There is a Religious War Going On Most of Us Don’t Want

Our nation is involved in a religious war, one that most of us don’t want or are even aware of. However, we feel the pressure of it as an anxiety that arises when we hear, read or see news reports. It is not a war of Christians against Muslims or Jews. It is a war by fundamentalists against other fundamentalists, and fundamentalists against secularists and those who have different views on religion. The religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, warned us about this war years ago and we are now paying the price for not understanding her message.

 

Why call this a fundamentalist religious war? To answer this, think about what is meant by religion? This is a huge question and can be answered in many ways, but one way is to examine the roots of the word. Re means ‘back’ or ‘again.’ Ligion comes from ligare which is the root of ligament, to ‘bind’ or ‘tie.’ Yoga has a similar root, which means ‘to yoke.’ So religion is to tie back. But to what? To a set of beliefs and practices? To a shared vision of what is most important or sacred, or how to face what is most difficult? To how to live a sincere and meaningful life?

 

What is fundamentalism? It can be defined as an attempt to reach back to what is fundamental or original to a religion at its purest time. To get back to the beginning often means to tie back to a literal and “original” interpretation of scripture or to a mythical time⏤one that never existed except as a metaphor of longing. For many fundamentalists, it is the story, the interpretation, the words that make a religion unique, not the experience of transformation that might have been the root of the scripture, as illustrated by Buddha’s enlightenment or Moses and the burning bush. Since the word is sacred, anyone who speaks or acts against the literal interpretation, or even offers a different perspective, is committing a sin.

 

The leading fundamentalist religion in the US is often called Christian, and its adherents identify as Christians, but in reality I think the religion is economic. George Soros called it “free market fundamentalism.” I am probably taking his quote further than he intended. Soros was talking about those who adhere to the belief that only an unregulated market and uninhibited pursuit of self-interest can serve the common good and preserve civil liberties. The only way to be rational, according to this belief, is to be selfish and allow the “invisible hand of the market” to rule. For humans to regulate the “invisible” is to interfere with forces beyond our control.

 

This economic fundamentalism might be thought of as akin to a belief in other invisible or even supernatural forces, and might be a matter of faith, but is certainly not a rationally examined truth. It defies the preponderance of evidence. It is a religion whose priests are the wealthy and whose symbols are coins, stock, and property.

 

These fundamentalists hold up Adam Smith and Charles Darwin as two of their saintly authorities. Yet, Adam Smith said, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: …The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions [e.g. avarice], is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires.” And: “…to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety.” And Darwin, the scientist most known for natural selection in evolution, wrote about the importance of moral sensitivity, love, mutuality in his second book, The Descent of Man, where he talks about the application of evolution theory to humans. In fact, the systems scientist and evolutionary theorist, David Loye did a data analysis of Descent. He found “survival of the fittest” mentioned 2 times, ‘competition’ 9 times, but ‘love’ mentioned once in the index but 95 times in the book, ‘mutual aid’ 24 times, ‘sympathy’ 61 times, ‘moral’ 90 times.

 

Deregulation has not led to a utopia where everyone’s selfishness leads to everyone’s freedom and increased wealth, but, as I discussed in an earlier blog, to increasing inequity, poverty, immorality, and political chaos; to control of the political process by the financial sector, and an increasing monetization of everything— from people to the environment. As Mathieu Ricard points out in his extensively researched book, Altruism, research by scientists and several international organizations, including the UN, shows that the consequences of inequity are far reaching: “for each health care or social indicator (physical health, mental health, school success rates, …obesity, drug addiction…infant mortality, and the well-being of children in general) the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.” The US is now one of the most unequal of nations.

 

The religious fundamentalist nature of this economic belief system helps explain the difficulty many people describe trying to talk to someone who believes in this religion, when they don’t. It helps explain why believers in Mr. T hold on to their belief despite extensive evidence to the contrary, and why his supporters feel liberals and radicals talk down to them.

 

To undermine a religious belief is to undermine what is central to one’s grasp of reality. And when one thinks and feels one is in a state of war, anyone who is not a supporter is an enemy. Understanding this mentality, of a religious war, and understanding the thinking and fear behind it, is one step toward transcending and ending it. Understanding our selves more completely and how to respond with more clarity and compassion is a beginning. But ignoring it is not a good option.

 

*There are two marches coming up you might want to participate in and support, in Washington, and in local cities. There’s a March for Science, on Earth Day, 4/22, and The People’s Climate March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, 4/29.

