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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bigotry And The Left

On Friday Thomas Sowell's column about the filibuster appeared. Predictably enough, Sowell slashed through the rhetoric on both sides, observing that the issue came down to this:
Senators who don't like any particular judicial nominee -- or any nominee for any other federal appointment -- have a right to vote against that nominee for any reason or for no reason.... The real issue is whether those Senators have the right to deprive all other Senators of the right to vote on these nominees. Nothing that is said for or against Justice Owen or Justice Brown has any relevance to the issue of some Senators denying other Senators the right to vote.
That, it seems to me, is the kernel of this issue. But Sowell did not stop there. He went on to accuse the left of bigotry, slicing up the history of the filibuster used by southern Democrats to block civil rights legislation:
For generations, it was racial bigotry which provoked filibusters to prevent the Senate from voting on bills to extend civil rights to blacks. But bigotry is bigotry, whether it is racial bigotry, religious bigotry or political bigotry.

...the bigotry of the left has since become pervasive, not just in politics but also in our educational system and in much of the media. Again and again, the left has claimed rights for itself that it denies to others.

Indeed, the left in general has increasingly favored unelected institutions which impose their views, whether the federal courts, environmental agencies, or such national bureaucracies as the National Park Service or international agencies like the United Nations or the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
The question is whether Sowell is right or not. So I submit to you the following three threads from Democratic Underground. The first discusses a person's shock at visiting a pizza parlor with a religious aura:
Had a school event. Decided to take the kids to Cici's for pizza afterward.
Didn't really notice anything different until I had sat down and started eating. The last time I was in there, it had a local flavor--football jerseys--local sports figures, different schools represented, etc.
But now, There was religious music playing. There were Christian posters all over the walls. There was a fucking prayer request box. The TV was tuned to Faux news. There were a minimum of 5 crucifixes on the walls.
There was a receptacle and a sign for free bibles if you don't have one.
WTF is up with this?
I felt like I ended up in church when I just went to eat a slice of pizza.
I let the manager on duty know of my displeasure with it when I left.
and another alarming report:
Ever been in a Chik-fil-a? They are owned by fundies. They are closed on Sunday. I was in their once and the people in the booth next to me broke out into prayer.
Some try to defend Chik-fil-a. But the prayer-averse rally; they hunt up the CiCi's Pizza national office and plan to protest about that particular CiCi's:
Call their national and regional HQ and complain. Chances are, the national doesn't know that a local has been adorned in Christian paraphanalia.
I agree I think that at the very least, they'll ask this manager to not display his personal preferences, religious or otherwise.
A horrified latecomer:
What the hell??
Wow, I'm surprised. I've never heard of that before.... Can you do something about it? Isn't that supposed to be a public place?
It almost made me register and ask if they had ever been in a gay bar. Most of these places do cater to local tastes, although I suspect the religious atmosphere was an attempt to prevent the place from becoming a teen hangout. The other way to do that is to play classical music. Now on to the second thread, and I will let the original post speak for itself:
I think most of us would agree that we're having a national problem with rampant religiosity, and that if we don't figure out how to solve it in a permanent way we're going to end up with a pseudo-theocracy as our form of government.

There are scriptural exhortations to make one's prayer and religious affilation a private matter. So: how about making public religious display a misdemeanor?

It would be similar to drinking alcoholic bevvies in public, or driving without having your licence with you, or having a bonk in the bushes. If you go around wearing a visible cross/magen david/pentagram/whatever, or handing out tracts, or walking up to strangers and asking whether they're 'saved', then you get a ticket, a fine, and perhaps a scolding for a first offence. And if that doesn't work and you keep on doing it anyway, then after awhile maybe the court decides that you've won the prize of having your head read to see if you're wrapped tightly enough to be wandering around loose.

