Fundamentalism In Greece:
ID Card Query Abolished
Dimitris Skouteris

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Skouteris Dimitris"
Subject: Re: Fundamentalism in Greece
Date: November 08, 2001 8:42 PM

We heard from Greek physician [name removed] about a year ago. She and I briefly discussed both the apparent need of a national identity to keep a social or ethnic group running smoothly as well as the possibility of promoting something other than religion as the point of national identity. The example that she came up with was the heritage of ancient Greek culture. This is certainly something of which more than just Greeks can be proud: almost anybody can have a sense of pride with the Greeks over the accomplishment of your ancestors! Would that we all take a good look at this era in our attempts to learn how to do just about anything involving government, art, or culture!

I expounded on this concept for an anonymous "peace campaigner" in Northern Ireland, suggesting that the religions are being used as pawns in a giant territorial struggle, with loyalism to the religion is the litmus test for which side you're on. Thus, even atheists will express allegiance to one church or the other.

In the letter, "Bush, and How the U.S. Differs from the U.K.," I describe a family that I've known in Portland for 16 years, and how their Macedonian (Greek) cultural identity is anchored to the Church even here in the States! Nobody I know in this family is (or was) even remotely religious -- even the matriarch who emigrated here with her young husband during the 1920s or so. However, "Nana" would spend weeks out of the year making goodies to sell at the annual Greek festival sponsored by the Church, and all her friends were members of the Church whether or not they were religious. The priests would enunciate the doctrines during the service, but you could tell that they were very secular when "off duty."

In the FAQ piece "Conduct vs. Creed," I noted that this use of the church as a cultural rallying point, though "legitimate" in the sense that people do it and the churches go along with it, does, in fact, degrade the church! What happens is that this use of the church fills the group with those who are there only for its cultural value and who do not actually believe the tenets of the confession of faith. This makes the "cultural identity" movements one of two sources of widespread hypocrisy in the Church, the other being the Church's own anti-Atheist bigotry.

By insisting that we all become Christians, the churches force us to fill their pews just to get along, keep our jobs, etc., and thus a much smaller percentage of those present are loyal believers. In the same way, by going along with using the church as the point of cultural identity (or by promoting some other material benefit from joining the Church), the Church guarantees that its "membership" will be watered down, so to speak, by those who are not there because they believe in the Church's tenets. This is not unlike what has happened to American Mormonism: the material advantages to be gained from joining that group has brought about such a large influx of "members" who are there solely for the material benefits of membership that Mormons have given this class of "lukewarm" members a derogatory name, calling them "Jack Mormons."

I would think that any focus besides ideology, such as is found in a church, would be superior to using the church as the point of cultural identity. This is because in any group that centers around an ideology, the most adamant supporters of the ideology are the ones who contribute the most toward keeping the group alive. When the group liberalizes to become more inclusive (as they must do in order to accommodate those who would join simply because "that's what members of our culture do"), the church runs the risk of losing the loyalty of the core supporters, those who are there because they believe in the tenets of the religious faith. Such core groups have been known to leave and form an independent "orthodox" group that will better meet their needs.

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The "danger" consists only of that to his regime, which is based not on his church having an ideology that is truthful or even useful, but in the political ties that he and his predecessors have been able to accomplish by making membership in (and financial support of) the Church the point of Greek "cultural identity." Meanwhile, if cultural identity is the true need of the Greek people, then I can think of more lasting and less controversial points of that cultural identity. Societies tend to use the Church out of convenience, simply because greedy people such as this archbishop offer their churches up for this cause, ensuring their own political and economic supremacy for generations to come. While a campaign to establish some other more honest, more lasting, more universal, and less controversial point of identity would take work and perhaps money (at first), it is easy to see that such a change could only do good for the people (although this archbishop and his ilk would lose miserably).

I don't understand what you mean by "he failed miserably," though. Did he fail to rally throngs of Greeks to his cause? This doesn't look to be the case at all, from what I've heard. If he failed to convince the government to place an optional box on the form, I would not call that "failure" except in a policymaking sense. If he has the support of a large segment of the population, then I promise that you haven't heard the last of this matter, and he'll be back for "Round Two" in no time. If he's like any of his American counterparts, he won't give up until he has succeeded. It's not like he has to actually work in order to support his family, his "business" is not in danger of failing for lack of putting a decent "product" on the "shelves" (churches have no "overhead" in this respect!); thus, he has plenty of time on his hands for promoting this cause.

As a matter of expediency, the government might have done well to let this box stay on the form as a means of "tossing them a bone," so to speak. We do this in America, "toss the Christians a bone" for the purpose of getting them to "stop barking for a while" so we can get some real work done. These "bones" usually take the form of religious pronouncements and are never much more than (unconstitutional) statements by the government endorsing the Christian religion -- or even generic endorsements of religion such as "In God We Trust" or, more recently, "God Bless America." Only if the government is serious about its apparent goal of routing the concept of using the Church as a point of cultural identity would it be in their best interest to absolutely refuse to budge in this matter.

The "toss the dog a bone" metaphor is right on the money in describing such compromises, because these "bones" never have any "meat" on them: they're never truly destructive to national policy (nor truly beneficial to the Church), though they do tend to set dangerous precedents toward which the "Christian nation" revisionists will henceforth point in their constant attempts to implement truly dangerous policy involving collusion between religion and government.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Skouteris Dimitris"
Subject: Re: Fundamentalism in Greece
Date: November 09, 2001 5:59 PM

Well, then, perhaps he did fail miserably! I am not hip to European manners and customs, but the situation you described, were it to have taken place in America, would have been anything but a failure, because it would have shown the support behind his move. However, if these numerous "pans" of his efforts by the President and the legislature, etc., resulted in the eventual loss of interest on the part of a large fraction of the people who initially supported his move, then I would consider that to be quite a success. Nevertheless, such "pans" by important people, had they occurred in America, would likely have resulted in more people getting involved, not fewer!

Perhaps we do well to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I would thoroughly appreciate it if you keep us abreast of this situation, letting us know, perhaps in six months to a year, what changes have occurred. I will post this dialogue and link it to and from the other pieces that mention this situation (for which I gave you links). Then, if you would be so kind as to get back with us on this later, I will be able to append your later comments to this initial report. Then, anybody who reads any of the accounts will have available to them an updated look at what eventually happened.

The reason this is so important is because much of what we do is try to figure out which political moves do an do not work toward accomplishing our various goals. It's not like there's much historical precedence for what we do, here, and thus any collection of information which gives the readers a systematic overview of a situation, particularly if that overview covers events over a span of time, is of the utmost value to activists who are trying to work on similar projects and accomplish similar goals (or simply try to predict the outcomes of similar events).

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Skouteris Dimitris"
Subject: Re: Fundamentalism in Greece
Date: December 19, 2001 9:36 AM

Good work on the ID card deal!

Also, religious freedom is a two-edged sword. If you allow all sects to flourish, you must be willing to keep government's hands off all sects, both supporting and thwarting. If government aids or restricts either (including aid in the form of a tax exemption), at least some form registration is good -- but what you describe goes way too far.

Bush wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to give our funds to the churches but doesn't want the churches to subsequently become accountable. You cannot do one without the other and keep the peace. Someone will get very upset very soon if Bush's plan passes or otherwise slips through.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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