Blueprint for Fascism Part 5

This series has been looking at fascism’s Biblical worldview and narrative. Last time, at the close of Part 4, I said we would look next at “Christianity’s claim that God and His genocidal directives don’t apply to New Testament religion.” On reflection, that topic is irrelevant to this series, so I’m going to wrap up without it.

I was showing my age. When I was part of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity, there was an assumed theodicy that the New Testament God had somehow superseded the Old – He was kinder and gentler, and so was the gospel. (“Theodicy means vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil.” Wikipedia) I was shown the door out of that world over 20 years ago. It took most of those years for me to get re-situated until I could say, “Hey, would you look at that – I’m an atheist now!” In the meantime, the world I left behind changed to the point where it no longer needed its kinder, gentler God and kinder, gentler gospel.

The churches I’d been associated with were only peripherally related to the rising new Christian Right, although in hindsight I can see that we were less peripheral than we wanted to think. The shift was already underway by the time I got out – it was a product of the times, moving in sync with the USA’s economic, political, and cultural shift. Under the new militant nationalist regime, the old theodicy was unnecessary.

I didn’t see this happening while it was going on around me. I think most of us didn’t. I’ve only become aware of it because about 4-5 years ago I realized that I didn’t know how life works any more, and started reading and writing to try to catch up. Because I was detached from the church, my worldview hadn’t moved with the times. I was on the outside looking in. I had become part of the new fascism’s Other and didn’t even know it.

As I tried to understand the brave new world I was now living in, I made the faulty assumption (one of many) that the Christianity I once knew was still the same, and therefore I couldn’t understand how it had suddenly rallied behind Trump and the Republicans and their new American fascism. Turns out there was nothing sudden about it, and the Christianity I’d left behind wasn’t the one that had done the rallying. But I didn’t notice, and that’s why I was about to write this Part 5 on a topic that wasn’t relevant.

Instead of doing that, I’ll end this series by referring you to an article I read just this weekend by someone I follow on Medium who has been paying attention: Dear Christians: We Need to Talk, by Manny Otiko Medium (Jan. 15, 2021). In addition, if you’re interested in generally learning more about the rise of the Christian Right, here’s a list of short histories told from a variety of viewpoints:

Christian right – Wikipedia.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right – POLITICO Magazine

Movements | Religious Right | Timeline | The Association of Religion Data Archives (thearda.com)

The Christian Right, The Twentieth Century, Divining America: Religion in American History, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center

Religion and Right-Wing Politics: How Evangelicals Reshaped Elections – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 4

Fascism at War

Part 3 of this series looked at how fascism uses gaslighting, cult indoctrination, and patriotic nationalism to install the Biblical/Fascist Narrative as the country’s new normal. The narrative mandates war against Them – those fingered for the nation’s fall from grace, defined racially, ethnically, nationally, politically, and otherwise. In this Part 4, we’ll see that fascism at war is domestic and international terrorism.[1]

Legalized Crime

War is legalized crime:  it legalizes what is culturally unacceptable and morally abhorrent. It returns humanity to a state of raw survival, where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[2]

“War… preys on our most primal and savage impulses. It allows us to do what peacetime society forbids or restrains us from doing:  It allows us to kill.”[3]

International Law

International law imposes limits on war’s legalized criminality.

“’We have had a system of international governance since World War II that reflects the ascendance of a set of commitments to individual rights and protections rooted in the U.N. system…,’ says [Jeremy Weinstein, a political science professor and director of the Stanford global studies division], who served as deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2015.” [4]

International law is grounded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[5] and is backed up by criminal enforcement in the International Criminal Court[6]. These structures were put in place in 2002 via The Rome Statute, a treaty negotiated under U.N. auspices. The Rome Statute established four types of international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The ink was barely dry when the United States announced its non-compliance with the treaty.

“One month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) officially came into existence on July 1, 2002, the President signed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA), which limits U.S. government support and assistance to the ICC; curtails certain military assistance to many countries that have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the ICC; regulates U.S. participation in United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping missions commenced after July 1, 2003; and, most controversially among European allies, authorizes the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release” of certain U.S. and allied persons who may be detained or tried by the ICC.”[7]

India, Indonesia, and China have also rejected these international law standards.

“As of January 2019, 123 states are members of the Court. Other states that have not become parties to the Rome Statute include India, Indonesia, and China. On May 6th, 2002, the United States, in a position shared with Israel and Sudan, having previously signed the Rome Statute formally withdrew its signature and indicated that it did not intend to ratify the agreement.”[8]

Fascism at War

Fascism at war adheres to the Biblical-Fascist Narrative. [9]

Altered Narrative/Altered Reality. “The myth of war creates a new, artificial reality. Moral precepts — ones we have spent a lifetime learning — are jettisoned. We accept, if not condone, the maiming and killing of other as the regrettable cost of war. We operate under a new moral code…. I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug… It is peddled by mythmakers — historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state — all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess:  excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. it dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over.”

Victimhood of Us at the hands of Them.  “The cultivation of victimhood is essential fodder for any conflict. It is studiously crafted by the state. All cultural life is directed to broadcast the injustices carried out against us. Cultural life soon becomes little more that the drivel of agitprop. The message that the nation is good, the cause just, and the war noble is pounded into the heads of citizens in everything from late-night talk shows to morning news programs to films and popular novels. The nation is soon thrown into a trance from which it does not awake until the conflict ends. In parts of the world where the conflict remains unresolved, the trance can last for generations.”

They must be destroyed. “War is not a uniform experience or event … war usually demands, by its very logic, the disabling of the enemy, often broadly defined to include civilians… While we venerate and mourn our own dead we are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us little, while those who kill our own are seen as having crawled out of the deepest recesses of the earth, lacking our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead. They are not the same. Our dead matter, theirs do not.”

Nationalism.  “Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalistic cause that exalts us, the kind that war alone is able to deliver. It reduces and at times erases the society of individual consciousness. We abandon individual responsibility for a shared, unquestioned communal enterprise, however morally dubious…. There is little that logic or fact or truth can do to alter the experience. Moreover, once this crusade is embraced by the nation, the myth predetermines how the world is perceived. It is only after the myth implodes, often as suddenly as it descended, that one can again question the motives and the actions of the state.”

Religious Sanction.  “Armed movements seek divine sanction and the messianic certitude of absolute truth. They do not need to get this from religions, as we usually think of religion, but a type of religion:  Patriotism provides the blessing. Soldiers want at least the consolation of knowing that they risk being blown up by land mines for a greater glory, for a New World. Dimensions, questioning of purpose, the exposure of war crimes carried out by those fighting on our behalf are dangerous to such beliefs. Dissidents who challenge the goodness of our cause, who question the gods of war, who pull back the curtains to expose the lie are usually silenced or ignored…. Once we sign on for war’s crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder.”

“The Lord is a man of war”

In Biblical Fascism, God is a totalitarian ruler and unaccountable sovereign, free to wage war if, when, and how He sees fit. The Bible identifies God this way:  “The Lord is a man of war.” (Exodus 15: 3) And God is not just a “man of war,” but a terrorist:

“The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,”
Exodus 15:  14-16

God’s “Anointed” – the one who leads his chosen nation – is similarly above human legal, moral, and ethical accountability. God backs up His Anointed and uses his chosen nation as his “hammer and weapon of war,” to impose his will on the non-chosen. He does so with derision and contempt.

“You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms; with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider; with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer; with you I break in pieces man and woman; with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth; with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman; with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock; with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team; with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.” Jeremiah 51:20-26 

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:1-12

God expects the same ruthlessness from his nation:

“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” Jeremiah 48:10

Little wonder, then, that the best way to deal with God is to be afraid of Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10.

Holy War

Israel went to war, Islam went to war, Christianity went to war — against each other and amongst themselves. They still do. For God’s people, every war is holy war — God is always on your side, your cause is always just. The Church, steeped in centuries of holy wars and pogroms, supported Mussolini in his day, just as the Christian Right supports Trump and the Republicans today. Same God, same Bible, same worldview, same cause, same justification.

Genocide

When God sends his nation to war, the object is genocide.

“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)”. Exodus 34:11-14

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.” Deuteronomy 7:1-26

“And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.” Deuteronomy 7:16 

“You shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” Deuteronomy 13:15 

“You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.” Deuteronomy 12:1-32 

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded,” Deuteronomy 20:16-17 

“And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.” Deuteronomy 2:34 

“And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder.” Deuteronomy 3:4-6

“The people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” Joshua 6:20-21 

“Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai.” Joshua 8:22-25

“Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” Joshua 10:40 

“Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.” Judges 21:10-12 

“And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.” Judges 20:48 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:2-3 

“And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” 2 Kings 19:35 

“And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.’” 1 Kings 18:36-40 

“And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul, but that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.” 2 Chronicles 15:12-13

“Go up against the land of Merathaim, and against the inhabitants of Pekod. Kill, and devote them to destruction, declares the Lord, and do all that I have commanded you. The noise of battle is in the land, and great destruction!” Jeremiah 50:21-22 

Sometimes, instead of killing everyone, Israel’s soldiers were authorized to capture and rape the women survivors.

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” Numbers 31:17-18 

“This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction. And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan”. Judges 21:10-12 E

Sometimes, God’s hostility was turned against His own people.

“And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” Exodus 32:27-28 

“Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” Numbers 21:6-35 

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’” Numbers 25:4 

“Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.” Isaiah 13:16 

“And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.” Zechariah 13:3

“Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more.” Hosea 9:11-16 

“Then the Lord said to me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’ I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 15:1-4 

“I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go. And I will fill its mountains with the slain. On your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those slain with the sword shall fall. I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 35:7-9 

“And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, ‘Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.’ So they went out and struck in the city.” Ezekiel 9:5-7

“Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children”. Isaiah 13:15-18 

“Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open”. Hosea 13:16 

“Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers, lest they rise and  possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.” Isaiah 14:21 

This endless onslaught of holy venom represents more than an historical account of a brutal, savage, ancient nation and its brutal, savage, ancient God. They also display the state of mind fascists and theirsupporters once they are fully immersed in and indoctrinated into the Biblical-Fascist Narrative.

Next time, we’ll look at Christianity’s claim that God and His genocidal directives don’t apply to New Testament religion.


[1] The Rome Statute, Articles 6 and 8

[2] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

[3] Hedges, Chris,War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).

[4] Patton, Jill, An Existential Moment for Democracy? As American leadership falters, scholars say, autocrats are on the rise, Stanford Magazine (December 2019)

[5]The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[6] The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

[7] U.S. Policy Regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC), Congressional Research Service (July 9, 2002 – August 29, 2006) 

[8] Wikipedia –the United States and the International Criminal Court.

[9] All quotations in this section are from Hedges, op cit.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 3

I used to wonder how the Cristian Right could so unblinkingly support Donald Trump and the Republicans – a question made more puzzling when former Secretary of State Madeline Albright labeled what we were witnessing as “fascism.”[1] Recently an answer presented itself:  the Christian Right supports Trump because they, the Republicans, and Donald Trump all share the same Biblical worldview, which is fascist in nature.