Let me emphasise this again: I'm talking about public display, not private practice. I'm not talking about making religious membership or practice itself an offence!!
Much of DU nearly lost its mind at this suggestion:
"We are in trouble". I agree with your sig line. With ideas like this..coming from a member of a liberal forum...we ARE in trouble... BIG trouble.
there is a little problem with your idea

it's called the Constitution...something crazy about 'Congress shall make no law...' surrounding freedom of religious expression...the text says nothing about meddling...it says 'shall make no law.'
and some are thinking, naw, that couldn't be what was meant:
"in public" isn't the same as "on public property," so redefine your terms
To which the original poster replies:
In public. In non-private space. Out on the sidewalk, in public buildings, etc. If someone goes into a department store and puts on a burqa or hangs a half-kilo crucifix around their neck, it's up to the store. If they're still wearing it out on the sidewalk, they get a ticket.
Some are frankly flabbergasted and horrified; several post the First Amendment:
What a lovely, lovely world you describe.

I hope you will allow us liberals to leave such a police state, so we can find another country that actually believes in freedom.
The original poster will not back down:
Yes, I know all about the First Amendment!

But try to practice your religion in a way that offends, as in my bullhorn example. We are not guaranteed any of those rights without limit of context or occasion, no matter what the wording says. The right to free speech is the most sacred of them all, but it's a federal felony to, e.g., talk about harming the psychopath-in-chief, even as a joke.

(We place too much faith in the Bill Of Rights right now anyhow. There's no actual penalty for passing laws that infringe the hell out of them. The most that will happen is that the SCOTUS will wag a finger and say no-no. In consequence, I don't think there's even one of them that hasn't been nibbled at or frankly gutted.)
and the OP continues:
So what happens when Irrationality ships Reason to the ovens?

Because that's the thing about intolerant people--they don't value reason or respect for other people. They DO ship people to the ovens.

Do you go to the ovens happy that you never lifted a hand in anger?
There is a dribble of support or at least consideration:
I'm not entirely sure on this. Part says yes, part says no. So, I will kick this while considering.
drinking in public in most places has an excalating penalty I think you'd have to have some sort of escalating penalty and some sort of therapy for repeat abusers.

Many of these pathetic creatures are mentally ill.
and this poster continues later:
I find religious symbology offensive. Hundreds of millions of people have been murdered by religiously insane extremeists in our history. Much knowledge and progress has been destroyed or thwarted by the religiously insane and their superstitious, frightened subjects. I see a cross and it makes me angry. If they have the right to wear their mythological bling, do I have the right to get in their face and berate them for their stupidity?
and in response to yet another objection:
I wish people could be more considerate of one another and tolerant of differing beliefs. But we are not. Therefore, we need guidelines to keep obnoxious, intrusive jerks from polluting public spaces with prosyletizing, loud music, noise, etc.

As it stands, there are public places (and should be more, in my opinion), where such behavior is not allowed. I also think there should be public spaces where such behavior IS allowed. Poet's Corner in London comes to mind.

Public spaces should be secular, religiously neutral, spaces.
and here's another who sympathizes:
Yes. Ban 'em.

There's no need for that crap. Keep it in your churches, where it belongs.
and from yet another person:
I'd like to persecute them as much as they SAY they are persecuted That's all I ask...
The original poster comes back to the oven theory:
I'm trying to come up with a way to preserve our secular humanist nation against the onslaught of people who have no doubt that whatever they choose to do is guided and blessed by God, and who therefore cannot be swayed by appeals to reason or secular ideals. People who would think nothing of starting up the ovens again, armored in their glorious, impenetrable, unexamined self-righteousness.
One person responds quite realistically:
People like you are basically responsible for seeding the religious right.

It didn't really exist until the fifties, when paranoia about communism was rampant. When you threaten people's religion, they start organizing.
Possibly frustrated by the angry protests on this thread, the original poster now starts another thread which begins:
How would you solve the problem of creeping theocracy? Read these statements and decide whether you agree or disagree with each:

* We have a serious national problem that could be characterised as 'creeping theocracy' (or pseudo-theocracy, really)

* There is no evidence that the pro-theocracy forces will voluntarily back off

* If we only defend, not attack, then we must win 100% of the contests. Even if they only win 1 time in 1000 (partisan judges, eroding church/state wall, etc) and we fight them off the other 999, we will eventually lose secularism itself

If you do agree with each one, then do you believe the problem can be solved?

