Politics and Social Justice Archive

Egyptian Irony

Friday, February 11th, 2011

On February 8, our Vice President Joe Biden called Egypt’s new VP Omar Suleiman, saying Egypt should cancel the Emergency Law their government has used to suppress, imprison, torture and kill those who oppose the government’s tyranny.  Another provision of the Emergency Law gives the President the right to bypass the courts, and have people tried by a military tribunal – where the government can go for vengeance rather than justice. Such a repressive law – their Emergency Law has been in effect for 30 years – means Egyptians must live in a country with no protection from the people who are supposed to protect them.

Mr. Biden says the government should invite those who oppose them to start making the process more open and accountable to the majority of Egypt’s citizens, and to the rest of the world.  Moving from irony to dark humor, both Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman have said they’ll remove the 30-year-old repressive law when … well, when their citizens are so compliant and passive they don’t need it any longer.

We need to give both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden some credit here, for they are right: No government should be able to order its armies, police or goon squads to attack citizens on the unchecked whims of the president. No government should criminalize free speech or citizens protesting their government’s duplicity or viciousness. (Egypt’s government is even arresting and threatening journalists.)  When a government can spy on its own citizens, arrest anyone its president chooses, imprison them indefinitely without charges, torture them, put out a hit on them, or even persecute and try to capture citizens of other countries (journalists, e.g.) who publish state secrets, then the evil a government can do will be restricted only by the limits of its power.  Under such conditions, the government has become the rule of despots, tyrants and fascists.

While Mr. Biden was asking Egypt to repeal their Emergency Law two days ago, President Obama was asking Congress to extend our own Emergency Law: the USA PATRIOT Act. Some key parts were due to expire at the end of this month; Obama wanted them extended to December 2013.  (The Republican-controlled House had proposed extending the Act to the end of this year.)   The House rejected Obama’s extension by seven votes — most of the new Tea Partiers joined many of the Democrats to defeat it because of their concerns about the almost unimaginable threat such power represented to our civil liberties.  Today (February 10th), the House voted to proceed, probably bringing it to a vote next week, when it is expected to pass.

The ironies would be funny if they weren’t so frightening. Capricious arrests, indefinite detention without due process, and the real possibility of torture and murder are now “legal,” to the extent that any government can legalize atrocities.  The Emergency/PATRIOT Law/Act invites and guarantees political leaders spying on their own people, systematic revocation of civil liberties, and the tyranny of a government that rules its citizens rather than serving them. These are sketches of a de facto dictatorship in both Egypt and the United States. In Lily Tomlin’s famous line, “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up!”

If it seems rude to compare our government with Egypt’s, an even ruder comparison helps to explain how and why governments can arrive at deadly decisions that cross the dangerous line we’ve seen crossed so many times in history.  The confessional explanation comes from Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production who, after the Nuremberg trials, became known as “The Nazi who said ‘Sorry’.”  He served twenty years in prison, where he wrote what became two best-selling books.  What Speer described was the atmosphere that made the most horrid Nazi decisions seem logical and necessary:

“In normal circumstances, people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility.  In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum.  On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world, which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world.  In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.”

When citizens like those in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere feel free to act out against the duplicity and violence of their governments, it is often the kind of freedom that’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  We recognize the spirit guiding those actions instantly: it’s the spirit that once inspired our own American Revolution 235 years ago.  It’s the spirit of hope that must be turned into acts of moral defiance against abusive governments, or we may lose our rights, our power, and our humanity. Through the extension of our PATRIOT Act/Emergency Law, our President will retain the right to treat U.S. citizens in ways he so easily identified as tyrannical and inhumane if Egypt’s president does them.  The painful irony of our leaders doing precisely what they forbid Egypt’s leaders to do can be reduced to a paralyzing cynicism, or it can be amplified into non-violent but unyielding action.  As history has shown, however, only that latter route of defiant uprising can ever be looked back upon with any pride.

Read the original article at Common Dreams.

americafascism Davidson Loehr is the author of America, Fascism and God.

What Religion Has Lost to Science, Part Two

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Several comments last week asked me to clarify what I mean by “religion.” I’m using the word to mean Christianity, the normative religion of the U.S. Your constructive comments and critiques are most welcome.

