Category Archives: theocracy

pernicious intertwining of the psychological power of religion with the physical power of the state.

egg rights: South Dakota’s latest ventures into unintended consequences

South Dakota is at it again, with a new egg rights bill that defines “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” as a person under the South Dakota Constitution. Man it’s hard to keep up with all the really poorly thought out legislation from that state!

Broadsheet has the simplest quickest coverage, and links to Feministe “Even More Questions for Pro-Lifers”, always a good read.

Anyway, inspired by the Broadsheet post title “Eggs are people, too”, henceforth I will be referring to this sort of thing as “egg rights”. (A phrase which I now see has already gained some traction.) Egg rights activists, egg rights bills, and so forth.

death by religion, part # in-the-hundreds-of-millions

I haven’t heard any recent updates about Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, the woman sentenced to death for witchcraft. A Saudi Arabian court issued the death penalty in 2005 for a woman who allegedly made a man impotent, through witchcraft, among other sins. According to Human Rights Watch, she was beaten until she signed (by placing her fingerprints) a confession to witchcraft — a confession she couldn’t even read, because she’s illiterate.

Now, there are some bass-ackwards-ass judges in every country, and you might think maybe she got a one-off nutter. Or, that the “modernizing” country of Saudi Arabia might let this go on at the lower levels of its “courts” but surely they step in and right this kind of wrong at the appellate level. Right? Of course, you’d be wrong, because although her case was heard by an appeal court, their decision was reversed by another court, which felt that her witchcraft was such a serious sin that her death would be in the public interest. Witchcraft that causes impotence — what could be more of a threat to the public safety than that?

It is truly astonishing to me that religion apologists tote up the supposed benefits of belief in their faith against this kind of obscenity. “I feel better because I fantasize about seeing my dead relatives when I die” versus “killing an innocent woman for a vicious, sexist delusion” (multiplied times millions, because let’s not forget the Inquisition, 9/11, the Troubles in Ireland, and all the other deaths attributable directly towards religious delusions) — yeah, that’s Creationist Math, all right.

Further reading:
* Human Rights Watch, Feb. 14, 2008
* HRW Letter to King Abdullah, Feb. 13, 2008
* Heba Saleh, BBC News, Feb. 14, 2008
* Lester Haines, The Register, Feb. 14, 2008

yet more quotes & comments

some links, some quotes, some comments, all in one … I pulled various of these articles up several hours ago from various blogs, which I would like to link back to, but windows got closed, systems got rebooted, and to make a long story short I no longer know which link came from where.

  • Molly Ivins writes about SLAPPs and also reminds us of one of my favorite George W. Bush quotes: “There ought to be limits to freedom.” Uttered in response to a parody website. (which it seems is now on hiatus). [link from sideshow]
  • God, I loved this: famous same-sex swan couples: romeo & juliet, of boston’s Public Garden [link from plaid adder war journal 8/12]
  • This Swedish library is loaning lesbians. [Which reminds me of one of my favorite canvas bags/t-shirts seen around ALA: “Nobody knows I’m a librarian.”] The library project is called “The Living Library” and allows you to check out various, err, types of people for 45 minutes. Now circulating, a lesbian, a Muslim, an animal rights activist, a gypsy, and some other folks. [link from librarian.net 8/17; see also sbs]
  • John Nichols, “Being Like Bernie” [Sanders], The Nation, 2005/8/15.

    At his best, Sanders succeeds in separating policy from politics and getting to those deeper discussions about the role government can and should play in solving real-life problems– discussions that are usually obscured by partisan maneuvering. That’s the genius of Sanders’s independent status. But it is also a source of frustration. While Sanders backers formed the Vermont Progressive Party, a third-party grouping that holds six seats in the State Legislature, he has never joined the party and has sometimes been slow to embrace its statewide campaigns. While the sense that Sanders is a genuinely free agent serves him well, it raises questions about whether Sanders will ever create not just an alternative candidacy but an alternative politics in his state. “He will not leave a party behind him. So what will be his legacy?” asks Freyne of Seven Days. “I don’t see a next Bernie on the horizon. I don’t see what comes after him. There’s a lot wrapped up in one man, and I don’t know where that gets you in the long run.”