If you do believe it can be solved, how would you solve it?
The war between the civil righters and the secularists breaks out all over again:
The guillotine would be a good method
What I would NOT do, is ban the public, non-governmental display...of religious symbols and acts, as you proposed on your other memorable thread.
Irrationality can be fought with the light of thought and reason

This is what brought out the Age of Enlightenment around the time of the American Revolution. If the Renaissance can emerge from the darkness of the Middle Ages, then it is very possible. Education is the answer. It is the ultimate answer.
re-education camps fully fund and prioritize public education (if the RW had not systematically compromised public education, there would be far less fundyism and superstition.

How does one eliminate mental illness and superstition from a large population?
I'm a christian; am I mentally ill in your opinion? or just "superstitious"
I find someone claiming publicly that I'm either to be "offensive" but I guess that doesn't matter. Only the non-religious can rightfully claim how "offensive" they take public displays of religion (see Maireads previous thread and the thread about the little girl singing a song - HORROR OF HORRORS - about God at a public school talent show).

A few billion muslims, a few billion buddhists, a few billion christians - yeah I guess 99% of the world are mentally ill or superstitious just because they believe in a higher power. That leaves 53 of you really smart people left here on earth.
I do not have a clue as to how to solve creeping theocracy. What I do know , is that it has succeeded in turning me into a person who feels almost physically ill when I see their pronouncements, as I feel they are totally dishonest. I used to be tolerant about religions. Now I am no longer tolerant, as it is being shoved at us constantly, event to the extent of them claiming to be "discriminated against".I wish I never had to see the word christian again. It is a dirty word to me now.They have created this climate of hate and I hope it turns on them someday. In my mind now, christian= hate and control of the worst sort.And please, no "christians" preaching at me.Believe whatever you want to, but don't try to convince me of your belief or that it is the "right" way. That is really intolerance.
(Note the theory behind the above reply. One view should be pushed in public schools and public forums. The other view should be banned, because they believe they are right and that is intolerant. This person does not realize the inherent contradiction.) The original poster replies:
(you're certainly not alone in your feelings of revulsion) (just wanted to let you know that)
and here's an interesting solution from someone who believes that the theocracy is a threat:
press the "ESC" key

The systemic problem comes from the centrallization of so many people in such a large federal body... and the solution is already in the constitution, "states rights".

So, to solve it, have the federal go competely bankrupt, collapse and disappear leaving states to make their own decisions. WIthout the federal, there will be no federal media, and to cross state borders will become "national" borders, that religious multinational-parties will not be welcome in some states.

The constitution has reached the end of its usefulness, and has become "the" problem. Let states go it themselves and trust that some states will elect to separate church and state.
So what do you think? There really are totalitarian philosophies emerging in our country. Some of them belong to churches. See this Common Dreams article, in which a pro-abortion Baptist minister, Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, pushes the point that his view of values is correct, and that the values of the anti-abortion churches are inherently bad:
President George W. Bush brushed off a question about the role of faith in politics at his April 28th press conference with the innocuous response that "people in political office should not say to somebody you're not equally American if you don't agree with my view of religion." Rather than give a high school civics lesson, he should have had the courage to disavow the religious arrogance and extremism of "Justice Sunday."
This man wants the President to support his views, not declare neutrality:
The Christian Right's posture in the showdown over the "nuclear option" has been a stark lesson in how religious language and imagery are inappropriately seeping into government and politics. First, of course, religion is defined as a particular religion and then defined further as a particular brand of that religion so as to exclude all other views and versions as irreligious, immoral, or wrong.
In my view, the intensifying battle over the courts has brought progressives face-to-face with the need to take a firm stand on the morality of reproductive rights. Not only must we overcome the polarization generated by the Christian Right, we also must find a way to come together in compassionate concern for women and families. Speaking as a minister, I believe that the realities of women's lives must be included in any vision of a moral society that honors individual dignity and worth. I believe that women, and men, cannot live in dignity and equality if they cannot render for themselves their most intimate family decisions.
Parsing this out, it equals: The principles of the other side are wrong, so they should be allowed no place in government. My views are right, so they should be enshrined in government.

