CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
President Bush knowingly lied to the American people to gain their support for his administration’s unnecessary pre-emptive war against Iraq: by falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of possessing “mushroom cloud” threatening weapons of mass destruction, and of being involved with Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attack against America. In spite of all the evidence refuting his basis for war, a majority of Americans voted to re-elect him president particularly because of his faith-based “moral values.”
During the presidential campaign, President Bush repeatedly tortured the truth in stump speeches to pre-screened, applauding, laughing and booing on cue Republican audiences: about his administration’s having shared the same pre-war “intelligence” regarding Iraq’s assumed weapons of mass destruction with Congress and his opponent, who also saw the “threat,” about his then going “to the United Nations, and I did so because force is the last resort for America,” and about Saddam Hussein continuing “to deceive the weapons inspectors” (“In West Virginia, President Bush Advocates for Education and Health Care Reform and Results,” Aug. 17, 2004, www.georgewbush.com); “Raw Data: Bush Speech in Springfield,” July 30, 2004, www.fox.com.) The emerging contradictory facts caught up with Bush’s lies but evidently not with enough of the electorate: he was rewarded with “four more years” in office especially for his evangelical Christian “moral values.”
A pre-election study revealed that, since the American-led March 2003 invasion, the lives of 100,000 Iraqi civilians, most women and children, have been violently aborted, mainly by US-led air strikes and artillery (“Iraqi Coalition Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Oct. 28, 2004, www.hgph.edu). A week later Americans voted to return President Bush to the White House notably because of his opposition to abortion, i.e. his religiously based “moral values.”
The belief that President Bush’s “moral values” helped him to win re-election has led certain political and theological pundits to conclude that the Democrats must “get religion” and bridge the “God gap” if they are to regain the presidency. They are being told to get a grip on God and morality and, like the Republicans, let their light of faith shine for all religiously-motivated voters to see if they are ever to achieve a political resurrection. Those who interpret the presidential election in these terms appear to miss a critical point: rather than faith-based “moral values,” the election appears to reveal a growing morality gap in America. We may not be witnessing the ascendancy of “moral values” but the rise of authoritarian tendencies in Americans. It is this apparent phenomenon, and the moral and spiritual crisis it represents, that need to be examined and addressed.
Following World War II, social scientists conducted a landmark study of how great masses of supposedly enlightened, Christian people willingly tolerated the systematic oppression and extermination of millions of their fellow citizens and others (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Black persons, mentally and physically-impaired people, and political dissenters). A related concern was how masses of other people, who profess freedom as a God-given birthright, could stand by for so long and allow such religious, racial, ethnic, ideological and homophobic hatred to continue. The aim of the study was to employ the scientific method to understand what in an individual causes him to be prejudiced, and to use the findings to help in seeking solutions to inter-group prejudice and hatred. The study revealed that authoritarian tendencies in an individual’s personality make him receptive to anti-democratic propaganda and policies that target out-groups for discrimination and destruction. (The Authoritarian Personality, Adorno, et al, pp v-viii, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1950).
The personality tendencies of the authoritarian-disposed individual were found to include:
–“Desire for a strong leader” [italics added] resulting in “submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the in-group” (Ibid, pp 231, 228);
–“Cultural narrowness” [italics added] seen in rigid acceptance of the conventional middle-class values of “the culturally ‘alike'” and the tendency to reject and punish “the culturally ‘unlike’ . . . who violate conventional values.” (Ibid, pp 102, 228);
–Unreflective ethnocentric patriotic conformity, rooted in the belief that one’s own nation is superior and should rightly dominate and that other nations are inferior and threatening out-groups (Ibid, pp 107-109);
–Negative stereotyped perceptions of the members of “unlike” out-groups (Ibid, pp 228, 235, 236), rather than seeing them as individuals who also laugh and cry and love and hate, or who, in the words of Joseph Berger, “lived, laughed, cursed, fought, who did the things human beings do” (“At Holocaust Museum, Turning a Number into a Name,” The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2004);
–Anti-introspection, i.e. resistance to self-understanding, to soul- searching, to cause-and-effect analysis of individual and group behavior, unable to tolerate ambiguity, belief in mystical, unexplainable phenomenon, disparaging intellectual attempts to perceive life’s nuances and complexities (Ibid, pp 236, 235); and
–Aggression, involving “the ethnocentric need for an out-group” who represents “the intrinsic evil (aggressiveness, laziness, power-seeking, etc.) of human nature . . . [that] is unchangeable [and] must be attacked, stamped out, or segregated, wherever it is found, lest it contaminate the good.” (Ibid, pages 232-234, 148).