 

**Photo of the Lion’s Gate to Mycenae, Greece.

The Central Importance of A United Resistance and Decreasing the Concentration of Wealth and Inequity

Opposing the Republican minority-elected President cannot be simply a Democratic version of “the party of No.” It cannot be concerned just with revealing lies and resisting racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and all sorts of phobias like homophobia, Islamaphobia or xenophobia, etc. To fight racism, etc., we must first unite to resist the destruction of what’s left of democracy, free speech and the freedom of the press. We need more political equity. But to accomplish that, we must also work to improve economic equity and a sense of shared humanity. In a functioning democracy, these three work together.

 

Last week, the Republican administration took things to a new level. The President spoke to Congress about “a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.” He spoke about Black History Month and ending threats to Jewish Community Centers. He spoke as if he cared about supporting “the torch of truth, liberty, and justice.” This was scary because even I wanted to hear such words from his mouth, words calling for real unity and caring. He is seemingly getting coached on how to sound reasonable while his choices and history scream otherwise. This is the same person who appointed Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General, and Steve Bannon, former head of the alt-right Breitbart News, to be his general adviser. According to an NPR program during the campaign:

 

“The views of the alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist…. They see political correctness really as the greatest threat to their liberty,” Nicole Hemmer, University of Virginia professor and author of a forthcoming book Messengers of the Right, explained on Morning Edition. “So, they believe saying racist or anti-Semitic things — it’s is not an act of hate, but an act of freedom.”

 

This is a President who called the media “the enemy of the people.” Who said protestors were not in genuine disagreement with his policies but were being paid to disrupt town hall meetings. Republican governors and legislators have followed this lead by calling for severe punishments for protestors. This administration is not about protecting America or securing jobs for people. It is about ending democracy and increasing their personal wealth. The DNC, as well as those who hate the DNC and are still fighting the Hillary vs Bernie fight, need to remember this or risk being irrelevant or worse. If we don’t unite, our very right to disagree without dire consequences will be taken from us. In fact, the very air that sustains our life might be taken from us.

 

Yet, to resist this administration successfully will mean insisting on increasing economic equity. This is the second concern. We must learn from the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders movements, which spoke to a great majority of Americans, even to some of those who supported Mr. T. (Listen to Bernie Sander’s response to Mr. T’s address to Congress.) Most Americans desire an economy that works for all and provides jobs for the unemployed and the not satisfactorily employed. Mr. T did speak of jobs. But he did not address working conditions, guaranteed health care, and a pension, as part of a good job. He did not acknowledge the crucial role public schools can play in “leveling the playing field” and in preparing children not only for work but for all of life. All these issues are related. It is not just a job people want, but to be treated as a valuable being, with a right to meaningful work. This I think speaks to most everyone. And we need to add the right to give our children a habitable planet with a climate that readily sustains life, human, animal and insect.

 

The US, according to a report cited in Fortune Magazine in 2015, is the richest nation in the world but the most inequitable of the 55 nations studied (including European nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Columbia and Russia, etc.). If you didn’t know this, read on. If you look at the US economy, the richest 1% own 40% of the wealth. (I will be using many figures from Mathieu Ricard’s book, Altruism, published in 2015. Ricard is a Ph.d. in genetics and Buddhist teacher. His figures are well documented and seem in line with other reliable sources.) Twenty-five years ago, the top 1% owned 13% of the nation’s wealth. In 2015, Oxfam said that by the following year, 1% of the richest people worldwide will control over 50% of the world’s wealth.

 

Ricard points out that in 1880-90, J. P. Morgan said “he would never agree to invest in a company where the directors were paid over 6 times the average wage.” In 2011, the bosses were paid 253 times more. Over the last 30 years, 90% of Americans saw their incomes increase by only 15%. For the wealthiest 1%, the increase was 150%. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% scored over “65% of national income gains.”

 

What are the consequences of such inequality and concentration of wealth? According to Ricard and the International Monetary Fund, income inequality “slows growth and triggers financial crises.” Quoting directly from the IMF summary report (See IMF, 2015): “We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down…” as opposed to what many Republicans claim. Instead, concentrating wealth undermines the economy. For example, one million people with a decent income will buy more products and stimulate the economy more than one person with a billion dollars—unless he or she gives it all away to public schools or spends it on improving mass transit or such, or starts a worker managed business, for example, where the workers get a fair share of the income created and the climate isn’t undermined by its products.

