Hrafnkell Haraldsson

A 53-year-old Heathen, author of A Heathen's Day (aheathensday.com) and Digital Gods (digital-gods.com) and founder of Mos Maiorum Foundation (www.mosmaiorum.org) dedicated to the study of Paganism as ethnic religion. He is also a contributor to PoliticusUSA (politicususa.com) and GodsOwnParty (godsownparty.com/blog).

Jan 052012
 

I wanted to elaborate on a post I made on my blog yesterday about the results of the Iowa Caucus. I’ve been writing a lot about the Republican Party and it’s pro-fundamentalist Christian agenda. As a disclaimer, I used to consider myself something of an independent. I felt I could vote Republican or Democrat, based on the platform and credentials of the candidate in question. It wasn’t until the GOP sold out to the Religious Right that I felt compelled to register as a Democrat. The GOP had removed any possibility of me voting Republican because as a Pagan I will not vote for a party whose platform marginalizes me as a person, or my beliefs and my right to exercise those beliefs.

I am not and have never been what some people refer to as a bleeding heart liberal. I get a chuckle when I find myself accused of that on various social networking platforms. I despise the politics of the far-left as much as I do those of the far right. I no more want my rights taken away by do-gooders motivated by personal health and environmental health than I do by those motivated by “spiritual” or “moral” health. One wants my freedom to choose what I eat and another wants my freedom to belief what I want. If I don’t want a Big Mac, I will make that choice, thank you very much. And if I don’t want the Bible, I won’t read one. It’s called the First Amendment.

But right now, as I see it, the bigger threat comes from what used to be the far right of the Republican Party. As Iowa brings into focus, these people have over the past decade or so, become mainstreamed. It has been a long process, one I’ve chronicled elsewhere, but the Religious Right’s plans for America have ripened. They have become kingmakers, as witnessed by their machinations on behalf of Bush, under whom America came very close to theocracy. And now they’re back for round 2 and more focused, better funded, and more powerful than ever before, and they have the apparatus of the Republican Party to work for them. Wealthy corporations + major political party + religion = an unholy trinity if I ever saw one.

For me it comes down to this: As I asked on my blog, if these people can render the world’s second largest religion, Islam, a cult without First Amendment protections, where does that leave small alternative religions like Paganism? The message is the same to all of us: the U.S. Constitution was based on the Bible (it obviously was not), America was founded by God (contrary to the facts of the historical record). and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, written to bar the federal government from the establishment of any religion, actually established Christianity as the state religion of the United States (remember Pat Robertson’s “There is no such thing as … separation of state and church … in the Constitution. It’s a lie of the left”?). That’s the narrative. And they’re sticking to it no matter how often we point out those pesky facts.

The base laps it up because the base loves it. The base wants to believe it. And there are enough people out there ignorant of their own Bible, ignorant of history, to actually believe this stuff.

The fact that it’s wrong-headed nonsense won’t protect any of us from the consequences. The Nazis and Communists and other ideology-driven groups throughout history, including the Catholic Church and the Puritans, have been wrong too, but that didn’t help their victims. Remember, conservative Catholics among this bunch actually think the Crusades weren’t so bad after all (so does, significantly, Rick Santorum, who came in second in Iowa) and that the Inquisition actually helped people (it was those Protestants that were the bad guys). They even want to change our school textbooks to reflect this new “history” of theirs.

It is difficult to see a positive outcome for minorities of any type in the event of a Republican win in 2012. We have already seen the direction of their agenda in the Tea Party-driven legislation from 2010 onward, much of it heavily influenced by fundamentalist Christian focus on what is often termed “the culture war,” including especially women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality. Adding layers of bureaucracy to police our bedrooms and our private lives is hardly a move toward smaller, less intrusive government. It never really was about the size of government for the Religious Right, though, but about the focus of that government. It’s permissible to have a big government that does what they want it to do. A big government that focuses on regulation of Wall Street or corporations, on the other hand, is anathema.

We’ve seen Pagans blamed for 9/11; we’ve seen fundamentalists preach against the “pagan culture” of America (the Catholic Church is issuing the same warnings in Argentina). We’ve seen things like this: “The government schools are anti-Christian, atheistic and pagan, and they are against God, family, and country” and that these Pagan-influenced government schools promote a culture of “immorality and death” We’ve seen the planet attacked and our own devotion to it mocked. We’re back to early Christian rhetoric: we are rock and tree worshipers, people who follow false idols. The Republican candidates endorse this thinking. If they get away with attacking Islam with impunity (and the mainstream media certainly enables these attacks), Pagans can’t hold out much hope. They hate Paganism already: the Bible teaches them too. When their attention focuses on us, we will find ourselves marginalized and disenfranchised as well.

We all have our beliefs; According to the Constitution, all beliefs are equal. According to the Republican base on the other hand, the First Amendment does not mean all religions are equal. We can differentiate here between religious “truths” and the law because to the base, they are one and the same. Because Christianity is true and all other religions are false, and, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it, truth trumps tolerance, U.S. law must recognize the privileged position of the “one true religion.” When fundamentalist Christians (including the entire crop of 2012 presidential hopefuls) talk about “religious freedom” they are talking about their (Christian) religious freedom; the rest of us have none. The consequences for the rest of us – look at Newt Gingrich’s plan – are not difficult to imagine under such a scheme.

We barely dodged theocracy under the Bush administration. We may not be so lucky again, and it is a risk we cannot afford to take.

Feb 112011
 
Little Crow

(This post originally appeared on PoliticusUSA on February 10, 2011 as part of a series of articles on Bryan Fischer’s attack on ethnic religion. As of today, Indian Country reports that the offending AFA blog post to which I refer here has been taken down – Hrafnkell)

To the left: Little Crow Being the European Bryan Fischer Insists No Indian Was

As the Huron Sachem is made to say in a Hollywood film, “The white man came, and night entered our future with him.” The Huron leader’s tone is fatalistic: he knows his world has been changed forever.[1] Among the Dakota of Minnesota, Little Crow knew this as well. Gary C. Anderson notes in his biography of the Mdewakanton leader that his “understanding of the nature of the Indian-White relationship was far superior to that of his contemporaries.” As a result, he pursued accommodation, not war. As he told his people when the first shots had been fired, they could not win: “you will die like rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon.”[2]

Accommodation not only landed him on a reservation, it landed him in a war. Yet Brian Fischer would have us believe that the Native Americans refused accommodation with the whites. He claims that “the native American tribes ultimately resisted the appeal of Christian Europeans to leave behind their superstition and occult practices for the light of Christianity and civilization.” He goes on to assert that “they in the end resisted every attempt to ‘Christianize the Savages of the Wilderness,’ to use George Washington’s phrase.”

Let’s do something Fischer won’t, and look at some facts.

In 1838 Commissioner of Indian Affairs T. Hartley Crawford observed the Native American and concluded that the major impediment to “civilization” was their culture itself; specifically, the ownership of land in common. “Unless some system is marked out by which there shall be a separate allotment of land to each individual whom the scheme shall entitle to it, you will look in vain for any general casting off of savagism. Common property and civilization cannot co-exist.”[3] The Dakota had no concept of individual ownership of land. The idea was completely foreign to them and as long as tribal and band affiliations existed, the government could not successfully impose the idea of individuals owning specific tracts of land.

On 6 February 1851, before the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota had ceded to the United States the Dakota lands that would become Minnesota, Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey reported the recommendations of a meeting of the Dakota Mission held the previous year at Little Crow’s village, Kaposia:

We regard the Community System among the Dakotas as one of the most serious obstacles in the way of this civilization. And we would suggest that, in case of a treaty with them, arrangements should be entered into which will at present diminish its influence, and finally break it up entirely. For the accomplishment of this object individual rights should be secured and extended as far and as fast as possible.

To Luke Lea, the recipient of these recommendations, Ramsey stated that this was the view of men “who have long lived in the Indian Country, become familiar with the defects of the institutions of the Red man, and who certainly are disinterestedly devoted to the moral and material improvement of the Indian.”[4] Ramsey and Lea, in their post-treaty report of 6 August 1851, continued the anti-Community System bias, saying it “is now the bane and curse of these tribes.”[5]

It wasn’t really. It had worked just fine for the Indians before the white men came. But the white men were here change was upon the natives whether they wanted it or not.