If these characteristics of the individual with authoritarian personality tendencies sound familiar, there is more.
The post-World War II scientists found a positive relationship between individuals with authoritarian personality tendencies and religious practice. For example, they discovered that churchgoers especially tended to agree with authoritarian-laden statements: those calling for uncritical acceptance of conventional values and submission to their representative moral authorities, deep faith in a supernatural power whose dictates are to be obeyed without question, and those asserting that much of life is beyond human understanding and part of a spiritual realm to be revered and not reviewed. (The Authoritarian Personality, pp 218ff).
The findings of the above social scientists indicated that “belonging to a religious body in America today certainly does not mean that one thereby takes over the traditional Christian values of tolerance, brotherhood and equality. On the contrary,” they state, “it appears that these values are more firmly held by people who do not affiliate with any religious group.” Their measurement of anti-democratic tendencies in the groups studied led them to conclude, “People who reject organized religion are less prejudiced than those who accept it.” (Ibid, pages 219, 220) That finding is believed to help make the critical point that after-election pundits miss in advising Democrats to become more “spiritually-minded” and ”active” if they are to save their political souls.
The presidential election did not signal the growth of “moral values” in American life, but the widening of a morality gap. The parallels between authoritarian tendencies and “moral values” are readily seen.
“Moral values” did not propel President Bush to victory but hatred of other human beings-“the culturally unlike” gay and lesbian persons especially who defy conventional values. The Republicans made sure constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage were on the ballot in 11 states; and all easily passed, with Bush winning 9 of the 11 states. Afterwards, Karl Rove, his chief political advisor, reportedly said “that opposition to gay marriage was one of the most powerful forces in American politics today and that politicians ignored it at their peril.” (” ‘Moral Values’ Carried Bush, Rove Says,” by Adam Nagourney, The New York Times, Nov. 16, 2004)
Gay and lesbian persons and other Americans ignore Karl Rove’s observation and sentiment at their peril. Those, mostly White, church-going Americans who voted to deny another group of Americans their indivisible constitutional rights actually reveal their own hatred of democracy itself. So they seek to use the freedom guaranteed by democracy to deny freedom to members of a perceived morally unfit out-group. The political process provides them with a “democratic” way to gain power over gay-and pro-choice-persons, and not to respect their beliefs and equal right to access and empowerment.
The issue here is power! Therein lies the peril. If such, predominantly White, correct-belief-centered Christians and their “self-avowed practicing heterosexual partners” acquire enough political power, what is now a “sin,” to be checked by religious decree, may become a civil crime to be punished by imprisonment, or by a more severe measure-lest this “evil” contaminate the traditional institution of marriage and family life. It is the spiritual violence of many Christian denominations, with their institutionalized exclusionary policies, that not only sanctioned legal discrimination against gay and lesbian persons but also encourages physical violence against them as well.
What is perilous is the inability of a growing number of “moral values” voters to realize what should be obvious: the issue of same-sex marriage is not about the protection of traditional marriage and “the preservation of the family,” but about the inclusion and honoring of all members of the family born in those traditional marriages. It is not an issue involving a majority’s right to be heard and to vote but a minority’s full right to be seen the “self-evident truth” of a minority’s constitutional and divinely “endowed right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Nor is the issue of homosexuality about Christian theology regarding “loving the sinner and hating the sin.” The issue is about introspection: overcoming culturally ingrained, unconscious homophobic fear that harms another person’s identity, development, and fulfillment as a human being. “Loving the sinner and hating the sin” are actually code words used to inflict spiritual violence on gay and lesbian persons with a “straight” face.
