Bush, And How The U.S.
Differs From The U.K.
Martin

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "sjwilson"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Monday, May 21, 2001 2:31 AM

Several have commented on it in our Film Section, but I have not seen the film.
 

From the viewpoint of an atheistic activist in America, the JWs can easily be seen as allies. They have worked hard to prevent government intrusion upon unorthodox religious views, and their work has thwarted several moves to mandate the practice of Protestant Christian ritual in public life.

Most Jehovah's Witlesses will honor your request to stop coming by: they don't even care of you're polite about it, and even consider rudeness on your part to be a form of "persecution" and some even count it a joy to "shake the dust off their feet" on your doorstep. We have posted a humorous list of suggestions for dealing with door-to-door missionaries, called "How To Dodge Religious Solicitors."

My favorite trick (which has proven to be most effective) came to me quite by accident. Having been somewhat of a naturist for most of my life, I absent-mindedly answered the door naked (since being naked has never meant anything "weird" to me). I didn't display my genitals, but instead hid the crucial parts behind the door. Still, it was clear that I was not wearing a stitch. I must have been written up with a profile of some kind, because whenever they visited the neighborhood, they never again came to my door.
 

Enough Fundamentalist Christians remain in the U.S. that even when a political leader attends church just for show, the Fundamentalist Christians will openly gloat over this event, pointing to it as evidence that Christianity is a good thing. These are the same people who would point to a letter by Thomas Jefferson, upon which his secretary had added "in the year of our Lord" before the date on the letter, and then would suggest that this "proves" Jefferson to have been a devout Evangelical Christian. (They did this! I kid you not!)

Also, the Fundamentalist Christians have become politically active and have elected many political leaders who ran on the Fundamentalist Christian platform. But many Fundamentalist Christians would be shocked to know some these cretins' actual thoughts, to realize that they have been openly and unashamedly exploited for their votes. They probably would still be happy, though, that the hypocrite politicians are stumping for their pet issues, many of which are not even biblical. (Most American Christians have never read the Bible, but rather depend on the ministers and televangelists to cite a few key phrases out of the Bible.) Such hypocrisy would not bother them because the interest of the Fundamentalist flavor of Christianity is being advanced thereby.
 

Don't kid yourself: by showing youngsters the wide variety of conflicting religious beliefs, we unwittingly promote atheism.

 

Interviewer: Did the study of anthropology later color your writings?
Vonnegut: It confirmed my atheism, which was the faith of my fathers anyway. Religions were exhibited and studied as the Rube Goldberg inventions I'd always thought they were.
     -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., self-interview

 

Only by censoring exposure to the competing religions and teaching a single religion are you actually promoting religion as truth (unless you are trying to do what the Dali Lama has done in trying to portray all paths as equally valid in an empirical sense, which is no easy trick). The Fundamentalist Christians in the United States know this, and thus seek to have only the Evangelical Protestant version of the Christian religion promoted in the public schools (with the Protestant Ten Commandments, etc.) and to have any and all sympathetic mention of other religions removed from school curricula.
 

I think the history of peoples' religious views is an important enough subject to warrant a separate course, such as the history of philosophical thought, the history of scientific investigation, the history of Europe, the history the West, the history of the U.K. (or the U.S., in America), and the history of any people group that is significantly represented in the population, etc. -- at least for now. As Vonnegut suggested, we might do well to make it part of anthropology rather than history, making sure to showcase our own culture's religious views along with all the other views that humankind has endorsed throughout recorded history.

The problem in America is that those who have an agenda tend to be those who seek out the jobs which allow them to teach these subjects. It is almost impossible to find someone who would be willing or even able to teach this subject in the way Vonnegut describes without generating hysteria amongst religious folks, who would charge the instructor with being "an atheist."

Hopefully (and Europe seems to be almost there, if not there already), religion will become such a non-issue that it won't even warrant very extensive treatment at all. But for now, the prospects of a single religious view gaining political power or becoming the basis of a frighteningly powerful political regime are still too fresh in the memories of the European people (Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union, where the promotion of "strong" atheism exhibited all the trappings of a fundamentalist religion; even the Inquisition is not all that remote, being a little over 150 years dead in some places). Even if we forget, we still could easily fall back into this trap. So, we will always do good to at least expose ourselves to all the different views that people have held and still hold.

Another extremely important angle to keep in mind when educating about religion is the aspect of religion as cultural anchor, a basis for national identity. This is the situation in Greece, I hear, and I see this in the Greek-American communities to which I've been exposed in America. For years after I moved to Portland in 1985, my closest friends were members of an extended Greek family, the grandmother having emigrated to the U.S. as a young adult during (I think) the 1930s. The grandmother spent all her spare time working on various projects for the Greek Orthodox Church about a kilometer or so from my home. This was the cultural center for people who were born where she was born, grew up in the times and with the values that she grew up with, and spoke the languages she spoke. Her grandson and granddaughter have both openly speculated to me that she's probably not all that religious, but emphasized that the church is the cultural anchor for that community.