    But Sanders makes no apologies for refusing to be a party man. Yes, of course, he’d like the Democratic Party to be more progressive and for third parties to develop the capacity to pull the political process to the left. But Sanders is not going to wait for the right political moment to arrive. What he’s done is create a model for how an individual candidate can push beyond the narrow boundaries of contemporary politics and connect with voters in the same sense that Progressives and Populists of a century ago–operating within the shells of the Democratic and Republican parties and sometimes outside them–did so successfully.

    ai-yi-yi. i must rant. why should sanders have to leave a party to leave a legacy? his unreconstructed individualism is charming. the man stands for himself. people like and appreciate that in almost anybody and especially in politicians. a party? what do parties stand for? mostly, their own ongoing existence. at any given moment, a party might have a general drift — towards theocracy, say, or corporate welfare. or a party might be a confusing morass of many different opinions and no center. evaluating a party by its platform tells you nothing: who could imagine, reading the RNC platform, that there would be such a group as Log Cabin Republicans? is evaluating a party by its inner circle power brokers any more useful in assessing what a party stands for? the value of political parties lies in certain advantages for their members in furthering their common agenda through pooling resources, power, etc. but once a party is too big to reflect any common agenda for all its members, and has significant disagreement on major policy points among its members, then its continued existence becomes just an exercise in maintaining its own power. so bernie sanders doesn’t do party politics, but manages to get things done, stick to and voice his opinions, and he’s wildly popular. hmm. i think there’s a lesson there.

  • Digby, Shameful Indifference, 2005/8/14:

    Memo to those on the right who say the Left supports Islamic fundamentalists: we’re the Godless Heathens, remember? We’re against the religious zealots running governments across the board. Of course, that includes your “base” here in the US too so you’ll have to pardon us for our consistency and ask yourselves why we find you incoherent on this matter.

    Such a useful point. Get rid of the rhetorical labels (“left”, “liberal”, “Republican”, “Islamist”, “Democrats”, and all the various pejorative quasi-puns that conservative blog commenters think are so funny, e.g., “Dims”) and look at specific positions. State control of the press. State control of individual’s sex lives. Specific state positions on individual’s sex lives: same-sex okay or not? Protection of natural resources: important or unimportant? up to the state or the private sector? … and so on. For instance, who’s opposed to non-marital sex, same-sex relations, immodesty in women, indecency on the airwaves; and supportive of patriarchal households, tending to form personality cults around strong authoritarian leaders, pro-military/violence, pro-government entanglements with religion. With so much in common, I guess I should be happy that Islamic and Christian fundamentalists don’t get along better. Hooray for doctrines & deities!

invade & establish theocracy

Great. US officials are admitting what was obvious to many even before the invasion: The US invasion of Iraq will lead to another theocracy. [Wash Post 8/14] [linked from david 8/14 at sivacracy]

“We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,” said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity.

You would think that after all this time my feelings of rage would be dampened.

People may have very different reactions to someone’s wrongdoing. Anger, denial, forgiveness. Me, I forgive many infractions, then at some point get to a place of deep anger. If there is no acknowledgement, apology, and attempted redress, I swallow the anger and move on — hopefully doing something productive but certainly trying not to live in the anger. But sometimes the wrongdoer comes to their senses & belatedly acknowledges or apologizes. Then I realize that I didn’t forgive, I didn’t forget, and all the anger comes back, doubled, with a new head of steam.

So that’s where I’m at with the Bush Administration and the invasion of Iraq. Reading about the admissions and acknowledgements of US officials — even if they’re not the Bush administration leaders/figureheads — really just infuriates me. Such a waste. Such a goddamn waste. So many lives, Iraqi, American, English, and from everywhere else. Lives tossed away directly with guns and explosions. And lives that will be tossed away for years to come as a result of a devastated infrastructure. More lives lost to resurgent nationalism (here and in Iraq, I’ll note) and Islamic fundamentalism. It’s just such a fucking waste.

iranian state murders 2 teens for same-sex activity

oh, this makes me sad: two teenagers in Iran were executed this week for same-sex sexual activity. M.A. and A.M., hanged in Edalat Square, in the City of Mashhad. [direland; seen on Pandagon] The direland site includes pictures of the young men, who are — were — just kids.

i want every fucking government in the world to stop killing people. and i want every fucking government in the world to get its fucking claws out of people’s sex lives. goddammit.

follow-up: 365gay.com reports that international protests are following. Russia is a potential key pressure point, as it does a lot of business with Iran. The HRC called for the US Dept of State to condemn the execution. (I won’t be holding my breath. While the US is interested in villifying Iran right now, I don’t think they’re going to start with where the Christian right in this country would like to end up.) OutRage, who has publicized the story in the English-speaking world, has gotten death threats to its officers from religious fundamentalists (Muslim).

