Freedom to Oppress?

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American History, Congress, Religion

I’m pleased that I got to meet and hang out with David Neiwert and Sara Robinson at Yearly Kos. It’s this sort of face-to-face time with smart thinkers and good people that makes YK (hence to be called Netroots Nation) so valuable.

Dave’s got a post up today that needs one little addition. Republican Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho “thinks Muslims should not have been allowed to say a prayer in the hallowed halls of Congress, nor should they even have representation there,” Dave writes, quoting this news story:

“We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers,” asserts Sali.

Not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers? “Well, perhaps they were, perhaps they were not,” writes Dave. “As far as anyone can discern, they were silent on the subject of Muslim American citizens. Some of them were in fact unrepentant racists, so seeking their advice may not be all that useful anyway.”

But what we do know about them is that they believed in the freedom of religion. It’s one of America’s true founding values. See, e.g., the First Amendment.

In fact, one of the Founders did speak to this. Thomas Jefferson wrote about this in his autobiography, discussing the adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

Seems pretty clear to me. It’s a shame we elect people like Bill Sali who doesn’t share America’s true founding values, huh?

Update:
Pastor Dan says Sali doesn’t know Scripture, either.

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13 Comments

10 Comments

  1. moonbat  •  Aug 10, 2007 @1:53 pm

    I don’t know the history of this in detail, but there has always been a tension in the USA, from its inception, between those who came here for religious freedom, to practice their own religion in their own mini-theocracy, versus broader-minded people such as Jefferson who were proponents of the Enlightenment. Our country has this basic, root conflict between those who effectively wanted a theocracy to save sinful mankind, versus those who abhored the idea. It’s a tension that at times is unbearable to me. Let these people have their Jesusland, but leave me alone.

    I know nothing of this Sali character – perhaps he’s merely a secular bigot, a political opportunist, who has no personal religious preference whatsover. Regardless, a bigot he is, and bigots like him are attracted to the narrowness of the theocratic agenda, and are repulsed by Enlightenment values, as espoused by Jefferson. Just as Jefferson had to deal with it then, we will have to deal with it now, and forever I’m afraid.

    Orcinus related – I was blown away by Sara Robinson’s Leering Old Men article from Monday, and thought about writing about it, but didn’t make the time.

    I was particularly struck by her notion of how people in authoritarian thought systems, be it religious or political, live in a kind of voluntary childhood, regressing themselves to about the age of five or six, before what psychologists call “the age of reason” kicks in. This explains why they are imperviouis to logic, and why they cling to various childish fantasies, and cartoonish roles (eg the cowboy, the military action hero, or Commander Guy). And their adoration of an all powerful Daddy who protects them – which is how daddy seemed at that age.

    Sara went on to talk about how this expresses itself in all the childish behavior, especially regarding sex, that we see on the right. I thought this was one of the most amazing things I’ve read in awhile, but didn’t get around to posting about it.

  2. PurpleGirl  •  Aug 10, 2007 @2:01 pm

    As soon as you commented “what did we know of the Founders’ thoughts” I thought about Jefferson and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. FSM, that was one of the most important developments of the period. I guess Sali didn’t take the same history curriculum I did.

  3. joanr16  •  Aug 10, 2007 @2:35 pm

    When a rightie Christian says “Founding Fathers,” he or she is referring to pre-Revolutionary Puritans like Cotton Mather. Rightie Christians are clueless about the authors of the Declaration and the Constitution, who were of many persuasions– some Christian, some not. Jefferson, a Deist, wasn’t a Christian. He doubted that God interacted at all with our world or our lives. A number of other founders of our government were also Deists. Rightie Christians hate Deists, whose descendants are our modern-day Unitarians (among other “wishy-washy,” freethinking sects). In other words, Rightie Christians hate the Founding Fathers.

  4. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Aug 10, 2007 @5:19 pm

    Sali is now “clarifying” his remarks and continuing to trumpet his total ignorance of US history.

