Thursday, July 15, 2004

trampled underfoot by the rise of the right

I've previously written about the possibility (however paranoiac) that the US is becoming a theocracy (Deities and Demagogues, 2 July 04). This isnt just tin-foil hat stuff - though if the Bush administration isn't scaring you with their 'faith-based initiatives' (against which it can and hopefully someday will be argued that the Constitutional separation of church and state has been violated) perhaps you need to be more paranoid. If you're just in need of more information on the subject, is well-informed and not particularly rabid.

I know perspective is in short supply here in the US, but even if you support the faith-based initiatives think about this: what if the government was giving all of that money to some religion other than yours? Personally I believe this sort of thinking is the cornerstone of a successful democracy... in any situation, imagine what would be the result if the tables turned... because they *do* turn. Currently (not just this administration, but throughout most of my life) we've got short-sighted politicos who feel that they should turn their prejudices into law, reap the short-term benefits while they can, and then try to keep the other guy from using it against them when the pendulum swings. (Remember the line-item veto?)

So: suppose the Sufi's made a concerted effort to take over a political party the way the Christians have. Suddenly social systems formerly overseen by the government are cut, and all your tax money is being routed to yoga centers and health-food stores. Federal government isn't the answer to society's ills - they are too far removed from your life - but if the money is being given to specific groups in your community that exclude people who don't belong to their belief system, the problem turns from one of ineptitude to one of near antagonism.

The whole thing reeks of fascism and an intentional creep towards theocracy. If the situation were reversed, the average Christian would be horribly offended by what is happening now... but since it is happening to their team, they smugly accept the destruction of some of the basic principles the country was founded on in their headlong dash to turn us into the same kind of country we left Europe to get away from in the first place.

And if you're one of those who believe that the US was founded to be a Christian nation, listen to Thomas Jefferson...

"I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799.

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1813.

... or Ben Franklin:

"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England." - Benjamin Franklin

In this, as in all things, the fairness of a principle can be determined by how fair it looks from the other end. In that light the Christianization of the US government doesn't even come close to being a good thing. We fought a war of Independence, in part, to gain freedom of religion. Now we have a government that funds and legislates in favor of a specific religion. Where is the freedom in that?


Blogger krishna said...

Your chronicles of the omissions and the commissions of the Bush regime sound like "The rise( and fall) of the "fourth" Reich. Politicians and religious extremists seem to have a symbiotic relationship: They harness each other's strengths for expanding their base and reach. This is a common phenomenon, every where.

On separation of Religion and State:
I am ambiguous about secularism( defined as "not concerned with religion") being the corner stone of State policy though I agree that the State should not promote a particular religion to the exclusion of others, especially in a pluralistic society. The individual is concerned with religion: He draws his sustenance and identity from it. In ancient days, India had Muslims ruling Hindu subjects and vice-versa. People lived in harmony for most of the time. The State did not impose its religion on any one. On the other hand, it patronized all religions. Today, we are a secular republic; yet, religious intolerance is more pronounced than it was in the past. The State does not officially interfere with individual's right to practice any religion. Yet, there are times when archaic, non-religious and provocative practices are allowed to go on in the name of religious freedom. ( Example: Forcible conversion by Christian missionaries in certain areas of the country; Tolerance towards anti-woman practices in Islam etc.). The State has done precious little to foster amity and understanding between people of different religions. You may say that this is the responsibility of religious heads. But, most religious heads are busy managing their little fiefdoms and have their own vested interests to protect. Highlighting the good aspects of other religions is equivalent to committing hara-kiri. The Muslim thinks everybody else is a kafir; the Christian thinks everybody else is a infidel and the Hindu thinks that Islam is an intolerant religion and Christianity is ought to convert every Hindu on Earth. Is it not exhilarating to see a thousand Muslims, irrespective of their status, kneeling together to offer Namaaz? Haven't the Christian Missionaries done fine service in the fields of Education and Health? Is not Hinduism, a broad minded and tolerant religion? Sadly, the State does not intervene positively to make practitioners of one religion understand the greatness of the other. Secularism, according to me, needs to re-defined and re-interpreted.
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