Worldview shapes individual and collective reality around a shared narrative that explains life, defines what is true and what isn’t, tells us what’s really going on, what we need to think and do in order to survive and thrive. Biblical and fascist narratives are a match, as follows:

  • A utopian past when life was good;
  • A fall from grace – a turning away instigated by the evil Them;
  • An awakened nostalgic and righteous yearning to restore lost utopia;
  • The need for a beneficent intervention – salvation – to get back to the good life;
  • The arrival of a savior whose charisma commands a following;
  • The emergence of the congregation of the faithful – a chosen population of aggrieved victims transformed into the superior Us;
  • War and final judgment meted out on Them;
  • The Golden Age of the victorious chosen ones.[2]

Politics makes the Biblical/Fascist Narrative normative in secular culture. It explains fascism as practiced 100 years ago by Mussolini and as carried on today by Trump and the Republicans. Mussolini’s version of fascism was “clerical fascism” – so-called because of its endorsement from Catholic clergy. Trump’s version of fascism is the theocratic political agenda of the Christian Right.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series looked at The Biblical/Fascist Narrative and fascism’s signature characteristics and practices for carrying it out, the circumstances in which fascism is likely to arise, and how fascism responds with extreme nationalism, totalitarian rule, the promotion of violence, and “unthinkable” assaults on law, democracy, and human rights. This Part 3 looks at how fascism carries out its first and essential task:  evangelizing its narrative to the point of cultural acceptance.

Elevating Subconscious Worldview to Conscious Narrative

Biblical worldview is deeply embedded in western thought, culture, politics, and history. Like any worldview, it operates behind the scenes, promoting its narrative through subconscious assumptions, perceptions, and biases. Fascism elevates Biblical narrative into the conscious awareness of the electorate, makes it normative for media coverage and commentary, and from there stokes it into obsession. Fascists make Biblical worldview newsworthy and sensational, invest it with power and significance until it becomes a populist rallying cry for God’s plan for the nation, including the nation’s deliverance from the threat of political infidels. The result is a default new normal that stokes survival-level fear spurred on by wildly fantastical conspiracy theories and channeled into hatred of the nation’s enemies – those most easily identified by civil rights criteria such as race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual preference, plus the free press, professionals, educators, the educated and intelligent, those with affinity for science and rationalism and objective reality.

The process follows the pattern of religious conversion. The nation’s citizens must be awakened to their plight and motivated to remedy it. The nation’s enemies have done this, but the government and its citizens have allowed it. They must be awakened and convicted, must believe, repent, amend their ways, and band together against their foes. They must become zealous for the Truth, arm themselves, enlist as soldiers marching off to war for the nation’s true destiny, and their own.

Fascism transports its converts to a populist and nationalist safe haven in the midst of too much change too fast, too much globalism and disruptive innovation, too much political correctness, too much of the elites telling them what they should think and do and believe and care about. They are free now. No one can tell them what to do. They see the state of the nation and their own lives for what they truly are. And now they’re part of something that is going to fix things, make their country and their lives great again. They belong. They have a new sense of meaning and a cause to live and die for. They can realize their highest calling. They can live purpose-driven lives.

The congregation of the committed organizes in service to their savior – the one who enlightens and informs them, tells them when to rally and when to stand down and stand by, the one who keeps the froth of outrage whipped to a frenzy of delusional thinking. Biblical-Fascist Narrative hones its followers to a keen edge of fear, outrage, and terror, feeds them a steady diet of righteous indignation, mobilizes them into marauding mobs.

Fascism achieves all of this through recognized, studied, predictable forms of mind control. Chief among them are “gaslighting,” cult indoctrination, and militant patriotism.

Gaslighting

The term “gaslighting” has been around for years, but the Trump years brought it into the vernacular.

“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. 

“In my book Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free  I detail how gaslighters typically use the following techniques:  

1. They tell blatant lies.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

4. They wear you down over time.

5. Their actions do not match their words.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you. 

7. They know confusion weakens people. 

8. They project.

9. They try to align people against you.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.”[3]

Cult Indoctrination

Cult indoctrination is an extreme form of religious conversion.Like gaslighting, ithas also become an active topic for psychological and psychiatric attention.[4]

“The cover of The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Controlsets the mood with President Trump’s last name as well as the ubiquitous red baseball hat worn by his supporters, embossed with the word “cult” in the center. Some psychiatrists may wonder if this book is breaking the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) “Goldwater Rule” (GR),[5] Rest assured, it is not.

“First, author Steven Hassan is not a psychiatrist and this ethical principle applies only to psychiatrists who are members of the APA. Secondly, and subtitle aside, the focus is on cults and how people become attached to them, with President Trump as a crucially considered example.

“The part of the book that focuses on cult followers is just what we need now. Certainly, there has been more than enough speculation on President Trump’s mental state by the public, media, some psychiatrists, and many other mental health care professionals. Less emphasis has been put on what psychologically drives people to follow President Trump, vote for him, and-for better or worse-stay so strongly attached. Whether or not there is really a ‘Cult of Trump’ is debatable, even after you read the persuasive arguments made in this book. At the very least, using the knowledge now available on cults is a helpful way to understand our national political scene and, as far as I can tell, does not violate the GR by focusing on the psychology of his followers.

“Unfortunately, psychiatrists as a whole, after a flurry of interest in cults in the 1970s and 1980s and culminating in 1992 with the Group for the Advancement (GAP) book, Leaders and Followers: A Psychiatric Perspective on Religious Cults, seem to have lost interest in the subject. But cults are still prominent. The author claims that there are at least 5000 destructive cults in the US, and they can range from two people to several thousands.

“According to the author, cults can be religious, political, sexual, educational, or psychotherapeutic in nature. If so, we have probably had members in mental health care, but it is hard to determine whether a patient is in a cult due to indoctrination. Therefore, it is crucial to look at control of thoughts and behaviors. Though the author never suggests this, the book led me to wonder if a slight case can be made that the GR holds such control. Indeed, why is an ethical principle like this a ‘rule’ rather than a guideline? In other words, why is it not called and conceived as what I would call the ‘Goldwater Guidelines,’ allowing more freedom of thought and speech for psychiatrists?

“All cults have something in common. They strip away freedom of thought and realign ideas with those of the leader. The author discusses his original way of conceptualizing cults, called the BITE model-the acronym for controlled Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion. Even more revelatory was his discussion of how hypnotic techniques such as repetition, subliminal messages, programming amnesia, and even guided meditation can be so effective in swaying followers.”[6]

Steven Harran, the cult specialist who wrote The Cult of Trump,[7] uses a BITE model to detail authoritarian mind control techniques.[8] His book details how Trump uses the BITE method to convert and control his followers.

Militant Nationalism

Fascism’s rise to power mirrors how nations justify war through heightened patriotism.

Biblical worldview includes the prohibition ,“Thou shalt not kill,” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17). This prohibition applies generally to human society, but an exception allows God’s people to go to war. That exception derives from God Himself, whom the Bible describes as a “man of war.” (Exodus 15: 3) In that identity, God can and does kill and direct His followers to do the same. To justify the mayhem and brutality, the nation’s patriotic causes become sacred, and secular life is anointed with the requisite elements of religious culture:  dogmas and orthodox language; rites of initiation and passage; songs, symbols, metaphors, and icons; laws and customs to honor heroes, demonize foes, discipline skeptics, and punish nonbelievers. Thus fascism’s war against Them becomes holy war.

“War celebrates only power — and we come to believe in wartime that it is the only real form of power. It preys on our most primal and savage impulses. It allows us to do what peacetime society forbids or restrains us from doing:  It allows us to kill.

“Because we in modern society have walked away from institutions that stand outside the state to find moral guidance and spiritual direction, we turn to the state in times of war… We believe in the nobility and self-sacrifice demanded by war… We discover in the communal struggle, the shared sense of meaning and purpose, a cause. War fills our spiritual void.” [9]

War requires a cause to rally around, and the Biblical-Fascist Narrative provides it.

“It is hard, maybe impossible, to fight a war if the cause is viewed as bankrupt. The sanctity of the cause is crucial to the war effort.

“The cause is built on the backs of victims, portrayed always as innocent. Indeed, most conflicts are ignited with martyrs, whether real or created.”[10]

The Biblical-Fascist Narrative provides the requisite cause, plus new vocabulary, beliefs, and customs for expressing it:

“War finds its meaning in death…. The cause, sanctified by the dead, cannot be questioned without dishonoring those who gave up their lives. We become enmeshed in the imposed language.

“There is a constant act of remembering and honoring the fallen during war. These ceremonies sanctify the cause.

“The adoption of the cause means adoption of the language of the cause.

“The state spends tremendous time protecting, explaining, and promoting the cause. And some of the most important cheerleaders of the cause are the reporters. This is true in nearly every war. During the Gulf War, as in the weeks after the September attacks, communities gathered for vigils and worship services. The enterprise of the state became imbued with a religious aura. We, even those in the press, spoke in the collective.

“The official jargon obscures the game of war — the hunters and the hunted. We accept terms imposed on us by the state — for example, the “war on terror” — and these terms set the narrow parameters by which we are able to think and discuss.” [11]

Dissent has no place in the culture of war – to disagree is to join the enemy. The nation’s institutions and citizens are expected to speak the language of war, which frames and limits public discourse. Exaltation of the nation, faith in the cause, conformity to the language of war, and honoring of the dead make doubt and dissent damnable:

“When we speak within the confines of this language we give up our linguistic capacity to question and make moral choices.

“The cause is unassailable, wrapped in the mystery reserved for the divine. Those who attempt to expose the fabrications and to unwrap the contradictions of the cause are left isolated and reviled.

“The state and the institutions of state become, for many, the center of worship in wartime. To expose the holes in the myth is to court excommunication.

“When any contradiction is raised or there is a sense that the cause is not just in an absolute sense, the doubts are attacked as apostasy.” [12]

Crimes Against Humanity

Once the Biblical-Fascist Narrative has fully emerged as the nation’s new normal, fascism is empowered to pursue its agenda of purifying the nation by eliminating its enemies, which it does by means codified in international law as crimes against humanity:

1.. For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder;

(b) Extermination;

(c) Enslavement;

(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;

(f) Torture;

(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;

(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;

(j) The crime of apartheid;

(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:

(a) “Attack directed against any civilian population” means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack;

(b) “Extermination” includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population;

(c) “Enslavement” means the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such power in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children;

(d) “Deportation or forcible transfer of population” means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law;

(e) “Torture” means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;

(f) “Forced pregnancy” means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy;

(g) “Persecution” means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity;

(h) “The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime;

(i) “Enforced disappearance of persons” means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.[13]

War Crimes

Fascism’s war against Them begins at home — fascist supporters pitted against their fellow citizens. Fascism’s civil war is carried out by crimes against humanity. When fascism confronts its enemies internationally, it does so in like fashion – through war crimes.

We’ll look at war crimes under the Biblical-Fascist Narrative next time.


[1] Madeleine Albright: “The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). See also Madeline Albright Warms of a New Fascism, The New Yorker (Apr. 24, 2018).

[2] Wikipedia – Fascism

[3] Sarkis, Stephanie, 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting, Psychology Today (Jan. 22, 2017).

[4] See Collins, Glenn, The Psychology Of The Cult Experience, The New York Times (Mar. 15, 1982).; also Dittmann, Melissa, Cults of hatred:  Panelists at a convention session on hatred asked APA to form a task force to investigate mind control among destructive cults, American Psychological Association (November 2002, Vol 33, No. 10)

[5] Wikipedia – Goldwater Rule”  “The Goldwater rule is Section 7 in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics,[1] which states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person, and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss their mental health in public statements.[2] It is named after former US Senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

[6] The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control | Psychiatric Times Psychiatric Times book review (Jan. 9, 2020). Hassan, Steven, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control (2019)

[7] Hassan, Steven, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control (2019)

[8] Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, Freedom of Mind Resource Center.

