8 10 2010

The opposition to building Muslim community centers and mosques around the country has generated a new fear buzzword for Americans:  Sharia.  People are freaking out about the possibility that they will have to obey some other religion’s do’s and don’ts.  What they don’t realize is that we already live under American Sharia.  These are laws that we grew up with, so we tend not to notice them or their religious basis, but these proscriptions and directives are based on irrational religious beliefs and not on common sense.

The situation is complicated by the fact that we actually have two dominant religions in this country, religions that sometimes contradict each other and sometimes feed into each other, and one of them is so deeply embedded in everybody’s upbringing that it’s rarely even recognized as a religion.

The two are Christianity, especially Protestantism, and….Economics.


The Random House Dictionary defines religion, in part, thusly:

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe…and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

If you look at what happens in this country, most decisions are made based on economic, not “Christian,” values–i.e., will it make money for me in the short run?  Even self-styled “Christians” make economic decisions, if only because economics is so deep in our bones that most of us don’t think twice about its influence.

One good example here in Nashville is the likelihood that WRVU, Vanderbilt University’s radio station, will sell its broadcast license to the highest bidder, who is unlikely to continue the station’s tradition of edgy, non-mainstream music and community participation.  If economics were not such a dominant religion, there would be no question about transferring the license to an entity that would continue the station’s current service to the community, regardless of that entity’s ability to pay top dollar for the airspace.

Here in Nashville, too, just as in most of the rest of the country, we have seen thousands of acres of woods and farms that made a huge contribution to our quality of life turn into suburban homes and strip malls because that was the way to maximize financial profit in a belief system that places a low value on open land and a high value on development.  In the same spirit, moving factories overseas to take advantage of a cheaper workforce is only a rational decision from a very narrow economic standpoint, as is the decision that the degradation of the environment is an “externality” that does not have to be factored in to the cost of production.  These are beliefs, not facts.

One point where Economic and Protestant Sharia intersect is that both accord more respect to the wealthy than to the poor.  Consider the recent Supreme Court decision granting corporations the same free speech rights as “natural persons.”  If corporations were not fantastically wealthy, they would never have gotten this recognition.

A lower court recently made corporate persons even more equal than us natural persons when it ruled that the Alien Tort Act, under which a number of aggrieved foreigners were suing US corporations for human rights abuses and environmental degradation overseas, applies only to natural, not corporate persons.  So, corporate persons have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to freely express themselves, but cannot be held liable for harm they cause.  Pretty neat, huh?  I submit that this distinction, this free pass, was granted, at least subconsciously, in recognition of the corporations’ superior wealth and earning power.

Gee….if corporations have all the rights of natural persons, and then some, shouldn’t conservatives demand that they demonstrate that they’re of different sexes to merge, also known as–marry?

And that question brings us to this month’s “truth in strange places” award, which goes out, a few months after the fact , to Judge Vaughn R. Walker, chief judge of the US district court of northern California.  The judge was initially appointed by Ronald Reagan, blocked by Democrats who feared he would be insensitive to gay and low-income issues, then finally appointed to the bench by George Bush the First.  Asked to rule on the Constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, he struck down the measure, saying:

the Court asked whether a majority of citizens could use the power of the state to enforce “profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles” through the criminal code. The question here is whether California voters can enforce those same principles through regulation of marriage licenses.  They cannot.

He stated further that “the state has no compelling interest” in the sex or sexual orientation of individuals applying for a marriage license, concluding:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.  Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.  Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The judge didn’t come out and call Proposition 8 what it really is, but I will:  American Sharia.  Our homegrown Sharia is also responsible for laws against abortion, marijuana and other drugs, laws limiting or prohibiting alcohol sales, limits on public assistance, the push for prayer and Bible classes in public schools, discouraging the teaching of sexuality and birth control in public schools, laws against nude bathing, attempts to limit unmarried individuals’ access to birth control and other anti-sexual attitudes and legal restraints, calls for censorship of the arts, and probably other things that I am so used to looking at that I can’t even see them.

When I was a kid there were “blue laws” that prohibited stores from being open on Sundays, the Christian sabbath…in a way I miss that, it was kinda nice to have a recognized non-commercial day of the week (tho I was brought up Jewish!). But, in modern America, it’s commerce, commerce, über alles!

All this is by way of pointing out that what makes Islamic Sharia scary to people is that it’s somebody else’s church’s rules, not theirs. Most of those who oppose Islamic Sharia seem all too eager to impose their own, homegrown version on the rest of us.  No, thanks.

An America under conservative Christian law–no abortions, no overt homosexuality, wives subordinate to their husbands, is the pipe dream of the “Christian dominionists,” a group whose views have been widely ridiculed, most notably by the “Dear Dr. Laura” letter, which famously asks questions like,

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Yes, friends, these are the kind of questions that “following Biblical law” leads us into.  There is currently an uneasy alliance between business conservatives and religious conservatives, each attempting to use the other to advance their own agenda.  If next month’s election proves to be as much of a disaster for the Democratic Party as many predict, we can look forward to a clash of the Titans as Karl Rove’s crew and the Christian dominionists battle for hegemony.

