“Moral March” Poses Big Questions for Progressives

 

by Ira Chernus, Common Dreams, February 11, 2014  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/11-0

Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say “NO” to the state’s sharp right-wing political turn and “YES” to a new, truly progressive America.

They weren’t just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issue progressives care about: economic justice; a living wage for every worker; support for organized labor; justice in banking and lending; high quality, well-funded, diverse public schools; affordable health care and health insurance for all, especially women; environmental justice and green jobs; affordable housing for every person; abolishing the death penalty and mandatory sentencing; expanded services for released prisoners; comprehensive immigration reform to provide immigrants with health care, education, and workers rights; insuring everyone the right to vote; enhancing LGBT rights; keeping America’s young men and women out of wars on foreign soil; and more.

All this in Raleigh, a metro area of barely more than a million people. It’s as if a million and half turned out in New York or DC, or a million in San Francisco. When was the last time we saw such huge crowds in the streets demanding a total transformation in our way of life? This could be the start of something big.

And it was all led by . . . God?

Many of the marchers would say so. Many others would doubt it. The march organizers invited “secular and religious progressives alike,” people of every faith and no faith at all. And that’s what they got. “The march brought together a diverse group from Baptists to Muslims and gay marriage supporters,” as USA Today reported.

But no one doubts that it was all started by a man of faith, the Rev. William Barber.

“We will become the ‘trumpet of conscience’ that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon us to be, echoing the God of our mothers and fathers in the faith,” the Disciples of Christ minister told the huge crowd, exhorting them to “plant America on higher ground.” Then he prayed: “Lord, Lord plant our minds on higher ground. Plant our hearts on higher ground. Plant our souls on higher ground. Lord, lift us up, lift us up, lift us up and let us stand. Plant our feet on higher ground.”

The night before the march he led what a local TV station called “a spiritual pep rally” the Abundant Life Christian Center, designed (the organizers said) to prepare the marchers “by spiritually invoking … love, peace, and a source of power beyond what can be seen with our eyes or calculated with our minds.”

Those organizers, many of them clergy and religious leaders, are well aware that “some secular progressives object to the use of this kind of language because of its religious overtones. … Sure, Barber prays in public, uses church language and premises many of his beliefs and arguments on his understanding of the teachings of his faith — he’s a preacher for Pete’s sake! But his policy messages, his organization and his objectives are thoroughly secular and open to all, whatever their beliefs or lack thereof when it comes to religion.”

It’s not surprising that his politics would be thoroughly secular. He’s got a BA in political science and a PH.D. in public policy as well as pastoral care. He’s proving himself to be a shrewd, hard-headed organizer and political tactician. 100,000 progressives don’t just appear out of nowhere.

In fact, the Moral March was initiated by the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition,” started by Barber and other religious leaders back in 2007. It took plenty of hope and faith to believe that within just seven years a small group could swell to such a huge crowd.

But building this mass movement also took political smarts. And HKonJ has shown plenty of smarts, especially at the North Carolina state house. They played an important role in passage of a Racial Justice Act, obtaining Same Day Voting; winning workers the right to unionize; getting a former Democratic governor to veto Voter I.D. Laws, an unfair budget, and repeal of a Racial Justice Act.

In 2013, as a Republican governor and legislature moved their state ever further rightward, Barber and his allies stepped up the action. They began weekly sit-ins at the state capitol on “Moral Mondays,” which eventually saw just short of a thousand people arrested.

“Clergy were especially prominent” in those actions, the Washington Post reported. Local Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Methodist leaders issued a joint statement supporting the action: “It is a matter of faith with respect to our understanding of the biblical teachings and imperatives to protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors.”

Now Rev. Barber sees this potent mix of faith and progressive politics as a model for resistance across the country: “We must reduce fear through public education, through the streets, through the courts and through the electoral campaigns.” 

“If you are going to change America you have to think states,” he says. “We believe North Carolina is the crucible. If you’re going to change the country, you’ve got to change the South. If you’re going to change the South, you’ve got to focus on these state capitols.” Spin-offs of the Moral Monday movement are already starting up in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

And you’ve got to change state politics at the county level, Barber advises. So he and his group are launching “North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer,” a statewide registration and mobilization effort for voters in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

But that’s just part of a larger program that also includes voter education, a social media strategy, and a legal strategy. “Many of these things, not just the voting rules, are going to be challenged in the courts using our state and federal constitutions,” Barber promises. That’s a lot of smart strategic thinking. 

