May 01, 2005

Kulchur War, Defense of Science, Separation of Church & State

Kulchur War, Defense of Science, Separation of Church & State

A wake-up call for the Sane Majority
Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Does it strike you as odd that
persons calling themselves Christians
are furious that the U.S. Supreme Court found executing juveniles unconstitutional? Do you find even odder that such individuals describe themselves, straight-faced, as adherents of the "culture of life"? Are you surprised to learn that people called conservatives would quote Joseph Stalin? Yes, that Joseph Stalin, the former Soviet dictator and mass murderer. And no, I am not making this up. It happened recently at a Washington conclave held by something called the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. If not household names, many in attendance were familiar controversialists, representing right-wing groups like the Family Research Council, the American Conservative Union, etc. Catholic anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly spoke, along with unsuccessful GOP Senate nominee Alan Keyes and Alabama’s Judge Roy" Ten Commandments" Moore. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, having fled the jurisdiction—er, left town to attend the pope’s funeral, addressed the group on TV. But the real headline-maker was Edwin Vieira, allegedly an expert in constitutional law.
Vieira attacked the theological right’s latest whipping boy, Ronald Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. True, Kennedy supplied the swing vote in Bush vs. Gore, the 5-4 decision that gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush. But he also wrote recent majority opinions invalidating Texas’s anti-sodomy law and forbidding the execution of juveniles.
In so doing, Vieira insisted, Kennedy upheld "Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."
And the solution? If not impeachment, Vieira said that his "bottom-line" solution for renegade judges was Stalin’s: "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: ‘ No man, no problem. ’"
The audience reportedly didn’t gasp. They laughed. "‘ No man, no problem, ’" he repeated for emphasis. "This is not a structural problem we have. This is a problem of personnel."
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank supplied the full Stalin quote, which is quite famous: "Death solves all problems: No man, no problem." He speculated that Vieira couldn’t possibly be urging the killing of Supreme Court justices. But he put the remark in the context of recent threats by DeLay, who said that "the time will come for the men responsible for [Terri Schiavo’s death] to answer for their behavior," and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, RTexas, who mused that unpopular judicial decisions could lead people to "engage in violence."
Assuming Vieira’s not actively delusional, however, what would be the point of invoking one of the 20 th century’s great monsters if not to sanction violence? The avowed goal of this outfit is "Christian Reconstructionism," the notion that the U.S. government derives its ultimate authority not from "the consent of the governed," as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, but from the Bible as interpreted by Puritan divines.
The U.S. Constitution forbids Congress from establishing an official faith. If these people get their way—and Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Sam Brownback, RKan., a recent convert to Opus Dei, an authoritarian Catholic sect, have introduced a bill to strip federal courts of the power to rule on religious issues—an established church would be exactly what we’d get.
What kind of church? Well, the late R. J. Rushdoony, spiritual father of Christian Reconstructionism, favored a Taliban-like, Old Testament moral code, with homosexuals, abortion doctors and women guilty of "unchastity" put to death.
No, that’s not going to happen. Even so, such rhetoric should be a wake-up call to what it’s tempting to call the Sane Majority. "True Believers" are an enduring human type. Zealous theocrats afflict every society from Afghanistan to Arkansas. They always know the absolute truth and strive to inflict it on others. Their obsessions usually revolve around sex, like those zealots in Saudi Arabia’s religious police who prevented 15 teen-aged girls from fleeing a school fire because they were improperly dressed. For years now, the national discourse has been driven by persons whose moral/theological views are somewhere between childish and insane. Most others either tend toward partial agreement on "wedge issues" like gay marriage or are too polite in the ecumenical sense to argue. Instead, they wait quietly for the metaphorical pendulum to swing toward the center. Hence, politicians like DeLay and Bush never pay the price for consorting with extremists. It’s time to remind these jokers that regardless of how "devout" they claim to be, this is the United States of America and the rest of us are not obliged to pretend that their political opinions are sanctioned by God, nor even that they are sane.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
Copyright © 2001-2004 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact:

Holy Warriors
By Sidney Blumenthal
Thursday 21 April 2005
Cardinal Ratzinger handed Bush the presidency by tipping the Catholic vote. Can American democracy survive their shared medieval vision?