update (7/30): Like Doug Ireland, I initially dismissed the allegations of ‘rape’ levied against the young men as cover-up for Iran’s government. The HRC did not, however, and removed their letter from their website. It’s too bad they removed the letter: sentencing same-sex sexual activity more strongly than opposite-sex sexual activity is still wrong, even where the underlying act is nonconsensual. As for whether or not the allegations are true, I am still disinclined to believe them. When sexuality is criminalized or socially repressed, crying ‘rape’ when caught can save one of the partners at the expense of the other. The history of interracial sexuality in the US is demonstrative, but same-sex sexuality has a similar, less commonly told, history. Sexual repression and criminalization thus add additional costs to society, in our ability to address sexual violence and assault.

action items: contact the US State Dept & ask for official condemnation.

reading, censorship & theocracy in the US

… Sometimes, fighting for freedom of access to information seems shallow in comparison to the struggle against poverty and inequality, or against government-sponsored murder and torture, or even the struggle to survive in the face of hurricanes and tsunamis and floods. But ultimately I believe it’s all the same struggle.

… Philip Pullman recently wrote an essay, published in The War on Words The Guardian [2004-11-09] and previously apparently in Index on Censorship, about reading, dogma, and theocracy in Bush’s US. So timely, as the world faces so many incidents of censorship and outright ideological attempts to control education and access to information. A few notes:

My third and final charge against the theocracies, atheist or religious, and their failure to read properly is this: that the act of true reading is in its very essence democratic.

Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book – and I mean, of course, a work of literature, not an instruction manual or a textbook – in private, unsupervised, un-spied-on, alone. It isn’t like a lecture: it’s like a conversation. There’s a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers. We bring our own preconceptions and expectations, our own intellectual qualities, and our limitations, too, our own previous experiences of reading, our own temperament, our own hopes and fears, our own personality to the encounter.

I like this analyis of reading. The observation isn’t unique, but tying this form of reader empowerment into broader exercises of democracy and empowerment is sharp.

One of the most extraordinary scenes I’ve ever watched, and one which brings everything I’ve said in this piece into sharp focus, occurs in the famous videotape of George W Bush receiving the news of the second strike on the World Trade Centre on 9/11. As the enemies of democracy hurl their aviation-fuel-laden thunderbolt at the second tower, their minds intoxicated by a fundamentalist reading of a religious text, the leader of the free world sits in a classroom reading a story with children. If only he’d been reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, or Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, or a genuine fairy tale! That would have been a scene to cheer. It would have illustrated values truly worth fighting to preserve. It would have embodied all the difference between democratic reading and totalitarian reading, between reading that nourishes the heart and the imagination and reading that starves them.

I have a minor quibble with the substitution of the term “theocratic” for what might be more properly termed “dogmatic.” Theocratic would be a special instance of dogmatic. I understand, I think, what Pullman is getting at; he wants us to see the common strands between theocratic dogmas and other forms of ideological dogmas, such as the Soviet Union. The US’ current dogma might fit somewhere in the broader slate even if it doesn’t quite line up with Iranian-style theocracy. But as a US citizen who is quite concerned about actual theocracy, I want use of terms to be precise. Just a nitpicker, I guess. I suppose I wouldn’t care if I didn’t have particular beefs with the use of religion to create and buttress political structures. But among dogmas, theologies are particularly prone to abuse.

Pullman also quotes Karen Armstrong’s recent The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:

There is a good description of two different modes of reading in Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2001). Armstrong is eloquent on the difference between mythos and logos, fundamentally different ways of apprehending the reality of the world. Mythos deals with meaning, with the timeless and constant, with the intuitive, with what can only be fully expressed in art or music or ritual. Logos, by contrast, is the rational, the scientific, the practical; that which can be taken apart and put together again; that which is susceptible to logical explanation.

Both are necessary, both are to be cherished. However, they engage with different aspects of the world, and these days, says Armstrong, they are not equally valued. Her argument is that in modern times, because of the astonishing progress of science and technology, people in the western world “began to think that logos was the only means to truth, and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious”. This resulted in the phenomenon of fundamentalism, which, despite its own claims to be a return to the old true ways of understanding the holy book, is not a return of any kind, but something entirely new: “Protestant fundamentalists read the Bible in a literal, rational way that is quite different from the more mystical, allegorical approach of pre-modern spirituality.”