As far as he is concerned, though, there’s no way to separate smart politics from devout faith. He takes his inspiration equally from the Constitution, where he finds deep values to promote “the common good,” and from the Bible, which he sees teaching that love and justice should be at the center of public policy: “Isaiah 10 says, ‘Woe unto those who make unjust laws that rob the right of the poor.’”

“Clergypersons are choosing to move in a prophetic tradition to challenge injustice and wrongs in government and systemic transgressions against our values,” Barber explains. “It’s our Jewish friends, Christian, Universalist, Muslim friends and others who are willing to put their voices and bodies on the line. That is significant when pulpits get on fire for justice.”

And wherever he goes, his “thundery oratory” will be filled “with biblical references to Pharaoh, Goliath, good and evil,” as ReligionNews reports

“Good and evil.” That’s the key to the power of this new movement. It has gone beyond single-issue politics by find the common thread tying all progressive issue together, the thread spotlighted in the name of  their action: The “Moral” March.

In North Carolina they understand what George Lakoff has been telling us for years. The left is losing the political argument by sticking to specific issues and factual evidence. Conservatives are winning because they “speak from an authentic moral position, and appeal to voters’ values.” So progressives “have to go up a level, to the moral level” and start dealing publicly “very seriously and very quickly with the unity of their own philosophy and with morality.” Otherwise “they will not merely continue to lose elections but will as well bear responsibility for the success of conservatives in turning back the clock of progress in America.”  

In North Carolina they are talking very seriously about morality, saying out loud that the same moral foundations undergird all progressive policies.

And they’ve discovered the power of that word “moral” to unite religious progressives with secular progressives, who elsewhere are so often scared off by any talk of God and Jesus and the Bible. 

The HKonJ organizers understand this very well. As their website says, they intentionally highlight the word “moral,” even though some secular progressives object to the use of this kind of language because of its religious overtones. It sounds too much like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. But of course by that logic, progressives couldn’t use words like “liberty” or “freedom” either. After all, both of those words have also been monopolized by the far right in recent years. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to be made that progressives have too often shied away from the use of such overarching language — thus ceding it without a fight to the right. Put simply, there is nothing inherently religious in the word “moral”; it is a powerful and important word that’s plenty big enough to be of great use and profound meaning to secular and religious progressives alike.

Those nearly 100,00 Moral Marchers in Raleigh pose crucial questions to progressives across America: Are we ready to move beyond our own issues to join a unified, strategically savvy progressive movement encompassing every issue? And are we willing to do what it takes for that movement to succeed: to drop our suspicion of religion, to lift up the word “moral” as a bridge across the religious-secular divide, to judge religious progressives by the content of their policies and not the color of their vocabulary?

If enough progressives answer “yes,” this could indeed be the start of something big.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

more Ira Chernus


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/11-0

 

 

 

Imagine America – Moral Politics

“All politics is moral.” George Lakoff

All of the various fields of human inquiry — theology and philosophy and morality and psychology meet rather beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn’t exactly that, it’s the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical moment on earth in which we live.” Tony Kushner – writer of “Lincoln” interview with Bill Moyers

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business. It’s much nobler to do community service or just avoid all that putrid noise…. you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere…Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public goodpolitics is the best place to develop the highest virtuesWhy We Love Politics By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 22, 2012

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013

America is NOT a Christian nation

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History?

Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” –  Here’s What Would That Would Actually Look Like 

Religion wars

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America

…Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact…Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion By Mike Lux

…The increase in coverage of the religious right’s longterm strategy to transform American culture has led to a number of responses charging “leftists” with fearmongering… Reconstructionists themselves  hold a view of knowledge that says that there are really only two possible worldviews (a biblical one and a humanist one that comes in several varieties) and that both worldview are in a conflict for dominion (so in their view “we” are fighting for it too)…It is not fearmongering, paranoia, or religious bigotry to try to understand their goals and strategies. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. The Pundits and the Dominionists by Julie Ingersoll

…[Karl] Rove’s real skill lay in finding how to use religion as a political tool…In Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America By Edd Doerr, UU World, Winter 2008

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

Right wing religious extremism

…The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-fledged religious movement. The political ideology fueling this movement is religious to the core; and while it might be easi­est to label the religious element “Christian,” that designation is too broad and generous for the true complexities at work here…Republicanity is a culture that merges politics and religion…and unashamedly and unreservedly blows apart the longed-for “wall of separation” keeping the two spheres separate. Now more than ever the case can be made that our pol­i­tics are a form of reli­gion and that reli­gion is the new politics. ‘Republicanity’—The GOP Transformation is Nearly Complete By Gary Laderman, Religion Dispatches,  July 17, 2011

