Saturday, April 01, 2006

A time for heresy

From Bill Moyers, always a good read: A Time For Heresy. My attempt at a summary of the main points:
Bill Clinton is a Baptist. So is Pat Robertson. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist. So is Jesse Helms. Al Gore is a Baptist. So is Jerry Falwell. No wonder Baptists have been compared to jalapeno peppers: one or two make for a tasty dish, but a whole bunch together will bring tears to your eyes.

Many Baptists are fundamentalists; they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible and the divine right of preachers to tell you what it means.

The Bible advocates violence like the Quran (burning witches, stoning adulteresses, endless massacres by Joshua and family, etc.), but with a higher illiteracy rate, Muslims hear Islam perverted by local preachers. For the literate, the only excuse for following preachers (and politicians), rather than the facts, is laziness.
They also believe in the separation of church and state only if they cannot control both. The only way to cooperate with fundamentalists, it has been said, is to obey them.

Baptists helped ... America’s great contribution to political science and practical politics – the independence of church and state... No religion was to become the official religion; you couldn’t be taxed to pay for my exercise of faith.

Said James Dunn: "The Supreme Court can’t ban prayer in school. Real prayer is always free." When the fundamentalists and their obliging politicians claimed that God had been expelled from the classroom, Dunn answered: "The god whom I worship and serve has a perfect attendance record and has never been tardy."

Unless your goal is to impress others with the amount of time you spend praying, talking about praying, and otherwise making your relationship with God as visible to your peers as possible. Not quite the goal, as I understand it.
Pain comes with freedom – it’s just the deal. The little gods don’t want you to grow, learn, think for yourself. But you have to test their truth claims against your own life’s experience – against your own faith and reason.

This is a time for heresy. American democracy is threatened by perversions of money, power, and religion. Money has bought our elections right out from under us. Power has turned government "of, by, and for the people" into the patron of privilege. And Christianity and Islam have been hijacked by fundamentalists who have made religion the language of power, the excuse for violence, and the alibi for empire.

In all countries, religious symbolism and rhetoric is power over those too lazy or igorant to try to understand the religion on their own, and to follow its implications. And as in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, patriotism (or "nationalism" if you're referring to any country but your own) can be inflated to religious proportions and distortions.

We were not supposed to be a country where the winners take all. The great progressive struggles in our history were waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich, share in the benefits of a free society. Today, however, the majority of Americans may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a good education for every child, and clean air and water, but there’s no government "of, by, and for the people" to deliver on those aspirations.

How did this happen? By design. For a quarter of a century now a ferocious campaign has been conducted to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual, cultural, and religious frameworks that sustained America’s social contract.

For more details, use your favorite search engine on any of the organizations referenced in this article: Funding the Right.
Their economic strategy was to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe for even cheaper labor, and relieve investors of any responsibility for the cost of society.
And companies, of course: recent legislation on lawsuit "reform" restricts the options for American citizens, but not those of corporations, which file 75% of civil lawsuits.
Their political strategy was to neutralize the independent media, create their own propaganda machine with a partisan press, and flood their coffers with rivers of money from those who stand to benefit from the transfer of public resources to elite control. Along the way they would burden the nation with structural deficits that will last until our children’s children are ready to retire, systematically stripping government of its capacity, over time, to do little more than wage war and reward privilege.
This strategy is known as "starving the beast": cut taxes and raise national debt, all the while refusing to reduce spending. As debt increases, the only politically viable solution is to cut social programs (since money thrown at defense budgets is beyond criticism) - the goal all along.
Their religious strategy was to fuse ideology and theology into a worldview freed of the impurities of compromise, claim for America the status of God’s favored among nations (and therefore beyond political critique or challenge), and demonize their opponents as ungodly and immoral.

At the intersection of these three strategies was money: Big Money.

That money isn’t going to come from regular folks – less than one half of one percent of all Americans made a contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004. No, the men and women who have mastered the money game have taken advantage of this fundamental weakness in our system – the high cost of campaigns – to sell democracy to the highest bidder.

The number of lobbyists registered to do business in Washington has more than doubled in the last five years. That’s 16,342 lobbyists in 2000 to 34,785 last year. Sixty-five lobbyists for every member of Congress.

The total spent per month by special interests wining, dining, and seducing federal officials is now nearly $200 million. Per month.
While the lobbyists are privately employed, it's a hard to take "small government" seriously when industry is spending such money sending more and more people to Washington. Given the span of their influence, this is evidently the situation Republicans want.
But it’s a small investment on the return. Just look at the most important legislation passed by Congress in the last decade.

There was the energy bill that gave oil companies huge tax breaks at the same time that Exxon Mobil just posted $36 billion in profits in 2005, while our gasoline and home heating bills are at an all-time high.

There was the bankruptcy “reform” bill written by credit card companies to make it harder for poor debtors to escape the burdens of divorce or medical catastrophe.

Note that the bill places no additional restrictions on corporate bankruptcies - only the much smaller bankruptcies of private citizens.
There was the deregulation of the banking, securities, and insurance sectors, which led to rampant corporate malfeasance and greed and the destruction of the retirement plans of millions of small investors.

There was the deregulation of the telecommunications sector which led to cable industry price-gouging and the abandonment of news coverage by the big media companies.

There was the blocking of even the mildest attempt to prevent American corporations from dodging an estimated $50 billion in annual taxes by opening a P.O. box in an off-shore tax haven like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands.

And in every case, the religious right was cheering for the winners.

There are no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to the people.

These charlatans and demagogues know that by controlling a society’s most emotionally-laden symbols, they can control America, too. Davidson Loehr reminds us that holding preachers and politicians to a higher standard than they want to serve has marked the entire history of both religion and politics. It is the conflict between the religion of the priests – ancient and modern – and the religion of the prophets.

It is the vast difference between the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus.

For the greatest heretic of all is Jesus of Nazareth, who drove the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem as we must now drive the money changers from the temples of democracy.