Continuing last Monday’s Musing (Part One), here are six more areas in which our developing “hard” sciences replaced or marginalized religion in Western cultures (the first four have strong family resemblances):

7. Symbols and metaphors were replaced by scientific literalisms and facts. If scientists had nothing more exact than symbols and metaphors, they could never build a bridge, a rocket, or make reliable diagnoses and prescriptions. An unfortunate but probably unavoidable side-effect of the scientific culture is that it has made us all much more literalistic, where an aphorism like “A fact is what you get when you stop thinking” could broaden and deepen our discussions and visions.

8. Beliefs became intellectual. Unfortunately, the stories that could connect our intellectual beliefs by weaving an adequate mythology haven’t yet evolved far enough. The stories of evolution, the 19th and 20th century myth of Progress, or the emerging stories of cosmology and Deep Time aren’t warming many hearts or helping many see life in more integrated and nuanced ways.

I’m reminded of the picture of Atlas holding up the world. That image wasn’t created to answer the question “What’s holding up the world?” It was meant to let us feel that this world in which we live, love, hope, achieve and die rests on “shoulders” not only strong, but also friendly. Our modern sciences do the first part better than the second.

9. Wisdom was replaced by Knowledge. Or, more poetically, warm knowledge was replaced by cold, hard facts. Even in the Middle Ages, theologians knew the difference. They wrote often of the categorical distinction between sapientia and scientia. “Sapientia” is the Latin word for wisdom, as in our self-flattering species name, homo sapiens. “Scientia” is the Latin word for knowledge. At its best, our sciences embody a spirit of inquiry helping us to strengthen the “shoulders” for future generations. At its worst — and what is understood by the majority of non-scientists — our “scientia” means millions more facts than any of us could ever understand.

10. God was replaced by Science as the authority on who we are and how we relate to the larger world around us. People have always ascribed human qualities to Yahweh, the God of the Bible. We say things like “God says,” “God tells us” or “God loves us,” as though God were a humanoid who could speak, know or love. But now, in our newspapers and on television, we hear people saying “Science says” and “Science tells us” — though, tellingly, never “Science loves us.”

There is no such thing as “Science” spelled with a capital “S.” In the same way, “God” isn’t the name of a Fellow. Both Judaism and Islam are clear about this: Christians, less so. There are many sciences, and many scientists, as there are many religions and theologians. Scientists and theologians say things, and don’t always agree. But when we construct a sentence that begins with the words “God says” or “Science says,” we have created a humanoid fiction, an imaginary Atlas.

11. The scientific method has largely replaced the “revelatory” method. Some examples of people using this latter method include the Pope speaking ex cathedra, evangelical preachers claiming God has revealed something to them that is binding on others, the Mormon teaching that everyone can receive trustworthy revelations from God, and the funny but real bumper stickers that say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” The scientific method – when it’s followed – doesn’t care who or what “said” it, only whether doubters can verify it for themselves through empirical, repeatable experiments.

Another way of putting this is to say that the “revelatory method” posits a kind of imaginary alpha figure (usually an alpha male), while the scientific method is more democratic and secular, at least within each science’s accepted paradigms and assumptions.

12. This leads to the last of these twelve ways in which religion lost much of its authority for growing numbers of people: The birth of agnosticism and apatheism. It shows itself in the ironic coincidence of two historical events taking place in 1869-1870.

A. The first was Vatican I. We’ve heard of “Vatican II,” the liberalizing of the Catholic Church that took place from 1962-1965 under Pope John XXIII. But we seldom hear anything about the first Vatican Council: Vatican I. It occurred from 1869-1870, when Pope Pius IX declared that if a Pope ever spoke ex cathedra, as he was doing, then his pronouncements were binding matters of faith for Catholics. It would be risky for a Pope to try this however, since if time showed their pronouncement to be wrong or foolish, the pretense of papal infallibility would be over.

The only Pope since 1870 who has spoken ex cathedra was Pope Pius XII who, in 1950, proclaimed the physical, bodily “assumption” of Jesus’ mother Mary up into Heaven. Joseph Campbell, the historian of world religious myths, pointed out that the bodily assumption of anyone was only coherent in the scientific picture of the world before Copernicus and Galileo shattered the ancient “three-story universe.” As Campbell put it, even if we assume that both Jesus and Mary “rose” up to heaven, and granted that they may have traveled at the speed of light, by now — 2,000 years later — they would be only 1/13th of the way to the center of our Milky Way galaxy. And what, he asked, would they do when they got there?