 

The Citizens United decision, the worsening political situation in the US, as illustrated by 8 years of Republican Congressional refusal to compromise during the Obama administration, and the election by less than 26% of eligible voters of this Republican President (only 52% voted and Mr. T. received less than half of those), are all direct results of increasing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Mr. T is trying even now to reduce even further the input of Democrats and any who oppose him. When was the last moment in American history that the vast majority of citizens were so excluded from the formal political process? Was it before the 19th amendment was passed granting women’s suffrage? Or was it before the civil war, before the 13th amendment was passed ending slavery? Or was it before the revolution, when the colonies were ruled by a monarch? Is this the time of greatness the Republicans say they yearn for?

 

The price the US pays for this inequality is immense. Ricard provides data from scientific research and several international organizations, including the UN, which show that “for each health care or social indicator (physical health, mental health, school success rates, …obesity, drug addiction…infant mortality, and the well-being of children in general) the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.”

 

Is it any wonder that there can’t be a democracy if 1% of the people own so much of the wealth? The rich can buy power, occupy the media, and intervene in the judiciary. Just look at Betsy DeVos, who contributed thousands to the coffers of Republican Senators—but did those Senators who were paid by DeVos recuse themselves, or were even asked by fellow Senators to recuse themselves, from voting for her nomination to Education Secretary? Conservatives argue that the rich have the freedom to use their wealth. But what happens when one person’s freedom prohibits that of another, or of many, many others?

 

For too many people, the acquisition of wealth is fast becoming the primary value of life. Other people are no longer thought of as fellow breathing, feeling beings; other species and the world itself⏤all are thusly reduced to being valued only in terms of the wealth they can be used to produce. Compassion, respect—these just interfere with what’s “truly important.” Long term or big picture issues—not important except to the degree they guarantee increased wealth. This is the third area of concern, our sense of a shared humanity and a judiciary that could preserve equity and justice in the law.

 

It is mainly for this reason people feel threatened, Democrat or Republican, Leftist or Conservative. So many of us value family, love, companionship, compassion, fairness, the beauty of the earth, a sense of meaning in life, maybe a sense of a spiritual or religious dimension. The importance of all these values is now threatened. The acquisition of immense wealth is becoming the religion of the rich, turning the rich into a great threat to the lives of the vast majority of Americans, and to the overwhelming majority of people worldwide.

 

**Photo by Kathy Morris.

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Undermining the Public (In Order to Rip Us Off?)

Yesterday, Mr. T spoke to members of the National Sheriffs Association and said: “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” According to the Washington Post, he blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, and then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.” But according to the Post, Politifact, and the FBI, this claim by him is clearly false. In 1980, the murder rate was 10.2 per 100,000 residents. In 2014 it was 4.4. In 2015, it did go up to 4.9, less than half of the 1980 rate. Violent crime in America in general has gone down. But not in the America Mr. T sees. He sees, or tries to get us to feel, that the rate is going up. Why? To create fear. To create a sense of society falling apart so he can ride in and save us.

 

Likewise, on 2/6 Politifact reported on Mr. T’s comment that the US news media, regarding terrorist attacks, are “dishonest” and it has “gotten to the point where it’s [terrorist attacks are] not even being reported.” He tells us that there is so much more extremist violence happening and we are not safe. But, of course, the violence committed by Muslims from other nations is being constantly reported, maybe even too much. And, as Democracy Now, CNN, and other respected media report, if there isn’t any violence, Mr. T and his associates will lie or manufacture “fake news” to make us think there is. For example, Kellyanne Conway talking about a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never took place. Why? To create a sense of distrust in the media and a fear of the other, of other people, of our society falling apart so he, or HE, can ride in to save us.

 

But he has no plans to save anyone. In fact, this is the same strategy started in the Reagan administration to undermine public schools. Diane Ravitch argued in her book Reign of Error that different corporations, working with political institutions and individual politicians, are leading an effort to undermine public schools by undermining teachers, teacher unions, and the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

The strategy calls for publicizing deceptive and often inaccurate information to create a sense of a crisis in education so corporations can step in and save the day. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all later proved untrue. According to Edutopia and government statistics, Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor, white and African-American, Latino, Native-American, was diminishing. But the A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning. Betsy DeVos and the destruction she might wreak is the end result.

 

In 2007, Naomi Klein wrote The Shock Doctrine. Klein’s book argued that when people feel they are in a crisis, they support doctrines, policies, laws that they never would have supported otherwise. Crises can be of all kinds; economic, public health, national security, education. Mr. T. is shocking. He is creating a crisis so he, with the help of some large corporations and his billionaire buddies, can step in and sell the solution.