Reacting with dismay to the flurry of amendments banning same-sex marriage, an Episcopal mother of a married lesbian daughter emphasized matter-of-factly, “It’s (same-sex marriage) about love!” When a minister or politician or another person with “moral values” discovers his or her son or daughter is gay or lesbian, there is often the painful but deepening discovery that “it’s about love!” It would seem that more personalizing and less theologizing about homosexuality is needed.
Jesus said it plainly: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He did not specify one’s straight neighbor only. Yet, according to Karl Rove, 22% of “moral values” voters believe that is obviously what Jesus meant.
That which is obvious to many Christians, who voted their “moral values,” is to be ignored at one’s own peril. Karl Rove is quoted as summing up the perceived electoral victory for “moral values”: “I think people would be well advised to pay attention to what the American people are saying” (Ibid) “The American people?”[italics added] Or those predominantly White, evangelical Christians for whom “moral values” were their homophobic call to arms to the voting booth? What are they really saying? Something believed to be far different from what a generalizing Karl Rove meant.
As indicated above, many evangelical, fundamentalist and “born again” Christians who voted for so-called “moral values” seem to be really saying that they cannot tolerate democracy: because it not only guarantees their freedom of belief and practice, but presupposes the legitimacy of the independent thought and belief and values others live by. The Christian beliefs of these churchgoers are actually authoritarian. They entertain, if not take for granted, the aspect of democracy that offers them the right to believe and worship and live as they choose, but they hate the fact that it offers the same freedom and rights to those with contrary beliefs and values. Thus, their commitment is not to respect the democratic rights of others but to use the democratic process to gain political power over them, to impose their superior, divinely-revealed “moral values” on others and society. They think of democracy in terms of the will of the majority, not also the rights of the minority.
Ironically, the “moral values” that helped to re-elect President Bush president were directed against people’s rights not for them. They deny the constitutional right of “the pursuit of happiness” to gay and lesbian persons. Their intent also is to impose a “pro-life” will on other people that would deny their freedom to determine their own reproductive health. Or more specifically, impose their pro-heterosexual-life will.
These “moral values” seem not to be about correcting historic, institutionalized discrimination against Black persons, for example, and other people of color. These religiously-directed “values” appear to be oblivious to an ingrained White-controlled hierarchy of access to political and economic power that has perpetuated a job gap-and thus an education and a health gap. Nor do such “moral values” appear to apply their “culture of life” to a recent survey “by Norwegian researchers, the United Nations and the Iraqi government,” which “discovered the rate of acute malnutrition in Iraqi children under five years old shot up to 7.7 per cent from four per cent since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.” (“Iraq: children suffer most under US occupation: report,” CBC News, Nov. 28, 2004, www.cbc.ca). Never mind the 12-year long US-controlled UN sanctions imposed against Iraq until the invasion that resulted in the deaths of some 500,000 Iraqi children under age 5. (UNICEF report on the devastation caused by the sanctions, Aug. 12, 1999).
An underlying critical need for security is believed to drive such “moral values”-possessed Christians. Their emphasis on “moral values”-that, in reality, discriminate against other Americans-is rooted in insecurity. For whatever reasons, they have a strong need for security, driving a search for certainty, which is met by their holding the right belief and belonging with other true Christians to the assumed superior faith in-group.
The very word “evangelical” means to spread the Christian gospel and convert nonbelievers. And the word “convert” implies that one’s own faith is superior to all others and to be accepted. Here there is no recognition of another’s right to live by his and her own truth because there is only one truth-the evangelizer’s God-revealed, biblically-or church-based truth. Others are not seen as equal. The aim is to gain power over them “in Jesus name” and to punish those who refuse to conform to the religiously sanctioned conventional values of the in-group.