This was my first exposure to this concept, but I have had a few discussions, most notably with an Iranian man (those files now woefully lost due to a virus attack), and later with a Greek woman.

I was raised an atheist in a family of widely varying cultural backgrounds, being myself adopted from God-doesn't-even-know-what ethnic background (Swedish? German?). The slang for this ethnicity is "mutt," suggesting a mixed-breed dog whose pedigree is anyone's guess. My mother's father was from England, and his father was a Unitarian minister; her mother was from Cape Cod and their family was not religious that I've ever been able to tell. My father's side has quite a colorful history, including American Revolutionaries and, in the interim, more than one generation of Texas and Missouri Native-American half-breeds.

The disadvantage to this background (if you'd call it that) is that my 19th-century and early 20th-century ancestors did not fit into any group: we were neither Caucasian nor Indian. But this has its advantages in that fierce personal independence is naturally a very strong value for us. The notion of using anything for cultural identity would be very foreign to us indeed, but particularly the use of a religion for cultural identity -- especially if many of the participants did not believe in the core tenets of the religion but were only going through the motions. One could say that the racism of the 19th century spared us from being involved in religion: for as far back as my father's mother cared to mention, nobody in our family was particularly religious.
 

In the U.K. and throughout Europe, you have a whole generation still living who can remember World War II. You have many still alive who can remember World War I as children, and there are more than a few veterans from that war who remain with us. Those who were alive when the Berlin Wall fell either remember it or were taught about it at a very early age. I'll bet there are museums reminding us of the Inquisitions, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, in every European country. Europe's tendency to want to abandon her Christian heritage and find something more stable, more humane, is entirely understandable. If you never forget the high price your people have paid for this enlightenment, you stand a solid chance of keeping the fruits of this change.

In America, we have probably the choicest agricultural resources in the world. We feed a lot of other countries; in exchange, we usurp many other resources (such as oil) from other countries which cannot enjoy our current agricultural advantage. Our nation was founded upon absolute liberty of conscience and an absolutely free economy (at first), combined with (for its time) the fairest political system known to humankind. We also heavily emphasized education. As the result, we prospered as a nation. These things make it easy for Fundamentalist Christians (or anybody) to claim that God has personally blessed our nation.

During the Cold War, Senator Joseph McCarthy successfully painted a picture not of the United States versus the Soviet Union, but of Christianity versus atheism. During this era, our original multi-cultural motto, E Pluribus Unum ("Of Many, One," or better, "Amidst Diversity, Unity") was replaced with the motto In God We Trust. During these times, it was clear that the "God" of Protestantism was the subject of this motto. This new motto was placed onto our currency and coins, and the phrase "under God" was inserted into our Pledge of Allegiance, which all students (except Jehovah's Witnesses) were forced to recite each day at school. The god of Protestantism was widely credited with having won the war for us and was widely credited with having brought our unprecedented prosperity to us. (The truth is that we did not have to spend our money rebuilding our cities like the Europeans did.)

The cultural revolutions of the 1960s did much to unseat Protestant Christianity from its position of supremacy, beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, to the presidency, along with his push to emphasize science and, particularly, to place a man on the Moon. Racial minorities began to obtain a semblance of civil rights, birth control sparked the sexual revolution, LSD ushered in a world of philosophical and religious changes, and nightly coverage of the Vietnam war vaporized any patriotic notion that we were actually the good guys.

The oil crisis of the early 1970s showed us all -- very vividly -- that we were very vulnerable, that we were no longer in control; it and further enunciated the fact that we were not the powerful nation that our parents had thought. The resignation of President Richard Nixon "struck a vital blow to the whole diseased concept of the revered image," as novelist William S. Burroughs so poignantly put it. President Jimmy Carter, probably the last president to uphold the United States Constitution, was, unfortunately, a very poor administrator. He also inherited the uncertainty resulting from the various cultural revolutions, the energy crises, the problems with the Middle Eastern nations, the tremendous debt from the Vietnam war, and the public's open distrust of the political system.

Enough Americans were ready for some drastic changes -- any changes -- that Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980, as 444 American hostages rotted in an Iranian prison compound run by the Fundamentalist Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Carter, the man of integrity that he is, was constitutionally incapable of "striking a deal" with the Iranians, and would only settle the confrontation on his terms: he would not resort to bribery; he would never call a wrong right or call a right wrong. Reagan, as was later discovered, bought the hostages back in a classic rug-merchant deal that had been arranged before his election: the Ayatollah knew that Reagan, unlike Carter, would never interfere with his regime over ideology or human rights issues.

Meanwhile, Reagan popularized the notion that Christianity is essentially political (even though Christ and Paul are both portrayed in the Bible as having been apolitical). His superficial successes, both politically and economically, served to revive of the idea that the Protestant "God" was looking after our nation, and that "He" would bless the whole nation if we would only push for what many saw as God's pet social issues: the abolition of reproductive rights; the revival of the death penalty; young-earth creationism; school prayer; homophobia; the subjugation of women; the right to bear arms; the supposition that we need not care for the environment because Jesus is coming back real soon; etc.