These notes lead to the heart of Pullman’s observations, which are that the current US government is increasingly dogmatic in dangerous ways. It’s true that those who see fit to govern us seem to have less of a sense of humor than ever. I’m reminded of John Ashcroft installing covers for the naked lady statues at DOJ (for $8000, apparently!). (U1) More recently, just a day or two ago I saw this story about Mississippi county library officials banning Jon Stewart’s America (The Book). The district library director was offended by the photoshopped photo of the naked US Supreme Court, which asks readers to “restore [the justices’] dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe.” Surely, the inability to appreciate absurdity and satire is another feature of the dogmatic … It’s always depressing when a librarian falls short of the standards that so many of us uphold so well. Robert Willits, library director for Jackson & George counties, said “I’ve been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I’ve objected to so strongly that I wouldn’t allow it to circulate.” Jesus. Mississippi really is backwards if this was the most offensive thing he’s seen in 40 years. Or is it that he was particularly offended by the use of nudity in the satiric context? … Certainly it wasn’t the prurient aspect of this nudity that appalled, since the sight of 9 naked people, not one of whom is less than 55 years old, isn’t really calculated to arouse prurient interest in most folks today. [update 1/12: after complaints the library board un-banned the book]

I remembered recently the story an acquaintance of mine told me about her youth. Her parents were embedded in an evangelical church, hung up on issues of satanism. At one point her parents became concerned about her choice of reading materials — science fiction, fantasy, comic books, historical romance novels — convinced that some of it at least was satanic — and literally began burning her books. After she pulled some books out of the flames and pointed out to them that they were classics, or not satanic, or were in some other way significantly misapprehended, her parents changed tactics. They demanded that she herself sort the books out according to a standard they adapted from the Supreme Court case Miller v. California: that the books she kept had to have redeeming literary or other social value. Her parents weren’t concerned with just the prurient interest, either, apparently; her books had to attain some higher value other than mere non-prurience in order to be redeemed.

She was required to sort her books according to this metric, and turn over a good portion of her collection of “escapist” fiction with no “redeeming values” to be destroyed. … Forcing someone to apply another’s standard to their own punishment is a tactic of humiliation, of course, used by authoritarians to make the victim complicit in their own victimization. …

Redeeming. Suggesting that the books were damned to begin with, and had to be redeemed by some especial value. Damned, I suppose, because they were for entertainment, or purposes other than religious education. Redeemed by being for some other acceptable purpose. The Supreme Court in Miller damned books (and films, etc.) for their prurient value. A hang-over of our Puritan religious past, a distaste for the sexual. The Court let materials escape if they had other redeeming values — even prurient materials may be redeemed by some other benefit to society. But change the test just a little, as my friend’s parents did, simply drop the prurience requirement, and you’ve shifted the burden from some literature or art to all literature or art. All literature or art is now guilty unless proved innocent, damned unless redeemed.

Carry that notion a little further, and measure science and education and medical information on the same yardstick. Now you’re no longer balancing science education in the schools or medical information against the truth of the science — now you weigh it against some other scale, in which there is a subjective redemptive value. We don’t teach the truth because of its truth. We teach because we want to control the ideological outcome. Now, advocates of so-called intelligent design can feel outraged, hurt, treated unfairly, because all they want is equal time, a fair share of the educational pie. Critics of dispensing information about birth control and the efficacy of condom use for disease prevention can weigh the information not against its accuracy but against their values.

In this view, education isn’t about truth. Education is about ideology, and the intelligent design folks deserve just as much opportunity to control the instillation of ideology (“education”) as the scientists and teachers. Learning, truth, education, truth, aren’t valued for themselves. In fact they’re damned because they cause us to question the values that redeem.

Pullman observed in the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, etc.) that all of history is a struggle between those who want to disseminate knowledge, and those who want to control and limit that dissemination. Between those who trust only themselves with information — and consequently with freedom — and those who think that information and freedom and power belong to all.

Another acquaintance of mine was recently wrestling with the question of whether or not to have an abortion. Her circumstances were difficult, but she had always identified as “pro-life,” and most of her close friends and family members felt similarly and encouraged her not to have the abortion. Ultimately they joined, though, in supporting her; they believed that she would do the right thing, whatever it was; they trusted her to make the right decision. I was angry about this, although I didn’t discuss it with her. It’s easy to trust people you know. But who are they to make those decisions for all the people they don’t know? Why, in fact, should the people that pro-lifers don’t know have to trust the pro-lifers to make the right decision for them?

The Bush administration is just one manifestation of this greater historical tendency. We ought to weigh this manifestation properly — hard to do, sometimes, when you’re in the thick of it. The Bush administration didn’t start the fear; but it is capitalizing on it, and building on it, and strengthening that tendency in the US and around the world. The push is away from multilateralism, away from respect of others, and towards unilateralism, towards limiting trust to oneself and one’s clan. The control of people’s access to information is a symptom and a sign, but it is also a means towards the end of controlling people. You don’t trust people to do the right thing with information, and by keeping it away from them, you prevent them from doing what the wrong thing.