… what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics…what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, and violence and bigotry into the Christian religion… I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it. Chris Hedges on Christian Heretics, Truthdig.com, Nov 2, 2013 -

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’

American Theocracy — Clear and Present Dangers by Alan Brinkley, March 20, 2006 by the New York Times

Progressive and secular spirituality

… the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion… Religion was hijacked for political gain by the right wing beginning as far back as the Nixon era, yet there is a much stronger current of secular spirituality running through our history.….secular spirituality…Nothing about secular spirituality is radical. Most of its principles are articles of belief for millions of average Americans who have largely been shut out of politics for eight years…Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board… Obama And the Rise of Secular Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart, Beliefnet.com, January 18, 2009

…Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights…While many in the Spiritual Left are politically active, many others eschew direct participation in the Political Left because it remains locked in a destructive cycle of conflict with the Political Right…Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected… Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010

…the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can’t easily be replaced with anything else…abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice…To our credit, a lot of our best organizers and activists are starting to realize the magnitude of this mistake. We’re paying a lot more attention these days to learning to clearly articulate progressive values, to express ourselves in explicitly moral language, and to put forward more strongly progressive frames, narratives, and future visions to counter the bankrupt conservative worldview that’s brought us to this sorry place in history… If we’re going to overwrite their [right wing] brutal and anti-democratic story of how the world works, the most important step we can take is to tap into the vast reach and deep moral authority of our remaining progressive faith communities, and amplify their voices every way we can.…there’s very little agreement about the nature of God — but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do… Six Reasons We Can’t Change the Future Without Progressive Religion By Sara Robinson, AlterNet | News Analysis, 09 July 2012

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking, Moyers and Company, March 1, 2013

America’s Soul

There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the over­all well-being of a nation’s inner core. America’s soul is in a fragile state. It has suffered severe violations over the course of this past decade and to lesser degrees, in previous decades…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.…I deeply believe the soul of our nation can’t take much more of their strategy of deliberate division against the peo­ple of their own nation. That is a true crime — and perhaps their greatest crime — against the soul of this great nation. Crimes Against the Soul of Amer­ica by Caroline Myss 

...The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good…That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority… Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013

the moral responsibilities of citizens and politicians in a democratic society… politics should be a high moral calling… A moral and intellectual state cannot be established through a constitution, or through law, or through directives, but only through complex, long-term, and never-ending work involving education and self-educationit might be called spirit. Or feeling. Or conscience… politicians have a moral obligation to call their followers to be true to their best selves rather than pander to or inflame their followers’ worst instincts… Building an intellectual and spiritual state — a state based on ideas — does not mean building an ideological state. Indeed, an ideological state cannot be intellectual or spiritual. A state based on ideas is precisely the opposite: it is meant to extricate human beings from the straitjacket of ideological interpretations, and to rehabilitate them as subjects of individual conscience, of individual thinking backed up by experience, of individual responsibility, and with a love for their neighbors that is anything but abstract… Václav Havel: Democracy as Spiritual Discipline by Peter Montgomery, Religion Dispatches, December 18, 2011

Universal values

…In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith… Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do…This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion…politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue. The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality by Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams.org, December 19, 2011

It is no longer necessary to invoke the name of God to explain or promote compassionate action. Today we understand we have evolved that capacity… the capacity for empathy, fairness, and altruism is wired into human beingsSimilarly, the laws of civility from the Eightfold Way and the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta, the Geneva Convention, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — are the culturally transmitted legacy of thousands of years of human social evolution overlaid upon older, natural reproductive-selective processes. Whereas laws of civility may once have needed the rhetorical force of God-talk to establish themselves, today they can be embraced rationally in the service of peace and prosperity. Another Word on “God and the Twenty-First Century” by Michael Benedikt

A Values and vision based political dream

Persons, People, and Public Policy

Ron Cebik, Psychotherapist and Teacher, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2013

Excerpt

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking…What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community…The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have…Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

Full text

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking.

Statements by politicians and pundits about the president during the recent series of events involving the use of poison gas in the Syrian conflict point to an overlooked factor in the shaping of opinions and conflicting attitudes. When the president stated there was a line which if crossed there would be military action, the Syrians crossed the line. The decision about military action was handed off to Congress. Then through some diplomatic maneuvering, the situation was resolved without military intervention. The result was a spate of accusations calling the president weak and that he had damaged the reputation of the United States before the world. Others applauded the president’s diplomatic prowess at averting military involvement in a complex war. “Who was right?” is a misleading question in determining the dynamics of the current political climate.

