Posts Tagged With: religious fanaticism

DONATING TO THE PIZZA JOINT

In about 500 to 1000 years from now, when historians begin to chronicle the demise of the American Empire, similar to the way author Edward Gibbon chronicled “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire,” I hope they take into consideration 2 recent minor events that, nevertheless, speak volumes about the American psyche. The very mindset that will ultimately lead to American self-destruction in a manner similar to the way ancient Romans brought about their own downfall. In the American case, it’s about individuals clinging to power through the deployment of religious fanaticism, and a gullible public that buys into the trappings of such fanaticism.

The first event took place on August 1, 2013, which was proclaimed Chick-fil-A day by former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Chick-fil-A is a chain of fried chicken joints, mainly in the South and Mid-West, whose CEO, Dan Cathy, felt compelled to come out publicly against the “sin” of gay marriage. He uttered statements to the effect that if the U.S. goes against God’s will by allowing such “atrocities” as gay marriage to become legal, then God will stomp on us in retribution. He will simply crush us like a bug. Huckabee, a bible thumper going back to his days in Arkansas, was so impressed by Dan Cathy”s proclamation, that he stated on his TV show that God-fearing Americans should turn out on Aug.1 at Chick-fil-A outlets to show their appreciation. And turn out, they did. Most Chick-fil-A diners were so swamped with demand that they ran out of food before closing time. At the franchise outlet in Augusta, GA, the lunch line was several hours long. People were willing to stand on line for 2 hours or more, in the broiling summer heat, only to end up with a greasy fried chicken sandwich, if that’s what it took to stick it to those “queers.”  Huckabee said on his TV show after, that he was “giddy” about the outcome. In areas where there were no outlets, evangelicals had arranged for caravans of people to schlep for hours to the closest Chick-fil-A and then wait in hot sun, just to show their solidarity with Dan Cathy’s statements about gay marriage. What this episode tells us is that the delusional fanaticism surrounding the bible thumpers ideology has no boundaries.

The second event is on-going even as we speak. As we all know, the Indiana legislature felt compelled to show its appreciation to the evangelicals of that state that elected them to office in the first place, by enacting what is called the freedom of religion act, or some such phony nomenclature. Remember that Indiana is in the heart of the Mid-Western bible belt, so due homage must be given to these Christian ideologues, that always vote Republican by the way. In any event, despite all denials to the contrary, what this legislation does is simply promote bigotry.  It states that any business open to the public can deny service to anyone, if providing such service somehow conflicts with their religious beliefs. So, any shopkeeper that’s opposed to gay marriage, can deny providing food or a wedding cake to, or refuse to provide photography for, a gay wedding ceremony. This time, however, instead of rolling over and playing dead, the gay community and their supporters have attempted to fight back. Business conventions scheduled to take place in Indiana have been canceled, as well as a slew of other commercial activities. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who replaced Steve Jobs, has also threatened Indiana with business losses. The uproar has caused the Indiana state government to somewhat modify the legislation in question, but, in essence, it’s still on the books in its basic form. Sort of reminds me of the 1960s when blacks attempted to de-segregate Southern lunch counters by sitting down and ordering off the menu. The white establishment owners would refuse service to any Afro-American by stating that since they owned the business, it was their constitutional right to deny service to whoever they wanted. Eventually those Jim Crow protections were struck down by the courts who ruled that any public establishment must provide service to the entire public without discrimination.

As an added wrinkle to all this fiasco, a pizza joint somewhere in Sticksville, Indiana, population 2000, has come out and publicly proclaimed that it would not provide any catering services for any gay marriages. Like gay couples from all over the country are just dying to have their wedding celebrations catered with pizza from Sticksville, Indiana. But the most fascinating aspect of this story is that, because of their stand on gay marriage, people from all over the country have been sending in cash donations to the pizza joint. So far, it’s claimed that over $850,000 has been collected with more coming in. Most of that money, I’m certain, is from people who are likely living hardscrabble existences. Nevertheless, their evangelical fundamentalism is so deranged, that they will gladly part with what fews dollars may have, if it feeds into their anti-gay bigotry.

Who knew that it would be that easy to have people part with their money once you can tap into their ingrained hatreds. I periodically get e-mails from places such as Nigeria, offering to deposit millions of dollars into my bank account if I would just give them my account number. Does anyone fall for these scams? It’s so much easier and even legal to scam people out of their money, the way they’re doing it at the Indiana pizza place. The deep-seated hatred of people making these voluntary donations is only superseded by their gullibility. As P.T. Barnum of circus fame once said, there’s a sucker born every minute. But the fact that such hatred and bigotry still seem to thrive in our so-called enlightened age, does not bode well for the long-term prospects of this country. The thing about hatred is that it corrodes from the inside out, until nothing but a shell or facade is left.