    ( http://idahostatesman.com/newsupdates/story/129935.html

    But Sali said he does think the country’s Founding Fathers created a government based on Christian principles, and the best course into the future is to follow these ideas. The country’s creators fought for the “principles found in scripture,” he said. “The dangerous part is straying from these principles.” )

    What a chenyey-head. Sadly, you are right on the money with the headline “Freedom to Oppress.” That’s exactly what the lunatic religious right thinks freedom means. Freedom is for them, not anyone else.

  5. Swami  •  Aug 10, 2007 @5:41 pm

    Bill Sali needs to crack open his history books. The largest obstacle that had to be overcome in order to ratify the consttution was issue of religion and the power that religion held in governance of the 13 separate colonies. The founding fathers realized that only a secular government could work in uniting the colonies for a common purpose( a nation). Every colony was of a different sect of Christianity, and the differences in beliefs were enough to fight wars over if they were pressed into a union.
    In Catholic Maryland, colonial law proscribed a death penalty for the denial of the Trinity, and to Huguenots of Georgia the concept of Trinity came right out of Satan’s playbook…so who gets to call the national religion?..exactly…secular is the only solution.

    The religious right has hijacked and twisted our history. A little story…as a kid I used to collect American postage stamps and I remembered a series of stamps issued in 1960 called the American Credo Series. In the series were 6 stamps with individual quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry,Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Francis Scott Key.
    I was trying to recall the exact wording for the quote from the Thomas Jefferson stamp so I googled the quote to the best of my recollection..” I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”, and guess where my search landed me? Yep, Pat Robertson’s 700 Club portal to Regent University. It seem that Thomas Jefferson preemptively endorsed Regent University when I thought that he had condemned it.

  6. felicity  •  Aug 10, 2007 @5:56 pm

    I continue to wonder why it is that when some people ‘get’ religion they may go on some sort of crusade, either trying to convert those who do not subscribe to their religion or to prevent those of another religion from practicing their religion, even going so far as killing them. Understandable when one’s livelihood depends on burgeoning flocks of followers, but that doesn’t explain the lay behavior.

    These phenomena – and they are just that – have been around since man has been around. It is curious that even though I could care less what religion, or non-religion anybody else subscribes to, my atheist/agnostic friends are uncomfortable with my being a Catholic and are not reticent about telling me as much. Why do they care?

    If one believes that he has established some sort of two-way street between him and his god and is guaranteed some sort of eternal bliss as a result, what possible difference can it make to him if there are others who do not hold his particular belief or hold no belief at all. Anybody answer this stuff?

  7. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Aug 10, 2007 @8:37 pm

    Felicity, sorry to hear your ath/ag friends give you grief. As an atheist, when I’m online I often find myself fighting the perception that all atheists are trying to shove their disbelief down other people’s throats. In reality my attitude, and that of most atheists I know, is live and let live. People can believe anything they like as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs on others, or act (based on their beliefs) in a way that violates the rights of others.

  8. moonbat  •  Aug 10, 2007 @9:14 pm

    felicity (#7) there was a point in my life (1982) when I became a born again believer. Prior to this, I had been raised in Eastern Orthodoxy, but as a teenager, became agnostic, got into meditation, and later, mind expanding drugs, and to some extent into an occult kind of mysticism. The Eastern Orthodoxy portion of this was simply part of the way I was raised, but there really was no personal choice nor commitment on my part. It was simply the choice my parents had made for me, and as such I naturally resented it. It was merely cultural in other words, part of the wallpaper to my life, whether I liked it or not. This may or may not parallel your experience with Catholicism.

    At any rate, I had a dramatic conversion experience into born again Christianity: “I was lost but now I am found”, with all the emotional drama this entails. I don’t think I was that obnoxious to live with, as it was never my style to pound my beliefs into others, although I most definitely found myself at odds with others whom I no longer shared my former interests. It was a clear 180 degree change in terms of how I saw the world, and how I lived my life. The closest thing I can liken it to, is being a suddenly newborn baby – suddenly thrust into a completely new world with an utterly fresh perspective on things.