The reservation system was the method adopted by the government of accomplishing this change, which essentially, meant turning the Native American population into whites, or as Northern Superintendent William J. Cullen said in his 1860 report, to make them “as part of our own people.” Cullen says “the means adopted to sustain this policy are:

First. Making their agricultural system one of individual, instead of tribal character.

Second. By inducing a voluntary abandonment of their nationality in dress costume.

Third. Furnishing them with houses and the comforts of civilized life.

Fourth. Protection by the government of those who assume the character of improvement Indians from all attacks upon their persons and property.

Fifth. Punishing by loss of annuities those who leave their reservations for the commission of depredations upon the white settlers, or to enter the war path against other tribes.

Sixth. By making intoxication an offense punishable by the loss of annuity and degradation from prominent position in the community.[6]

Indian Agent Thomas J. Galbraith (who must be Bryan Fischer’s personal hero) succinctly explains the perceived differences between white and Indian: “To be clear, the habits and customs of white men are at war with the habits and customs of the Indians. The former are civilization, industry, thrift, economy; the latter, idleness, superstition, and barbarism…”[7]

Dakota Being Farmers and Not Rejecting European “Civilization”

Dakota Farmers

What did this mean to the indigenous inhabitants? The utter destruction of Dakota culture was essential if the reservation system was to succeed in its goal: The community system practiced by the Dakota had to go. George W. Manypenny, commissioner from 1853-57, objected to the tribes retaining land as reservations and believed individual holdings were essential if the civilizing process were to succeed. Missionary Stephen R. Riggs supported the idea: “(T)hey should be individualized and encouraged to be industrious. First, the community system should not be fostered by the payment of any part of their annuity to the villages or bands… The result otherwise would be (here he sounds a lot like Galbraith) the fostering of “idleness and paganism.” Riggs’ fellow missionary, Thomas S. Williamson, echoes his view: “I entirely concur with Rev. S.R. Riggs…in regard to the importance of doing all the government can do to break up the community system.”[8]

Commissioner Manypenny was not optimistic about the Indians’ chances. He believed that the Native American was bound for extinction:

But if this be so, it does not discharge the government of the United States and its citizens from the performance of their duty; and every effort is demanded by humanity to avert a calamity of this kind.

But it did not have to be this way, if proper efforts were made to save him:

I believe that the Indian may be domesticated, improved, and elevated; that he may be completely and thoroughly civilized, and made a useful element of our population.[9]

Clearly then, given a “complete and thorough civilizing,” relocation to the reservations meant an irrevocable severing of their pasts and destruction of their culture. And while John Upton Terrel’s characterization of the reservations as “concentration camps” is extreme, there is no doubt that life there was doleful and hard.[10]

Christianization: According to Bryan Fischer, this could not have been happening

Missionary activity among the Dakota

That culture shock of an extreme nature resulted is easily imagined. From being self-sufficient and independent, able to go wherever and whenever they desired, the Dakota found themselves isolated from the bison herds and tied to the land in a way many of them had never imagined. They became farmers, and shopped at the traders’ stores instead of hunting and trapping. They subsisted on what was in many ways a welfare system.

Though the annuities represented their money, they had no control over it. The “Great Father” doled it out as he saw fit, withholding and deducting at will and explaining nothing. Historian Robert M. Utley believes that the resistance of the Native Americans was directed against the reservation, not against the white interlopers, with whom they had shown they could live at peace.[11]

Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, popularly considered the archenemy of the free Indian, had this to say about the reservation system:

If I were an Indian, I often think that I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who adhered to the free open plains, rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization with its vices thrown in without stint or measure.[12]

Custer was not alone among frontier officers in feeling this way. Many of them had a great admiration, borne of long contact, for their opponents. Colonel Henry B. Carrington, commanding officer of Ft. Phil Kearney and famous for his role in the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, relates that he once said, “in an extreme hour, when all I held dear on earth was in danger of self-immolation, or slow death at the hands of the red man, that if I had been a red man as I was a white man, I should have fought as bitterly, if not as brutally, as the Indians fought.”[13]

In the preface to his book, Carrington gives the lie to Fischer’s assertions: He cites the 1876 report of Generals Sherman, Harney, Terry and Augur, and civilians Henderson, Terry and Sanborn: “It is said that our wars with them have been almost constant. Have we been uniformly unjust? We answer, emphatically, yes.”

This is the first article in a three-part series detailing Bryan Fischer’s delusions regarding the white treatment of Native Americans – HH


[1] For the Huron Sachem’s words, Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans, Twentieth Century Fox, 1992.

[2] Gary Clayton Anderson, Little Crow (St. Paul, 1986), 3.

[2] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (hereafter RCIA) cited in Francis Paul Prucha, Documents Of United States Indian Policy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990)

[4] U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Letters Received (hereafter cited as “Letters Received”), letter of Alexander Ramsey to Luke Lea, 6 February 1851. The idea of introducing private ownership of land to the Native American was not new. The first Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Elbert Herring, had suggested it in 1832. See Prucha, Documents of United States Indian Policy (Lincoln, 1990), 63.

[5] RCIA (1851). Washington: Gideon & Co., 1851, 22. Report of L. Lea and A. Ramsey to the Secretary of the Interior dated 6 August 1851.

[6] RCIA (1860). : George W. Bowman, 1860, 43. Report of W.J. Cullen dated 29 September 1860.

[7] RCIA (1863). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864, 283. Report of Thomas Galbraith to Clark W. Thompson, dated 27 January 1863. Emphasis in the original.

[8] RCIA (1853), 78. Report of S.R. Riggs. Italics in original, and page 77 for the report of Thomas S. Williamson. For Manypenny, see Kvasnicka and Viola, ed. The Commissioners of Indian Affairs (Lincoln, 1979), 59. Also, Federal Indian Law (New York, 1966), 227.

[9] RCIA (1855). Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, 1856, 17-18. Report of George W. Manypenny dated 26 November 1855.

[10] John Upton Terrel, Land Grab: The Truth about “The Winning of the West (New York, 1972), 33. Terrel is justified in his criticism of the reservation system, but the intent, however misguided, was not to exterminate, or even to imprison. As seen in this section, the hope was that the reservation would act as a sieve, dropping Native Americans in one end and having Europeans come out the other.

[11] Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890 (Albuquerque, NM, 1984), xx, 36, 63.

[12] Cited in Robert Utley, Cavalier in Buckskin (Norman, 1988), 149. The Native American was no more a “simple-minded son of nature” as seen by many, than a “creature possessing human form but divested of all other attributes of humanity.” Custer did not, however, have any doubt about the eventual fate of these people, or in the rightness of that course.

[13] Henry B. Carrington, The Indian Question (New York, 1884), 8.

Dec 082010
 

I was reading a post today in PoliticusUSA about the legal battle over Proposition 8. The author, a fellow writer of mine there, takes the position that Christian bigotry is behind opposition to same-sex marriage and I have no argument with that; I think it is self-evident. There is no reason beyond religious objections – nor were lawyers for Proposition 8’s supporters able to muster any – when the case went to court. The battle lines are clear. Opposition to same-sex marriage is based on Christian biases (real or imagined) originating in their holy scriptures, the Bible.

There is no cogent reason to object to total equality in the marriage sphere. All other objections that have been raised have been proven myths, as I argued the other day at A Heathen’s Day, where I named Bryan Fischer a nithing for misrepresenting research to make these myths look like truths.

These myths dismissed, we are left with religious bigotry as the cause, and that is what I wish to address here.

It must be understood by those of us who are endeavoring to revive or reconstruct ancient forms of religion that our polytheistic ancestors did not have the most enlightened view of the matter either, with the proviso that their views were informed by cultural prejudices and not religious. To that extent, arguing over whether our polytheistic ancestors were tolerant or intolerant of homosexuality is problematic.

It is rendered meaningless once we understand that we can’t even talk about homosexuality in an ancient context, because the ancients did not have the same attitudes we have today, either of homosexual acts or of gender. I say this, and I believe it is an important point, because there are Pagan groups today that object to LGBT equality. Such objections, I argue, are misplaced.
Homosexuality has not been universally seen as immoral; it has not even always been seen as homosexuality. As often happens, the truth is much more complex than the simple black and white model offered modern Western audiences.