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RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM

At the heart of religious fundamentalism is the unquenchable thirst to dominate other people’s lives. To dictate to the populace what it can and cannot do. The self-gratifying, lustful power to reward or punish others based on how they respond to religious edicts. That power to include torturing, imprisoning or out-right killing other human beings should they disobey those edicts. This has been on-going for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, or ever since mankind began forming into various types of societies such as tribes or clans. Most early tribal leaders had the power to destroy the lives of their fellow clansmen should they disobey the craven idols they had carved and called gods. Such power has always been too intoxicating for most leaders to ever relinquish.

Which brings us to the events going on in most Arab countries in the Middle-East. It was only a few years back that the world was enchanted by what was called the Arab Spring. Ruthless dictators that had been in power for decades, such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, were being overthrown and the prospects of freedom and democracy throughout the Mid-East seemed to burn brightly. Today those dreams have turned to ashes, as most Arab countries have become hollowed-out shells of their former beings. You can thank religious fundamentalism for most of this, including the fact that people all too often make incredibly bad choices and turn out to be their own worst enemy.

In Egypt, after the fall of Mubarak, Egyptians were allowed to hold free elections that would determine their next government. In an act that can only be described as incredible stupidity, the people chose leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood to run their country. The Moslem Brotherhood had, over many decades, openly espoused and advocated for the imposition of strict Islamic fundamentalism for Egyptian society. Once in power, that’s exactly what they began doing. Who could have guessed? When those very same Egyptians that had voted the Moslem Brotherhood into power, began seeing the ugly face of Islamic fanaticism being put into practice, they cried and begged for relief. They held massive demonstrations and prayed that the military would intervene and save them. Fortunately for them, the Army did come to their rescue and overthrew the Moslem Brotherhood. Today, there’s a new Army General in charge of a government that allows and tolerates secularization in Egyptian society.

Most other Arab countries, however, are not as fortunate. It was not long after the Prophet Muhammed established the Moslem religion that two factions of Islam suddenly sprung up. Both factions pray to Allah, both recognize Muhammed as the prophet, so that the religious differences among the two sects are relatively minor; yet the two have created a chasm between themselves that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon. One faction is called Sunni and the other Shia, and their hatred of one another has led to deaths among Arabs in the hundreds of thousands or more. It’s all about the power and the ability to impose one’s religious beliefs on often unwilling populations. All this division and dysfunction has led to terrorist organizations being created, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS who view killing people and instigating atrocities to be such jolly good sport. Ostensibly their intentions are to kill western heathens such as Americans and Europeans. And, of course, Israelis and Jews. That goes without saying. But in the end, they wind up slaughtering  their own fellow Arabs and Muslims by the thousands. Much easier to kill Arabs since they’re right there in the Middle-East and so readily available. Today, Iraq, Syria and Libya have been almost totally destroyed by terrorism, while Jordan and Tunisia are tottering on the brink. The terrorists have carved out a huge hunk of territory in Iraq and Syria, with stated intentions of taking over the whole Mid-East. And somehow, all this derangement, slaughter and destruction, in the name of Islamic-Jihad has proved to be an attractive recruiting tool for hundreds of young Europeans, and even some Americans. They have gone over to the Mid-East to join the terrorists on their murderous quests. After all, why should only Arabs have all the fun.

In a way, it’s a bit unfair to cite Islam as the only example of religious fanaticism, since Christianity has its own bloody history. From the time that Roman emperors allowed Christianity to become the official faith of the Roman Empire, (a few centuries after Christ’s death), the Papacy was established and became a dominant power in the affairs of almost all European nations. Europeans that deviated from various papal proclamations were often imprisoned or burned at the stake. One of my favorite episodes on the top ten list of religious fundamentalist hits was known as the Spanish Inquisition. Started in Spain in the late 15th century, the Inquisition sought to convert mostly Jews, but some Muslims also, to Christianity in order to save their souls from hell and damnation. Those “heretics” that refused to convert were often tortured and then murdered. The religious theory behind the killings were that since these Jews and Muslems would be dying at the hands of God’s children, (Christians), their spirits would be pervaded by the wisdom and knowledge of God’s followers, and they would therefore be spared from the fires of hell, and be transported into heaven. The old kill the person to save their soul gambit. This practice went on for centuries before some semblance of reason and sanity finally did away with the Inquisition.

Today, Christian fundamentalism, at least in the U.S. and elsewhere, takes the form of trying to forbid a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, or seeking to deny homosexuals their basic rights such as marriage. Certainly a lot tamer than beheading those that are considered unholy heathens. But sort of the same mentality of trying to force their fundamentalist view of life and religion down the throats of people that don’t share their beliefs. As I’ve said before, religious fundamentalism is all about the power to foist one’s beliefs on everyone else. After all, wouldn’t God want it that way?