    This type of experience is not uncommon. I suspect people who were alcoholics and who find AA and who manage to turn their lives around go through something similar. Stripping it down to the basics, it is the act of surrendering your life (your ego actually) to however you conceive God, and letting him/her work through your life that is the essence of these (and all religious conversion) experiences.

    Eventually – over about a decade – I outgrew the “cultural package” – in other words the church and its dogmas – which actively engenders this sort of conversion experience, and my spiritual journey has taken some subsequently unusual twists and turns. I view the born again conversion experience as kind of a common baby experience that people usually mature out of. You simply can’t maintain that level of excitement and newness forever – we adapt and acclimate – and grow. Even so, I still feel empathy for all Christians, including born agains, even those who don’t want to “grow up”. Many of these people are perfectly happy with “the cultural package” as I was not, and they spend their whole lives there – which is fine if that’s their path.

    But back to your question: people can become obnoxious when converted both because it really feels like being rescued, pulled out of the water, and you feel an intense gratitude for this, and because churches see themselves in the rescuing business. There is an emotional high to all of this, both when you become born again, and when converting others is a priority in your church.

    As for judging other religions and people who practice them – because of the emotional intensity of becoming born again, it feels like what you’re going through is the only authentic way to God, which is only corroborated by church dogma. And so there is a definite impetus to denegrate all other religions and spiritual practices. And there’s a similarly big impetus to convert these people. It’s not too many steps beyond this before these people are regarded not only as lost, but as inferior, subhuman, threatening, demonically influenced, and therefore must be destroyed.

    One of the things contributing to this, is that Christians, especially born agains, see themselves in opposition to what they call “the world”. Through the emotionally intense born again experience they become transformed from what they were formally. This may or may not turn into a spiritually mature person, and it’s easy to fall back into the ways of the world. And so “the world” is viewed as a source of persecution, although this is really just projection, since nobody these days (at least in the US) is actively persecuting Christians.

    This is why there is an entire Christian subculture, a parallel universe, replete with its books, movies, music, radio stations and TV networks, speakers, events, etc – to insulate and isolate these people from “the world”. Many religions throughout time have attempted to create these “spiritual bubbles” but the one modern Christianity has managed to create vastly dwarfs all previous efforts. It’s really just one large example of what Alvin Toffler in Future Shock described as “A Surfeit of Subcultures”.

    What these Christians, in their disdain for “the world” fail to realize is that this is a universal feature of all spiritual paths. All of us are tempted by the world, but these Christians, for a variety of reasons fail to understand or acknowledge this, because they see their religion as unique. Their dogma tels them so.

    Obviously not all Christians go through dramatic conversion experiences – there are many who have had a more subtle conversion over a long period of time. Likewise the range of commitment to God varies: it can range from intensely personal and total, to distantly institutional and/or partial. Similar to being in a healthy marriage, the depth of commitment and how it is expressed changes over time.

    As for the way atheists are uncomfortable with spiritual people, I’ve experience this also, but I’ll let an atheist speak.

  9. felicity  •  Aug 11, 2007 @12:19 pm

    Thanks No More and Moonbat. It also occurs to me that much of the dynamics between believers and non-believers may have nothing to do with religion but a great deal to do with simply ‘being different’ – some peculiar human tendency to fear the individual who is ‘different.’ This kind of fear is particularly pronounced in people who are insecure in themselves which makes the ‘different’ or ‘other’ a threat to their very existence. Lynch mobs, gay-bashing are clear examples of how this gets played out.

  10. Doug Hughes  •  Aug 11, 2007 @9:33 pm

    When Jefferson ran for President, his opinions on Freedom of Religion were already known & written ti the Virginia laws. So it’s there was a HUGE outcry from the pulpit against Jefferson’s candidacy. He was elected despite this, because the electorate, devout in their faith, saw their civic duty as something different and separate from their religious obligations. People were convinved he was against religion meddling in governemnt, but not enough were convinced he was opposed to the free choice and practice OF religion. So he was elected. Twice. Jeffersons writings are full of examples how ‘they’ came at him over and over in efforts to institutionalize religion. Why is this such a difficult concept, 200 years after he was in office?

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