He does not see the contradiction in his own worldview. He most certainly has the right to make his argument, as a minister or as a citizen. But does that give him the right to depict the other side as terribly, horribly wrong for doing what he is doing? I think this article, which discusses the CUNY conference about the agenda of the religious right, more fairly represents exactly what is occurring:
The Rev. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, strongly favors religious politicking but said in an interview that he draws the line when groups say “we are right and everyone else is evil” or claim that “another point of view is illegitimate.”

Edgar accuses the religious right of such attitudes. “This may be the darkest time in our history,” he told the CUNY conference. “Our very liberties are at stake.”

His church council supported the CUNY meeting along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People For the American Way and others. The New York Open Center and CUNY were the co-sponsors.

Responding to the meeting, conservatives said their political activism merely expresses their rights as citizens to advocate, vote and participate in government – the same rights liberals and secularists exercise.
The Reverend Edgar doesn't see the contradiction inherent in his own position either. If he believes that more orthodox religious views are inherently wrong and are leading to the "darkest time in our history", isn't he claiming that the other point of view is illegitimate?

Here I am going to take a position that may be wrong, but fits what I see more accurately. I'm beginning to think that much of the furor over "religion in politics" has been whipped up by the religious congregations that are losing members to the more conservative religious denominations in this country.

Brilliant. Another showcase of how truth becomes agendized.
Or even the very concept of truth.

The DU'rs were pretty decisive in their slapdown. The American public, no matter how it describes itself, is extremely centrist in nature. That is why it is extremely odd to find the extremists seemingly dominating the national dialogue.
"Isn't that supposed to be a public place?"

That's the question of the week. It is almost amusing how they demand tolerance for just about anything they want to do, but will not afford that same curtisy to others.

Any time I see words like "fundies" I know there is a 96% chance that there is prejudice. But, forgeting that, the most disturbing part of this post is the lack of concern for or outright misunderstanding of our constitution. No wonder why we are having this fight over judges
the most disturbing part of this post is the lack of concern for or outright misunderstanding of our constitution.

Yes. That was my reaction. I can't imagine a traditional liberal taking such a position or supporting such a measure as the AUT boycott. One of the DU posters who was vehement in the First Amendment's defense commented that the whole discussion was a real eye-opener. It certainly was for me. I want the old JFKish Democratic party back. I want the one that trusted in civil rights, free speech etc. This particular wing of the left is scary.
My first question is "Did this surprise you?" Are you surprised by the hostility and the lengths it will go to in its reactions?

Secondly, isn't your conclusion a little like blaming the Jews for the reactions of anti-Semitism?

I think it is the fact that secularism has taken on its own form of religion that feels it is losing members... not just churches that are secularist inside their Christian clothing. As per such comments as "preserve our secular humanist nation against the onslaught of people who have no doubt that whatever they choose to do is guided and blessed by God, and who therefore cannot be swayed by appeals to reason or secular ideals."
Ilona, yes. This amazes me. Remember, I am catching up on quite a bit of cultural history here. You can call me Rip van Maxie, if you like.

As to my conclusion - obviously we are talking about small subsets of people within all these political or religious groups. DU is pretty left, but a lot of people were quite perturbed about the suggested solution. I think very few individual members within any particular "progressive" church would subscribe to the views expressed by the two ministers. I know for a fact that most of the individuals in churches commonly depicted in the press as being "theocratic" are anything but that.

In some ways I believe you see these issues more clearly than I do. Help me out here. Is it possible that what I am observing is a battle of elites?

I ask this because any one individual, whether Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian etc has very little reason to try to engender such an impression in the public mind. But those at the top of these types of organizations, whether political or religious, might. Controversies such as these are the sort of thing that gets you speaking engagements and sells books.

