A dear friend of mine, Lucky Otter, has a blog post criticizing Christian Dominionism called Christian Dominionism has taken over the GOP. I appreciate 99% of what she has written but there is one statement that I not only disagree with, it has inspired this blog post.
Now, the old Testament has much to recommend it, and of course the Ten Commandments are just plain old common sense. Personally, I have no objection to the Commandments being displayed in courthouses or “In God We Trust” being printed on the dollar bill, because these things don’t necessarily favor only Christians and they’re simply good advice for anyone. They don’t repress, oppress, or marginalize anyone. They don’t hurt people or the environment. They don’t undermine the Constitution or our freedoms. People who object to these things really ought to turn their minds to more important issues that actually affect their lives.
As an atheist, I do feel “marginalized” and downright discounted by public displays of religion funded by taxpayers like me. As far as I’m concerned, “god” is the imaginary playmate of many people. I have had to deal with believers all my life. They are so sure of their righteousness, so entitled to preach their beliefs, anyone who thinks otherwise is automatically put on the defensive. While they demand “respect” for their delusional systems of thought, they never seem to think dissenting opinions deserve their respect. Well, many do agree to show respect for other religions but not for lack of religion. Frankly, I am sick of these self-assured entitled people demanding the upper hand for their delusions over my rationality.
What gives religion its power, is pure emotion. Since when can reason stand up to emotion? In the market place of ideas, emotion is like a big bully who hits everyone who disagrees over the head with a big club.
The 1940 film called Gaslight brought into the English language the term gaslighting as an expression for manipulating someone into doubting his/her own sense of reality and adopting the lie the gas lighter wants him/her to believe. The villain in the movie alters the environment while pretending he doesn’t see the changes he brought about. His victim, his wife, comes to think her very perceptions must be false. She trusts her husband so she believes him when he says he doesn’t notice the change in the lighting and other things she has observed. She comes to think she is losing her mind.
Gaslighting has come to be sited as one of the common ways in which people can be victimized in an abusive relationship. Stephanie Starkis, Ph.D., wrote 11 Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship published in Psychology Today. In her article, Dr. Starkis says that gaslighting “is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.” It is considered rude to apply this term to religion, at least a major religion. Any religion that has little enough recognition by society can be called a “cult.” It is difficult to define the difference between a “religion” and a “cult.” Before the phenomenon of secular society, it was considered unthinkable to have a society that wasn’t defined by a particular religion. As people began questioning the established religion and developing alternatives which, in turn, gained adherents, societies were challenged by the cognitive dissonance that occurred when their society adopted a religion that they didn’t believe in. Only one religion can be The Truth so it was very important that one’s religion be The religion obeyed by their society. This led to religious wars which are well documented by historians.
The need for religious warfare was resolved by the advent of secular societies which embraced pluralism. Mankind discovered that adherents of different faiths could coexist in one society if that society didn’t officially endorse one faith at the exclusion of others. Still, upstart religions which didn’t have enough clout could still be denied status and could be devalued as “cults” instead of religions. It was even possible to kidnap a member of a cult and brainwash (excuse me, deprogram him/her) to make him/her drop all that “nonsense” and accept a more mainstream view of reality.
Epistomology is the most important branch of philosophy because it is all about how we know what is real. For years, most people believed science was the key to rational knowledge. But today even science is challenged, mainly by religious folk whose fundamentalist insistence on the creationist myths of the Bible clashed with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Another scientific theory, embraced by most scientists, is being challenged by a group of well-financed people who don’t choose to believe there is such a thing as global warming. Another example of dispute in science is with vaccinations. This goes to show that there is no way mankind can come to consensus about truth. In most cases, the best solution seems to be let everyone think what he wants to think. In some situations, the need for consensus seems really urgent such as the case of global warming. The wrong answer to that question can even lead to the destruction of our very planet.
“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate as he washed his hands. Truth is as much a disputed territory today as it was when he asked the question (allegedly asked because the Bible doesn’t measure up to the criteria for established historical evidence).
The bloodthirsty insistence on consensus seems to be confined to the Western nations, those formed out of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Religions of the Far East such as Hinduism and Buddhism have no problem co-existing with each other. Only the Abrahamic religions claim the need to be the exclusive arbiters of Truth. That is probably the reason Westerners, raised in those religions can argue about even science.