Those who have a need to impose their will on others and convert them are driven by correct theological belief not motivated by ethical behavior. Theirs is a personal, other-worldly destination, not an interpersonal journey with others-unless they are, or become like-minded. And it is here that faith-based “moral values”–crusading churchgoers actually reveal ethnocentric-like tendencies: in their uncritical submission to the absolute belief handed down through/by their religious leaders, in their interpreting (with negative stereotypes) rather than experiencing the reality of perceived “unlike” out-groups, and in their hierarchical view of relationships wherein their faith in-group possesses the true revelation of God and good and is therefore superior and should rightly impose their “moral values” on and dominate out-groups (The Authoritarian Personality, p 150)
Many White, evangelical churchgoers who were moved by “moral values” to vote for George W. Bush may actually be seen as “Christocentric.” Since ethnocentrism is the belief that “one’s own ethnic group, nation or culture is superior” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, fourth edition, Macmillan, 1999), these churchgoers appear to be “Christocentric” in their belief in Jesus as the only Son of God and savior of the world.
A favorite authoritative Bible passage is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The “world” means everybody, not just those Christians who hold this belief but all Christians, and not just all Christians but Jews as well as Muslims, Hindus, et al, everyone. “Only Son” means Jesus is the greatest revelation of God: born of a virgin, ” ‘his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). “Shall not perish but have eternal life” is the bottom line of this belief: God sent Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the inherently evil whole world and whoever believes in his sacrificial act of atonement as the only Son of God, will not perish in hell but inherit eternal life. Confessing one’s inherently sinful nature and accepting Jesus as one’s personal savior is the only way hell-bent humanity can be transformed and escape the eternal damnation of an otherwise loving God.
“Christocentric” persons are not content to be saved in themselves, and to allow other individuals the right to a different pathway. Their salvation depends on the damnation of those who are not saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Their one true faith automatically divides people into superior and inferior in-groups and out-groups-and sets the psychic stage for evangelizing and domination “in Jesus name,” or in the name of “freedom.” A super religion displaying tendencies similar to Hitler’s super race with its fascist ideology of superiority.
This is the “Christocentric” belief that led George W. Bush, in 1993, to tell a Jewish reporter, when preparing to run for governor of Texas, “Heaven is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ.” (“Go to Hell: The Gospel according to George W.” by Michael Kinsley, July 24, 1999, www.slatemsn.com). At a 2000 presidential campaign debate, it also was a “Christocentric” Bush who reacted when pressed to explain how his
ideal “political philosopher” Jesus changed his life: “Well, if they don’t know, it’s going to be hard to explain.”
The same rigid “Christocentric” mentality led Baptist evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham to give the following Invocation at President Bush’s January 2001 Inauguration: “. . . We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This is the same pre-emptive war-supporting, Bible-waving evangelizing carpetbagger who later called Islam “a very evil and a very wicked religion” (“Anti-Islam,” Religion and Ethics, Dec. 20, 2002, www.pbs.org) and whose intent is converting Muslims to Christ. The very same Christian evangelist who was invited to lead the Good Friday services at the Pentagon on April 18, 2003.
“Christocentric” fervor also inspired United Methodist minister Kirbyson Caldwell’s Benediction at the same January 2001 Inauguration of President Bush: “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names [italics added], Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say amen.” How many Jews, Muslims and other citizens of different religions and of no religion, attending and watching the inauguration of the President of the United States, said “amen”? Access to power emboldens and blinds “Christocentric” believers, who may succumb to arrogance.
A Christian minister or priest, who is unaware, for example, of the Muslims and Jews in an audience before him (or her) is far more likely to be oblivious to the Muslims or Jews being oppressed around him-or beyond him by his government in his name.
Thus can an unquestioned President Bush say, “I pray daily . . . for peace,” and two weeks later launch an unprovoked, costly war against non-threatening Iraq under false pretenses. And when no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq and no ties between Iraq and 9/11, this idealized moral Christian in-group leader in the White House can change his battle cry: by repeatedly challenging anyone to disagree that “the world is better off without [a brutal] Saddam Hussein in power,” and then win reelection by cloaking his administration’s crime against the Iraqi and American people as an act of God: “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) And thousands of 2004, mostly White, churchgoing Republican Convention delegates stood and gave their “strong leader” with clear “moral values” a standing ovation. “Let all who agree say amen,” the United Methodist preacher had prayed.
