16 – Predator Financial Class
Chapter 17 – Shock Therapy
Chapter 18 – Contempt for Int. Law
Chapter 19 – The “War on Drugs”
Chapter 20 – Climate Change
Chapter 21 – “War on Terror”
Chapter 22 – Health Care
Chapter 23 – Unaccountable government
Chapter 24 – Response to 9/11 Attacks

PART I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy

It is somewhat difficult to separate the causes of our problems from their consequences, since they combine to form a long chain of cause leading to consequence, leading to more consequences, etcetera. Nevertheless, it seems worth while to identify the root causes of our problems, those that occur early in the chain and lead to so many of the tragic consequences we see today. The only chance we have of reversing the demise of our democracy is through addressing and attacking its root causes.

At the top of the list is the systematic bribery of public officials by the powerful corporations (Chapter 1) whom our government is charged with regulating in the public interest. Instead of calling it bribery, we call it “campaign contributions”, but what we call it isn’t as important as what it is. It is hard to fathom how democracy can survive when such a practice is legal and condoned.

Working in tandem with our system of legalized bribery is the nature of the people who inhabit our country. That is not to say that Americans are inherently substantially different than any other people. Human beings are imperfect, and that is probably a major reason why in a world where civilization began more than five millennia ago, the oldest written national framework of government in the world today – the Constitution of the United States of America – is only a little more than two and a quarter centuries old. Chapter 2 explores the roles of basic human needs, authoritarianism, psychological defense mechanisms used to prevent us from perceiving reality as it is rather than as we’d like it to be, and corrupted ideologies in causing us to passively accept the accumulation of power in the hands of ambitious and ruthless individuals who care about little else than expanding their own wealth and power.

When bribery of public officials is tolerated as an inevitable aspect of public life, government inevitably grows close to the wealthy interests that shower it with money in return for legislative and other favors. A malevolent symbiosis grows between the state and corporate power, resulting in rule by an oligarchy that is highly detrimental to the lives of ordinary people (Chapter 3). Using their accumulated wealth and power to manipulate our legislative process, the oligarchy grabs for more and more control of the communications media (Chapter 4) that are used to control the information available to and shape the attitudes of our nation’s people, in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Since the 1980s an orchestrated campaign has been underway to demonize “big government”, thereby paving the way for private corporate control over more and more functions that were previously deemed intrinsic functions of government. Among those functions is the running of public elections (Chapter 5) – the function that symbolizes democracy perhaps more than any other single function. Consequently, the purging of selected registered voters from our computerized voter rolls has become a routine recurring event throughout much of our country, and without a doubt determined the results of the 2000 – and probably 2004 as well – presidential election. Just as bad, more and more of the counting of votes in our public elections have been turned over to private corporations, which count our votes using electronic machines using secret software to produce vote counts that cannot be verified by anyone.

Bribery, the fusion of government and private interest, fake and biased news, and corrupt elections are not things that government and its corporate allies want us to know about. Consequently, they construct walls of secrecy (Chapter 6) to keep us from obtaining information that sheds light on their activities. The perfect phrase for facilitating this is “national security”. When our government tells us that the “national security” requires that certain things be kept secret from us, the understanding is that to question such a pronouncement is unpatriotic, and to actually attempt to obtain the “secret” information may be treasonous.

But indefinitely maintaining secrets from the American people can be very difficult, because at least some people want to know what their government is up to. So in addition to the formal mechanisms of secrecy, informal mechanisms are constructed (Chapter 7) to keep vital information away from us. One of the primary methods for doing this is to make certain sensitive subjects taboo – that is, to create the widespread belief that discussion of these topics is so outside the bounds of acceptable human discourse that anyone who discusses them should be shunned by society, or worse. The most common issue that falls into this category is any discussion that sheds light on the disparity between American ideals and the reality of life in our country today.

PART II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions in U.S. History

Notwithstanding the fact that our founding document says that “all men are created equal” and speaks of the inalienable rights of humankind, the United States has throughout its history partaken of massive exploitation of other peoples.

It is estimated that at the time of our birth, 18% of our population was black slaves. In our expansion westwards during the late 18th and 19th centuries, we decimated the original inhabitants of our continent, and often treated them with great cruelty. In 1846 we manufactured an excuse for war with our neighbor Mexico, in which we continued to expand our country westwards and southwards. In 1893 we began our overseas imperialism with the conquest of Hawaii. Our overseas expansion was greatly accelerated in 1898 with our participation in the Spanish-American War, which led to our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. With our arrival at world superpower status at the end of World War II, we began the Cold War, which led to and served as a rationalization for covert and/or direct military actions against myriad foreign nations over the next 46 years. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, we declared a perpetual “War on Terror”, which served and continues to serve as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, nations that posed no threat to us. We do not know when or if this perpetual war will ever end. We don’t know how many additional imperial conquests it will lead to.

Most Americans don’t think much about all this. Many of these actions are done in secrecy, and the American people don’t find out about them until many years later – or we never find out about them at all. Those that we do know about are spun into the most favorable light, to make them seem benign or even noble.

But these actions come at great costs: in the lives of our soldiers; in the ruined lives of the peoples of the victim countries; in trillions of dollars cost to our people and their future generations; in our international reputation; in anti-American hatred leading to terrorism; and, to our democracy itself. For how can a nation claim to believe in the inalienable rights of humankind specified in its founding document, while making a mockery of that belief in the way it treats other peoples? For that reason alone it is worth while to take a brief look at our long history of imperialist actions.

PART III – Consequences

In the Prologue I give a brief account of what I see as some of the worst and tragic consequences of the root causes that I discuss in Part I – to enable the reader to see where this book is heading. When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

In Part III, I explore those consequences in much greater detail, in the hope that the reader will agree with me that these are very serious problems, and that they must be successfully addressed if our country is ever to fulfill the promise of its ideals, or even make progress in that direction. When enough Americans recognize our problems as problems, stripped of the gloss and spin put on them by our oligarchy, they will rise up and do something about them. Until then there will be no progress, and we are very likely to head in the direction of all the former empires of our planet, ending in chaos, widespread catastrophe, suffering, and ignominy.

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