We claim to live in an enlightened age yet we are trapped by our own understanding of gender roles and categories. We are brought up to believe that there are boys and there are girls. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas. This is known as dimorphism (the belief that anatomy defines women and men). According to this view there is nothing in between and it is obvious how the pieces are supposed to go together. And no surprise: we are brought up to see the world in this way. But is this an accurate reflection of how things are? Is gender to be understood as biological or as a social construct?

Archaeologist Joan Breton-Connelly speaks of “presentist” assumptions – arguments based on or colored by “late twentieth -century political sensibilities.”[1] With regard to genders as “fixed” categories Breton-Connelly appeals to Judith Butler’s questioning of “woman” as a fixed category in her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) in which she “exposes the ways in which traditional feminist constructs decontextualize individuals from their historical, political, and cultural settings and identities.”[2] The same can be said of homosexuals as a fixed category.

Few people realize that homosexuality is a modern concept. The pathology of the 19th century created the category from the male/female conceptualized as abnormal.[3] Ancient ideas about sex and sexuality are far more ambiguous.[4]

To claim therefore that modern distinctions and prejudices are simply continuances of ancient Pagan feeling on the subject is to misstate the case. As Marilyn Katz puts it, “the nineteenth-century notion of sexual pathology was unknown to antiquity.” As she goes on to say, “[T]here is a radical discontinuity between the ancient and modern discourses on sexuality.”[5]
But what if gender was based on gender roles and not strictly on plumbing?

Take for example my own Norse ancestors. While a boy might be born with male sex organs, that simple fact did not in itself make him a man. Gender categories were not fixed and manhood was something that had to be earned – and maintained – through the activities normally associated with that gender category. This meant that while a boy and his penis could aspire to manhood, so could a woman. By laying aside one set of gender roles and embracing another, a woman could “become” a man. Conversely, a man could “become” a woman.

“This is a world in which ‘masculinity’ always has a plus value, even (or perhaps especially) when it is enacted by a woman,” writes one scholar.[6] It was “a society in which being born male precisely did not confer automatic superiority, a society in which distinction had to be acquired, and constantly reacquired, by wresting it away from others.” Because women had no theoretical ceiling and men no theoretical floor, gender categories were flexible and movable.[7]

Like the Norse, the Romans and Greeks lacked a modern understanding of “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” Once again, it was not what a Roman “was” but what a Roman “did” that determined things. A Roman male was supposed to be a penetrator, the “active” partner in sexual activity. It was manly to penetrate; it was feminine to be penetrated.

For example, a man would brag about penetrating another man, like Sinfjötl in the First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani:[8]

On Sága’s Ness full nine wolves we
Had together – I gat them all.

He is reminding Gudmund of how often he has “had” him sexually. One attempt to convert Iceland floundered on such accusations made against the Saxon bishop who had been penetrated by Thorvald, and Icelandic Christian working for him.

The bishop gave birth to nine children,
Thorvald was father to them all.

The Norse understood things in the same terms. “Anal penetration constructed the man who experienced it as whore, bride, mare, bitch, and the like – in whatever guise a female creature.”[9]

The evidence suggests that for the Norseman’s “character was not either male or female, but lay on a spectrum ranging from strong to week, aggressive to passive, powerful to powerless, winner to loser.”[10]

To be called a man was the highest compliment a man could pay a “woman,” as we see in Laxdaela Saga when Snorri of Helgafell says of Gudrun the Fair, “Now you can see what a man Gudrun is, when she gets the better of both of us.”

To be a man was to be hvatur – bold, active, and vigorous – and this was to be admired, whatever sort of plumbing you had. Likewise, to be blauður – soft and weak – was to be despised, whatever sort of plumbing you had.[11]

We who seek to revive the religions of the past should not bring into the present the attitudes of our ancestors towards gender and especially not something as historically nebulous and indefinable as “homosexuality.” We do not share cultures with our ancestors even if we seek to share their religions. And we certainly cannot base our objections on religious grounds; the Christians can claim their god told them homosexuality is wrong (debatable) but our gods have told us no such thing. There is no real reason not to be open-minded and tolerant about gender and sexuality because there are no real arguments to be made against doing so.
Notes:

[1] Joan Breton-Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece (Princeton University Press, 2007), 19-20.
[2] Breton-Connelly (2007), 22. See also Cynthia Eller, Am I a Woman?: A Skeptic’s Guide to Gender (Beacon Press, 2004).
[3] Marilyn Katz, “Ideology and ‘The Status of Women’ in Ancient Greece,” History and Theory 31 (1992), 92. With regard to “homosexual” or “gay/lesbian,” and the effect of using one term over another see Steve Williams, “Gay and Lesbian or Homosexual? What’s in a Word?” http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/gay-and-lesbian-or-homosexual-does-it-matter/
[4] See Ray Laurence, Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome (Continuum, 2009), 84-86 for a discussion of views of “homosexuality”in the Roman world.
[5] Katz (1992), 92.
[6] Carol Clover, “Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe,” Speculum 68 (1993), 372.
[7] Clover (1993), 380.
[8] Robert Ferguson, The Vikings: A History (Viking Penguin, 2009), 234.
[9] Clover (1993), 375.
[10] Nancy Marie Brown, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt, 2007), 74.
[11] Brown (2007), 74.

Oct 072010
 

It’s hardly a secret that certain elements in the United States desire to overturn the Constitution and bring America to a theocratic form of government, in the process turning the clock back on the European Enlightenment and re-writing the history of the past thousand years or so.

The process has already begun. The United States dodged a bullet during the Bush administration, when dominionists came closest to controlling the government. It was a near thing and while one would think the election of a left-leaning centrist president would put the brakes on the drift, it has not. The Religious Right is as potent a force as ever.

Though Evangelicals comprise only about 25% of the population, and extremists/fundamentalists only about half that, their influence is all out of proportion with their numbers thanks to their wealth and their positions in government. Eight years of owning an administration did not hurt their cause at all, however much they might complain after the fact.

Today, xenophobia and Islamophobia have become central to the conservative platform. We are told that Sharia Law threatens to overturn our Constitution, but it is not Sharia Law that we are threatened with but Mosaic Law, which to all intents in purposes is identical, save for the name of the god involved, and who will be calling the shots.

For those who are either irreligious or follow spiritual paths other than Christianity, one is as bad as the other, and neither of these essentially Bronze Age law codes has any place in a modern liberal democracy which enshrines ideas of diversity, pluralism, and individual human rights. It must be remembered that the Old Testament enshrines none of these things. The Mosaic Law is not about rights but about obligations and restrictions; it is not inclusive but exclusive.

Where does this drift leave those belonging to alternative religions, minority groups like modern Paganism, which itself is a diverse collection of spiritual paths? Clearly, a theocracy – Christian or Islamic – is not to be desired. Pagan religion was suppressed for many centuries. As late as the 18th century, some American colonies had law codes as repressive as the fifth century Theodosian Code. A prison term awaited anyone who denied the Trinity or the Scriptures.

The American Revolution and the Constitution that was its aftermath, that was the highest development of the European Enlightenment, changed all that. State sponsored religion, that scourge of the Old World, was banished from these shores by liberalism and its victory over the status quo.

So modern conservative Christians want to turn the clock back, and to a period that left Paganism – or any other religion, even other monotheisms – outlawed. Do not forget that in the early days of the colonies both Catholicism and Judaism were outlawed. Do not forget that some of these prejudices remained so ingrained that the United States did not get its first Catholic president until John F. Kennedy in 1961. He remains our only Catholic president.

The religious landscape of America has changed greatly since the 18th century, when most Americans were Protestants of one denomination or another. We have more Catholics (of many varieties) and more Jews and we have Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and others, including Pagans. That this religious diversity did not emerge until state-sponsored religion was banished is no accident and no mystery.