 

As I said in an earlier blog, we live in relationship with others and our world. This relationship, and our very lives, is more fragile than we like to recognize. If society falls apart, it is not so easy to piece it back together. Mr. T is not a populist working for the common good, but someone working to undermine the sense of relationship that underlies a society and then reconfigure it to fit his interests. By favoring the very few over the whole, his policies undermine the public good and he weakens and isolates himself and his cohorts ever further from everyone else. His delusion and hunger for power threatens every person, maybe every living being on this planet.

 

Only by understanding even those you oppose can you fight them. Only by working to create a society that prioritizes relationships that are mutual, inclusive, caring, and honest can we, as a species, live well, and possibly, live at all.

 

*For information on a foiled white supremacist terrorist plan to massacre African-Americans and Jewish people in Bowling Green, Ohio, see ProPublica post.

Is Truth Now Illegal?

We have to study Dictators and reread books like 1984. Since the election, so many people have been coming to this realization that maybe this is now obvious, but I will say it anyway: Once again, a would-be dictator is trying to impose thought control. As we’ve witnessed over the last week, the new administration has been taking steps to prevent agencies like the EPA from sharing climate information with the public. They have gone from claiming global warming is a hoax, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to destroying that evidence. Our fearless leader doesn’t like the fact that Hillary got more popular votes than he did, so he will now start an investigation to find all those illegal voters who supposedly preferred his opponent. He doesn’t like the photos negatively comparing the size of the crowd at his own inauguration to President Obama’s, so he claims the photos were altered and information distorted. He doesn’t like a CNN reporter questioning him, so he tries to prevent the reporter from speaking. He doesn’t like people protesting his policies and statements, as with the Women’s March, so he sends out his press secretary to deny what occurred, and Republican legislators in 5 states try to make it illegal to peacefully protest.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

This is both laughable and frightening. The consequences of such actions can be disastrous. He may try to imprison truth, but truth can be slippery and easily escape, to take revenge on him and on all of us. Any statement about ‘truth’ is a statement about reality. Our daily lives depend on how well we discern it. We depend on scientific information, for example. Will he next outlaw the weather forecast? It, too, is based on climate science. Will he stop the use of climate information from going to cities and towns on the coasts that could be used to prepare for sea level rise? Will he try to stop information going to medical researchers about the harmful effects of air pollution and thus cause the death of many children or cause more lung and breathing problems in our population?

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell.

Our economy is dependent on science. Creating new technologies can be a rich source of new jobs, but if scientific research is interfered with and access to it restricted, our economy will falter.

“We are not interested in the good of others. We are interested solely in power, pure power.”

“Power is in tearing human minds apart and putting them together again in shapes of your own choosing.”

In whatever area of life you look at, restricting information, restricting science, making up reality to fit your vision of power, puts everyone at risk. You try to lock away truth when you fear it. Since truth is about what is real, he is trying to lock away reality so none of us, including himself, can perceive it. I think he is doing this not only so he has free reign to do as he pleases without being held accountable, but so he doesn’t have to see what he is.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

This is 1984. But we don’t have to allow ourselves to be infected by this vision of the world. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Schools, news media, social media, people passing on the street, gatherings, demonstrations: perceiving and telling the truth, “speaking truth to power,” is now a revolutionary act.

 

*Journalists have also been arrested for covering last week’s protests. Please do not forget these journalists.

The Power Of Names

The day of dread has passed, but I am still unsure what I should call him now that he is President. I don’t like Mr. Deceiver or Mr. Misogynist or any of those other names that easily come to mind. There are so many choices; and he is, unfortunately, not the only person who might fit the labels. Names are important. In the Book of Genesis (2:19), Adam names all living creatures “and [for ever after] that was the name thereof.” Language works by creating distinctions. By creating distinctions, we define what exists. The word ‘exist’ combines the roots ‘ex’ (out) and ‘sistere’ (stand) to mean ‘stand out.’ What is alive or dead, good or bad, human or other? Thus, naming is very powerful.

 

During the campaign, the mainstream and social media kept repeating his name, and the outrageous comments he made or actions he took. They, we forgot the power of language. Everyday, all we heard was his name. He constantly complained about being mistreated by the media but the news outlets kept giving him what he wanted most—attention. He became foremost in our ears and eyes and is now foremost in the power our government awards him. I don’t want to give him such attention and power. I recognize he is President, but I don’t want to say his name and give him what he wants.