What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community.

Anxiety below consciousness is the emotion that is transmitted through human systems to alert the system to a common danger. It is infectious. Alcoholism is often symptomatic of family dysfunction due to anxiety in the system. The alcohol becomes the objectified focus for this underlying incapacity to deal with the boundaries affecting growth and the ensuing risks that transcending boundaries engenders. The same is true for differing cultures within our nation. The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have.

In family therapy as in other system approaches to increasing the functioning of human organizations, the object is to increase a non-anxious presence in the system. This is done by identifying persons capable of dealing with their own anxiety and who show a capacity to grow beyond the restrictive rules governing relationships in the group. This suggests the importance of putting the focus on the development of leadership based on the ability to transcend norms and boundaries that preserve the safety of sameness and venture into the space that encompasses the richness of diversity. This may mean making a place for education for personal development amidst an academia more attuned to skill training as an economic tool.

Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-cebik/persons-people-and-public_b_4133393.html

The Bible Paradox

by Big Think Editors, October 20, 2013

Excerpt

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible…so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School…“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.” And this is a power that can be abused, and often is…Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers…if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs…This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

Full text

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible, as Stephen Prothero notably demonstrated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t.

(To test your religious literacy, take Prothero’s quiz here.)

And so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. Baden gave a recent talk called “What Use is the Bible?” (see video below) at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA.

“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.”

And this is a power that can be abused, and often is. When people invoke the Bible, they are often seeking to invoke a deeper Biblical truth, one that represents a singularity of message and meaning. In other words, in order for the Bible to work as a prop, it needs to function like a sledgehammer. ”Nobody wants a wishy-washy authority,” Baden says.

Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers.

In the video below, Baden does something radically different. He walks us through the two contradictory creation accounts in Genesis. On what day did God create the plants and the birds and land and sea and Adam and Eve? If you read Genesis I and II back-to-back you are bound to be thoroughly confused. So why couldn’t the authors of the Bible get their stories straight?

“Whoever put these stories together effectively privileged form over content,” Baden says. The Bible’s author “was willing to sacrifice easy meaning and singularity of perspective for the presence in scripture of multiple perspectives.” The author was “happier with an incomprehensible plot – an impossible story – than to have to give up one of these two viewpoints.”

And so if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs,” Baden says, “a combination of voices…embedded in the text right from the word ‘Go.’”

So of what use is the Bible? This book is both the ultimate source of authority and completely indecisive. But that does not mean we should throw it away, Baden says. “This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/the-bible-paradox

It Can’t Happen Here?

New Novel Explores Imposition Of A ‘Christian Nation’ On America

Americans United, September 2013

Fred Rich is an attorney in New York who has just published his first novel, Christian Nation. In this intriguing “what if,” Rich presents an alter­native version of recent U.S. history: It’s an America where the McCain/­Palin ticket wins the 2008 election, and McCain’s death shortly thereafter leads to a Palin presidency and a slide toward theocracy.

            Rich discussed the book with Church & State recently.

Q. You’re a successful lawyer who specializes in project financing. This is your first novel. What possessed you to write this book?

A. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin shocked me. When she started insisting that America is a “Christian Nation” where all laws are and should be based on “God’s law” and the Bible, I started to do some research about what she meant. It was then that I found out about the breadth and depth of Christian nationalism, what the movement really wants and how profoundly they have influenced American politics. I felt I needed to do something and decided to try to tell the story in a different way.

Q. You obviously know a lot about Religious Right groups and how they operate. What non-fiction sources did you use to educate yourself while writing Christian Nation?

A. My primary sources were American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle both by Chris Hedges; Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg; The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet; American Theocracy by Kevin Philips and Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal. In promoting my novel, I have done everything possible to direct people to these important books.

Q. Talk about the title of your book. Here at Americans United, we hear all the time that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Why isn’t it?

A. Political pundits have started to use the term “dog-whistle politics” to refer to the use of language that is assumed by the majority to mean one thing, but is only truly “heard” or correctly understood by a particular group. “Christian Nation” is one of those terms. When Palin, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and others say that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” most Americans think that simply means that over its history the majority of Americans have been Christian, and thus that Christianity has given our country many of its traditions and influenced its culture – all of which is, of course, true.  But that’s not what it means at all, or what is understood by the broad evangelical community. To them, it means the realization of America’s destiny to be a shining “city upon a hill,” a godly Kingdom in which God’s law as revealed in the Bible remains the source of all law.