[9] Hedges, Chris, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Rome Statute, Article 7.

The Religion of the Damned

You are damned. That’s the first premise.

You can be un-damned. That’s the second.

But it’s going to cost you. Third.

What it’s going it cost you is you have to live like you’re still damned.

Got that?

I’ll get to it in a minute, But first…

Welcome to the Black Parade – the congregation of “the broken, the beaten, and the damned.”[1]

How does New Jersey produce so many great bands? My Chemical Romance rode the seam between Gen X and the Millennials. Their Black Parade album and tour spanned 2006-2007. It was genius – it finally gave the Goths a place to belong. A friend of mine went to a concert. She was like, “All I could think was, where are their parents? Did they totally give up?”

It’s good to belong. Things are better when you belong. People rally, help each other out. Better to be a damned Goth and belong than to be a damned Goth and not.

“Now, come one, come all to this tragic affair
Wipe off that makeup, what’s in is despair
So throw on the black dress, mix in with the lot
You might wake up and notice you’re someone you’re not

“If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see
You can find out first hand what it’s like to be me.”

Genius Lyrics — “The End” My Chemical Romance.

Brilliant. Tour the world, and all the kids in black sing every word with you. Which is saying a lot, because there are a lot of words, staccato fast.

Now back to the Religion of the Damned. That’s where I started, following the “Jesus Rock” signs around campus to a guy named Larry Norman doing a solo show[2]. He had blond hair down to his waist, and sang songs with lyrics like,

“Sipping whiskey from a paper cup
You drown your sorrows till you can’t stand up
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats

“Why don’t you look into Jesus?
He’s got the answer

“Gonorrhea on Valentines Day
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay
You think rock and roll will set you free
You’ll be deaf before your thirty three
Shooting junk till your half insane
Broken needle in your purple vein

“Why don’t you look into Jesus?
He got the answer.”

Larry Norman – Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus? – [Janis Joplin Version] – 1972 – YouTube

Cool. Our version of The Black Parade. Religion for the damned.

Life was not going well. I wasted my way through freshman year, dropped out, played in the worst rock band to ever hit Denver’s church-basement-roller-rink-office-Christmas-party circuit…  Low-budget rock star debauchery wasn’t cutting it. I needed to not keep screwing up my life. I needed to get undamned.

I met my bandmates in a church basement, and in one of those you’re-making-that-up-right? moments, found myself teaching 7th grade Sunday school about Paul and Moses. I wanted to be like them. I gave our drummer some of my gear to sell and send my me the money (he didn’t), loaded up the rest and drove back to small town Minnesota. Some fellow sojourners pulled up next to me on the freeway and passed over a joint. We connected. We belonged. I didn’t think I wanted to belong anymore, so I pitched it once they were past.

Things weren’t going so well for my parents about then either, but they had found Jesus. I hung out with them and their new Jesus friends. They were Pentecostals – they got filled with Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Before long we became Charismatics instead – same deal, same people, but Pentecostals and Charismatics were downtown vs. uptown. Pentecostals lived in trailers. Charismatics went to college. Pentecostals had revival meetings. Charismatics had conferences in the Twin Cities. Technically everybody was equally damned, but most Charismatics were damned more respectably than in a Larry Norman kind of way.

College had Jesus Freaks by then. I went back and joined them  — 100 Christian students at war with everybody else. One day a religion prof brought up this Bible verse:

“Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

Psalm 137:9

That’s in the Bible, he said, what did we think? I still remember what I thought – basically, I didn’t. The verse just wouldn’t compute – it had to be there for a reason, it couldn’t possibly say what it said, the professor was just making trouble. That’s the way it was on campus – we were persecuted – proof that we were righteous. A few weeks later I wrote a paper that said Nietzsche got syphilis, went crazy, and died because he said God was dead. The Prof was disgusted. It went on like that for three more years. – no more partying, but totally blowing a shot at what a first class college experience might have been – although to be fair, it wasn’t all the Christans’ fault — I think I was just too downtown to handle it..

Christians at war with “the world” followed me into my career. I was smart and worked hard, people hired me, liked me, but I could never quite join in. I was too busy with “come apart from them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18) My disgusted religious prof morphed into perplexed bosses and colleagues. I was white collar and credentialed but my place was not with the damned so much as the trying-to-get-undamned, and sooner or later I’d quit and go off on my next living by faith adventure until I ran out of money and came back for another entry in my patchwork quilt resume.

Rewind, repeat.

Thus my career degenerated into a trail of regrets and disappointments – all for the sake of a religion where you start out damned but then you get saved, but you’re still damned, only sort of conditionally saved until a big finale coming one day soon that will set everything to right and then you get to be undamned forever while everyone else gets damned for good, but if you die before that happens you get to take a shortcut to being undamned, and some people think even if you’re alive when the End Times really get rolling you’ll get a free pass out so that you get to go to Heaven early while everyone else has to live through hell on earth until the final Hell with a capital H finally opens up and gorges on everybody except maybe a few who figured out how to get undamned before everybody else gets damned for good.

Got all that?

That’s the “good news.”

In the meantime you find out that your highest and best calling is to be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And the crazy thing is, the Bible comes right out and tells you that’s the way it’s going to be if you sign up. Here’s how it describes the highest and best of what it means to be a God Follower:

 “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”[7]

Hebrews 11: 35-39.

It’s like the religion prof’s Bible verse. The Bible can’t really say that, there must be something else going on. The best you can do is suffer, and not get what you were promised?

Well now, isn’t that a hell of a deal!

We could have seen it coming if we’d thought for more than a nanosecond about our religion’s symbol:  the most horrible, cruel, depraved, savage, barbaric, sadistic, blood-lusty instrument of torture the very worst of human depravity has ever devised. You see it everywhere – molded in gold and silver and bejeweled. Earrings. Necklaces. Bumper stickers. All over the place. Often a human is included — twisting and writhing as he’s being tortured to death.

Oh, and a father did that to his child. Because he so loved the world.

Which means we’re supposed to feel good about the torture symbol. take comfort in it, welcome it, worship it, revere it as the best thing that ever happened, make art out of it, make elaborate paintings of it on the ceilings and in stained glass windows of massive centuries-old buildings all over Europe that were constructed in its shape and filled with statutes and sculptures of it. There have been countless millions (billions?) of those death by torture symbols made and displayed all around the world for a couple thousand years now, evidence of an international colonization of a death by torture cult, one that reveres the bloody sacrifice of animals and humans, has done so since antiquity and still does today -– billions of people for millennia treating that death by torture symbol as holy, something that can be desecrated — as if it’s not desecrated enough already, not already beyond despicable, not already horrible beyond any vestige of human decency.

That’s the Religion of the Damned. That’s the one I joined. That’s the one I’m no longer part of. (You might have guessed.)

Can we talk?

All this being damned and suffering and death by torture is not just a religion, it’s a worldview. A way of looking at life that’s been dominant in western culture for thousands of years. You’re lost, and it’s your fault. You were born that way, and then you proved how screwed up you were by screwing up some more.  You missed the mark from the get-go. No wonder you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see.

And on it goes. I’m so sick of it, I can’t write about it anymore.

What if we’re not that? What if we’re not a bunch of born losers, what if we’re just humans… just kind of… well, living…?

Is there any way that could be good enough?

The final Black Parade concert pronounced that it was over. (Click the photo to watch the show.) Let’s hope not. What needs to be over is the Religion of the Damned. What needs to be over is the dogma that we’re not okay, we never were okay, we never will be okay, that the only way to be okay is be the wretched and poor, beaten and damned, sat upon, spat upon, ratted on[8]… in the name of God. There’s enough Hell already, enough torture. We don’t need any more.

All those Goths, everybody who looks like their parents gave up on them, they’re all better off than that guy whose father tortured him to death. How about we all join the Black Parade, learn the lyrics, sing them together, look out for each other?

How about we all belong?


[1] YouTube — My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade Is Dead! (Full Concert Film)

[2] Larry Norman – Wikipedia

[8] Simon and Garfunkel, Blessed.

Blueprint for Fascism – Part 1

I used to wonder how the Christian Right could support Trump. “They must be just like him,” I thought once, but that wasn’t strong or deep enough — it was too individualistic, made it too much a matter of personal choice. Same problem with shared ideology — libertarianism plus capitalism. Ideology gets way too much credit as a way to explain why we do what we do. We aren’t the free thinkers we believe we are. We don’t act from reasoned choice, we do what we’re predisposed to do on a subconscious level, then rationalize after the fact.

The ”Fascist” Label

Then Madeline Albright’s book pasted Trump with the “fascist” label. The past couple years of his all-out assault on democracy, discourse, decency, decorum… have left little doubt. The Democrats have sprinted to the intellectual and ideological high ground, gibbered among themselves, stirred themselves up, got indignant, and generally have been oh so reasonable and insightful. Their criticism and analysis have also been entirely ineffective against post-truth reality. Meanwhile, the Christians and Republicans have been unfazed – haven’t even bothered to respond to the fascist allegations with “it takes one to know one!”

Why not? “Fascist” explodes in the brain. Someone calls you that, you come up swinging. But that’s not what happened. The Christians and Republicans mostly yawned and nodded, only jumped up on cue now and then to make some noise.

Explain that.

A couple weeks ago I had a dream that did.

No kidding. The dream’s explanation was so outrageous, I probably needed it to come through my subconscious mind, break through my defenses like a thief in the night, like the Bible says.[1] Which is appropriate, because it’s about the Bible and the Bible’s God.

Here it is:  what sustains Trump’s support from Christians and Republicans is their shared Biblical worldview, and that worldview is essentially fascist in nature. The Bible is the ultimate fascist blueprint, and the Bible’s God is the ultimate fascist. If you want to know how to do fascism, just give me some of that old time religion.[2]

Like I said, outrageous. Let’s break itdown.

Worldview

Ideology is surface-level rationalization. What’s buried deeper down?

Worldview.

Worldview satisfies our need to survive and our urge to thrive. There are giants in the Earth:  to survive, we need to identify and avoid them; to thrive, we need to defeat them. Ideology gives us a plan for doing that – it’s worldview’s to do list, our executive function in action. Ideology is worldview’s conscious spokesperson making it sound like we knew all along what we were doing – we were mission- and value-driven, we were living purpose-driven lives.

Worldview is meta-knowledge, meta-consciousness, meta-awareness. It is the Reality Distortion Factor in real time – the perspective, bias, and prejudice lens that warps and sorts input — the knowing before knowing that skews, bends, and conforms.

Worldview comes from a long way back. It’s epic in scope –a long story arc spanning the globe. millennia in the making, a cast of thousands, played out on uncountable stages by an encyclopedic cast list of actors and an infinity of extras.

Worldview is pervasive, assumed, incorporated, inculcated. It’s not a topic for media coverage, it’s the fabric and essence of our lives — our personal and communal institutions, languages, customs, ways of navigating through life. Worldview is cosmic comfort food — it fuels everything we know about how life works, guides how we navigate.

Ideological logjam gives pundits something to be right about, media something to report, think tanks something to advocate, and fund-raisers something to sell. Okay for them, that’s their job. Meanwhile, worldview keeps the fire burning.

The Fascist Worldview

Worldview is why the Christians and Republicans didn’t budge when their critics threw the “fascist” label at them. Nobody’s Biblical worldview came unhinged. Not all Republicans and Christians are Christian Right, but all of them share the same Biblical worldview, and that worldview stayed intact while the “fascist” accusations treated the issue as an ideology. But fascism isn’t rooted in ideology. It draws its life from worldview. It touches worldview-level pain and vulnerability and offers worldview-level comfort.