Christian denominations are not only guardians of conventional values but sanctifiers of patriotism. In most churches, the Christian flag drapes one side of the altar and the American flag the other. A good Christian is believed to be a good citizen. God and country call forth strong allegiances and share a strong alliance. One provides freedom of faith and the other faith in freedom. And both are being exploited by an administration committed to empire and domination not to reverence for life and democracy.
The “ethnocentric” and “Christocentric” converge in the person of President Bush. He works both sides of the authoritarian personality. He reinforces the authoritarian need for certainty and supremacy over other groups by saying, “I want to remind the people of America, we’re still the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.” (weekly radio address, Sept. 22, 2001) He refuses to examine how United States’ foreign policy contributes to the creation of enemies-as if the planes used in the horrific attack against America came from out of the blue. He stereotypes all who resist United States’ military aggression, occupation and domination as “evildoers,” “the evil ones,” “killers,” and “terrorists” who “hate our success [and] our liberty” (“George W. Bush’s Insights on evil,” Oct. 5, 2004, www.irregulartimes.com) and whom “you can’t talk sense to.” (“President’s Remarks in Canton, Ohio,” July 21, 2004, www.whitehouse.gov). He thinks in rigid terms about in-groups and out-groups: “This is a war between good and evil,” and he made it clear to every nation, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” (“George W. Bush’s Insights on evil,” Oct. 5, 2004, www.irregulartimes.com; “You’re with us or against us, Bush says,” by Scott Fornek, Staff Reporter, Sept. 21, 2001, www.suntimes.com).
President Bush constantly reminds the American people of the threat of terrorism and that “it’s my job as president to protect the American people.” And many “moral values”- professing Christians responded by voting for him because of his “strong leadership” and “clarity” and his sharing of their values of “Marriage. Life. Faith.” (Moral Values Propelled Bush to Re-election, Nov. 4, 2004, www.newsmax.com; ” ‘Values’ Helped Shape Bush Re-Election,” by Kelley Beauear Viahes, Nov. 4, 2004, www.foxnews.com; “GOP Won With Accent On Rural and Traditional,” by Paul Farhi and James V. Grymefdi, Nov. 4, 2004, www.washingtonpost.com).
Idealizing one’s in-group as the truest and greatest, requiring uncritical submission to in-group authorities, stereotyping out-groups as “evil” and to be destroyed so they cannot “contaminate” the good, resistance to introspection regarding one’s own behavior (i.e. inability to admit mistakes, relying on instinct not information, faith not facts, inspiration not insights) and willed obliviousness to the reality of out-groups-those are qualities of the current president of the United States. A president with an American flag always on his lapel and a custom-made “Commander in Chief” military jacket at the ready for appearances with his favorite audience.
A certain amount of deception and lip service are required to be authoritarian in a democratic society-especially as president. George W. Bush learned that, even in Texas, he could not get elected governor on a “Jesus only saves” platform no matter how big an evangelical base that may build-never mind becoming president of the most religiously diverse country in the world. Thus he evidently never publicly repeated his statement made to the Jewish reporter that only born again Christians and not Jews go to heaven. His belief obviously excluded not only Jews but everyone else as well, including liberal-minded Christians.
The political reality of diversity in America evidently led President Bush to undergo another kind of conversion. In his “journey to the White House,” he describes a 1998 visit to Israel with an interfaith delegation, during which a critical “point was driven home” to him: “America is a great country because of our religious freedoms.
It is important for any leader to respect the faith of others.” (Autobiography, A Charge to Keep, p. 138) Such code words allow him and his constituency to hide the very opposite tendencies-from each other, if not from themselves. And spreading “freedom” and “democracy” in the Middle East can be added to that vocabulary. A classic example of ritualizing code words is President Bush awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three men who played instrumental roles in the invasion and occupation of Iraq: “General Tommy R. Franks, the overall commander of the invasion of Iraq; L. Paul Bremer III, the chief civilian administrator of the American occupation of the country; and George J. Tenet, the longtime director of central intelligence who built the case for going to war.” Bush said, “Today this honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events. . . . and whose efforts have made our country more secure and have advanced the cause of human liberty.” (The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2004) The interpretation of reality is in the eyes of the beholders of power. “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.”