It is a country in which politicians like Palin talk to God and tell the rest of us what He wants. To certain extremists, it also means a country in which Christians – evangelicals in particular – have “dominion” over all institutions of civic and political life, which they believe is a predicate to the second coming of Christ.

Q. Two obvious literary antece­dents to your book seem to be Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Were there other fictional works that inspired you?

A. Those were the main ones but also Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, where he uses a counterfactual – Charles Lindbergh becoming president in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt – to animate his alternate history.  I suppose the book is most like Lewis’ book, since it is written contemporaneously with the problem and constitutes a plea to “not let it happen here.” My book differs from Margaret Atwood’s haunting book in that it outlines a practical path to the theocratic future, as opposed to just being set in a strange and unlikely future and leaving you to wonder how we got from here to there.

Q. People probably tell you all of the time that while your book is entertaining, it’s too fantastic and the scenario outlined could never happen in America. How do you respond to that?

A. It’s interesting – only people who have not read the book tell me that. That’s the mental place where we all start – it’s where I started.  It’s where the characters in my book start. I don’t argue with that or tell readers they are wrong. Instead, chapter by chapter, incrementally, with the ebb and flow of politics – with an unlucky combination of bad decisions and bad luck – a scenario starts to unfold under which the broader group of the “Christian Right” (perhaps 70 or 80 million Am­er­icans) buys into the agenda of the fundamentalists, the legal protections against authoritarianism are ever so gradually eroded and before long we find ourselves in a bad place. Most people who read the book find it totally credible, not believing that it will happen but convinced that it could happen.

Q. Some political analysts believe that American society is changing and that the Religious Right is on the ropes. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Too many of us in the big cities and “blue states” indulge in the wishful thought that the 2012 elections signal at long last the ebb tide of Christian fundamentalism in American politics. I certainly hope so. But that’s not what it looks like in much of the country. In what Garry Wills has called the “great bait and switch,” Tea Party politicians elected to tame deficits have instead unleashed a tsunami of conservative social legislation in the state legislatures, including by his count – in the first quarter of 2012 alone – 944 separate bills and amendments dealing with abortion and contraception. And most disturbingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports what they called a “stunning” rise in extreme right hate groups and militias.

Q. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, several prominent Religious Right leaders issued a statement asserting that any ruling furthering same-sex marriage would be illegitimate and implied that they would strongly resist it. How far do you think these groups might go?

A. The “Freedom Federation,” a broad spectrum of about 200 groups, wrote, in part, “While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”  And what does not crossing that line involve?  They explained:  “[I]f the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch.”

The Christian right is telling us that gay marriage and its “enforcement” by the state is an act that contravenes their own “religious freedom and conscience rights.”  When a gay couple gets married and lives in happy monogamy for the rest of their days, they argue, this constitutes a constitutionally and morally unacceptable infringement of the “religious freedom and conscience rights” of fundamentalist Christians, and thus something against which we can expect them to struggle – righteously – until they are once again “free.”  How far do I think they will go if they succeed in redefining the issue as an infringement of their own rights of religious freedom? All the way.

Q. Have you had any reaction from followers of the Religious Right?

A. Putting aside internet rants and insults, there have been a few comments challenging the idea that the evangelical political movement’s goal is theocratic. I understand these. Many self-identified “evangelicals” and “born-again” Christians do not share the agenda of the fundamentalists. I acknowledge this. But one of the lessons of history is that fundamentalists pose the greatest threat to their co-religionists – moderate Christians may have the most to lose by not calling out fundamentalists as the fanatics they are. I have been really pleased that so many moderate Christian ministers and theologians have praised my book.

Q. What can Americans do to prevent the kind of scenario outlined in Christian Nation from happening?

A. First and foremost, take it seriously. Everything depends on that. No one will be motivated to vote, speak or act to stop Christian fundamentalism if he or she believes they are a bunch of cranks. Listen to what they say, consider the possibility that they mean it, think about how fanatical movements have seized power throughout human history, and accept that our democracy, which strong, is not invulnerable. You will have noted that the book’s web site, www.readchristiannation. ­com, has a page called “Take Action,” in which I urge readers to join AU and similar organizations and do something. I will be very disappointed if a reader finishes my book and is not motivated to act.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

A. Only to thank everyone at AU for being among the first to understand this problem, for being relentless in their defense of separation of church and state and for doing what they do every day.