Fascism thrives on identifying who They are – the giants in the earth, the beasts on the prowl. When fascist worldview holds sway, there is no moral or legal recrimination associated with being Us, only great pride and relief at being on the good side of eternal terror. And once you’re in, you get to bang the drums and chant the slogans as you set about exterminating Them – which is both your duty to the cause and your best service to yourself and your comrades, since fascism must destroy the infidels before the righteous can be edified.

Meanwhile, They mistake fascism for ideology, and trot out the intellectual, historical, and legal case against it — trying to move a mountain with a rock and a pry bar, not realizing that fascism’s Us isn’t out to win an argument, it’s out to destroy. Whenworldview is at stake, it’s not Debate Club anymore, it’s Fight Club. No wonder there’s all that rage. No wonder fascism wanders in the guise of populism. No wonder conspiracy theories abound.

Biblical Worldview and Fascism

What then is the worldview that creates and sustains fascism?

Trump himself told us – on Monday, June 1, 2020. That was the day he led a procession of sycophants and servants, devotees and disciples – among them Attorney General William P. Barr, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, daughter Ivanka, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (in camouflage), Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper – in a procession to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, the way cleared by the teargas and rubber bullets of his personal SS forces.

And then he held up a Bible.

That was it – a complete message delivered on the same level from which it came – from worldview – and delivered in the most appropriate way — in symbolic, pre-language form. Symbolic messages sneak past our defenses –like a thief in the night.

The media “lefties” called the stunt “vulgar.” Church leaders and religion academicians said no, this is not what Christianity is about. Reporters snarked about whether it was his Bible, if he ever read it, knew what it said. Lots of decent, thinking, believing people chafed and protested. They were earnest and brave. They interpreted Trump’s procession to the church for what it obviously was – racist backlash against the George Floyd protests.

And everybody missed the point. “It’s a Bible,” Trump said. He spoke, as he always does, with total transparency about his beliefs and intentions. The whole point was that he went to a church and held up a Bible. That’s it. Nothing more. But that “nothing more” had a whole lot more to say.

There was such a storm that his visit the following day to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine was barely noticed – a visit that delivered the same message in the same symbolic language and got the same disgusted response from the critics.[3]

In both visits, what Trump did and said was out of reach of consciousness, reporting, analysis, commentary. He spoke and acted from worldview, with maximum impact. Tyrants have an uncanny knack for knowing how to do that – how to tap worldview with profound symbolic gestures. The icons of ideology – metaphors, myths, symbols – land with far greater impact than words.

“As he took up his post before the church, which was partially boarded up after a minor fire that broke out during a recent protest, Mr. Trump set his face in a stony scowl and held up a black Bible, tightly closed.… There Mr. Trump was, holding aloft this mute book — neither opened, cited, nor read from — in the shadow of a vandalized church, claiming the mantle of righteousness.

“After all, that was what he had come to do. A ruler maintaining order strictly by brute force has a problem. Such regimes are volatile and fragile, subject to eruptive dissolution. Mr. Trump may lack the experience or interest to even pantomime genuine Christian practice, but he has acute instincts when it comes to the symbolism of leadership. He seemed to know, as he positioned himself as the defender of the Christian faith, that he needed to imbue his presidency with some renewed moral purpose; Christianity was simply a convenient vein to tap.

“‘I think that’s a standard trope in American political frames of reference,’ Luke Bretherton told me on a Monday night phone call. Mr. Bretherton, who is a professor of moral and political theology at Duke University’s Divinity School, cited Cold War efforts to demonize socialism as viciously atheistic and amoral. It was work undertaken with anxious eagerness precisely because socialist criticisms of American life were substantial and compelling.

“‘It’s significant that Trump did this alone,’ Mr. Bretherton observed. Unlike prior presidents who sometimes appeared on grave occasions with priests or pastors, Mr. Trump ‘doesn’t need a Billy Graham figure to give divine sanction. He doesn’t need a priestly figure. He himself can be the mediator.’” [4]

Fascism is salvation, nationalism style, and fascist leaders are saviors. We the people have forsaken our lost glory, grown lax, allowed an enemy to break in and steal our divine destiny. But God’s Anointed One can restore us. Trump has proclaimed all along that he is the only one who can restore the greatness of America’s lost Eden and lead us to the Promised Land, MAGA style. His detractors call politicking and ideology, but his devotees know, and rejoice. Biblical worldview applied to extreme nationalism saves them from the deranged liberals at our gates and counters the wickedness of globalism. The Bible puts Truth with a capital “T” on our side. Suddenly the Founders who took great pains to be sure there could be no national religion were founding America as a Christian country. Suddenly eternal and unchanging Truth is on our side. Truth stops the world so America can get off. No need to adapt, grow, change. No need for the wretchedness of globalism. No need to deal with the shithole countries or the refugees wo come from then, scrounging for our shelter. We can circle around, hunker down, banish the foreigners from our midst and send the miscreants begging. To him who has will more be given. We’re the ones who have more, and God bless the child that’s got his own.[5]

This is worldview-based fascism grown from the most ancient of roots of Western civilization.

Now let’s break that down.

The Elements of Fascism

First we need a definition of fascism so we’ll know it when we see it. According to Madeline Albright, that’s not easy to come by.

“I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. ‘Defining fascism is difficult,’ she responds. ‘First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.’

“It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting ‘the people’ against their ‘enemies’. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about ‘plucking a chicken feather by feather’ so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

“In her book, [she labels Trump] the first anti-democratic president in modern US history’. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

“Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. ‘Outrageous,’ says Albright. ‘It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people…. I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.’ He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism.”[6]

Runway Change

Social and cultural upheaval breed fascism. “Progress” is too fast and innovation too disruptive, social norms are uprooted and culture comes unglued. Strong-armed “leadership” steps in to restore order, to bring us back to the standard of Truth.

“Sometimes social development is just too fast, too chaotic, too disorderly, and ultimately doomed to fail. In the aftermath of defeat; in the dislocations of great recessions; at the tail end of an economic miracle, traditions can melt away, making everything seem possible. But it is at just such moments that higher development all too often fractures and fails.

“The artistic and intellectual innovations of the early twentieth century can make those of the early twenty-first appear unimaginative and conventional… [for example], the social and artistic innovations of the ‘roaring twenties,’ which saw literary forms dissolved in Joyce’s Ulysses and sexual norms exploded in Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. It saw the emergence of Art Deco and Bauhaus in architecture; the popularization of jazz; and the rise of cinema…. [The] erosion of forms accompanying these developments left all too many people feeling unsettled and shaky, as if walking along a slippery slope at too high an altitude.

“Yet innovation by itself is not enough to sustain freedom. True freedom takes work to sustain, and is everywhere reliant upon settled institutions, like freedom of speech and assembly, the rule of law, and the right to vote. These were unstable in Italy and Germany following the First World War, as they were in Russia at the turn of the millennium, and are in Central Europe today. Where democratic institutions are unstable, freedom tends to be suspect; where accompanied by widespread disorder, a visceral appeal to tradition often emerges to shut it all down. With the past exploded and social progress unsustainable, those inclined to fascism have nowhere to turn but a re-imagined past, decked out with all the paraphernalia of the future from which they run for their lives.

“Fascism… meets the premature dissolution of social norms with the heavy hand of authoritarianism; the sudden fracturing of settled forms with the illusion of law and order. It meets surrealism with classicism; atonal composition with military marches; and the liberation of women with a return to the kitchen. But while fascism may romanticize the past, what it actually presents is a brutal alternative to rapid social development.” [7]

Patriarchy and Misogyny

Strong-armed “leadership” always has a patriarchal face and a misogynist underbelly.

“The US may now be on the cusp of similar developments. Women are continuing the slow decades-long rise in the workplace. A younger generation of women is increasingly assertive and confident of its ability to succeed. The movement to end sexual harassment is overturning workplace norms. Gays and lesbians are coming out of the closet; gay marriage has been institutionalized; the transgender rights movement is bringing the scrutiny of gender itself—long an academic and feminist preoccupation—into mainstream debate. Conservatives have reacted with a backlash, reviving a virulent form of patriarchy, which sanctions unrestrained masculine impulses and the denigration of women by powerful men.

“Whether the reason lies in biology or cultural conditioning, men tend to locate themselves in hierarchies of other men. Conditioned to find their place, they typically maneuver through such hierarchies with alacrity, thus faring better than women in more hierarchical societies. Most try to hold their own in the pecking order, but “alphas” aim for the top, and fascists attempt to overturn traditional hierarchies altogether, setting up their own alternative orders, behind which their followers might line up. These newer orders tend to be punishingly vertical, as in the case of the Republican Party, where stepping out of line now ends careers—for their principal organizing mechanism is the ability to bully others.

“Patriarchies are generally understood as hierarchical orders dominated by men. Pre-modern societies are typically patriarchal, with males dominating politics and the family. Gender roles are circumscribed and human freedom is limited.

“Stable democracies are rarely patriarchal, but the regression to patriarchy is typical in failed or failing democracies….

“Fascists do not try to prettify their actions, but rather use them to hammer liberals and minorities into submission, for domination is essential to cowing the opposition and assimilating the weak. Women are vulnerable to this kind of intimidation, for they are seldom as well-schooled in the arts of oppression as men, and are typically more vulnerable to physical attack.

“American Republicans chose their most abusive bully and lined up behind him as he broke all social and political norms to tear down perhaps the most powerful woman in the world for a reason. They chanted “Lock her up!” not simply because they viewed her as a criminal, but because they were reasserting their patriarchal right to power.

“The early twentieth-century social psychologist Wilhelm Reich believed fascists relied on this kind of sexual and emotional repression to foster a masculine aggression that could be directed against outsiders.

“Fascism cannot be properly understood without some consideration of this reversion to patriarchy. Eugen Weber has written that fascism always emerges in response to the rising power of women. The Nazis entered office after a long decade of democracy in which women gained the vote and children won legal protection. The patriarchal family broke down in Weimar Germany, amid an open gay scene in Berlin, and a flourishing of the experimental arts, to which the Nazis responded with a dominant father-of-the-nation, who sought to re-establish patriarchy.

“American Republicans have long sought to re-establish a traditional order that puts women back in the kitchen, but Trumpist fascism represents a more visceral form of domination. Studies have shown that, while support for previous Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and the late John McCain was loosely correlated with more chivalrous views of traditional gender roles, support for Trump is correlated with outright hostility toward women.”[8]

We’ll look more at fascism’s characteristics next time.


[1] “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2; “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” Matthew 24:43; “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Revelation 16:15; “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3:10. (All quotes English Standard Version.)

[2] The Johnny Cash Show – Give Me That Old Time Religion – YouTube.

[3] Catholic Archbishop of Washington Slams Trump’s Visit To John Paul II Shrine, The Washington Post (June 2, 2020).

[4] The Last Temptation of Trump, The New York Times (June 2, 2020).

[5] God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday song) – Wikipedia.

[6] Madeleine Albright: “The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad,” The Guardian (July 8, 2018). See also Madeline Albright Warms of a New Fascism, The New Yorker (Apr. 24, 2018).

[7] Fascism:  A Forced Regression to Patriarchy, AlJumhiriya (Oct. 16, 2020)

[8] Ibid.

Reparations [4]:  The Essential Doubt

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you.