B. The second thing going on in 1869-1870 was Thomas Henry Huxley’s coining (1869) then publishing (1870) the new word “agnostic.” Huxley’s new word was made up of Greek word parts, and expressed the new spirit of the times, as more and more people were becoming comfortable saying they didn’t accept the assertions of the churches, and just didn’t know whether or not there might be a God. Unspoken, but far more destructive to traditional religion, was the fact that they also didn’t care.

In the 20th century, as I’ll explore next week, religion lost even more important functions, both to new sciences, and to developing elements in our secular culture.

Read the original article at INEWP.

americafascism Davidson Loehr is the author of America, Fascism and God.

The Sad State of Religion in the U.S.

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

“There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ.  The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.”

It matters who said this.  If it came from Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens – the Four Horsemen of the New Apocalypse – few would accept it as an objective assessment.  But the author of this quote was Pope Benedict XVI.[1]

The Pope’s candor fits well with other research sponsored by churches.  When you count the people in the pews on Sunday rather than having a pollster ask whether or not they attend church, fewer than 18% attend church regularly.[2]  From 1980 to 2005 in the Southern Baptist Church, baptisms of people between eighteen and thirty four – in other words, their next generation of leaders – fell 40 percent, from 100,000 in 1980 to 60,000 in 2005.[3]

But the U.S. population grew by 27% during those 25 years, so the Baptists would have had to baptize 127,000 in 2005 just to stay even; they really fell by 52%.[4]  In 2006, the Southern Baptists – who claim almost six times more members than any other white evangelical church – made a concerted effort to baptize one million people.  Not only did they fall over two-thirds short, they actually baptized even fewer than they had the year before.[5]

You might think that some faith group must have grown during the last thirty years, and you’d be right: atheists and nonbelievers more than doubled in the eleven years between 1990 and 2001, from 14 million to 29 million: from 8% of the country to 14%.  There are more than twice as many atheists and nonbelievers as there are evangelical Christians.[6]  And since it’s hard to believe that all atheists/nonbelievers would be willing to confess that to pollsters, the number is probably much higher.  From 2000 to 2005, church attendance fell in all fifty states.[7]

Nor is this trend a new phenomenon: American churches have not kept up with population growth in over a century.[8]

Then, to add insult to injury, when a sampling of non-Christians were asked to rate eleven groups in terms of respect, they rated evangelicals tenth.  Only prostitutes ranked lower.[9]

Are believers more moral?  No.  When pollster George Barna – himself an evangelical – looked at seventy moral behaviors, he didn’t find any difference between the actions of those who were born-again Christians and those who weren’t.  His studies and other indicators show that divorce among born-agains is as common as, or more common than, among other groups.  One study showed that wives in traditional, male-dominated marriages were three times more likely to be beaten than wives in egalitarian marriages.[10]

Evangelicals constitute not 25 percent of the U.S. population – as they have claimed – but at most 7 percent, and their numbers are falling, not rising.  All these numbers come from the churches themselves.  (Wicker, p. 67)  While evangelical women make up at least 3.5% of the population (half of 7%), they make up about 20% of the women who get abortions.[11]

“The Spirit,” as the Gospel of John says, “blows where it will.”  Where is it blowing now?  Adding together the data from pollsters, evangelical researchers and Pope Benedict XVI, it’s not a stretch to say the Spirit – the spirit of life and the truth that can make you more free – has settled in the land of atheists, nonbelievers, and church alumni.


[1] Sydney Morning Herald, July 28, 2005 (http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/western-churches-a-dying-breed-pope/2005/07/28/1122143939067.html[2] Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, “How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement”) in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44, no. 3 (September 2005): 307-322.
[3] Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (2008), p. 63.
[4] U.S. population in 1980: 227,224,681;  in 2005: 288,400,000.  From U.S. Bureau of the Census.
[5] Wicker, p. xiv.
[6] Wicker, p. 53.

[7] David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Zondervan, 2008), p. 37.
[8] Olson, pp. 144-145.
[9] Wicker, p. 143.
[10] Wicker, p. 80.
[11] Wicker, p. 81.

Read the original article here.

americafascism Davidson Loehr is the author of America, Fascism and God.