Disguising reality with code words is seen in the militarizing of the 2005 Presidential Inauguration. The theme is “Celebrating Freedom. Honoring Service.” And “this year’s event will have one brand new addition, the Commander-in-Chief Ball,” free to 2000 members of the military and their families, and featuring those just back from Iraq and Afghanistan, or about to be deployed there. (“Bush’s inauguration to reflect nation at war,” by Nina Bradley, Dec. 15, 2004, www.msnbc.msn.com).
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan evidently will not be invited to the Inaugural’s Commander-in-Chief Ball. He has condemned the Bush administration’s pre-emptive war against Iraq as “illegal,” a violation of international law because it lacks UN Security Council approval. Rather than “celebrating freedom” and “honoring service,” Annan says about President Bush’s “advance of liberty” in Iraq, “Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.” (The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2004). The Bush administration’s unprovoked, widely condemned military aggression against Iraq is believed to underlie its deeply invested “staying the course” of determining reality.
A reality check is contained in the report of a Pentagon advisory panel on how America is viewed by the Islamic world. The report states that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies,” that “when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy;” ant that “in the eyes of the Muslim world, . . . ‘American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.'” (The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004).
Code words take different forms. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice are believed to serve as unspoken code words. Their being Black gives the Bush administration the appearance of being committed to equality while continuing to push anti-affirmative action policies and individual responsibility for opportunity and poverty that deny and perpetuate a White-favored hierarchy of access to economic and political power in America.
The need to keep up the appearance of being democratic could lead President Bush to make sure that a Muslim Imam, Jewish Rabbi, or Catholic priest gives the Invocation or Benediction at his 2005 Inauguration. And if a Christian minister is chosen, any words about “the name that’s above all other names, Jesus, the Christ” may be screened. At the very least, one may expect representatives of “the liberated” to be visible in the audience. Authoritarian tendencies in a democracy thrive in disguise; and what better disguise than appearances of freedom and inclusiveness and piety and so-called “moral values” that serve to camouflage contrary tendencies being acted out. The name of the game seems to be appearances and perception not authenticity and substance.
The presidential election was not about the rise of “moral values” in America but the emergence of authoritarian tendencies in Americans:
–A political opportunist who gained presidential power by courting a “Christocentric” religious base that is receptive to imposing “moral values” on all citizens here, and “freedom”-and Christ-as “God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.”
–“Strong leadership” creating a 9/11-like climate of fear of “terrorists,” to control us and stay in power under the pretext of providing security to protect us.
–Unquestioning patriotism that offers up its sons and daughters on an ethnocentric altar of domination, to kill and maim and brutalize state-chosen enemies and to be killed and maimed and brutalized in return.
–An accommodating mainstream media that provide much news that’s print to fit. That determine the limits of public debate with a weekly round of mostly “official Washington” guests on news programs. And that engage their own networks’ “experts” who usually validate rather than challenge administration assertions and policies. A media apparently influenced by government control of licensing and of access to key newsmakers and news stories, and by the threat of advertising and readership boycotts. A media whose own corporate values may be represented by the administration in power. A media which need to fulfil their vital role of providing objective news coverage, a wide range of views on issues, and factually-based, rather than predisposed, programming and editorializing, so that an informed citizenry can participate effectively in the democratic process.
–The politics of religion that keep religion out of politics-unless it is for a faith-based government handout that requires no prophetic administration-boat rocking and a kickback of loyalty at election time.
The Bush administration’s faith-based initiative actually appears to be an attempt to redefine poverty, addictions, and other social problems as individual matters calling for self-help groups, rather than ingrained institutional issues demanding more effective government intervention to correct unequal access to educational and economic empowerment and inadequate social services. The discriminatory societal structures that hold people down are believed to be what is evil, not human nature.