Kathy’s Song[1]
Paul Simon

We saw last time that the U.S. government could waive its legal defense of sovereign immunity to pave the way for slavery reparations. It would take more than a legal reckoning for that to happen. Law lies on the surface of society, readily visible, but it has deep roots in history and ideology, national identity and mission, values and beliefs, ways of looking at the world and how life works.[2] These ancient root systems invoke fierce allegiances deeply embedded in human psyche and culture. Because the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity is grounded in Biblical doctrine,[3] laying it aside requires doubt and dissent of the highest order – national treason and religious apostasy in a single act.

Doubt of that magnitude is rare beyond description but not without precedent. Consider, for example, Germany’s reparations for World War II, which required not only the international banishment of Nazism, but also the German people’s moral renunciation of Nazism’s philosophical and political roots stretching back to the 19th Century.[4]; In comparison, the USA”s roots of slavery (and hence racism) extend back to the earliest New World settlements, which imported English common law, including the divine right of kings and its nationalistic version, sovereign immunity. Renouncing the latter to pave the way for slavery reparations would require a similar American moral renunciation of centuries of related social, economic, and political ideology and set new terms for a post-racism American state.

That, in turn, would require a reckoning with the “first cause” roots of the divine right of kings and sovereign immunity.

The First Cause Roots of Sovereign Immunity

A “first cause” satisfies the human desire for life to make sense by assigning a cause to every effect. Trouble is, as you trace the cause and effect chain to its remotest origins, you eventually run out of causes, leaving you with only effects. That’s when a first cause comes to the rescue. A first cause has no prior cause – it is so primary that nothing came before it but everything came after it. Since knowledge can’t reach that far back, a first cause is a matter of belief:  you take it on faith, declare the beginning into existence, and go from there.

Western civilization’s worldview historically identified God as the ultimate first cause.

“First cause, in philosophy, is the self-created being (i.e., God) to which every chain of causes must ultimately go back. The term was used by Greek thinkers and became an underlying assumption in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Many philosophers and theologians in this tradition have formulated an argument for the existence of God by claiming that the world that man observes with his senses must have been brought into being by God as the first cause.

“The classic Christian formulation of this argument came from the medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, who was influenced by the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aquinas argued that the observable order of causation is not self-explanatory. It can only be accounted for by the existence of a first cause; this first cause, however, must not be considered simply as the first in a series of continuing causes, but rather as first cause in the sense of being the cause for the whole series of observable causes.

“The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant rejected the argument from causality because, according to one of his central theses, causality cannot legitimately be applied beyond the realm of possible experience to a transcendent cause.

“Protestantism generally has rejected the validity of the first-cause argument; nevertheless, for most Christians it remains an article of faith that God is the first cause of all that exists. The person who conceives of God in this way is apt to look upon the observable world as contingent—i.e., as something that could not exist by itself.”[5]

God is the ultimate Sovereign from which all lesser sovereigns – the king, the national government — derive their existence and legitimacy. God’s first cause Sovereignty justifies God’s right to rule as God sees fit. The king and the state, having been set into place by God, derive a comparable right of domination from God. The king and the national government are to the people what God is to them.

The Divine Right of Kings

When kings ruled countries, their divine line of authority took legal form as the Divine Right of Kings.

“The divine right of kings, divine right, or God’s mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It stems from a specific metaphysical framework in which the king (or queen) is pre-selected as an heir prior to their birth. By pre-selecting the king’s physical manifestation, the governed populace actively (rather than merely passively) hands the metaphysical selection of the king’s soul – which will inhabit the body and thereby rule them – over to God. In this way, the ‘divine right’ originates as a metaphysical act of humility or submission towards the Godhead.

“Consequentially, it asserts that a monarch (e.g. a king) is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from divine authority, like the monotheist will of God. The monarch is thus not subject to the will of his people, of the aristocracy, or of any other estate of the realm. It implies that only divine authority can judge an unjust monarch and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict their powers runs contrary to God’s will and may constitute a sacrilegious act.”[6]

The Divine Right of Kings was a favorite doctrine of the first King James of England, who commissioned what would become the King James Version of the Bible partly in response to Puritan challenges to the Church of England’s doctrine of an ordained clergy that could trace its lineage to the original Apostles.

“Divine right of kings, in European history, a political doctrine in defense of monarchical ‘absolutism,’ which asserted that kings derived their authority from God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament. Originating in Europe, the divine-right theory can be traced to the medieval conception of God’s award of temporal power to the political ruler, paralleling the award of spiritual power to the church. By the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the new national monarchs were asserting their authority in matters of both church and state. King James I of England (reigned 1603–25) was the foremost exponent of the divine right of king….”[7]

“While throughout much of world history, deified potentates have been the rule, in England, absolute monarchy never got a solid foothold, but there certainly was the attempt. Elements of British political theory and practice encouraged absolutism—the idea and practice that the king is the absolute law and that there is no appeal beyond him. Several movements and ideas hurried along the idea of absolute monarchy in England. One of those ideas was the divine right of kings,

“In England, the idea of the divine right of kings will enter England with James VI of Scotland who will come and rule over both England and Scotland as James I in 1603 and will commence the line of several ‘Stuart’ monarchs. James had definite ideas about his role as monarch, and those ideas included the divine right of kings. Here are just a few of James’ statements that reflect his view that he ruled by divine right:

      • Kings are like gods— “…kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself are called gods.”
      • Kings are not to be disputed— “… That as to dispute what God may do is blasphemy….so is it sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power.”
      • Governing is the business of the king, not the business of the subjects— “you do not meddle with the main points of government; that is my craft . . . to meddle with that were to lesson me . . . I must not be taught my office.”
      • Kings govern by ancient rights that are his to claim— “I would not have you meddle with such ancient rights of mine as I have received from my predecessors . . . .”
      • Kings should not be bothered with requests to change settled law— “…I pray you beware to exhibit for grievance anything that is established by a settled law…”
      • Don’t make a request of a king if you are confident he will say “no.”— “… for it is an undutiful part in subjects to press their king, wherein they know beforehand he will refuse them.”

“James’ views sound egotistical to us today, but he was not the only one that held them. These views were held by others, even some philosophers. For example, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote a work called Leviathan in 1651 in which he said that men must surrender their rights to a sovereign in exchange for protection. While Hobbes’ was not promoting the divine right of kings per se, he was providing a philosophy to justify a very strong absolute ruler, the kind that the divine right of kings prescribes. Sir Robert Filmer was a facilitator of the divine right of kings and wrote a book about it called Patriarcha (1660) in which he said that the state is like a family and that the king is a father to his people. Filmer also says that the first king was Adam and that Adam’s sons rule the nations of the world today. So, the King of England would be considered the eldest son of Adam in England or the King of France would be Adam’s eldest son in France.”[8]

King James, Witch Hunter

King James had no impartial academic interest in a Bible translation that supported his divine right:  during his reign, the “Cradle King” accumulated a long list of covered offenses that included mass murder, torture, injustice, tracheary, cruelty, and misogyny.

“The witch-hunts that swept across Europe from 1450 to 1750 were among the most controversial and terrifying phenomena in history – holocausts of their times. Historians have long attempted to explain why and how they took such rapid and enduring hold in communities as disparate and distant from one another as Navarre and Copenhagen. They resulted in the trial of around 100,000 people (most of them women), a little under half of whom were 
put to death.

“One of the most active centres of witch-hunting was Scotland, where perhaps 
4,000 people were consigned to the flames – 
a striking number for such a small country, 
and more than double the execution rate in England. The ferocity of these persecutions can be attributed to the most notorious royal witch-hunter: King James VI of Scotland, who in 1603 became James I of England.

“Most of the suspects soon confessed – under torture – to concocting a host of bizarre and gruesome spells and rituals in order to whip up the storm.… James was so appalled when he heard such tales that he decided to personally superintend the interrogations… while the king looked on with ‘great delight’.

“James’s beliefs had a dangerously misogynistic core. He grew up to scorn – even revile – women. Though he was by no means alone in his view of the natural weakness and inferiority of women, his aversion towards them was unusually intense. He took every opportunity to propound the view that they were far more likely than men to succumb to witchcraft…. He would later commission a new version of the Bible in which all references to witches were rewritten in the female gender.

“Most witchcraft trials constituted grave miscarriages of justice…. If the actual facts of a case were unsatisfactory, or did not teach a clear enough moral lesson, then they were enhanced, added to or simply changed.”[9]

When the new King James Bible substantiated the King’s divine right to carry on these activities, and when the USA imported the king’s divine right into its legal system as sovereign immunity, both acknowledged God as the first cause of these legal doctrines. Like the King, the U.S. government also has a long list of covered offenses:  the treatment of slaves during the reign of legal slavery mirrors King James’ obsession with brutalizing, lynching, and murdering witches.

In the U.S., where a 2019 Gallup Poll found that 64% – 87% of Americans believe in God  (depending on how the question was asked), there remain many ”Christians [for whom] it remains an article of faith that God is the first cause of all that exists.[10] As a result, we see in the USA’s current social and political climate both explicit and implicit affirmation of the following Bible passages (which the online source appropriately expresses in the King James version) to substantiate the ability of national leaders to avoid accountability for acts of governance that sponsor this kind of horrifying treatment of citizens.[11]:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” Romans 13:1-5, KJV

“Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Psalms 75:5-7, KJV

“Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:” Daniel 2:20-21, KJV

“This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.” Daniel 4:17, KJV

“I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me.” Jeremiah 27:5, KJV

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Proverbs 21:1, KJV

“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD. And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” 1 Samuel 15:23-26, KJV

“And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” Acts 12:21-23, KJV

The Ultimate Focus of Doubt:  God

In “Abrahamic” cultures — Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – the Biblical God is the first cause of the divine right of kings and sovereign immunity. The full force of patriotic nationalism and religious zeal therefore originates with God – which explains why a surprising number of European nations had blasphemy laws on the books until not that long ago, and why some nations still do.[12]

“Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred objects, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.”[13]

God, it seems, like kings and sovereign nations, has much to be excused from. Aside from the Biblical God’s sponsorship of war, genocide, mass murder, rape, torture, and brutality to humans and animals, a list of modern labels would include misogynist, homophobe, and xenophobe. But of course you don’t think that way if you’re a believer, because that would be blasphemy, often punishable by death, often after the infliction of the kind of cruel and unusual punishment reserved for the faithful and unfaithful alike. As for the latter, the Bible makes it a badge of honor for the faithful to suffer in the name of God:

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,” Hebrews 11:  35-39.ESV

Transformation Made Possible by Doubt

Nonbelievers not vexed with these kinds of rights of the sovereign and duties of the governed are free to doubt God’s first cause status and its derivative doctrines, laws, and policies. In the USA, doubt embraced on that level would open the door to any number of contrary beliefs – for example:

    • The state does not enjoy superior status — historically, legally, morally, or otherwise – that gives it a right to act without consequence.
    • The people governed are therefore not bound – theologically, morally, or otherwise – to submit to government that is not responsible for its actions.

Once you’re no longer worried about breaking faith with God as the first cause of your national institutional structure, a while new “social contract” (also discussed last time) between government and the people becomes possible – a contract that would, in effect, not be satisfied with paying only descendants of slaves “damages” for past harm, but would look to establish a fresh national vision of the duties of those who govern and the rights and freedoms of the governed. The result, it would seem, is the possibility of ending the USA’s institutionalized racism for good.

[1] Who was Paul Simon’s Kathy? And whatever happened to her? See this article from The Guardian.

[2] See the Belief Systems and Culture category of posts in my Iconoclast.blog.