For Those With Ears to Hear

Monday, April 19th, 2010

This article originally appeared on Daily Kos.

I want to offer another perspective on the escalating scandal within the Catholic Church, and alert readers to a good recent essay on these sordid topics. In “The Pattern of Priestly Sex Abuse,” Harriet Fraad offers some important data many of us didn’t know.

Figures from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, for example, estimate that since 1950, about 280,000 children have been sexually abused by Catholic Clergy and deacons.  With the shame and denial that accompany sexual abuse, the real number must be much higher.

Worse, this is not just a recent phenomenon. Father Thomas Doyle, a priest, and Richard Sipes and Patrick Wall, former monks, have written that the Catholic Church has recognized the problem of abuse by priests for 2,000 years. Their book, Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (Volt Press, 2006) was based on the Church’s own documents.

And far from being the case of a few bad apples, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin have reported that even eight years ago, two-thirds of sitting US Bishops had been accused of moving pedophile priests to new assignments.   It is not the apples that are bad; it’s the barrel.

Under authoritarian rule – whether political or religious – the high ideals preached by leaders have no necessary connection to their behavior.  That is the disconnect, the lack of integrity, between a church preaching Jesus, while practicing the sexual abuse of “the least among us” — then covering it up by moving pedophiles to fresh flocks.

It’s worth recalling just a couple teachings from this man Jesus, who hangs on the front wall of every Catholic church.  

He measured the quality of our belief by whatever we do to “the least of these,” and said what we do to them, we do also to him.  He said those who mislead children would be better off with a millstone tied around their neck, thrown into the sea.  And he thought these were among the bedrocks of decency that should be obvious to all “with eyes to see and ears to hear.” This is part of the background against which any individual or church calling itself Christian must be judged.  

Authoritarian leaders and institutions can blind us to the abuse of children, women, other races, sexual orientations or beliefs.  They are always prone to making God their hand puppet, so He believes the same as they do.  Far too often, they have turned children into mere playthings, used for the selfish desires of the priests and deacons — or left unprotected from the abuse of others.  

The Catholic Church has been a great and important institution for many centuries, and much of what it has done is very good.  But beneath the surface, the Church’s refusal to integrate all the children of God into their priesthood – including women, married couples and gays — has not only made the Church exclusive (and “exclusive” is the polar opposite of “catholic”), but the passage of time has seen their obstinacy become mere bigotry.  They remain trapped in a one-sexed institution, often attracting men who like to be around other men, and some whose natural perversion or moral blindness have led them to see children as appropriate sexual objects.  

The consistent abuse of children by priests is not a peripheral facet of the Catholic Church; it is the logical consequence of an entrenched male hierarchy’s inbred sense of its own privilege.  Of course such behavior is the antithesis of the ideals Jesus taught.  But that is another way of saying that the Catholic Church can too easily become the mortal enemy of those high ideals that are the Church’s only justification for existing.

The worldwide outcry from people representing the entire religious spectrum is saying Enough!  Enough of these men pretending they have the moral authority to preach on matters of sex, about which they remain so willfully ignorant.  Enough pretending that their habitual abuse, secrecy and cover-ups should be tolerated by anyone – especially the victimized children, their families, and the societies that make them tax-free because they have been seen as a healthy and stabilizing part of the larger world around them.  Enough of priestly myopia that lacks the eyes to see even the most heart-breaking of their transgressions.

For twenty centuries, according to the Church’s own records, a dangerous and frightening number of its priests and popes have been unable to see these abuses as evil.  The current outrage – which must also have roots 2,000 years deep – comes not only from Catholics, but also from millions of others, whether they care for religion or not.  People the world over are trying to say that there is something fundamentally and intolerably wrong with the Church and its popes, when these moral imperatives are screaming so loudly that even 200 deaf boys could hear them.  

See: http://inewp.com/…


Davidson Loehr is a former musician, combat photographer and press officer in Vietnam, owner of a photography studio in Ann Arbor, then a carpenter and drunk. He holds a Ph.D.  in methods of studying religion, theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science, with an additional focus on language philosophy (The University of Chicago).  From 1986 to 2009, he served as a Unitarian minister.  He is the author of one book, America, Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, (Chelsea Green, 2005).  Now retired from the ministry, he is building a platform to become involved in national discussions of religion, science and culture. His book in progress is The Rise of Secular Religion in America.