That is only a question.

Jews aren't totalitarian. I am sure there are a few, but they aren't as a group. Neither is any single religious denomination in this country. My question is - why are people depicting religious denominations as what they aren't?

Yes, obviously secularism is a definite phenomenon. But why is that phenomenon now being cast as a battle of different theologies? I am very puzzled by the form all this is taking.

Free will, according to Christian thought, is a basic part of God's plan. Also, it is a fact that more "grounded" churches seem to be gaining members.

I don't mean just orthodoxy - I also mean grounded in charity, outreach, faith, etc. The more "social" church congregations appear to me to be losing ground. Here I am not talking about any one theological stance, but the entire import of a particular congregation's worship and actions. I don't see this split as between theologies but as between dedication. I could be wrong about all this.
Great post--but very scary. I agree with Ilona that's it's more disturbing than surprising. On the subject of freedom of religion, my astonishment meter red-lined last November thanks to Mr. Teti's letter to the NY Times (emphasis mine):

To the Editor:

The Democratic Party needs to forget religion.

The Republican Party, and indeed the country, seems to be falling more every day under the conservative Christian spell. We need a strong opposition, a return to the secular humanism on which our nation was founded.

This doesn't mean that the Democrats should forget about moral issues. They should offer rational solutions without the encumbrance of a particular ideology.

The Democratic Party has historically been the party of inclusion. It shouldn't alienate more voters with Christian rhetoric.

Stephen Teti
North Brunswick, N.J.
Nov. 17, 2004

I guess ignorance really is strength.
A fascinating letter, Carl.

The peculiar vision that created our constitutional framework was one of freedom as the natural state of created man. I can't imagine what JFK would say about all this, much less Jefferson.

Some of the strongest protesters on DU were atheists and agnostics. There really are true liberals left.
I was equally surprised when I first entered the world of online lists and forums. It was not the presence of hostility as much as the intensity.

I think it is a matter that is couched in theological stances and fervency. I don't think it is mainly elitest factions, it has long trickled down into the general thinking.

"strongest protesters on DU" are people that are waking up to the reality as the conflict heats up. They are wondering where to go with their desire to retain real ideals of freedom. The Conservatives will have some of that too as we move along, unless we can get to a place of working together to set the ship of state right.IMO.

What I referenced to with the Jews is the fact that their detractors often turn the reason for anti-Semitism upon the Jews themselves- which is what I thought you were doing in saying," I'm beginning to think that much of the furor over "religion in politics" has been whipped up by the religious congregations that are losing members to the more conservative religious denominations in this country. "

I don't think this is an in-house problem started by Christians, iow.
"it is extremely odd to find the extremists seemingly dominating the national dialogue"
I wonder whether they weren't complacent about that as long as they felt they had a war dog on a leash, so to speak. But the dogs of war are tearing up a little too much of the camp, and now it is worrisome to them. That is my theory of it.
Some sort of top-level organizations do seem to be riding it, though. I am drawing a sharp mental distinction between the actual church-goers and ministers and the top-level functionaries. I agree with you that very, very few Christians are interested in this type of thing.

All these councils, etc, are another kettle of fish. I wonder if it would be worthwhile following the money trail. What I find so surprising, Ilona, is for one set of church-related organizations to be throwing these types of accusations around about others.

The other possibility is that this current situation was engendered by politicians. Earlier I did post on IDS and their interesting activities.

I have no problem with the idea that different congregations will take different positions on social issues. You have convinced me on the secularism issue. I am not sure about whether it is fair to say that it is "cloaked" within particular churches. But why is a person like Robert W. Edgar (NCC General Secretary) tossing these accusations around?

That CUNY conference was sponsored by:
National Council of Churches

People for the American Way

The Nation

The Village Voice

United Americans for Separation of Church and State
I think that should be Americans United for Separation of Church and State at http://www.au.org/site/PageServer

These three organizations seem to date from the 50's.
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