[3] The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, Andrew L. Seidel (2019). Although the USA was not founded as a Christian nation, its core values and beliefs, like those of other Western countries, are Classical and Biblical in origin.

[4]  See Alpha History and The Mises Institute on the historical origins of Nazism.

[5]  Encyclopedia Britannica. See also New World Encyclopedia and the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy.

[6] Wikipedia – The Divine Right of Kings.

[7] Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.. See also the New World Encyclopedia

[8] Owlcation

[9] Borman, Tracy, James VI And I: The King Who Hunted Witches,  History Extra (BBC Historical Magazine)  (March 27, 2019)

[10]  Encyclopedia Britannica. See also New World Encyclopedia and the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy.

[11]Bill’s Bible Basics.”

[12]  Wikipedia – Blasphemy law.

[13]  Wikipedia – Blasphemy.

Reborn Losers: Christian Cosmology and Worldview Are a Setup to Failure

Christian cosmology and worldview are complicated, stressful, and impossible. Trying to comply with them is a set up to failure. That failure begins with the concept of who we are as human beings living in human bodies.

I was a Christian, now I’m not. Sometimes I find it useful to write about what I believed then and compare it to what I don’t believe now. I try to express it simply, avoid religious assumptions and overtones, resist the urge to cringe at what I used to think and exalt in what I think now. Instead, I try to lay aside judgment, notice what comes up, and wonder about it. That’s the ideal, anyway — sometimes it’s more difficult than others to remain dispassionate. Today was one of those.

I wrote about cosmology (how the universe is organized) and worldview (how life works on Earth). Reading it afterward, it seemed that the Christian beliefs, institutions, and culture that dominated my life — and have dominated Western thought for two millennia — are about equal parts quaint and fantasy. I didn’t see it that way when I was immersed in them, but my last several years of study– especially neuroscience, psychology, and history — have upended my former cosmology and worldview, and taken my self concept with them.

I previously understood “reality” and my place in it by reference to a Truth outside of me. Today, I’m aware that everything I experience – including what I believe or not – is processed within my biological being.[1] My new sense of self and reality are now physical, not spiritual.

That shift has brought new clarity, simplicity, decisiveness, energy, focus, hope, joy, freedom, gratitude, and lots of other new dynamics I really like. By contrast, what struck me most about my former beliefs was how complicated they were, how stressful to maintain, and ultimately how generally impossible. Clinging to them was a setup to failure – I especially like being free of that.

The Trouble Starts With A Soul

Approaching life here by reference to a Truth out there leads us to believe in things that exist outside of us– in people, in ideas, in entities, in institutions…. That kind of thinking derives naturally from another foundational belief: that each person has an independent existence — a soul living inside their body – that sorts through available belief options and chooses this one over that.

“If you were to ask the average person in the street about their self, they would most likely describe the individual who inhabits their body. They believe they are more than just their bodies. Their bodies are something their selves control. When we look in the mirror, we regard the body as a vessel we occupy.

“This sense that we are individuals inside bodies is sometimes called the “ego theory,” although philosopher Gale Strawson captures it poetically in what he calls the ‘pearl view’ of the self. The pearl view is the common notion that our self is an essential entity at the core of our existence that holds steady throughout our life. The ego experiences life as a conscious, thinking person with a unique historical background that defines who he or she is. This is the ‘I’ that looks back in the bathroom mirror and reflects who is the ‘me.’”[2]

My Christian worldview bought all that, and also held that the soul is our highest and best self, because it came from where Truth dwells. It also held that it’s hard on a soul to be in a human body. The doctrinal specifics vary – we deliberately chose to screw things up and our souls took the hit for it, our souls got damaged in transit or in installation, or there was a flaw in the source code that eventually moved them away from their ideal nature, etc. – but the end result is that the soul’s potential good influence is minimized or lost, leaving us in the throes of “sin” – falling short of the perfect divine plan for what our souls could have been if they hadn’t gotten fouled up. And since the soul’s waywardness is foundational, its problem isn’t just sin but “original sin” – the beginning of all our troubles. We don’t just struggle with garden-variety human nature, which is bad enough, but with “the flesh,” which is worse, in fact so dreadful that it puts our eternal destiny at jeopardy.

That’s where it all begins:  with a divine, timeless, perfect soul trapped in an imperfect human body. The result is a hapless human subject to all kinds of cosmic misfortune.

And it only gets worse from there.

The Cosmology and Worldview That Was (And Still Is)

It’s tricky to line up a flawed soul in a flawed body with an external perfect standard of Truth. As a result, we’re constantly screwing up our reality compared to Reality. Plus there’s the problem of perception and deception –-not seeing Reality clearly – and the problem of temptation – enticements plying on our fleshly nature that just aren’t going to end well. It’s hard to keep a clear head in the midst of those pressures, and for that we have experts – people we have to trust to know things about Reality that the rest of us don’t.

But sooner or later all fall down – experts along with everybody else. Birth is the soul’s doorway into its precarious life in the flesh, and death is the doorway out. It would be nice if the door had been designed to swing both ways so we could check in with Truth and get straightened out now and then, but it shuts firmly in both directions, and no peeking. Which means our attempts to live here by reference to what’s over there are always seriously handicapped.

Sometimes you hear about people who get a backstage pass to go there and come back, and then they write books about it and go on tour and tell us what’s it’s like. That makes them a special kind of expert, but their reports often are full of all sorts of universality, which makes them doctrinally suspect. Fortunately, there are superhuman beings– kind of like us, kind of not, but at least conscious like us, and able to communicate – to help us out. Sometimes they make the trip over here, sometimes they snatch someone from here and show them around over there and then send them back, sometimes they open up a clear channel to communicate with somebody over here, and sometimes — and this is the best – they can be born as one of us and not have a problem with losing their soul’s connection to Truth while they’re here. The point is, one way or another, when they really need to communicate with us, they figure out how.

The whole lot of them rank higher than we do: the human race is in charge of the Earth, but they’re in charge of us (and everything else). God out-ranks everyone, of course – He[3] created everything, including them and us, and although the whole thing sure looks like a mess to us it doesn’t look that way to Him – or to them either, I guess. God is the ultimate creator, communicator, executive, and enforcer, and He has more consciousness than all the rest of us combined.

“Across all cultures and all religions, universally, people consider God to be a conscious mind. God is aware. God consciously chooses to make things happen. In physical reality the tree fell, the storm bowled over a house, the man survived the car crash, the woman died prematurely, the earth orbits the sun, the cosmos exists. For many people these events, big and small, must have a consciousness and an intentionality behind them. God is that consciousness.”[4]

Of course, God is busy, which is why He has all these underlings. They’re arranged in a hierarchy – it just makes sense that they would be – and range from great big scary powerful cosmic superheroes who get to make great big scary visitations and announcements and cause all kinds of great big scary events, all the way down to petty bureaucrats, drones, and proles just doing their dull but necessary jobs (but even they outrank us in the grand cosmic scheme).

“When our anthropomorphism is applied to religious thought, it’s notably the mind, rather than the body, that’s universally applied to spirits and gods. In the diverse cultures of the world, gods come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they always share is a mind with the ability to think symbolically just like a human. This makes sense in light of the critical importance of theory of mind in the development of our social intelligence: if other people have minds like ours, wouldn’t that be true of other agents we perceive to act intentionally in the world?”[5]

These conscious beings from over there sometimes pick a human or a whole tribe of humans to mediate Truth to the rest of us. Those people get a special supernatural security clearance, and we give their key personnel special titles like prophet and priest.

So far so good, but even Truth – also known as Heaven – has its internal power struggles. There’s a war over there between good and evil, God and Satan, angels and demons, and other kinds of beings in the high places, and some of it spills over into reality on our side of the divide. We therefore need to be careful about which of our experts are authentic and which aren’t, who they’re really serving and who they aren’t. The stakes are high, and if we’re wrong we’re going to pay with a lot of pain and suffering, both in this life and forever when we go through death’s one-way door.

And just to make things more complicated, these other-worldly beings sometimes use human experts as their agents, and they can be undercover. Plus, to make things impossibly, incomprehensibly complicated for our by now totally overtaxed souls, God and the other good guys sometimes take a turn at being deceptive themselves. The Cosmic Screenwriter apparently thought of everything in a bid to make our predicament as over-the-top bad as possible. In fact, some of what’s going on behind the scenes, taken right out of the Bible, would make a modern fantasy series blush with inadequacy – for example the part about the war in high places[6]:

“Ask, for instance, the average American Christian – say, some genial Presbyterian who attends church regularly and owns a New International Version of the Bible – what gospel the Apostle Paul preached. The reply will fall along predictable lines: human beings, bearing the guilt of original sin and destined for eternal hell, cannot save themselves through good deeds, or make themselves acceptable to God; yet God, in his mercy, sent the eternal Son to offer himself up for our sins, and the righteousness of Christ has been graciously imputed or imparted to all who have faith…. Some details might vary, but not the basic story.

“Paul’s actual teachings, however, as taken directly from the Greek of his letters, emphasise neither original guilt nor imputed righteousness (he believed in neither), but rather the overthrow of bad angels…

“The essence of Paul’s theology is something far stranger, and unfolds on a far vaster scale. .. For Paul, the present world-age is rapidly passing, while another world-age differing from the former in every dimension – heavenly or terrestrial, spiritual or physical – is already dawning. The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph.

“For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God.

“In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror, having ‘subordinated’ (hypetaxen) all the cosmic powers to himself – literally, having properly ‘ordered’ them ‘under’ himself – and will then return this whole reclaimed empire to his Father. God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly.”

Okay then.

But despite all this vast, elaborate cosmic tangle, over there mostly keeps its own counsel about it all, while still not letting us off the hook. And, although it’s tempting, I won’t even get into all the subterfuge and confusion and (over here, at least) just plain stupidity about when the whole mess is going to resolve into that final day when “God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly.”

And On It Goes (And it went on way too long already, but I wanted to make a point.)

Western culture has been living with all that for over two millennia. A couple hundred years ago, in a time we call “The Great Enlightenment,” some thinkers started trying to convince us that enough is enough, maybe we ought to try out a different cosmology and worldview, based on rational thought and not just fantasy and belief. There’ve been some takers, but overall the Great Endarkenment has rolled on. I’m not as old as Yoda, but I’ve personally seen, heard, and lived all of it. A whole bunch people in the States still do, and not all of them live in Texas.

The cosmology and worldview I just reviewed are complicated, fanciful, stressful, and impose impossible demands on that impaired soul seeing it all through a glass darkly. No wonder belief systems – both secular and religious – devolve into take-it-or-leave-it fundamentalism, where questioning is punished by both God and man, and you can delegate your cosmic responsibilities to the demigods in charge. Fundamentalism dispatches our impossible obligations and blinds us to what the Bible itself says is the final outcome of all our believing: The Big Fail.

The Big Fail

We really should have seen it coming – the Bible lays out the ultimate terms of what it means to believe all of this in brutally unmistakable terms. At the end of a much-quoted and much-beloved recitation of faith heroes, the Epistle to the Hebrews provides this summary of what it means to be your highest and best self:

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”[7]

That’s how it ends: total failure — all promises broken, all expectations dashed, all frauds revealed … after it’s way too late for any remedy.

Can We Find a Better Way?