President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help him win the election. "Not all the American bishops are with me," he complained, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism against abortion and gay marriage in the states during the campaign season.
About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S. bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied Communion. He pointedly mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" -- an obvious reference to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be ordered to "refuse to distribute it." Any Catholic who voted for this "Catholic politician," he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." During the closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication. Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces of Satan, collaboration with "evil."
In 2004 Bush increased his margin of Catholic support by 6 points from the 2000 election, rising from 46 to 52 percent. Without this shift, Kerry would have had a popular majority of a million votes. Three states -- Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico -- moved into Bush's column on the votes of the Catholic "faithful." Even with his atmospherics of terrorism and Sept. 11, Bush required the benediction of the Holy See as his saving grace. The key to his kingdom was turned by Cardinal Ratzinger.
With the College of Cardinals' election of Ratzinger to the papacy, his political alliances with conservative politicians can be expected to deepen and broaden. Under Benedict XVI, the church will assume a consistent reactionary activism it has not had for two centuries. And the new pope's crusade against modernity has already joined forces with the right-wing culture war in the United States, prefigured by his interference in the 2004 election.
Europe is far less susceptible than the United States to the religious wars that Ratzinger will incite. Attendance at church is negligible; church teachings are widely ignored; and the younger generation is least observant of all. But in the United States, the Bush administration and the right wing of the Republican Party are trying to batter down the wall of separation between church and state. Through court appointments, they wish to enshrine doctrinal views on the family, women, gays, medicine, scientific research and privacy. The Republican attempt to abolish the two-centuries-old filibuster -- the so-called nuclear option -- is only one coming wrangle in the larger Kulturkampf.
Joseph Ratzinger was born and bred in the cradle of the Kulturkampf, or culture war. Roman Catholic Bavaria was a stronghold against northern Protestantism during the Reformation. In the 19th century the church was a powerful force opposing the unification of Italy and Germany into nation-states, fearing that they would diminish the church's influence in the shambles of duchies and provinces that had followed the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire. The doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870 was promulgated by the church to tighten its grip on Catholic populations against the emerging centralized nations and to sanctify the pope's will against mere secular rulers.
In response, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, launched what he called a Kulturkampf to break the church's hold. He removed the church from the control of schools, expelled the Jesuits, and instituted civil ceremonies for marriage. Bismarck lent support to Catholic dissidents opposed to papal infallibility who were led by German theologian Johann Ignaz von Dollinger. Dollinger and his personal secretary were subsequently excommunicated. His secretary was Georg Ratzinger, great-uncle of the new pope, who became one of the most notable Bavarian intellectuals and politicians of the period. This Ratzinger was a champion against papal absolutism and church centralization, and on behalf of the poor and working class -- and was also an anti-Semite.
Joseph Ratzinger's Kulturkampf is claimed by him to be a reaction to the student revolts of 1968. Should Joschka Fischer, a former student radical and now the German foreign minister, have to answer entirely for Ratzinger's Weltanschauung? Pope Benedict's Kulturkampf bears the burden of the church's history and that of his considerable family. He represents the latest incarnation of the long-standing reaction against Bismarck's reforms -- beginning with the assertion of the invented tradition of papal infallibility -- and, ironically, against the positions on the church held by his famous uncle. But the roots of his reaction are even more profound.
The new pope's burning passion is to resurrect medieval authority. He equates the Western liberal tradition, that is, the Enlightenment, with Nazism, and denigrates it as "moral relativism." He suppresses all dissent, discussion and debate within the church and concentrates power within the Vatican bureaucracy. His abhorrence of change runs past 1968 (an abhorrence he shares with George W. Bush) to the revolutions of 1848, the "springtime of nations," and 1789, the French Revolution. But, even more momentously, the alignment of the pope's Kulturkampf with the U.S. president's culture war has also set up a conflict with the American Revolution.