Like the McCarthy Era, the Reagan and Bush administrations installed many policies which gave organized religion -- particularly the Christian and Jewish faiths -- many advantages. Groups such as Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority pandered to any religious group they thought might help them install their ultra-conservative policies and elect ultra-conservative legislators. Later, Pat Robertson's group, the Christian Coalition, was able to gain power without "playing footsies" with such controversial groups as the Mormons and the Moonies, and keep his group (and several like it) on an even keel with Fundamentalist Evangelical Protestantism.

Much of this power has been gained via television. Christian TV is an extremely lucrative game: by begging for donations to "do the Lord's work," American televangelists can amass the resources to adversely impact the lives of all Americans -- and even to touch the lives of Europeans, to some extent. These parasites prey on the religious emotions and the ignorance of millions of poor and retired Americans, very few of whom can afford to make the sacrifices that they make. But they make these sacrifices anyway, because they think the Protestant "God" wants them to do this, and will reward them later (or will at least not let their folly catch up with them, after they've given all their money to these hucksters).

And the religious leaders reward their "sheep" by at least pretending to look out for their "Christian" interests (although they really have not done all that much and, if anything, have lost ground since the 1950s). But their posturing at least looks good, and their slick sales pitches continue to prove very effective at raking in the dough.

I hate to say it, but our own Liberty is biting us on the ass. Religious Liberty makes it almost impossible to prosecute quacks such as Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. Opportunists such as Hinn draw record crowds, convince people to throw away vital medicines (along with the money to replace them after the victim comes back down to reality), and continue to escape justice. Liberty of Speech makes it impossible to hold them accountable for their false portrayals of science, Humanism, atheism, other religious views, and any number of other things.

Most of all, though, through Liberty of Speech combined with their massive communications systems, they have the perfect vehicle to rewrite history. Originally, the United States was formed as a specifically secular state to replace the Colonial government of the patently Christian British Empire. Though many Puritans fled to the Colonies to escape religious persecution, as soon as they became the majority over here, they turned to become the persecutor. Even though most of the Colonists were not Christian during the Revolution, the Christians had been able to establish blatantly Christian laws: two centuries have not eradicated many of these purely Christian institutions.

Nevertheless, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, and now George W. Bush, have inverted this picture. They portray America as having been founded as a Christian nation, specifically so that Christians could worship in peace and avoid persecution from -- whoever. This very warped and patently false picture of American history, combined with a softening of the history of the Inquisition and even a de-Christianizing of the Third Reich, is beginning to catch on. Such a picture of things is becoming the basis for how people vote. It is also making it very difficult for activists such as myself to counter their moves to establish the Christian religion as the State Church. When Kennedy was President, only a few nut-cases would openly advocate an American theocracy; now, many Americans openly and unashamedly advocate "'returning' to our Christian roots" -- as if we had any "Christian roots" to begin with!
 

This is simple: the only viable alternative, Al Gore, was no better. True, he at least knew how to talk, but he was shown on television as being unable to identify the likenesses of America's Revolutionary heroes. This could be excused had he shown a respect for America's founding principles -- those values for which America was once renowned. But Gore had no more respect for America's Constitutional principles than does Bush.

One thing we did get out of all this is that Bush did not win the popular vote but obtained the office on a technicality, through some very unethical acts on the parts of some extremely corrupt members of his party who exploited our thoroughly flawed electoral system. Last year, very few Americans could describe for you our electoral process; now, almost every 10-year-old in the country can tell you exactly what is wrong with our electoral system, and many high-school students could probably devise a superior system as a class project. I predict that a generation will not pass before our electoral system is completely updated.

My views are as follows: Since the House of Representatives is established by districts throughout the United States, with each district electing one Representative, and since the Senate is established on a state-by-state basis, with each state electing two Senators, the President should not be elected on a state-by-state basis as well, but rather ought to be elected on a purely popular vote. I also think ballots should be standardized across the nation so that anybody moving from anywhere to anywhere already knows how to mark a ballot. They should be marked by hand on paper in a way that is countable by computer, but also able to be counted by hand if need be. I am against computerized elections simply because computers are too easy to hack, and way too much is at stake.
 

It's worse than that, I fear. Bush is too stupid to be sneaky -- and he knows it. So the only option left for him is to flaunt it.

Gore would have differed only in that his education is slightly better than Bush's. He is smart enough to be sneaky about it.

I cannot tell you which is worse, but I will say that many of us are very depressed about our current situation. Even many Fundamentalist Christians are losing faith in their own poster child, because his attempts to implement their views are showing those views precisely for what they are: the Fundamentalist Christians stood a better chance by continuing to be sneaky. My hope is that this whole situation shows the world that absolute religious neutrality is the only proper role for government. Enduring this lesson, though, will not be fun for anybody.

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

Graphic Rule

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