Yes, I am aware that there’s one last phrase in that passage:

“…since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”[8]

What precisely is that “something better”? I’m clueless, but all the obvious difficulties don’t stop at least one thinker[9] from trying to preserve the value of the soul as our highest and best self, even if modern neuroscience has finally ended its sufferings. The key, he says, is to reinvent the soul to make it relevant to modernity:

“What is the point of gaining the whole world if you lose your soul? Today, far fewer people are likely to catch the scriptural echoes of this question than would have been the case 50 years ago. But the question retains its urgency. We might not quite know what we mean by the soul any more, but intuitively we grasp what is meant by the loss in question – the kind of moral disorientation and collapse where what is true and good slips from sight, and we find we have wasted our lives on some specious gain that is ultimately worthless.

“It used to be thought that science and technology would gain us the world. But it now looks as though they are allowing us to destroy it. The fault lies not with scientific knowledge itself, which is among humanity’s finest achievements, but with our greed and short-sightedness in exploiting that knowledge. There’s a real danger we might end up with the worst of all possible scenarios – we’ve lost the world, and lost our souls as well.

“But what is the soul? The modern scientific impulse is to dispense with supposedly occult or ‘spooky’ notions such as souls and spirits, and to understand ourselves instead as wholly and completely part of the natural world, existing and operating through the same physical, chemical and biological processes that we find anywhere else in the environment.

“We need not deny the value of the scientific perspective. But there are many aspects of human experience that cannot adequately be captured in the impersonal, quantitatively based terminology of scientific enquiry. The concept of the soul might not be part of the language of science; but we immediately recognise and respond to what is meant in poetry, novels and ordinary speech, when the term ‘soul’ is used in that it alerts us to certain powerful and transformative experiences that give meaning to our lives.

“Such precious experiences depend on certain characteristic human sensibilities that we would not wish to lose at any price. In using the term ‘soul’ to refer to them, we don’t have to think of ourselves as ghostly immaterial substances. We can think of ‘soul’ as referring, instead, to a set of attributes of cognition, feeling and reflective awareness – that might depend on the biological processes that underpin them, and yet enable us to enter a world of meaning and value that transcends our biological nature.

“Entering this world requires distinctively human qualities of thought and rationality. But we’re not abstract intellects, detached from the physical world, contemplating it and manipulating it from a distance. To realise what makes us most fully human, we need to pay attention to the richness and depth of the emotional responses that connect us to the world. Bringing our emotional lives into harmony with our rationally chosen goals and projects is a vital part of the healing and integration of the human soul.”

Full Acceptance

It seems honorable that someone would attempt this kind of synthesis, but I personally don’t see anything worth salvaging. Instead, I think this might be a good time to acknowledge something that Christianity’s troublesome cosmology and worldview have dismissed all along: human nature. In that regard, I find the following thoughts from a writer I particularly admire[10] to be bracingly clarifying, and in that, hopeful

“Our collective and personal histories — the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves and others — are used to avoid facing the incoherence and fragmentation of our lives. Chaos, chance and irrational urges, often locked in our unconscious, propel, inform and direct us. Our self is elusive. It is not fixed. It is subject to forces often beyond our control. To be human is to be captive to these forces, forces we cannot always name or understand. We mutate and change. We are not who we were. We are not who we will become. The familiarity of habit and ritual, as well as the narratives we invent to give structure and meaning to our life, helps hide this fragmentation. But human life is fluid and inconsistent. Those who place their faith in a purely rational existence begin from the premise that human beings can have fixed and determined selves governed by reason and knowledge. This is itself an act of faith.

“We can veto a response or check an impulse, reason can direct our actions, but we are just as often hostage to the pulls of the instinctual, the irrational, and the unconscious. We can rationalize our actions later, but this does not make them rational. The social and individual virtues we promote as universal values that must be attained by the rest of the human species are more often narrow, socially conditioned responses hardwired into us for our collective and personal survival and advancements. These values are rarely disinterested. They nearly always justify our right to dominance and power.

“We do not digest every sensation and piece of information we encounter. To do so would leave us paralyzed. The bandwidth of consciousness – our ability to transmit information measured in bits per second — is too narrow to register the enormous mass of external information we receive and act upon. .. We have conscious access to about a millionth of the information we use to function in life. Much of the information we receive and our subsequent responses do not take place on the level of conscientiousness. As the philosopher John Gray points out, irrational and subconscious forces, however unacknowledged, are as potent within us as in others. [citing Gray, Straw Dogs]

“To accept the intractable and irrational forces that drive us, to admit that these forces are as entrenched in us as in all human beings, is to relinquish the fantasy that the human species can have total, rational control over human destiny. It is to accept our limitations, to live within the confines of human nature. Ethical, moral, religious, and political systems that do not concede these stark assumptions have nothing to say to us.”

We are not going to “conquer our humanness” by continuing our fundamentalist allegiance to a complicated, stressful, and self-negating cosmology and worldview. How about if instead we try full acceptance of our conflicted and flawed humanity, where we find not grandiose visions but simple hope for our small todays?

[1] I also believe there is an independent reality that is more than my brain’s construction of it. Not everyone thinks so. Maybe more on that another time.

[2] Hood, Bruce, The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (2012)

[3] We get that theoretically God, as a spiritual being, probably wouldn’t have a gender, but we’re generally more comfortable giving him the male pronouns.

[4] Graziano, Michael S. A., Consciousness and the Social Brain (2013)

[5] Lent, Jeremy, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, Jeremy Lent (2017)

[6] Hart, David Bentley, Everything You Know About The Gospel Of Paul Is Likely Wrong, Aeon (Jan. 8, 2018). David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion and a philosopher, writer and cultural commentator, who recently published a translation of The New Testament (2017).

[7] Hebrews 11: 35-39.

[8] Hebrews 11: 40.

[9] Cottingham, John, What is the soul if not a better version of ourselves? Aeon (Mar. 11, 2020). John Cottingham is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Reading, professor of philosophy of religion at the University of Roehampton, London, and an honorary fellow of St John’s College, Oxford University.

[10] Hedges, Chris, I Don’t Believe in Atheists: The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist (2008)

 

A Talk at the Rock: How to Instantly Polarize a Crowd and End a Discussion

AreopaguslImage from Wikipedia

The Areopagus is a large rock outcropping in Athens, not far from the Acropolis, where in ancient times various legal, economic, and religious issues got a hearing. A Bible story about something that happened there two thousand years ago provides surprising insight on today’s hyper-polarized world.

Backstory:  A Dualistic Worldview

In the 17th Century, Frenchman René Descartes sorted reality into two categories: (1) the natural, physical world and (2) the unseen world of ideas, feelings, and beliefs. This duality was born of the times:

“Toward the end of the Renaissance period, a radical epistemological and metaphysical shift overcame the Western psyche. The advances of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon posed a serious problem for Christian dogma and its dominion over the natural world.

“In the 17th century, René Descartes’s dualism of matter and mind was an ingenious solution to the problem this created. ‘The ideas’ that had hitherto been understood as inhering in nature as ‘God’s thoughts’ were rescued from the advancing army of empirical science and withdrawn into the safety of a separate domain, ‘the mind’.

“On the one hand, this maintained a dimension proper to God, and on the other, served to ‘make the intellectual world safe for Copernicus and Galileo’, as the American philosopher Richard Rorty put it in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).

“In one fell swoop, God’s substance-divinity was protected, while empirical science was given reign over nature-as-mechanism – something ungodly and therefore free game.”[1]

Descartes articulated this dualistic framework, but it had been around from prehistoric antiquity. It still persists today, and neurological research suggests the human brain comes pre-wired for it. This is from Psychology Today[2]:

“Recent research suggests that our brains may be pre-wired for dichotomized thinking. That’s a fancy name for thinking and perceiving in terms of two – and only two – opposing possibilities.

“Neurologists explored the activity of certain key regions of the human forebrain – the frontal lobe – trying to understand how the brain switches between tasks. Scientists generally accept the idea that the brain can only consciously manage one task at a time….

“However, some researchers are now suggesting that our brains can keep tabs on two tasks at a time, by sending each one to a different side of the brain. Apparently, we toggle back and forth, with one task being primary and the other on standby.

“Add a third task, however, and one of the others has to drop off the to-do list. Scans of brain activity during this task switching have led to the hypothesis that the brain actually likes handling things in pairs. Indeed, the brain itself is subdivided into two distinct half-brains, or hemispheres.

“Some researchers are now extending this reasoning to suggest that the brain has a built-in tendency, when confronted by complex propositions, to selfishly reduce the set of choices to just two.

“The popular vocabulary routinely signals this dichotomizing mental habit: ‘Are you with us, or against us?’ ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’

“These research findings might help explain how and why the public discourse of our culture has become so polarized and rancorous, and how we might be able to replace it with a more intelligent conversation.

“One of our popular clichés is ‘Well, there are two sides to every story.’ Why only two? Maybe the less sophisticated and less rational members of our society are caught up in duplex thinking, because the combination of a polarized brain and unexamined emotional reflexes keep them there.”

“Less sophisticating and less rational” … the author’s ideological bias is showing, but the “unexamined emotional reflexes” finger points at both ends of the polarized spectrum. And because our brains love status quo and resist change, we hunker down on our assumptions and biases. True, the balance can shift more gradually, over time – the way objectivity ascended during the 18th Century’s Age of Enlightenment, but Romanticism pushed back in the 19th — but usually it takes something drastic like disruptive innovation, tragedy, violence, etc. to knock us off our equilibrium. Absent that, we’re usually not up for the examination required to separate what we objectively know from what we subjectively believe — it’s all just reality, and as long as it’s working, we’re good. If we’re forced to examine and adjust, we’ll most likely take our cues from our cultural context:

“Each of us conducts our lives according to a set of assumptions about how things work: how our society functions, its relationship with the natural world, what’s valuable, and what’s possible. This is our worldview, which often remains unquestioned and unstated but is deeply felt and underlies many of the choices we make in our lives. We form our worldview implicitly as we grow up, from our family, friends, and culture, and, once it’s set, we’re barely aware of it unless we’re presented with a different worldview for comparison. The unconscious origin of our worldview makes it quite inflexible.

“There is [a] potent force shaping the particular patterns we perceive around us. It’s what anthropologists call culture. Just as language shapes the perception of an infant as she listens to the patterns of sounds around her, so the mythic patterns of thought informing the culture a child is born into will literally shape how that child constructs meaning in the world. Every culture holds its own worldview: a complex and comprehensive model of how the universe works and how to act within it. This network of beliefs and values determines the way in which each child in that culture makes sense of the universe.”[3]

Culture has been sculpting the human brain ever since our earliest ancestors began living complex social lives millions of years ago. It’s only when the cultural balance runs off the rails that our brains scramble to reset, and we’re stressed while they’re at it. We would do well not to wait until then, and learn how to embrace both ends of the dualistic spectrum, argues one computational biologist[4]:

“Neuroscience was part of the dinner conversation in my family, often a prerequisite for truth. Want to talk about art? Not without neuroscience. Interested in justice? You can’t judge someone’s sanity without parsing scans of the brain. But though science helps us refine our thinking, we’re hindered by its limits: outside of mathematics, after all, no view of reality can achieve absolute certainty. Progress creates the illusion that we are moving toward deeper knowledge when, in fact, imperfect theories constantly lead us astray.

“The conflict is relevant in this age of anti-science, with far-Right activists questioning climate change, evolution and other current finds. In his book Enlightenment Now (2018), Steven Pinker describes a second assault on science from within mainstream scholarship and the arts. But is that really bad? Nineteenth-century Romanticism was the first movement to take on the Enlightenment – and we still see its effects in such areas as environmentalism, asceticism and the ethical exercise of conscience.