 

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THE BETTER SALESMAN

So all the conventions and hoopla are over and the race for President has started in earnest. Watching the rapt attention that convention delegates gave to their leaders’ speeches, one could see the adoration of the true believers that I’ve written about previously, and the blind trust they had that their guy, if elected, will truly transform life on this planet, and make it so much better for all of us. Now the race for the the White House goes into full throttle, and in the end it will likely be the better salesman who also has the most cash, that winds up sitting in the oval office. The one that can more effectively sell his visions and promises for America’s future, most of which, of course, will never come true. And by the way, is everyone enjoying those mean-spirited and nasty TV commercials blasting away at the other side with at least 95% fiction. They’re only going to increase in volume and viciousness over the next 8 weeks. In any event, I thought it would be useful to summarize what each party has politically accomplished over the years to improve our society, so that we don’t have to rely on those fictitious ads in deciding who to vote for. Lets start with the Democrats.

When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 the great depression was in full swing, and the unemployment rate topped 25%. Tens of millions of people had just about lost all hope for a better future, or that anyone could help them, least of all, their Government. Roosevelt quickly ushered in the New Deal, which marked the first time in our history that a Government stated objective would be to play an active role regarding the economic welfare of its citizens. The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration which together put millions of unemployed back to work and receiving a paycheck. Also created was Social Security, which for the first time established a federal pension system for the elderly. Other accomplishments of the New Deal were laws establishing the rights of workers to legally form unions and strike if necessary; unemployment insurance so people out-of-work wouldn’t necessarily starve or become homeless; workman’s compensation for employees injured on the job; the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee Wall Street stock and bond trading which led to the depression in the first place through excessive speculation, and much more. Perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of a decisive federal role in the welfare and economy of our country.

Fast forward now to 1961 when John Kennedy took office. Though Kennedy’s term was tragically cut short by his assassination, he began the long march toward equality for all Americans, and especially black people who were denied basic civil rights, mostly in the South. Segregation laws throughout the South were increasingly being challenged, sometimes violently, as some civil rights protestors lost their lives during demonstrations. Blacks were often denied the right to vote through most of the South, and JFK pushed for a voting rights law which came to fruition in 1964 under Lyndon Johnson, after Kennedy lost his life in November 1963. (Interestingly, southern states justified their racial and voting rights discrimination laws on the basis of “states rights,” i.e., the federal government had no constitutional right to interfere with how individuals states governed their citizens. Not unlike tea party members of today screaming that the federal government has no role in the welfare of the people. Only the states do. As the old adage goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.) As I mentioned LBJ brought the voting rights bill to success in 1964, and for the first time, blacks were able to vote in large numbers. Once that occurred, formal segregation, or Jim Crow laws began to crumble, and blacks throughout the country, after a hundred years of semi-slavery since the end of the Civil War, began to enjoy the freedom of equality.

LBJ’s accomplishments didn’t end with passage of the voting rights act. Working with a largely Democratic Congress, he was able to enact two major health care laws, Medicare for the elderly, and Medicaid for the poor. Also established were food stamps for the poor, which currently puts food on the table for over 45 million Americans. Even the most rabid anti-government types are fearful of advocating reversal of these acts. Unfortunately, LBJ allowed us to get hopelessly bogged down in the quagmire of the Viet-Nam war, which greatly tarnished his reputation and destroyed his chances for re-election. Jimmy Carter’s presidency has largely been maligned because the economy was in poor shape at the time. But he did manage to get Israel and Egypt to make peace, which has had huge consequences for the Mid-East until this day. Bill Clinton gave us the best 8 years of peace and prosperity in my lifetime. Barack Obama in his first term, has given us universal health care (if it survives the Republican onslaught) and greater financial oversight over the banking business. However the economy remains in poor shape.

Now lets see what the Republicans have given us. Basically it can be summed up thusly- tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics, anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights, and anti-gun control laws. So why is the GOP commanding at least half, if not more, of the vote, and is within striking distance of taking over the White House and Congress, in a few weeks. I believe the reasons can be summed up in two words: redistribution and evangelicalism. On the financial side the Republicans appeal to people’s basic greed and fear of being taken advantage of. Many Republicans view the Government as a vast redistribution point, where a person’s hard earned income is taken away in taxes and given to those who receive any form of Government assistance. After all, the thinking goes, anyone receiving welfare, food stamps, unemployment checks, etc., has to be either lazy or stupid or both. Ronald Reagan called them “welfare queens” and made huge political profit as a result. Newt Gingrich has called Barack Obama the food stamp President. Never mind that Defense, interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare take up 85% of the Government’s budget. In the minds of average Republicans, their tax money all goes to those that refuse to take care of themselves, and Republicans are perpetually irate over that.

The other half of Republican successes come from religious fanatics, better known as evangelicals. They interpret both the old and new testaments literally, (regardless of the huge number of contradictions), and hence, their fiercely anti-abortion and anti-gay rights stances. In a country where more than half the population denies the existence of evolution, the GOP has found a rich mine-field of religious fanatics to enlist in their cause. Financial greed and selfishness, coupled with bible thumpers and holy rollers, and the GOP believes it has a winning combination for this year’s election. And why shouldn’t they. It has frequently worked for them in the past. Given that the economy is still in poor shape, it may very well work for them once again.

 

 

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