 

Should I be like the characters in the Harry Potter stories who won’t repeat, won’t name, the evil one? The result of that was to enshrine fear in their speech and in their silence.

 

Should I try to call him out on his direct and unabashed lies, manipulations, sexist, racist and other biased statements? Of course. Should I spit out his name, spell it with anger and disgust? I fully understand such anger. Anger will be needed to fuel the fire of defiance in the next year or more. Anger can motivate me to join others in pushing against barricades of hate and the greedy grasping for power and prestige that he represents. But it can hurt, hurt everyone I meet and relate to. It can take me over, be unthinking and unsubtle. It needs a tempering force. It needs a fierce concern for the quality of my relationships with others, for the quality of each moment of life. It needs subtlety and depth of thought.

 

And this is, I think, what all humans want and need, a caring, loving quality of life and a depth of thought and meaning. But what Mr. T and other Republican leaders stand for can steal this quality of life from us and replace it with a one-dimensional and overarching fear of what he might do, so we can be easily manipulated. Maybe he fears the world and so wants to remake us in his image. He wants to rule not just in the media and the political realm, but in our thoughts. And we can’t give him that.

 

Or should I find some humorous way to speak of him, so every time he raises the specter of fear he is met with bouts of laughter?

 

I will try to respect his humanity even as I oppose his words and deeds. To see him as non-human or as evil-incarnate is to blind my own perceptions and give him too much power. Self and other are two complimentary, interrelated ideas. How I think and speak of him creates how I think of myself. So, I will find some way to speak of him, and hope you can, too—one that empowers all of us who oppose his greed and hate while highlighting our shared humanity. We need to demonstrate to him, as  people will do tomorrow, in the US and throughout the world, that the words he uses matter by making our words matter. Words can wink into existence realities of hurt that no one, even him, would want to unleash, if he thought about it.

 

It is raining now. There are deer in the yard, chicadees, crows, and cardinals. The rain falls at an easy pace, darkening the brown and grey bark of the apple trees.

 

**Update: George Lakoff, in a recent post, discussed the election and why you might want to name him “Mr. Minority” or “The Minority President”.

Is The President Undermining Public Education?

President Obama just recently chose John King to replace Arne Duncan as head of the U. S. Department of Education. Until 2014, Mr. King was the education commissioner for New York State. I was glad to see him leave New York, but sad to see him hired by the federal government.

 

Please read different viewpoints on Commissioner King’s policies in New York. He oversaw the implementation of both the Common Core tests in New York, and of teacher accountability ratings based partly on those tests. It is bad enough that standardized testing is being used as anything more than an occasional supplement to in-class assessments. It is an inherently inequitable and a poor vehicle for assessment. (See studies or my blogs on the subject.) The tests were rolled out before many schools and teachers had aligned their classroom instruction with the new standards. This led to great distress on the part of many students who had no knowledge of the material or skills being tested. This was not only an example, however, of mismanagement but a flagrant disregard for the welfare of the students the tests were supposed to benefit. The outcry by parents against the tests and increasing number of students deciding to “opt out” of taking them, grew increasingly embarrassing to the state.

 

Furthermore, Mr. King’s time in office saw New York give more and more money to charter schools, many owned by hedge fund managers and other individuals or corporations whose interest was in making profits from public education funds. (Arne Duncan also has his own charter school controversy.) At the same time, New York was sending less money to poorer districts than more well-off ones. The combination of all these factors has contributed to undermining the whole idea of collective responsibility for the welfare of all students, of all citizens. The responsibility for these actions, however, does not rest solely on Commissioner King, as New York Governor Cuomo must also be held responsible.

 

According to the Encarta dictionary, Democracy is the “free and equal” rule of the people (demos is Greek for people, the common populace, and kratos, rule). To undermine the commons, the public systems including public schools, is to undermine whatever is left of democracy in our country. Just as the responsibility for Mr. King’s actions in New York must be shared by Governor Cuomo, if Mr. King continues these policies in his new role then President Obama must also share responsibility. I thus question President Obama’s commitment to students and to public education with this appointment.

The Corporations Create the Crisis and then Sell the Solution

Reign_of_ErrorI have been reading Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error. It is an extremely illuminating book. The title evocatively sums up her analysis of the implementation of a new wave of educational change including the privatization of schools, the Common Core Standards, the standardized tests based on those standards and the accountability process based on those tests. Instead of serving the educational needs of students, Ravitch claims these changes as a whole undermine those needs. One clear example is the proposed spread of standardized tests to children in kindergarten through second grade — grades where such tests are developmentally inappropriate.
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