Historian A.H. Armstrong relates for us the legacy of Christian intolerance:

The choice of the way of intolerance by the authorities of Church and empire in the late fourth century has had some very serious and lasting consequences. The last vestiges of its practical effects, in the form of the imposition of at least petty and vexatious disabilities on forms of religion not approved by the local ecclesiastical establishment, lasted in some European countries well into my lifetime. And theoretical approval of this sort of intolerance has often long outlasted the power to apply it in practice. After all, as late as 1945 many approved Roman Catholic theologians in England, and the Roman authorities, objected to a statement on religious freedom very close to Vatican II’s declaration on that subject.

If this is not damning enough, Armstrong goes on to say,

In general, I do not think that any Christian body has ever abandoned the power to persecute and repress while it actually had it. The acceptance of religious tolerance and freedom as good in themselves has normally been the belated, though sometimes sincere and whole-hearted, recognition and acceptance of a fait accompli. This long persistence of Theodosian intolerance in practice and its still longer persistence in theory has certainly been a cause, though not the only cause, of that unique phenomenon of our time, the decline not only of Christianity but all forms of religious belief and the growth of a totally irreligious and unspiritual materialism.

Conservative Christianity has driven people away from traditional religion but it has not forgotten them, and has in the process created a whole new group of non-believers known as atheists who find religion reprehensible. By religion, of course, they mean religion in the Christian sense. But alternative religions – unfairly – share the fallout. Religion in the modern sense has become the problem. In the ancient world, religion was the solution, transcending cultural and ethnic barriers and bringing people of diverse beliefs together. It can be that way again. There is no reason religion has to remain defined solely by one restrictive group of believers.

But only if theocracy is kept at bay. The threat is real. More than a few Republican candidates belief that the Ten Commandments should be legislated into law. They speak openly of bringing prayer back into school, and of making social work the sole domain of Christian groups, which would make all needy Americans victims of unwanted proselytizing, of re-writing school textbooks to bring them in line with conservative ideology, of teaching Christian creationism in our public schools. In ways large and small, all over America, the First Amendment of the Constitution is under attack.

It is essential, I think, for Pagans of all religious minorities in this country, to remember their history, and if they do not know it, to learn it. We have everything to lose and nothing to gain by a rightward turn in matters of religion. We can argue about conservative and liberal politics and until conservative politics became so closely tied up with conservative Christianity, these did not matter so much where the First Amendment is concerned. But until the Republican Party divorces the Religious Right, religious minorities must remain on their guard.

Aug 272010
 

Islamophobia has been on the rise since 2001. The latest cause célèbre of conservative opponents of Islam is the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center. The extent of this opposition is shown by the intentional mislabeling of this project as the “Ground Zero Mosque” despite the by now well known facts – that it is not at Ground Zero but two blocks away (it is not even visible from Ground Zero) and it is not a mosque, cut a community center with a prayer area. Imagine a hospital with a chapel. Do we call that a church?

I don’t. I go into a hospital quite frequently which has not only a chapel but pictures of Jesus on a little table by the door.

Things have gotten so out of control that it is being suggested by some on the right that great Americans “give up their rights” and that Muslims ought to forfeit their Constitutional guarantee of free exercise and go somewhere else, or that Islam is not really a religion at all but a cult, and is therefore not protected by the Constitution. Qur’an burnings have even been announced; an act of violence by Christians somehow meant to demonstrate “once and for all” that Islam is a violent religion.

What is a Pagan to think about this feeding frenzy of angry monotheists? One possible response would be to say, “Well, it’s between them; it doesn’t concern me.” I am here to argue that such a response would be mistaken. It does concern us. It concerns everyone because it concerns a Constitutional guarantee that is under attack by the dominant culture.

Conservative Christians have constructed a new narrative for America, a Mythic America that was founded by and for Christians, an America in which free exercise applies only to Christians, and in which the wall of separation is a myth. The First Amendment ensures that all Americans can practice their religion of choice – or none at all. When the dominant culture – in this case Christianity – takes it upon itself to decide to whom Constitutional guarantees apply, it is time to worry.

Naturally, anyone who defends Islamic rights is accused at worst of being a terrorist, or of being somebody who is “soft” on terrorism. Islam has become the communism of the new millennium, and we should all be searching under our beds for Islamofascists, one of the wonder new terms the right has gifted us. I have been attacked myself, and just recently, for defending Islamic rights in this country. For it is not just conservative Christians who are up in arms and misinformed, but Pagans too. The hysteria is widespread.

But I am not here to defend Islam. My own views on monotheism are hardly a secret to anyone who has read my pieces over the past few years. But my views on monotheism in general or Islam in particular are hardly applicable to this case, for this case is not about Islam but about the Constitution. And the Constitution says that a Muslim group can build a community center wherever they want. There is nothing illegal about it. They did not steal the land. They made a deal with a developer and they are using the site of an old coat factory in the same way that some Christian-oriented group might.

The only difference is that they are Muslims.

And it was Muslim terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The thing is, it wasn’t THESE Muslims. And mis-characterizations of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a man with a reputation as a progressive interfaith leader, as an agent of America’s destruction are simply character attacks aimed at creating at atmosphere of fear and resentment. Fear is the coinage of Republican politics and has been since 2001. Fear of minorities, fear of immigrants, fear of non-Christians, fear of feminists, secular humanists, atheists, the LGBT community – and fear of Islam. It is easy to rally people around fear-inspiring causes – Irish immigrants, Germans in WWI, Japanese in WWII, communists in the 50s, Muslims today.

The situation gets very confused – as it’s meant to – fear mongering inspires neither calmness nor rational thought. Fear demands that people respond on a visceral, atavistic level, from the gut, in the same way that George W. Bush ran the country for eight years, from the gut. It is an anti-intellectual stimulant, fear is, and it brooks no argument.

For a Pagan, to get back to my original point, such attacks should resonate on a level invisible to most monotheists, who have a long history of being the persecutors rather than the persecuted. Once upon a time it was the witches who were being sometimes literally fed to the fires of hate. It isn’t all that long ago that being a Pagan was against the law, or that being a Pagan could cost you your job or your home. Rather than jumping up and joining those who would tear down freedom of religion, we ought to be defending those whose rights are under attack. Because next time, it could be us.

Can anyone forget the words of Jerry Falwell or the agreement of Pat Robertson in the aftermath of 9/11 on the 700 Club?:

JERRY FALWELL: And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we’ve been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters — the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats — what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact — if, in fact — God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven’t even begun to see what they can do to the major population.

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well yes.

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

Can we so easily forget that it was Pagans Falwell blamed first, and not Islam? Does anyone seriously think that if they succeed in depriving the world’s second largest religion of their Constitutional rights that they will hesitate to do the same to Pagans?

The threat to the Constitution is very real. Conservative Christians, religious zealots known as dominionists, wield a degree of power in this country far out of proportion to their numbers. Study right-wing Christian theocracy; study the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Study Sarah Palin and her witch-hunting pastor. People like to scoff, but then, people scoffed at Hitler too.

And look where they ended up.

No, I don’t have to think twice to know where I stand. With religious freedom and with the Constitutional guarantees I was born with, and not just for me, but for everyone.

Jul 302010
 

A pluralistic and diverse society is not easy to manage. One would think with several centuries of ethnic mixing, particularly in a country as diverse as the United States, that people would be used to getting along, or at least tolerating the differences between one another. But that does not seem to be the case. Our society seems to be fragmenting rather than blending.

There are many factors which give rise to antagonism: religion, nationalism, ethnicity, political ideology, and the old Marxist bogeyman, economics. And while we think of ourselves as a melting pot, the degree of mixing which has taken place has recently been called into question. We may co-exist to a degree but inter-marrying is less common.

Daniel T. Lichter recently reported on CNN that “According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, one of every seven new marriages in 2008 was interracial or interethnic — the highest percentage in U.S. history.”

One in seven.

That isn’t a lot. About 14%. And “seemingly overlooked in the Pew Report is the finding that less than 5 percent of all married whites have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. The vast majority of whites today — as in the past — marry other whites” (The Supreme Court ruling that outlawed state prohibitions against interracial marriage did not come about until 1967).

Keep in mind too that some people marry only within the “tribe.” It was widely believed that Swedes and Norwegians couldn’t live together and many European ethnic groups arriving in the United States clustered together, out of need or desire. So even among “whites” there were limitations on the mixing taking place.