https://www.au.org/church-state/september-2013-church-state/featured/it-cant-happen-here

“Frederic C. Rich’s book, Christian Nation: A Novel  http://www.readchristiannation.com/novel/

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical

by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013

Excerpt

…the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown…are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them…The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation…The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention...The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological….The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here…pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear...The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts…Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor.…There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy. That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority…

Full text

One of the most depressing things I heard on the first day of the government shutdown was that it was a record fundraising day for both parties. Washington, D.C., is no longer about governing; it is just about winning and losing. But the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown — and then an impending United States government default on paying its debts — are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them. Faith leaders have been meeting to discuss what we must do in response to this political crisis brought on by absolute political dysfunction.

The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation. And if this ends in a default on our debt, the potentially catastrophic crashing of the economy will certainly wake us up. The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention.

Let me make myself clear on the politics here: Debates over fiscal matters — budgets, taxes, and spending — are supposed to take place within the political process, in negotiations, compromises, conferences between the Senate, House, and White House, and settled by elections. We can’t use government shutdowns and debt repayments as bargaining chips in these debates. Most political leaders I know, both Republicans and Democrats, believe in government and governing. They may differ over how big or small or limited, but they are not hostile to government itself.

The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological. Too often our political affiliation drives our theological worldview instead of our theology driving our politics. The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here. It’s time for those people of faith who want to shut down the government to read their Bibles. Because pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear.

This kind of crisis should cause people of faith to fast and pray and read their Bibles. And whether or not you are a person of faith, you might find it interesting to see what the Bible says about the mess we are now in.

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good – protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a societyand even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The Scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible to protect the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says; so let me be as clear as I can be.

There are two ways the political extremists are being unbiblical. First, to be hostile to the role of government is unbiblical according to the Scriptures. Second, because of their hostility to government, many of those who are promoting this crisis are also hostile to the poor, who are supposed to be protected by the government. They blame the poor for their poverty instead of asking how government can protect the most vulnerable and even help lift them out of poverty.

The facts and the faces of those who suffer first and worst from these crises must be lifted up — and that is the role of the faith community. Already, thousands of children are losing their Head Start programs, mothers with children are losing WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program), and many of those most dependent on their paychecks are now losing them.

Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” The subsequent line is very revealing: “‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 22:16). Of Solomon, the Scriptures say, through the words of the queen of Sheba, “Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9). Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for kings or political leaders: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. … May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Ps. 72:1-4).

There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy.

That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again.

For people of faith, government is never ultimate but needs to play the important and modest role of servant. The criteria for evaluation and judgment of civil authority is whether it is serving the people, whether it is guarding their security, whether it is maintaining a positive and peaceful social order, whether it is helping to make the lives of its citizens better, and, in particular, whether it is protecting the poor. To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority.

But people of faith will ascribe ultimate authority only to God, to whom civil authority will always be accountable.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/why-the-government-shut

The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality by Gwynne Dyer

CommonDreams.org, December 19, 2011

Excerpt

…In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith… Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do…This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion. If the common folk do not fear some god (any old god will do), social discipline will collapse…politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue.

Full text

In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith, it would have passed completely unnoticed. Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do. But it was quite remarkable in Britain.

Last Friday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged the Church of England to lead a revival of traditional Christian values to counter the country’s “moral collapse”.Last Friday, in Oxford, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the United Kingdom is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so.” He was speaking on the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, so he had to say something positive about religion – but he went far beyond that.

“The Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” he said. “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.”

Where to start? The King James Bible was published at the start of a century in which millions of Europeans were killed in religious wars over minor differences of doctrine. Thousands of “witches” were burned at the stake during the 16th century, as were thousands of “heretics”. They have stopped doing that sort of thing in Britain now – but they’ve also stopped reading the Bible. Might there be a connection here?

Besides, what Cameron said is just not true. In last year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted annually by the National Center for Social Research, only 43 percent of 4,000 British people interviewed said they were Christian, while 51 percent said they had “no religion.” Among young people, some two-thirds are non-believers.

Mind you, the official census numbers from 2001 say that 73 percent of British people identify themselves as “Christian”. However, this is probably due to a leading question on the census form. “What is your religion?” it asks, which seems to assume that you must have one – especially since it follows a section on ethnic origins, and we all have those.