“In our new era of Enlightenment, we need Romanticism again. In his speech ‘Politics and Conscience’ (1984), the Czech dissident Václav Havel, discussing factories and smokestacks on the horizon, explained just why: ‘People thought they could explain and conquer nature – yet … they destroyed it and disinherited themselves from it.’ Havel was not against industry, he was just for labour relations and protection of the environment.

“The issues persist. From use of GMO seeds and aquaculture to assert control over the food chain to military strategies for gene-engineering bioweapons, power is asserted though patents and financial control over basic aspects of life. The French philosopher Michel Foucault in The Will to Knowledge (1976) referred to such advancements as ‘techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations’. With winners and losers in the new arena, it only makes sense that some folks are going to push back.

“We are now on the verge of a new revolution in control over life through the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9, which has given us the ability to tinker with the colour of butterfly wings and alter the heritable genetic code of humans. In this uncharted territory, where ethical issues are rife, we can get blindsided by sinking too much of our faith into science, and losing our sense of humanity or belief in human rights.

“Science should inform values such as vaccine and climate policy, but it must not determine all values…. With science becoming a brutal game of market forces and patent controls, the skeptics and Romantics among us must weigh in, and we already are.”

That’s probably good advice, but we need to push through a lot of cultural status quo to get there. That’s especially true because the 20th Century brought us change at ever-accelerating rates — objective reality went spinning away and we crashed into the extreme belief end of the spectrum:

“Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational. We all have hunches we can’t prove and superstitions that make no sense. What’s problematic is going overboard — letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts.

“The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts.

“Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become.”[5]

When we can agree that our conflict is a matter of my data vs. yours, we can debate rationally. But when it’s my beliefs vs. yours, what used to be discourse dissolves into stonewalling and shouting. Belief seeks its own perfection by eliminating doubt, and therefore devolves into fundamentalism, where discussion is a sign of doubt, punishable as heresy. Fundamentalism can be secular or religious – it’s the dynamic, not the content, that matters

“Fundamentalism is a mind-set. The iconography and language it employs can be either religious or secular or both, but because it dismisses all alternative viewpoints as inferior and unworthy of consideration it is anti-thought. This is part of its attraction. It fills a human desire for self-importance, for hope and the dream of finally attaining paradise. It creates a binary world of absolutes, of good and evil. It provides a comforting emotional certitude. It is used to elevate our cultural, social, and economic systems above others. It is used to justify imperial hubris, war, intolerance and repression as a regrettable necessity in the march of human progress. The fundamentalist murders, plunders and subjugates in the name of humankind’s most exalted ideals. Those who oppose the fundamentalists are dismissed as savages, condemned as lesser breeds of human beings, miscreants led astray by Satan or on the wrong side of Western civilization. The nation is endowed with power and military prowess, fundamentalists argue, because God or our higher form of civilization makes us superior. It is our right to dominate and rule. The core belief systems of these secular and religious antagonists are identical. They are utopian. They will lead us out of the wilderness to the land of milk and honey.”[6]

Fundamentalism is where the open mind goes into lockdown. Objectivity loses its grip and the question “Are you with us, or against us?” gives way to its declarative version, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”[7] Dualistic thinking ceases to be more than a source of “popular clichés,” and becomes instead a rigid disincentive to public discourse, as competing polarized beliefs dig in for a grinding, maddening war of attrition. What used to be public discourse is lost in a no-man’s land of intellectual wreckage created by each side’s incessant lobbing of ideological bombs at the other’s entrenched subjective positions. Each side is convinced it has a God’s-eye view of reality, therefore God is on its side, which motivates securing its position by all necessary means.

A Talk at the Rock

The Christian scriptures illustrate how all this works in a story from one of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys.

“Now while Paul was… at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So, he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.  And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’[8]

The Epicureans and Stoics were the materialists of their day – their thinking leaned toward the objective side of the dualism. When Paul came to town advocating ideas (the subjective end of the dualism), their brain patterning couldn’t process Paul’s worldview. They needed time, so they invited Paul to a Talk at the Rock (the Areopagus).

At this point, the author of the story –- widely believed to be the same “Luke the beloved physician”[9] who wrote the Gospel of Luke – inserts a biased editorial comment that signals that nothing’s going to come of this because “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”[10] I.e., reasonable consideration — public discourse – was going to be a waste of time. But Paul had prepared some culturally sensitive opening remarks:

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’”

He then offers up the idea of substituting his ‘foreign god’ for the Athenians’ statuary, altars, and temples:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

You can sense the crowd’s restless murmuring and shuffling feet, but then Paul goes back to cultural bridge-building:

“Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ [referring to a passage from Epimenides of Crete], and as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’[{From Aratus’s poem Phainomena].”

Nice recovery, Paul. So far so good. This feels like discourse, what the Rock is for. But Paul believes that the Athenians’ practice of blending the unseen world of their gods with their physical craftmanship of statuary, altars, and temples (a practice the church would later perfect) is idolatry, and in his religious culture back home, idolatry had been on the outs since the Golden Calf.[11] At this point, Paul takes off the cultural kit gloves and goes fundamentalist:

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

That’s precisely the point where he loses the crowd — well, most of them, there were some who were willing to give him another shot, and even a couple fresh converts:

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

“Some men joined him and believed….” That’s all there was left for them to do: believe or not believe. You’re either with us or against us.

Paul had violated the cultural ethics of a Talk at the Rock. It was about reasonable discourse; he made it a matter of belief, saying in effect. “forget your social customs and ethics, my God is going to hurt you if you keep it up.” With that, the conclave became irretrievably polarized, and the session was over.

Paul triggered this cultural dynamic constantly on his journeys – for example a few years later, when the Ephesus idol-building guild figured out the economic implications of Paul’s belief system[12]:

“About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.  For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.’ When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

Jesus had previously taken a whip to the merchants in the Temple in Jerusalem.[13] Apparently Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen saw the same thing coming to them, and made a preemptive strike. The scene quickly spiraled out of control:

“So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel.  But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

A local official finally quelled the riot:

“Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’

“And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” and when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.”[14]

It Still Happens Today

I spent years in the evangelical church – we were fundamentalists, but didn’t want to admit it – where Paul’s Talk at the Rock was held up as the way not to “share your faith.” Forget the public discourse — you can’t just “spend [your] time in nothing except telling or hearing something new,” you need to lay the truth on them so they can believe or not believe, and if they don’t, you need to “shake the dust off your feet”[15] and get out of there. These days, we see both secular and religious cultural institutions following that advice.

Will we ever learn?

[1]How The Dualism Of Descartes Ruined Our Mental HealthMedium (May 10, 2019)

[2] Karl Albrecht, “The Tyranny of Two,” Psychology Today (Aug 18, 2010)

[3] Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning (2017)

[4] Jim Kozubek, “The Enlightenment Rationality Is Not Enough: We Need A New Romanticism,” Aeon (Apr. 18, 2018)

[5] Andersen, Kurt, Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire, a 500-Year History (2017)

[6] Hedges, Chris, I Don’t Believe in Atheists: The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist (2008)

[7] The latter came from Jesus himself – see the Gospels of Matthew 21: 12-13, and John 2: 13-16. Jesus was a belief man through and through. More on that another time.

[8] The Acts of the Apostles 17: 17-20.

[9] Paul’s letter to the Colossians 4: 14.

[10] Acts 17: 21.

[11] Exodus 32.

[12] Acts 19: 23-41

[13] Mathew 21: 12-17; John 2: 13-21

[14] Acts: 23-42

[15] Matthew 10:14.

Repent, For the Paradigm Shift is at Hand

Vineyard

We talked last time about the need for radical shifts in outlook — paradigm shifts — if we want to overcome neuro-cultural resistance to change, and mentioned religious conversion as an example. This week, we’ll look at how a paradigm shift gave birth to a church renewal movement in the late 80’s and early 90’s known as “the Vineyard.” I write about it because I was personally involved with it. This is NOT a critique or judgment of the Vineyard or anyone in it; I offer this only to further our examination of the neuro-cultural dynamics of religion.

Vineyard founder John Wimber taught missionary methods and church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, and often heard reports from foreign fields of conversions and membership growth propelled by “signs and wonders” — gospel-style miracles and personal encounters. Western theology and sensibilities mostly explained away supernatural phenomena, but non-Westerners weren’t scandalized by gospel-era experience.

Wimber formulated a ministry model based on the non-Westerners’ worldview. His message was that the Kingdom of God truly was at hand — in the here and now — a concept explored by theologians such as Fuller’s George Eldon Ladd. To embrace and practice that message, Westerners would need to embrace a new worldview — a new paradigm of practical spirituality — that made sense of signs and wonders.

Wimber catalogued what he called “ministry encounters.” where Jesus and the disciples knew things about people they had not revealed, and where people would fall down, cry out, weep, etc. when engaged. Wimber was a Quaker, and adapted the practice of waiting to be moved by the Spirit to watching for these “manifestations of the Spirit” to occur in gatherings. “Ministry teams” trained in the new paradigm would then advance the encounters through the laying on of hands and other gospel techniques.

Wimber’s model began to draw crowds — not unlike the gospel events that drew crowds from towns and their surrounding regions, and sometimes went on all night. Very soon, the Vineyard’s “ministry training” and “ministry conferences” were all the buzz.  Attendees came with high expectations, and the atmosphere was electric.

Vineyard events began with soft rock music with lyrics that addressed God on familiar and sometimes intimate terms, invoking and inviting God’s presence and expressing devotion. The songs flowed nonstop from one to another. By the time the half hour or so of music was over, the crowd was in a state of high inspiration — they were “in-spirited,” “filled with the spirit,” God had “breathed” on them — all phrases connoted in the word’s original meaning when it entered the English language in the 14th century.

After worship, Wimber would offer paradigm-shifting instruction such as describing what a “ministry encounter” looks like — e.g. “manifestations” such as  shaking, trembling, emotional release, etc. He was funny and entertaining, as were other Vineyard speakers, and readily kept up the inspired vibe. Each session would then close with a “clinic” of “ministry encounters.”

The model worked. Vineyard conferences became legend, and soon Vineyard renewal teams traveled the world. I took two overseas trips and several around the U.S. Hosting churches sometimes billed our events as “revival meetings” — their attempt to describe the conference in traditional terms. We were in and out, caused a stir over a weekend, and that was the end of it unless the sponsoring church’s leadership and members adopted the requisite new worldview. Before long the Vineyard began to “plant” its own churches and became its own denomination.

Back in the day, I thought the Vineyard was truly the kingdom come. 30 years later, I view it as one of the most remarkable examples of neuro-cultural conditioning I’ve ever been part of. Neuroscience was nowhere near its current stage of research and popular awareness back then, but what we know now reveals that Vineyard events were the perfect setting for paradigm shifting. As we’ve seen previously, inspiration releases the brain’s “feel good” hormones, activates the same brain areas as sex, drugs, gambling, and other addictive activities, generates sensations of peace and physical warmth, lowers the brain’s defensive allegiance to status quo, and raises risk tolerance — the perfect neurological set up for adopting a new outlook.[1]

As for what happened to Wimber and the Vineyard, that’s beyond the scope of this post, but easy to find if you’re inclined. Stanford anthropology professor Tanya Marie Luhrmann offers an academic (and sympathetic) analysis in her book When God Talks Back:  Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God and her TEDX Stanford talk.

[1] “What Religion Does To Your Brain,”,: Medical News Today (July 20, 2018). See also this prior post in this series. And for a look at thee dynamics in quite another setting — finding work you love — see this post from my other blog.