Of course, some whites feel differently, seeing even that miniscule amount (because it is rising) as a threat to white America. “Their concerns,” Lichter goes on to say, “are heightened by recent Census Bureau projections that the U.S. will become a majority-minority society by the middle of the century.”

Will the rising tide of immigration and immigrant birth finally complete the process of mixing?

In what can hardly be called a surprise, CNN recently reported that a new poll “indicates Americans have complicated views towards immigrants.”

The poll, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey, shows that “the vast majority believe that most immigrants are basically good, honest people who are hard-working. However, nearly seven in ten say that immigrants are a burden on the taxpayer, 62 percent think they add to the crime problem, and 59 percent believe they take jobs away from Americans.”

Ouch. From the descendants of immigrants. Sounds like today’s immigrants are getting the same treatment once meted out to the Irish.

This poll is not referring simply to immigrants from south of the border, though I would be surprised if such thoughts did not influence the respondents. Instead, the poll, released Wednesday, “asks about all people who have immigrated from other countries in the past ten years, and not just about illegal immigrants in the U.S.” Doubtless far fewer immigrants today are “white” Anglo-Saxon compared to when our ancestors arrived from the Old World. Probably, far fewer of them are Protestants.

“The results may explain why most Americans think that the policies that made the U.S. a ‘melting pot’ strengthened the country a century ago but do not make the country stronger today,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

CNN asks whether, taking the “melting pot” metaphor a bit further, do Americans think that immigrants should maintain their own culture, or blend into the existing culture in this country?

The answer: “Two-thirds of whites say that immigrants should give up some important aspects of their culture to blend in; only about four in ten Hispanics, and an equal number of blacks, agree with that view,” adds Holland.

When my great-grandfather Tollef arrived in the Unied States, he did not speak any English. He wrote his letters home in Swedish. Wrote from the ranks of the Union Army during the Civil War. Was he less of an American because he kept elements of his native culture?

And how about Pagans? Paganism is and always has been a diverse phenomenon; all sorts of cultures, all sorts of ethnicities. This is as true today as it was in the ancient world. The common denominator was polytheism. This is not always the case today, but despite a broader interpretation of religion and spirituality, there is still a rejection of the Judeo-Christian idea of monotheism. There is the inclusion of nature, the inclusion of the feminine. There is a lot of inclusion and a lot less exclusion.

But even this rejection of one world view and the adoption of another does not have as a goal the destruction or negation of what is rejected. It adds a voice to the harmony; it does not remove one. It is more a matter advocating an acceptance of alternative forms of religion. The view of Judeo-Christian monotheism is, on the other hand, that all alternative forms of religion are inferior, wrong, and must (and will eventually) give way to the “True” religion.

Of course, we have three competing Abrahamic faiths all insisting they have possession of that exclusive Truth so the religious issue is problematic, especially when the sacred teachings of none of them espouse tolerance. After all, where the capital-T truth is concerned, there is no room for tolerance of what is not true. Even if alternative religionists wanted to join the True religion they couldn’t; there is no way to tell who has it, if anybody does.

The evils of nationalism have been well noted. The First World War is about as powerful a comment as one can make on the subject. The 60s anti-war protests about as powerful a rejection. Now, with the rise of American Exceptionalism, the pendulum has swung back the other way and the “constructed other” is again rejected, not welcomed. Hate and mixing are mutually compatible. American Exceptionalism is as ugly today as Prussian Nationalism was a century ago.

And unrestrained, it may lead us to the same place.

Ethnic squabbles are nothing new. They’re old beyond the extent of the historical record. We can look at the Old World over the past few centuries. We can look at the Balkans today or at Africa. America has had its own share.

But despite all these differences, people can get along. It has been proven. By Pagans. And I would argue that if Pagans cannot manage it today, nobody can. We have our own history to support us. We do not all have to believe the same things, or anything at all, to get along. Because there is no pressing need for others to believe the way you do, the religious equation ought to simply go away.

But how do Pagans cope with increasing polarization in the religious and political landscapes? Ancient pagans might have been drawn together by what they shared – polytheism’s non-exclusivity – but today’s version of religion – largely monotheistic and exclusivist, pushes people apart. Nothing can be shared when each group adopts an exceptionalist stance, be it due to religion or an excess of nationalism, ideology or some other cause.

Fast growing religion or not, Pagans are a drop in the bucket of American diversity. Can what we have in common, in the words of Jan Assmann (Moses the Egyptian 1997:3), “function as a means of intercultural translatability”? Fostering our common humanity, looking for connections, seems far more helpful a course than creating more gaping cracks between us, doesn’t it?

Disagree we might, but if we Pagans cannot tolerate each other, if we can’t translate inter-culturally, how can there be hope for anyone else?

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted July 16-21, with 1,018 adult Americans questioned by telephone, including a special sample of 308 black and 303 Hispanic respondents. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Jul 252010
 

I am just dropping by to let folks know that I’m recovering from my recent heart surgery and that at long last I’m getting back to writing. I’ve begun posting to A Heathen’s Day again and I’ve published a couple of pieces at Politicususa, and one at GodsOwnParty. It’s time to start posting here again as well.

It’s been a rough road and it’s been difficult to get back to writing. At first it was the drugs in the system, clouding my mind and making it difficult to think ideas through to where I needed them to go. Even when the drugs started to leave my system my hands and arms were weak from two weeks in a coma and three weeks in the hospital. I’d lost so much muscle mass I could barely write my own name, let alone hold my hands over a keyboard for any length of time.

But that is mostly behind me now. The chemicals are gone and I can type and I’m working on an article now, which I hope to post soon. I appreciate Jason’s patience with my lengthy convalescence and I look forward to being back among you all, left, right, and middle.

- Hrafnkell

Mar 062010
 

The other day I publicly condemned the American Family Association as nithings on A Heathen’s Day – and that’s a very bad thing to say about somebody. It’s not a term I use lightly.  For the record, a nithing (ON niðingr) is a villain, scoundrel, coward, vile wretch, and more, and a niðing deed (niðingsverk) is an ill deed, or villainy; a person guilty of this sort of behavior was held in contempt.

The nature of my complaint is the projection of ancient law codes into the present day. It is, after all, 2010, the Twenty First Century, a supposedly enlightened era, and many thousands of years have passed since the earliest law codes came into existence – far in advance of the oft-appealed to Decalogue of the Hebrew Bible.

Each ancient culture had its own religion – shaped by its environment – and its own law code – also shaped by its environment. And these religions and law codes did not necessarily have anything to do with each other. Roman law for example – the Twelve Tablets – were civil law, written by humans for humans, not handed down from on high or imposed by gods on mortals, just as was the Greek legal code of Solon of Athens, upon which the Romans claimed to base their laws.

My own Norse ancestors understood that, in the words of Robert Ferguson (The Vikings 2009:31), “ethics were the province of man and the law,” and it is significant that the word sin (“synd”) does not appear in any Viking Age literary source until circa 1030 C.E., and then in a Christian context. As Ferguson points out, “Viking Age ethics were based on the opposition of shame and honour.”

Witnesses were all important – business had to be done publicly so everyone would know what you had sworn to or promised or agreed to – and shame for your failures would do the rest. This legal system was then a sort of self-regulating affair (an especially workable plan in small self-contained communities), and at gatherings such as the regional Things, these laws would be enforced by the community. Despite swearing oaths on a gold ring sacred to Thor, the laws themselves were not divine in origin.

This paradigm of separation of law and divine is generally true of the ancient world. As Bart Ehrman observes, “Greco-Roman cults did not overly concern themselves with doctrines about the gods or with the moral behavior of their devotees” (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 2004:33-34).

It seems to me a preferable system in some respects. Nobody was demonized in the Judeo-Christian sense or held to be “turning away from god” because they stole something. It wasn’t a god’s wrath you had to fear but that of your neighbors; it was a civil matter. Religion doesn’t have to be used as a hammer to enforce narrow – often myopic – conceptions of morality.

Not that ancient secular punishments were any less draconian than those found in the Hebrew Bible. For example, Ferguson recounts (2009:32) how a thief who tried to steal from you could be legally killed, and that even a thief convicted of a “petty offense” could be made to run the gauntlet, in which the people – his neighbors – threw stones and turf at him.