And since all our struggles — whether against economic injustice or the effects of natural disasters or the repression of governments — are carried forward by individuals, then trusting individuals with information, empowering them through information, and letting people build their own tools is still the best way to further social change. … which of course is why, as Pullman observes, governments and hierarchies such as the Bush administration are always so interested in stifling knowledge and education transfer. Keep the knowledge, keep the power, don’t trust anybody else to do the right thing.


Updates

U1: 2005/July/9. Replacement Atty. General Gonzalez quietly undraped the statues, returning a little bit of sanity to the otherwise indecent DOJ.

creationists in Dover, Pennsylvania

This isn’t completely new news — I’ve been following the story for a few days (weeks?). The Dover, Pennsylvania, school board was taken over by anti-evolution Christians who wish to teach “intelligent design.”

But in reading another story [in Salon.com, 12/13] about the situation, I started to get annoyed & ranty.

  • School boards are political entities, elected to represent views and give general guidance about how the school district should be run. They really have no business determining curriculum.

  • The article cites a Gallup poll finding that 45% of Americans believe God created people in their present form within the last 10,000 years. This might suggest extreme ignorance on the part of the American people. And, yeah, it does. But the problem is that it’s not new ignorance — it’s just a different dogma. Whatever the numbers were 10, 20, 40 years ago, the American people were just as ignorant — it’s just that they were reciting by rote a different belief. For a variety of reasons, the au courant belief is in “creationism.” Americans clearly never really understood the science or they wouldn’t have been so susceptible to the bizarre bill of goods the anti-evolution Christians are trying to sell them.

    So what’s the problem, if people are still just as ignorant, and they’re just ignorantly mouthing different things now? The problem is that what they’re ignorantly mouthing now no longer corresponds with reality. Which means that the ignorance is obvious. This makes us look bad, and it gives the nutjobs some facade of momentum.

  • Many reporters mischaracterize the conflict, as of course, do many people just trying to understand it. They present it as: Christians want to put alternative design in the classroom, and scientists say alternative design is wrong.

    Here are some problems with this:

    • One, “Christians” as a whole do not wish to do this. Evolution is not any more in conflict with the doctrines of Christianity than a host of other scientific understandings (the world is round and rotates around the sun). So it’s more accurate to not present this as Christians-versus-Scientists. Instead, describe them as “Christians who believe in intelligent design”.

    • Scientists don’t say intelligent design is wrong. They say there is no evidence for it. This is crucial, because there can be many, many theories (in the lay sense of the term) that explain any observable fact. But we don’t present all the possible theories. We present only those that have some weight of the evidence. Intelligent design has no positive evidence suggesting it. It is based solely on critiques of particular findings or methodologies in science (and on one larger critique, addressed below). But there’s no particular evidence for it. If we actually made a good faith attempt at the ID advocates’ version of “balanced”, we would have to discuss, first, the positive evidence theories of the origins of life (there’s only one: evolution) and then all the “theories” (lay version) that don’t mesh (thousands of religious and non-religious origin stories including so-called intelligent design and and other creation stories; anything that has a different story than evolution, even though, unlike all other science classes, these “theories” have no positive evidence to support them).

    • ID’s larger critique is that the system is just too complex to have come about by chance. Basically this boils down to ID advocates not understanding the theory of evolution. Because, of course, evolution is not about chance; it’s about the operation of certain principles of nature.

what to name those xtians?

one suggestion: call them leviticans

i kinda like it, but discussion over on making light points out that there are folks who follow leviticus faithfully and not selectively / hypocritically.

maybe levitican christians? but no, that’s two words, and doesn’t get at the point.

the point being that the people (a) call themselves christians; (b) but are more interested in old testament than new testament doctrines; and (c) and are rather selective about the old testament.

selective christians?

but as a matter of naming, you want something punchy, short, recognizable. leviticans is so good! but it also has to be accurate — neither over-inclusive nor under-inclusive.

someone else suggested christianists. a la “islamists”. i take it to mean, approximately, using the doctrine to advance a political agenda. another definition i saw said it meant, not following christ, but following the followers of christ.

i find it inelegant and hard to say.

others have suggested reconstructionists a la the rushdoonie (i think that’s the right spelling) crowd. i think that’s a bit inaccurate. reconstructionists are a specific philosophy, and not all the random bible-thumpers are reconstructionists. not even most of them.

leviticanists?

oh well. will think about it later.