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.

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.


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.

Aug 242010

[The following is a guest-post from Peter Dybing. Peter identifies himself as a human activist who happens to be Pagan rather than a Pagan activist. His activism has included direct action on environmental issues, civil rights issues and freedom of religion. His first activist role was a meeting with the Governor of Colorado concerning school integration in 1969 at eight years of age.]

Islamophobia: A Threat to the Pagan Community

From rural Wisconsin to lower Manhattan Americans are mobilizing in opposition to the location of Islamic places of worship in their communities. With images of September 11th etched in it’s collective subconscious, our nation is once again traversing the slippery slope that leads to religious persecution, fear and outright bigotry.

Islam has become the convenient target of defamation, hate, suspicion and direct verbal attacks.  Americans in ever growing numbers freely tell anti Islamic jokes in public places.  If these attacks were aimed at another faith, minority or ethnic group there would surly be a substantial backlash.

So why should the Neo Pagan community become involved in defending the rights of a belief system that holds views so foreign to our earth based community?

Islam, an incredibly diverse group of faiths, is faced with being branded as intolerant and violent due to the actions of radical fringe groups.  We in the Pagan community have experienced attempts to paint us all with the same brush when individuals who claim to be Pagan commit violent acts.  Recent events in New Mexico and Australia make this clear.

To stand by and allow these forms of attack encourages those who believe that our country should not be tolerant of a diversity of beliefs.  If we do not stand in support of inclusion and respect we risk our own fight for Pagan rights through our lack of action.

There are many well-meaning people who have expressed concern with the placement of the Mosque in New York City. There are others, however, who have taken this opportunity to spread fear, hate, and bigotry.  They must be confronted

All threats to religious rights and tolerance are a threat to our community, our nation and our ability to openly worship the divine as we please.

It is not easy to come to the defense of a belief system so different than ours. Nor was it easy for Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders to support the inclusion of Pagans in the interfaith movement. Yet, these leaders did it because it was the right thing to do. Now comes our opportunity to stand for what we believe.

Pagan Brothers and Sisters, join me in communicating to the Islamic community our support for their right to worship openly, when they want to and where they want to.  Confront those who oppose tolerance, Make our collective intent known.

In Service to the Goddess,
- Peter Dybing

I’d like to thank Peter for his guest post. For more debate and discussion concerning the Park51 community center and mosque in New York City, and Pagan reactions to that controversy, please see today’s post at The Wild Hunt. Also, I know this is a contentious issue, but please remember our comment policy, and keep discussions civil.