Dr. Richard Lerner, professor of Applied Developmental Science at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts writes of the “peril” represented by the emerging state-legitimized authoritarianism masked as “moral values”: “I believe we are entering into an era of state-based definition of ‘true’ religion and of patriotism, one that admits of no legitimate dissension and that promises to be the only perspective framing public and political discourse.” He continues, “Conformity, rigidity of thinking, intolerance, prejudice and ethnocentrism-the elements that Adorno, et al identified more than a half century ago as the defining features of the ‘authoritarian personality’-are being embraced as the only truly American approach to our nation and the world. . . . the forces of pre-modernism and destruction of social justice and progress that, apparently, the majority of voting Americans have embraced” (personal communication, Nov. 7, 2004).
The apparently growing authoritarian tendencies in Americans are seen in a recently published nationwide poll of attitudes toward Muslim Americans. The study revealed that “nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.” Conducted by Cornell University, the survey “also found that Republicans and people who describe themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious [italics added]-a finding similar to that reported by the social scientists in their major study of prejudice and “the authoritarian personality” over 50 years ago.
An administration-accommodating mainstream media is cited as well in the Cornell University survey: “Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim Americans. The researchers were “startled by the correlation [of curtailing civil liberties] with religion and exposure to television news.” Said James Shanahan, communications professor and an organizer of the survey, ” We need to explore why these two very important channels of discourse may nurture fear rather than understanding.” (“44% in poll OK limits on rights of Muslims”, by William Kates, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Dec. 18, 2004)
It is believed that Americans and the world would benefit from another major study: the apparent emerging authoritarian tendencies in America. Such a study could focus on the kind of developmental family relationships and economic, political and religious forces in society that make the individual receptive to antidemocratic propaganda and discriminatory policies. A similar focus would be on the kind of family life and institutional forces that prepare the individual to respond positively to democratic appeals that encourage diversity, equality, and mutuality. A key concern would be to understand what in an individual attracts him or her to a religion of “moral values” that seeks to control and gain power over people, or one committed to their freedom and self-empowerment and the common good.
Those who urge Democrats to learn from the election and let their own light of faith shine on the electorate appear to have learned little from the vote themselves. Jesus did not just say, “Let your light so shine before men.” He continued, “that they may see your good works [italics added] (Matthew 5:16). Letting one’s light shine is about “good works” not “moral values” that discriminate against and deny freedom to those who are different or live by other values. To Jesus, “good works” were about being “merciful” and thereby obtaining mercy, about being “peacemakers” and thereby becoming “sons of God” (Matthew 5: 7,9).
Why is it that certain Christians take to their heart Jesus’ commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-37), and other Christians take to their head his saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? It is assumed that love of one’s neighbor depends on love of oneself: one’s ability to experience one’s own humanness and to embrace one’s own worth and rights. It is also assumed that the need for one’s “way” and “truth” and “life” to be authoritatively spelled out for everyone reveals a personal insecurity born not of self-love but of self-doubt-rendering one vulnerable to the “moral clarity” of “Christocentric” authority. It seems obvious, therefore, that our nation and other nations would benefit from another study of what in our traditional family relationships and in our society contributes to the emotional security provided by self-love and, conversely, to the insecurity of self-doubt.
The bottom line of religion is behavior not belief-just as the truth is reflected in what one does. Religion is about respecting people’s right to be who they are, not about imposing “moral values” on them. It is about empowering people not gaining power over them. About calling them by their own names. About experiencing their reality not interpreting it. It is about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The more one is in touch with and accepting of oneself, the better prepared one is to experience and accept other persons as themselves. “It’s about love!”
This article is dedicated with gratitude to the memory of Dr. Daniel J. Levinson, a co-author of The Authoritarian Personality, who was the consultant for Rev. Alberts’ doctoral dissertation on authoritarian and supportive attitudes of ministers toward juvenile delinquency and youth offenders, and for his post-doctoral research on the problem areas of the work of Methodist ministers.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at: email@example.com.