My prediction?  Neither will be successful, and the country will fall into ruin around them as they struggle.  You think there have been some wild drops on this roller coaster ride?  You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Jackson Browne:  “Before the Deluge



8 responses

10 10 2010

Conservative Christains scare me more the Sharia or Muslims.

10 10 2010

You’ve got good examples here, but your terms are a bit off. “Capitalism” would be far more accurate than “economics,” and “Reaganomics” would be more accurate still. You’re talking about a specific economic approach, just as Christianity is a specific religious approach. Moreover, the Christianity practiced by the Reaganomics crowd is pretty much identical to Reaganomics itself. The big dynamic is the rich and powerful – or a dominant cultural group – enforcing their will on others and rigging the game further in their favor.

10 10 2010

I am opposed to both legal and illegal immigration. This country is overpopulated, and 21 million Americans are out of work.

10 10 2010

So, are you planning to go back to Europe, presuming that’s where you came from? From the Native American standpoint, the rest of us are “illegal immigrants.”

Compared to many other places in the world, this country is not overpopulated, and there’s plenty of work to do, it’s just that nobody’s willing to pay anyone to do what needs to be done….which is a longer topic than i want to get into right now…maybe next month….thanks for the thought.

11 10 2010

“Bad jokes and gay marriage are destroying this country. But torture can save it.” –Jon Stewart

Love it! Feels like we’re basically on the same page, but I do think the problem is wider than mere capitalism, although capitalism is a particularly virulent form of economic religion. When I look at the way the Russians and Chinese have destroyed their environment and they way they treated “the working class” that was supposed to be the “vanguard of the revolution,” I see “communism” making the same assumptions as “capitalism”–that environmental degradation (cf. the destruction of the Aral Sea and the pandemic pollution of China) is an “externality” that does not have to be factored into the economic equation–and that merely meeting peoples’ physical needs for food, shelter, employment and medical care (which, as I understand it, Russian and Chinese Communism both did an adequate, if perfunctory, manner) does not bring out the best in people.

Here in the States, I am looking at a phenomenon that long predates “Reaganomics”–though, again, Reaganomics is a particularly virulent form. I go with Max Weber in tracing this to the earliest roots of capitalism. Blake’s vision of “dark Satanic mills,” indeed, much of Blake’s work, reflects these qualities from his time. The factories and tenements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would not have existed without the values of “economics” reigning supreme. A specific example of a different sort is the way the automotive companies bought up railborne mass transit (streetcars and interurban railways) and put them out of business so they could sell more cars. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The big dynamic is the rich and powerful – or a dominant cultural group – enforcing their will on others and rigging the game further in their favor.

yes, indeed!

11 10 2010

They’re certainly a lot more likely to force their program down our throats, under cover of preventing Islamic Sharia, just as business interests are using the “tea party” to further weaken the government’s ability to regulate big business…as if it wasn’t way too weak already.

11 10 2010

Okay, thanks for the further explanation. I definitely agree on the environmental front. I’m still inclined to see this more as a form of voracious capitalism with few checks, and don’t really see Christianity as its opposite, because we can see the same attitudes in some approaches to Christianity. (The way you’re approaching them, sure – they are in opposition.) Ann Coulter, for instance, has favored translations of the Bible that stress domination, such as the King James version of Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Several other translations use “dominion” or “rule.” A biblical scholar I heard claimed a better translation would be “stewardship.” The idea that the natural world is something that’s there for us to exploit and subdue – versus something we live in harmony with and care for – is a key part of the colonialist and industrialist mindset. (Including Blake’s “dark satanic mills.”) But it’s been justified in some cases with scripture.

All I’m really saying is that many people tend to do what they want to do, and justify it after the fact by invoking some ideology. For a really repulsive example, conservative Bryan Fischer, who has a long history of bigoted and hateful comments, claimed that firefighters letting that Tennessee house burn down was the Christian thing to do. Now of course he’s a horrible human being, and dead wrong, morally, politically, scripturally, and in pretty much every conceivable way. But he still views himself as a Christian. You’re talking about people who aren’t hateful nutjobs to the same degree. Still, it can be important to define one’s terms, and pay attention to the power dynamics at play, since those dynamics are generally more important and revealing than the rhetoric. Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful post and comment. See ya around!

12 10 2010

All I’m really saying is that many people tend to do what they want to do, and justify it after the fact by invoking some ideology…. Still, it can be important to define one’s terms, and pay attention to the power dynamics at play, since those dynamics are generally more important and revealing than the rhetoric.

Amen, brother!

If you haven’t read Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” I can’t recommend it too highly. While the Germanic prose is pretty dense, it’s packed with ideas and observations that ring just as true today as they did a hundred years ago. It’s definitely one of the ur-documents of my consciousness-raising.

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