Both Christianity and Islam are evangelical religions. Funny how they both sprang from Judaism which never has been evangelical. While believing in the absolute truth of their monotheistic religion, Jews never believed that the whole world had to embrace Judaism and don’t seek converts. Since Jews don’t believe people are either damned or saved, there is no need to bring others into the faith. Only when Jesus came along did the idea of mankind needing to be saved from sinfulness become an essential feature of religious thought. Looking at it that way, one can actually claim that Jesus was the original creator of holy war.
I do believe that Truth is objective. In other words, reality isn’t subjective. I don’t have my “truth” and you don’t have your “truth.” One can be “right” and everyone else “wrong.” Or everyone can be wrong. But truth transcends subjective opinion. Whether it is knowable or not, it is indivisible. Socrates was the first to say it, as far as I know. “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” He started with one assumption: that he didn’t know anything. Everything that could be known had to be proven. But he never said truth was subjective. Just hard to know.
The Europeans who settled North America were seeking religious freedom in a time when every country was thought to need an established religion but many citizens had different religious beliefs. Even among the settlers, a single established belief system was thought to be a necessity. Every colony had a religion everyone had to obey. Over time, the colonies came to accept the need for unity with other colonies in order to win independence from England. The nation that was built was deliberately designed to avoid establishment of any religion.
“In God We Trust” did not appear on the US currency, at the start of the Civil War, it was added to coins. Teddy Roosevelt ordered the phrase removed but popular sentiment forced it to be returned. It didn’t appear on paper money until 1957 when the Cold War made combining piety with patriotism seem like a good idea. “Under God” was added to “One Nation…” around the same time. Although the religionists like to argue that these tokens of religious piety were part of our original identity, none of them appeared at the founding of our nation. In fact, in 2002, the Ninth Circuit of California ruled that the “under God” phrase violated the Constitution. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit by “Michael Newdow, who had complained that his daughter is injured when forced to listen to public school teachers lead students daily in a pledge that includes the assertion that there is a God.” (One Nation Under God) The ruling set off political backlash. It was argued that the girl didn’t have to recite that phrase or even the Pledge of Allegiance itself. (Funny, when I went to school, I was never told I had the right not to say the Pledge.)
It may seem petty to some people, but having to proclaim something I consider a falsehood every time I spend money is being forced to be false to myself and that is gaslighting. Having to stand with my hand on my heart and recite (or pretend to) words I don’t agree with is gaslighting. In the movie Song of Bernadette about the Catholic Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, the life of a royal family is saved by the Lourdes water. When a member of the royal family, praises the waters for healing the prince, his father scolds her for not giving the doctor enough credit. “You’re an atheist,” she proclaims. “That’s the stupidest thing a monarch can be,” he returns. Religion and national sovereignty go hand in hand. The “divine right of kings” was long considered justification for the government of nations. We don’t believe in that any more but we still have prayer breakfasts and atheists have little chance of ever being elected to office.
Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: The original Pledge was written by a socialist. That’s right. A socialist by the name of Francis Bellamy. The story is covered in Why we’re not one nation “under God,” by David Greenberg.
Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked, the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike’s support, Congress added the words “In God We Trust” on all paper money.
The Ten Commandments are not “common sense” as Lucky Otter has declared. (“Ten Commandments are just plain old common sense.”) The first four of the ten are all about worshiping God. That leaves atheists out. It also threatens anyone who isn’t worshipful enough with punishment to the third generation. “Honor thy Father and Mother” is more authoritarianism. Lucky Otter knows better than that as she has discussed the limits of one’s obligation to honor a parents who doesn’t deserve it. The others are mostly about preserving the status quo. “Thou shalt not steal” even if an unjust system enriches some justly at the expense of the many? Nice that people are told not to commit adultery. How about a rule forbidding rape?
Certainly Lucky’s main point that Dominionism goes way beyond what is accepted in today’s society. Domionists are every bit as extreme and authoritarian as ISIS. Lucky’s opposition to the wave of fascism that threatens to overtake our country is important.