I can’t speak for all Heathens, let alone all Pagans, but I think most would agree that bringing back the gauntlet is not the first best thing we could do. Roman law could be pretty brutal too, even before the heightened judicial savagery of the first Christian century and beyond. Crosses, anyone?

As Ferguson points out (2009:39), “northern Heathendom” did not lack a culture. “Viking Age Scandinavians had their own cosmology, their own astronomy, their own gods, their own social structure, their own form of government, and their own notions of how best to live and die.” The same could be said of any ancient culture. The same could be said of the Israelites: Different, unique and true for them.

So how is it that some fundamentalist Christians, the kind Mikey Weinstein spoke of in my interview with him last week, think that the peculiarities of ancient Jewish law supersede the Constitution and a long tradition of Western legal traditions? How does the Law of Moses trump the laws of the Heathen Norse, or the Law of Solon?

Well, for one thing, they claim it is divinely inspired, and that “god’s law” trumps “man’s law.” This conceit has come to light most recently in the demand made by the American Family Association (AFA) that the killer whale that killed its trainer at SeaWorld Orlando be stoned.

Yes, stone the whale. Oh, and stone the poor curator in charge as well.

Why? Well, because the Bible demands it:

“When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)

And,

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

This is all well and fine for the seventh century B.C.E. but this is the year 2010. We don’t live in ancient Israel anymore than we live in Viking Age Norway; we live in the United States of America. By my reckoning, some three thousand years have gone by. We have the Constitution, based not on Biblical principles but on the principles of the European Enlightenment. We have a long tradition of secular law that now governs and regulates our diverse society.

Why can’t we just make the whale run the gauntlet? And maybe the curator too? Or maybe we should nail them both to crosses, or follow Assyrian law and impale them. After all, Moshe Weinfeld (“Deuteronomy: The Present State of Inquiry,” JBL 86 (1967), 253-256) demonstrates that a series of maledictions in Deuteronomy 28 “can be proved to have been transposed directly from Assyrian contemporary treaties into the book of Deuteronomy” (cf. idem, “Traces of Assyrian Treaty Formulae in Deuteronomy,” Biblica 46 (1965), 417-427).

Who knows, the curator may even be witch and the whale his familiar. Maybe we should start gathering wood…

The absurdity of each position enumerated above should be plain to all. The Constitution – not the Bible – not Heathen Norse Thing-law, governs our society. The Founding Fathers determined – whatever revisionist fundamentalist propagandists now assert – that God – any god – does not get a vote.

So to the AFA and the like-minded I say: The Constitution, the law of mortals, rules in the United States, not the Bronze Age vassal treaty known as the Decalogue.

Note:

The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, is nothing extraordinary or unique in the eastern Mediterranean basin of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age.  There are actually three versions of the Decalogue in the Bible, Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, though Exodus 20 is probably the most used and best known. In actuality, there are 19 commandments contained in the Decalogue but they are grouped so as to make just ten, as stated in Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13 and Deuteronomy 10:4.

Links:

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/03/american-family-associati_n_484022.html

A Heathen’s Day: http://aheathensday.com/2010/03/nithing-of-the-week-4.html

Feb 262010
 

On Thursday, 25 February 2010, I sat down for an interview with Mr. Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Mr. Weinstein is, according to his bio, “the undisputed leader of the national movement to restore the obliterated wall separating church and state in the most technologically lethal organization ever created by humankind; the United States armed forces. Described by Harper’s magazine as the constitutional conscience of the U.S. military, a man determined to force accountability.” I would like to again thank Mr. Weinstein for taking time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me, and I apologize in advance for any remaining typos.

PNC: I’d like to begin by asking you about the incident at the Air Force Academy.  Now as I understand it, it was a client of yours who saw the cross propped against the rock at the circle of stones. This was reported and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) began an inquiry but I haven’t read much about it recently. Has the incident created any tensions in the community or in the Air Force Academy itself? Did the cadets take it in stride?

MW: We were upset at first that it took two-and-a-half weeks before our client, Tech. Sgt. Longcrier, who heads the earth-centered/based group up there, was even interviewed by the OSI. And of course we got involved because we felt that there have been a number of communication gaps. And initially we were very pleased, then we were very upset and now we’re back to thinking things are moving along. But look, it’s going to be very hard to have any clues about who did that; very, very difficult.

Tensions? Yeah! You’ve got people in the world who say the academy should never even have accommodated the earth-centered Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, what have you faith groups there. We were also reached out to by Native American spiritualists because they’re saying you know we’re earth centered also and we greatly predate Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many current Pagan groups who’ve been around for a long time.

And so I think it was great that this was accommodated but at the same time there shouldn’t be too many gold stars out there. I mean, People have a right to practice whatever faith they want to.

So in this instance we refer to this a hate crime. And this upset I’m sure a lot of Christians who said, “Well wait, it was just a cross.”

And our response is: “Yeah, well what would happen if you put a pentagram on a church, or put a crescent moon on a church, or put a crucifix on a mosque, or put a swastika on a synagogue?”

But people are just not smart enough to understand those things. I think we are moving along in a better fashion now and certainly when we broke the story we clearly significantly sensitized everybody and so I think that from that perspective – although it’s unlikely we’ll catch who did that – we’ve made it clear that the stakes are high if you try that again.

PNC: So nobody had the courage of their convictions and stepped forward and was anxious to claim responsibility.

MW: No, not at all.

PNC: No instant martyrs there.

MW: Right. We had people argue, “Well we just thought it was a campfire,” which is just complete and total crap. So we think we stand in a better position now and the cadets that are part of this group – Sgt. Longcrier leads it – I think feel emboldened and like I said before we want that worship place – it’s just like a church or mosque or synagogue or what have you – and it needs to be treated with the absolute same level of respect.

The problem is that there is a tremendous dearth of education about the Constitution in our U.S. military – among our officers, NCOs, cadets and midshipmen. They just don’t know what they don’t know and that’s very, very dangerous.

If you think of the military with all of our nukes, conventional and laser-guided weapons – if you think of it as a civilization – and I love to use H.G. Wells’ definition of civilization, which is “a race between education and catastrophe” – and catastrophe is currently winning in the U.S. Military. This is has been the case for humanity. Whether it’s trying to fight a disease or prejudice – which is another form of a disease – or what have you, the concept of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution – which by the way represents the first time in the history of human kind that any nation state created a governing document that does not invoke somebody’s particular deity .

That by itself is education but it’s being re-framed by the Christian nationalist historians that are out there that argue that Franklin and Thomas Paine and Madison and Jefferson were all fundamentalist Christians and they really wanted this country to look like an enlarged version of the “700 Club.”

PNC: It’s amazing that even confronted by the facts, for example Thomas Paine’s writings about Christianity and his opinion of it…

MW: And Jefferson composed a Bible devoid of any miracles. It’s very likely he was an atheist and most of them were deists or agnostics and they looked assiduously at European history where most of the tyrannies that had occurred there were by men in political power or by men of the cloth. They looked at Cromwell in England; they obviously didn’t even have to leave our shores: They looked at the Salem witch trials and said “Not here.”

PNC: What do you think about claims like that made by the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission which claims that Christianity is under attack and that “a violent anti-Christian spirit is growing in America.”

MW: This reminds me of the famous plea by the young man who has murdered his parents: He’s in court and has now been found guilty and upon sentencing he throws himself upon the mercy of the court and goes: “Please your honor, please, have mercy, after all I’m an orphan.” Or if you will the playground bully who after beating a poor kid into the dust is caught by a teacher monitor and says, “This kid has put bruises and scrapes on my fists.” I hardly find them to be the aggrieved party; that the poor Christians are under attack here. First of all let’s keep in mind who we are fighting.

Our foundation is in a battle, a war with a subset of Christianity just as we are at war with a subset of Islam.  We are not at war with all of Islam though that’s the way it’s portrayed by the Christian fundamentalists. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term that “if not you need to be.” We are at war with Wahhabist fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are trying to impose Sharia Law on the rest of us.