So a lot of people put down Christian just because that is the ancestral religion of their family. Make the question more neutral – “Are you religious? If so, what is your religion?” –and the result would probably be very different. There were attempts to get that more neutral question onto the 2011 census form, but the churches lobbied frantically against it. They are feeling marginalized enough as it is.

Why would David Cameron proclaim the virtues of a Christian Britain that no longer exists? He is no religious fanatic; he describes himself as a “committed” but only “vaguely practicing” Christian.

You’d think that if he really believed in a God who scrutinizes his every thought and deed, and will condemn him to eternal torture in Hell if he doesn’t meet the standard of behavior required, he might be a little less vague about it all. But he doesn’t really believe that he needs religion HIMSELF; he thinks it is a necessary instrument of social control for keeping the lower orders in check.

This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion. If the common folk do not fear some god (any old god will do), social discipline will collapse and the streets will run with blood. Our homes, our children, even our domestic animals will be violated. Thank god for God.

Just listen to Cameron: “The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. If we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.” The “alternative of moral neutrality”? What he means is that there cannot be moral behavior without religion – so you proles had better go on believing, or we privileged people will be in trouble.

But Cameron already lives in a post-religious country. Half its people say outright that they have no religion, two-thirds of them never attend a religious service, and a mere 8 percent go to church, mosque, synagogue or temple on a weekly basis. Yet the streets are not running with blood.

Indeed, religion may actually be bad for morality. In 2005 Paul Gregory made the case for this in a research paper in the Journal of Religion and Society entitled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.”

Sociological gobbledygook, but in a statistical survey of 18 developed democracies, Gregory showed that “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, (venereal disease), teen pregnancy, and abortion.”

Even within the United States, Gregory reported, “the strongly theistic, anti-evolution South and Midwest” have markedly worse crime rates and social problems than the relatively secular North-East. Of course, the deeply religious areas are also poorer, so it might just be poverty making people behave so badly. On the other hand, maybe religion causes poverty.

Whatever. The point is that David Cameron, and thousands of other politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue.

 Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats”, was published in the United States by Oneworld.

 

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/19-2

Why Ultra-Conservatives Like the Sequester

by George Lakoff, February 26, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens…progressives believe that the private depends on the public…They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation… In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves…

It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it…Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

Full text

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation.

They also believe that if people are hurt by government failure, it is their own fault for being “on the take” instead of providing for themselves. People who depend on public provisions should suffer. They should have rely on themselves alone — learn personal responsibility, just as Romney said in his 47 percent speech. In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves.

So for them the sequester is not a “self-inflicted wound.” It is justice. The sequester is not merely about protecting “special interests.” It is about the good people who pursued their self-interest successfully, got rich, and have acted “morally” in avoiding taxes that pay for public provisions by the government.

They are not merely trying to harm their own constituents just to hurt the president politically. Yes, they think hurting the president politically is moral, and they believe that any constituents they are hurting need to become more personally responsible. They see the sequester as serving that purpose.

In short, the sequester is not just about money and political power for the republicans in the House. It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it. It is more convenient, and less scary, to think that all that is involved is money and politics as usual. That’s what current Democratic messaging says. Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.

Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

George Lakoff is the author of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored with Elizabeth Wehling). His previous books include Moral Politics, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom? and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

 

Global Austerity ‘An Unethical Experimentation On Human Beings’ – Paul Krugman

The Huffington Post  |  By Bonnie Kavoussi Posted: 02/08/2013

Paul Krugman doesn’t just think austerity is bad economic policy; the Nobel Prize-winning economist says it’s just plain wrong.

“We’ve basically had an unethical experimentation on human beings going on across the world right now,” Krugman told HuffPost Live on Friday. “All these countries are pursuing austerity policies, and in doing so, they are giving us evidence on what actually happens when you do those policies.”

Several European countries — including Great Britain, Greece, Spain and Italy — have slashed their budgets in recent years. Those countries have seen high unemployment rates and stagnant economies.

“It’s been a disaster,” Krugman said of austerity in Great Britain. “They have gone back into recession.”

The U.S. has also pursued austerity, albeit to a smaller extent. The U.S. government has cut 719,000 jobs since President Barack Obama took office. And the unemployment rate still is far higher than before the recession.