For the first time, an American president is politically allied with the Vatican in its doctrinal mission (except, of course, on capital punishment). In the messages and papers of the presidents from George Washington until well into those of the 20th century, there was not a single mention of the pope, except in one minor footnote. Bush's lobbying trip last year to the Vatican reflects an utterly novel turn, and Ratzinger's direct political intervention in American electoral politics ratified it.
The right wing of the Catholic Church is as mobilized as any other part of the religious right. It is seizing control of Catholic universities, exerting influence at other universities, stigmatizing Catholic politicians who fail to adhere to its conservative credo, pressing legislation at the federal and state levels, seeking government funding and sponsorship of the church, and vetting political appointments inside the White House and the administration -- imposing in effect a religious test of office. The Bush White House encourages these developments under the cover of moral uplift as it forges a political machine uniting church and state -- as was done in premodern Europe.
The American Revolution, the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for explicitly to uproot the traces in American soil of ecclesiastical power in government, which the Founders to a man regarded with horror, revulsion and foreboding.
The Founders were the ultimate representatives of the Enlightenment. They were not anti-religious, though few if any of them were orthodox or pious. Washington never took Communion and refused to enter the church, while his wife did so. Benjamin Franklin believed that all organized religion was suspect. James Madison thought that established religion did as much harm to religion as it did to free government, twisting the word of God to fit political expediency, thereby throwing religion into the political cauldron. And Thomas Jefferson, allied with his great collaborator Madison, conducted decades of sustained and intense political warfare against the existing and would-be clerisy. His words, engraved on the Jefferson Memorial, are a direct reference to established religion: "I have sworn eternal warfare against all forms of superstition over the minds of men."
But now Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatens the federal judiciary, saying, "The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them." And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will participate through a telecast in a rally on April 24 in which he will say that Democrats who refuse to rubber-stamp Bush's judicial nominees and uphold the filibuster are "against people of faith."
But what would Madison say?
This is what Madison wrote in 1785: "What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not."
What would John Adams say? This is what he wrote Jefferson in 1815: "The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"
Benjamin Franklin? "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
And Jefferson, in "Notes on Virginia," written in 1782: "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."
The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century partly as a party of religious liberty. It supported public common schools, not church schools, and public land-grant universities independent of any denominational affiliation. The Republicans, moreover, were adamant in their opposition to the use of any public funds for any religious purpose, especially involving schools.
A century later, in 1960, there was still such a considerable suspicion of Catholics in government that the Democratic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy, felt compelled to address the issue directly in his famous speech before the Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12.
What did Kennedy say? "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials."
Now Bush is attempting to create what Kennedy warned against. He claims to be conservative, but he seeks a rupture in our system of government. The culture war, which has had many episodes, from the founding of the Moral Majority to the unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton, is entering a new and far more dangerous phase. In 2004, Bush and Ratzinger used church doctrine to intimidate voters and taint candidates. And through the courts the president is seeking to codify not only conservative ideology but religious doctrine.
When men of God mistake their articles of devotion with political platforms they will inevitably stand exposed in the political arena. When politicians mistake themselves for men of God, their religion, however sincere, will inevitably be seen as contrivance.
As both president and pope invoke heavenly authority to impose their notions of tradition, they have set themselves on a collision course with the American political tradition. In the name of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, democracy without end. Amen.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton and the author of The Clinton Wars, is writing a column for Salon and the Guardian of London.