We represent over 16,300 active duty Unites States Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, cadets and midshipmen at the three major service academies – the Air Force Academy, West Point, Annapolis – and ROTC cadets and midshipmen, reserve and Guard units, Coast Guardsmen and vets.

96% of our clients are believers in Jesus Christ. They’re either Protestants or Catholics. About three-fourths of that 96% are Protestants of a complete rainbow of different denominations, including something like 21 varieties of Baptist. One-fourth of the 96% are Roman Catholic. Most of our staff are Christians; most of our supporters, most of our donors.

So for people to say me or our foundation is anti-Christian we consider that to be defamation because that’s like saying we’re anti-Islam because we’re fighting Wahhabist fundamentalists. We’re fighting a subset of Christianity with a long technical name and it’s known as: Pre-millennial Dispensational Reconstructionist Dominionist Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity – it’s about 12.6% of the American public. They are like mirror images of the Islamic Taliban and al Qaeda . This is like the fundamentalist Christian Taliban.

PNC: Yes, they’ve been referred to on the Internet as “Talibengelicals.”

MW: Yes, that’s it exactly. So if you’re going to say Christianity is under attack, no sorry. The sad part of this story is that maniacs like these people are very generous with their money and their time. The vast majority of Americans who are Catholics or Protestants are not. They sit back or they pull lint out of their belly button, have one thumb in their mouth and one up their ass and play switch. They’re going to have to get off their ass and do something or we’re going to lose everything. If this war is cast as a cosmic war – a religious war – between Jesus and Allah we lose because that is exactly what our enemies want to cast it as.

Look, we defeated fascist like Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in World War Two in just 44 months and guess what?  We didn’t have to become fascist like them. We don’t have to become fascists like them. We do not have to become the American military Christian Taliban and al Qaeda to defeat the Islamic version.

PNC: Right, we do their job for them.

MW: Exactly. We’re already doing that. We broke that Trijicon gun sight story. You saw the gun sight story right? That’s ours also and it’s astonishing, the level of ignorance in this country about our Constitution. The Tea Partiers say, “We’re looking at the Constitution and nowhere in there does it say separation of church and state.”

Well I got a couple of words for these idiots. The first is that The Constitution and the Bill of Rights -which is of course the first ten amendments – are only a few words. But over the hundreds of years we’ve had construing federal case law that interprets the Constitution and those are millions of words.

For instance, nowhere in the Constitution does it say slavery is prohibited, but slavery is prohibited now. Also nowhere does it say that in public you can’t say “nigger,” “kike,” “spick” or “dago,” but see, we’ve had the Constitution interpreted by our federal courts saying, “No those are fighting words and they are an exception to the First Amendment right of free speech,” just like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. I thought at first that this was intuitive but it’s not, the average American has no clue about that. For instance Miranda rights are also not in the Constitution. See – that’s where the word Miranda comes from – it was a Supreme Court case. You follow me?

PNC: Yes.

And there are a million or two other things that exist now that were not in the Constitution but exist now because of case law. So if you’re going to say the concept of church and state does doesn’t say it right there, well yes, that’s a foundational aspect of this country. And that’s how it’s been interpreted. They go back and say, “That’s just a letter of Thomas Jefferson to them Danbury Connecticut Baptists”… no sorry, that isn’t the case.

PNC: They also like to denounce the treaty of Tripoli.

MW: Yes, that’s right. They find all kinds of ways even though Washington negotiated it, Adams signed it, it was unanimously passed by the United States Senate…they find all kinds of ways of saying that doesn’t exist either. Well, good luck. It’s embarrassing enough that we have to go with this “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing. Every NATO ally allows GLBT members of the military to serve. Our CIA and FBI do it. The countries that currently don’t: Libya, Iraq, Iran and the U.S. – Congratulations U.S.

PNC: Nice company.

MW: Yes.

PNC: I find one of the most frightening things to be that series of books, the “Political Incorrect Guide to “fill in the blank”.”

MW: Particularly The one about Islam which is sold in every military PX that you can find and it’s just like the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” you know, the defamation blood libel book against the Jews. It’s unbelievable. In other words, all of Islam is bad; they’re all devils.

PNC: I think a better title would be the “Politically Inaccurate guide to…” We find out that the true Age of Reason was the Middle Ages that people that oppose the Bible oppose reason…

MW: It’s so self-evident. I like what Carl Sagan, the late-famous astronomer said, “Look, absence of the evidence of god,” he admitted, “is not necessarily conclusive evidence of absence.” It’s just his way of saying, “I don’t see anything.” And that’s my right. I don’t have to; I don’t have to say I believe. We have people tell us all the time that America was founded as a Christian nation, and I’ll give you that, America, the colonies- but not the United States of America. It was specifically not founded that way. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony – the Puritans – they had religious freedom: If you didn’t like the way they believed you were free to leave.

Roger Williams up in Rhode Island tried to establish more equanimity up there but it’s amazing. It’s one thing for a public school system or a police department or a fire department to be filled with these fundamentalist Christians but it’s quite another, and listen carefully here, when they are inextricably intertwined into the very particulate of our “Pentacostalagon” – what we used to call our Pentagon.

You see we’re not on this call talking about a particular problem or an issue or challenge we’re talking about a national security threat and here is the calculus of that national security threat: It is a national security threat internally to this country every bit as much in magnitude and formidability as what we are seeing externally by now from a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda at least as strong as it was on 9/11. And here’s what it is: We have a fanatical religiosity – in this case dominionist fundamentalist Christianity – mixed in with actual weapons of mass destruction. We have them, the other side – thank god – doesn’t – yet. Throw in a dash of terribly misguided patriotism, complete unfettered access to everything due to the draconian specter of command influence, a total abrogation of the oath that everyone is supposed to take to preserve, protect, support and defend the Constitution, and a total dearth of any restraint, oversight, and supervision – and what you’ve got is a national security threat that is so serious that this so unbelievable that nobody believes it unless they’re complicit. That’s it. That’s what we’re facing.

PNC: What do you think about the role of the Oath Keepers as they’re calling themselves – where they recruit military personnel to swear not to violate the Constitution…

MW: Here is the problem with the Oath Keepers. You see they have a version of the Constitution that is like the version of the blind person who reaches out, touches the nose of the camel and thinks he is touching an orange.

We promise you we will not do the following: We will never disarm the American people etc. The problem with the Oath Keepers is that they’re completely infused with fundamentalist Christianity. Their oath is to their version – this warped, perverted, tortured version – of the Constitution.

PNC: It is interesting that these groups only arose after President Obama’s election.

Look, we’re old enough to remember a president by the name of Ike – Eisenhower. Remember his famous warning at his farewell address? What we’re talking about this morning on this call is that we’re fighting is actually a fundamentalist Christian parachurch military corporate proselytizing complex. We talk about the Oath Keepers or Force Ministries or Officers Christian Fellowship or God-chasers or the Navigators or Military ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ.. These are parachurch organizations mixed in with the military, mixed in with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grummond.

We can go on and on and on. This is what we’re dealing with. The Family. You may have seen The C Street situation that came out this past summer. It really is this gigantic breathing, living, driven, wanton, willful, purposeful desire to make everybody the right type of Christian and the astonishing and sickly sad irony is that it’s kind of the flip side of what we’re seeing from the Wahhabist Islamic maniacs.

My mother used to tell me “moderation in all things including moderation,” but remember Goldwater’s famous ‘64 nomination acceptance speech that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Too many people are being moderate and that’s the problem. Or that’s the national security threat.

PNC: What’s the atmosphere for them at present with the growing polarization of the religious landscape?

MW: There’s two ways. We feel emboldened because nature abhors a vacuum. If they have a problem they can come to us and we are a very militant organization. Our militancy is in support of the Constitution. We’ll move very quickly into the media and the court systems. But many times it’s such an overtly fundamentalist Christian military that the moderate progressive Christians sit back and do nothing. Same with the moderate Jews or Muslims. Every rabbi in the military who is a chaplain we refer to by the same last name – “Rabbi Speed Bump” – because that’s what they are for the fundamentalist juggernaut. The same with every – there are a few of them – Muslim chaplain in the military: They’re speed bumps. The problem is that if you’re not the appropriate type of Christian you’re a tarantula on a wedding cake and we all know how long tarantula’s on wedding cakes last – not very.