You can watch the whole segment here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/08/paul-krugman-austerity_n_2648039.html

In Obama’s inauguration speech, a new American religion

By Diana Butler Bass, Washington Post, 1/25/2013

Excerpt

In the days following President Obama’s inauguration address, commentators across the political spectrum have made much about how it overtly expressed a progressive agenda. It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world. It was an expression of a genuinely pluralistic America, the first inaugural address of a new sort of American civil spirituality… In 2011…the United States became an officially pluralistic religious country for the first time in its history, with no single faith tradition claiming the allegiance of 50 percent of the population. Overtly Judeo-Christian understandings of God are no longer adequate to address and include all of America’s people. President Obama is the first president who, as a Christian person, has to speak to and for the new communities of American faiths.

What can a president do? Leave faith out of the equation? Or find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community? Abandoning the language of faith would, of course, be the easier path (and the favored choice for the atheists in our midst). In his inaugural speech, President Obama did not choose the easy road. Instead, he linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.

Not only is this idea at the core of President Obama’s liberal Christianity, it is also central to contemporary spiritualities, Judaism, Buddhism, forms of native religion, Islamic traditions and agnosticism. To call the American people into a journey is both a spiritual and political invitation toward new understanding of who we are and who we might be…President Obama articulated six beliefs of a spiritual and political, as well as inclusive and pluralistic, creed: 1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights…creedal statements…

President Obama ended the speech with a call to action…Answer the call of history by renewing our ancient covenant of justice and equality in this new and uncertain world. We must make a new American future…his was the first spiritual-but-not-religious inaugural sermon, a twenty-first century expression of American civil spirituality, embedded in but not dependent upon the ancient vision of American Protestant theology of and for God’s almost-chosen, always striving nation.

Full text

In the days following President Obama’s inauguration address, commentators across the political spectrum have made much about how it overtly expressed a progressive agenda.

It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world. It was an expression of a genuinely pluralistic America, the first inaugural address of a new sort of American civil spirituality.

President Obama is a Christian but made few, if any, direct appeals to religion during his recent campaign. As president, he has a new historical problem when it comes to speaking of faith. Through the twentieth century, presidents were able to craft a generally religious language that addressed America’s three most influential groups-Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. When President Kennedy delivered his inaugural address, it was considered the best public sermon in this tradition of American civil religion.

But the old civil religion is no longer enough. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the percentage of the Christian population has declined as the number of nones, atheists, agnostics, and those adhering to non-Christian religions increased exponentially. In 2011, according to the Pew Forum, the United States became an officially pluralistic religious country for the first time in its history, with no single faith tradition claiming the allegiance of 50 percent of the population. Overtly Judeo-Christian understandings of God are no longer adequate to address and include all of America’s people. President Obama is the first president who, as a Christian person, has to speak to and for the new communities of American faiths.

What can a president do? Leave faith out of the equation? Or find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community? Abandoning the language of faith would, of course, be the easier path (and the favored choice for the atheists in our midst). In his inaugural speech, President Obama did not choose the easy road. Instead, he linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.

Not only is this idea at the core of President Obama’s liberal Christianity, it is also central to contemporary spiritualities, Judaism, Buddhism, forms of native religion, Islamic traditions and agnosticism. To call the American people into a journey is both a spiritual and political invitation toward new understanding of who we are and who we might be. To President Obama, the appeal is a Christian one, but also one shared and understood by others. It is both specific and open at the same time.

In the second section of the speech, President Obama articulated six beliefs of a spiritual and political, as well as inclusive and pluralistic, creed: 1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights. Each one of these creedal statements was backed by subtle references to Hebrew or Christian scriptures, an occasional historical reference to a noted sermon or hymn, as well as more general appeals to God or divine favor.

Finally, President Obama ended the speech with a call to action. Almost all good sermons end with the preacher telling his or her congregation to do something. Serve the poor, proclaim the faith, have hope in the future, renew your hearts. Indeed, the inauguration address did just that: Answer the call of history by renewing our ancient covenant of justice and equality in this new and uncertain world. We must make a new American future.

The inaugural address was assertively progressive. It was also a powerful and deeply nuanced piece of public theology in the liberal Protestant tradition. As such, it embraced the new American pluralism as a welcome expansion of our national journey. In the process, President Obama gave us an innovative new form of public address-his was the first spiritual-but-not-religious inaugural sermon, a twenty-first century expression of American civil spirituality, embedded in but not dependent upon the ancient vision of American Protestant theology of and for God’s almost-chosen, always striving nation.

Diana Butler Bass is the author of eight books, including “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” (HarperOne, 2012). She is a fellow of the SeaburyNEXT project of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, an independent scholar, educator, and blogger.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/in-obamas-inauguration-speech-a-new-american-religion/2013/01/25/7cb93216-6740-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_blog.html