Posted on Sun, Apr. 24, 2005

Injustice Sunday
Radical right's anti-filibuster show an assault on truth
By Larry Dale Keeling
Welcome to Injustice Sunday.
Today, if all goes as planned, Kentucky will play host to a well-scripted immorality play in which political and religious extremists pummel truth beyond recognition and twist Christianity into an ugly caricature of itself in their crusade to give Dubya the opportunity to perform an extreme makeover on the federal courts, packing their benches with enough "faith first, law last" judges to tilt our legal system dangerously toward the model of the Spanish Inquisition.
To achieve their goal, they will pull a couple of pages from the Neo-con Republicans Political Playbook.
So, expect someone, perhaps Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (he of the long-distance medical diagnosis who once again is reaching out from afar to kiss up to the religious extremists) to repeat the hogwash he and others have been spreading lately: that Senate Democrats' threat to filibuster some of Dubya's more controversial appellate nominations is unprecedented.
You don't have to go back to 1968, when Senate Republicans led a successful filibuster against the nomination of then-Justice Abe Fortas for chief justice of the Supreme Court, to expose that falsehood.
You need only go back to 2000, when Frist himself cast one of the votes against cloture in the filibuster of Richard Paez's appeals court nomination. That was one of 14 filibusters of appeals court nominations that resulted in cloture votes between 1980 and 2000.
Unprecedented? Unmitigated bull.
Expect also to hear some tripe about Senate Democrats filibustering against "people of faith and moral conviction." To buy into that malarkey, you must believe that the 204 judicial nominees approved during Dubya's first term (only 10 of the most controversial were blocked by the Democrats) are lacking in "faith or moral conviction." I suspect some of those folks might take exception to such an assertion.
So, you may hear Focus on the Family's James Dobson, another of the pettifoggers scheduled to star in this immorality play, repeat his comments likening the black robes of Supreme Court justices to the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
Or some other member of the cast might reiterate House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's assertion: "The time will come for (the judges involved in the Terri Schiavo case, whom he accused of running 'amok') to answer for their behavior."
Such inflammatory remarks, uttered with reckless disregard for the violence they might incite against judges, tell me all I need to know about how far out on the fringe these zealots reside.
Only extremists would slobber so rabidly over the prospect of undoing 200 years of Senate tradition. True conservatives wouldn't rush so hastily to change the rules of the game in that chamber.
Of course, neo-cons are not true conservatives. They never have been, and they never will be. They are radical activists pushing an extreme agenda that promotes an unholy mixture of theocracy and plutocracy, perhaps more accurately defined as loot-ocracy.
Ironically, Frist and company claim filibusters are unconstitutional in regard to judicial nominations but are hunky-dory when it comes to legislative issues.
A filibuster is a filibuster. Either it's good, or it's bad. Frist's hypocritical argument to the contrary just provides further proof that he and his fellow neo-cons aren't real conservatives because real conservatives don't advocate situational ethics.
Mainstream religious groups such as the National Council of Churches have denounced the exploitation of "faith" in today's Injustice Sunday theatrics. And traditional conservatives such as syndicated columnist George Will and former senator and GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole reject Frist's "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster in regard to judicial nominations.
"Think down the road," Dole has urged his fellow Republicans. And they should, because the political pendulum stays in constant motion.
Someday, the pendulum will swing back toward the Democrats, giving them control of the White House and Senate. When that day comes, Republicans will be powerless to stop a Democratic president from packing the courts with liberal judges if they follow Frist's lead now.
But one defining trait of the political and religious extremists who lead the radical right is an arrogance so strong that it does not allow for the possibility that their current reign will ever end. It is this arrogance that leads them to ignore negative poll numbers and continue their quest to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations so that Dubya will be free to do his extreme makeover of the federal judiciary.
Thus, we in Kentucky get the "privilege" of hosting Injustice Sunday, with its assault on truth, mainstream Christianity and the concept of a fair and impartial system of justice.
Better if we had been spared that dubious honor.
Reach Larry Dale Keeling at (859) 231-3249 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3249, or

Posted by richard at May 1, 2005 11:02 AM