PNC:  Right. And unfortunately many Christians don’t understand the caveat “right kind of Christian”

MW: Correct.

PNC: and they see just a triumph for Christianity in terms of the Great Commission in Matthew. What they don’t realize is that they’re probably going to be categorized as heretics.

MW: Right. You see, the fundamentalist Christians love to look at the Great Commission pursuant to Mark 16.15 and Matthew 28.19 – one of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said: “Go and make disciple of all nations.” The difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical Christian – I want to stress that we have a number of evangelical Christian clients, supporters, donors and even on our staff -  evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are identical in that they want to turn you into their version of a Christian pursuant to the Great Commission. But an evangelical will say, “I realize I must comport my zeal to proselytize pursuant to the Great Commission in accordance with the time, place and manner restrictions of our Constitution and construing federal case law.” A fundamentalist will say “To hell and fuck the Constitution and case law because that’s just flawed man’s law and I will subordinate that to my Weaponized Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The non-Evangelical or fundamentalist Christians follow the great commandment which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which is two things – the Golden Rule, treat others as you want them to be treated and you will love the lord with all thy mind, soul and heart, and they follow the Great Commandment. The bottom line here is that the average person doesn’t understand the following thing about our Constitution and the Bible. The First Commandment is what? You cannot have any other gods but me. What does the first amendment say? Oh yes you can! That’s the problem. They don’t get that. Irrespective of what the first commandment is it doesn’t make any difference, because you’re not allowed to have any other gods.

PNC: They miss the fine distinction that they are allowed to have no other god if they so choose but they want to tell the rest of us we have to follow that too.

MW: That’s it.

PNC: I wanted to ask, I think you already answered this. Do you see the atmosphere improving in the military in light of the Air Force Academy putting up the stone circle? Are we winning or losing the battle.

MW: No, let me make it clear. It’s not getting better – for a couple of reasons. Unfortunately there is a seamless transition between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. We cannot get any traction in the White House, with the commander in chief. And I think that if he was aware of what’s going on I want to think he’d engage but how long can we continue to wait? Remember the movie Top Gun? In the end it was “Maverick , Engage, engage, engage and get into the fight.”

I’m a Republican but I’m a Republican who voted for Clinton twice, Gore, Kerry and Obama. And it seems that as I mentioned, the people are not educated and there is no ongoing program for it. What is civilization? Civilization is that race as H.G. Wells said, between education and catastrophe.  Catastrophe is winning. The people who are our enemies are the people who are complacent and do nothing. Remember that Edmund Burke statement that “All that is necessary for evil to win is for enough good men to do nothing.”

PNC: And we see conservatives quote that.

MW: Yes, of course they do and it’s astonishing, and at the same time it’s absurd to believe that we don’t separate church and state in this country, and of course that makes topical that famous statement by Voltaire that “he who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity.” To the side we’re fighting anyone who believes we have separation of church and state is absurd. We consider that to be the Dark Side of the Force. On our side of the Force if you don’t believe in separation of church and state you’re absurd. It’s a very, very pitched battle and there is no ongoing effort to educate members of the military. I’m sure you know about many of the Christian historical nationalist revisionist that have tried to push that alternative history that never happened in this country. As I said before, it is time to stand up and fight.

PNC: They have a history as it should have been and then they put a spin on facts so quickly you can’t keep up.

MW: I don’t know if you have ever read Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History of the United States.” That’s a powerful book. He writes from the perspective of the African Americans and the Native Americans. We’ve been spinning history for a long time but it’s another thing to spin it completely out of control. The concept of what they’re trying to do in Texas now with David Barton, complete revisionist history focusing on Christians. It’s astonishing.

PNC: Thank you Mr. Weinstein, I appreciate you taking the time to talk, and thank you for doing what you do.

Feb 202010
 

Author and professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College in California, Jamaica Kincaid (a native of Antigua in Haiti), recently visited Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). In remarks made there to the media she expressed wonder that it had taken an earthquake for the United States to take notice of Haiti’s impoverished state.

To this an IPFW employee responded that a number of American church groups had been in Haiti for years, “trying to help.”

Jamaica Kincaid responded that “I think, on the whole, church groups should be banned from these places” because given the predominance of Voodoo the Christians visiting there are trying to spread Christianity. This is not a surprising charge, given the activities of such groups in the US, who often coerce or force the people they purport to help to accept their religion in exchange for help.

Kincaid said, “Their main reason for going there is to eradicate this belief.”

She was worried that Christians in the audience would be offended, but she had the courage to say what needed to be said, what no doubt many of us had been thinking – this writer included.

What is happening in Haiti is another example of cultural genocide – the destruction of native cultures – a process that has been taking place since the fourth century everywhere Christian missionaries set foot. Anthropologists recognize what is taking place; the process, without naming religions, is recognized as taking place by the United Nations.

It is therefore not unreasonable to question the motives of the church group that was recently charged with kidnapping Haitian children to take across the border. What kind of saving, precisely, did they have in mind?

It is significant that the missionaries in question are from Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, which places a strong focus on Evangelization:

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.

The problem for them is that in their zeal, they forgot to ask permission. They were going to just whisk the children across the border into the Dominican Republic without asking. They were going to put them into an orphanage and you can be certain that they would be taught there to be good little Baptists, whatever form their own religion might be.

Does the “Great Commission” give Christian missionaries the right to trump the natural rights of others, particularly those who are at a disadvantage culturally or economically?

People talk about “Coca Cola culture” and “American cultural imperialism.” The German group Rammstein even wrote a song about it, “Amerika.” But why is nobody talking about religious imperialism? When I was a Lutheran, I did not bat an eye at the idea of missionaries. I can understand therefore why other Christians are silent on the evil taking place.

But why are we, as Pagans, as fellow ethnic religionists, silent?

This is a discussion which needs to take place, a debate we must have.

Paganism is ethnic religion. By that definition, Voodoo is Paganism. It is a religion of the place, and of a people, and like all Pagan religions it is under attack.

Those of the ancient world (Europe and the Middle East) were largely eradicated during the first few centuries of Christian dominance, usually through violent means. Since then, ethnic religion has continued to be assaulted by missionaries from various Christian denominations and groups.

Anyone unfamiliar with the Joshua Project should right this moment correct that hole in their knowledge base: Joshua Project – Unreached Peoples of the World

Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Jesus Christ.”

When, during the course of these missionary activities, a missionary runs afoul of the local beliefs he or she is attacking, and that missionary is killed, the missionary is instantly a martyr and the poor ethnic religionists are seen as anti-Christian and persecutors.

This has happened before, and it will happen again.

When will the day come when it is understood that different peoples have different beliefs, religions that are right for them (because they work for them) and when will these diverse religious views be not just tolerated but given equal footing, rather than seen as something inferior which needs to be improved?

Christians will talk about the fate of us poor souls who do not “know Christ” and they will have these conversations as though we are not in the room. I interjected myself into one such debate in the local paper, which graciously published my column on the grounds that those being discussed should have a voice. Neither of the two priests bothered to reply or address the points I raised.

My experience reflects the difficulty of establishing a dialogue with the dominant (Christian) culture in the Western world. It does not seem to occur to many Christians that other religions exist. This is evidence from the surprised responses we Pagans get when we express our religions.

They look at us like they would at a dog who suddenly spoke.

Whether intentional or not, their attitudes often smack of arrogance. Our own religions are not given serious consideration.

As the Pope has expressed it in a book of his own, Truth and Tolerance (2004) this is because “True” religion cannot be seen to be on an equal footing with other religions. Why? Because Christianity is “True” religion – all others are inferior.

And Truth, in the end, as he sees it (and as many Evangelicals see it) must trump tolerance.

It has been historically demonstrated on repeated occasions that marginalized groups have a difficult time establishing dialogue with dominant cultures. If you are not taken seriously, you will not be heard.

This is the struggle ethnic religionists face in Haiti. This is the struggle we all face with a dominant culture that often expresses itself intolerantly, whether out of carelessness, ignorance, or intent.

(Jamaica Kincaid’s visit to IPFW was originally reported in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, February 12, 2010)