Support the Mosque in Bendigo: Addressing the criticisms.

April 28, 2014

Very few of my articles have attracted such frenzied responses as my article in support of the proposed Mosque in Bendigo. The responses tend to be confused rather than reasonable, and anchored in deeply anti-secular sentiment similar to the tone of those the commenters claim to oppose. I thought I’d use this article to address some of the complaints raised in the previous article:

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– It’s important to distinguish between fact, and opinion. The phrase… “based on a lie” is the commenters opinion (as, incidentally, is mine) that differs entirely from the religious folk – who are entitled to the equal protection that permit the expression of the commenters opinion – and so is perfectly relevant to the discussion on the right to believe, because it negates the point the commenter is trying to make. The commenter has expressed what he believes – a belief that other citizens may find as offensive as he/she finds Islam to be – without state punishment, thus discrediting the point the commenter was attempting to make in the first place.

Secondly, a recurring theme throughout the opposition responses to my article tend to be entirely predicated on the notion that every Muslim in the western world is secretly working for Hizb ut-Tahrir, seeking to overthrow western democracy, replace the statue of Nelson on top of the column at Trafalgar Square with one of al-Nabhani, and can only be stopped by heroic nationalists assigning themselves a “moral obligation” to outlaw all thoughts not agreeable to their own, thereby themselves overthrowing western secular democracy. It is an intriguing irony, because they must be under the impression that the rest of us find their particular brand of political supremacy less insidious than religious supremacy. Both have a complete disregard for individual liberty, if it offends their own thoughts.

There are plenty of ideologies that an individual may consider racist, and misogynistic. Why stop there? Some may consider liberalism to be anti-British, or anti-American. Why not outlaw them? Some may consider conservatism to be anti-Australian. Why not outlaw them? Some may consider secular democracy to be white, European colonialist. Why not outlaw them? Who is getting the privilege to decide what views are acceptable to hold? Indeed, every ideology by its nature is supremacist and to some degree intolerant and destructive, and by way of attempting to control the lives of others who are not inclined to individual belief in that one particular ideology; they are anti-human and anti-rational. None have a right to state power, but each individual certainly has a right to believe in any ideology they so wish, without imposing it upon others. Secularism is the way by which the state grants no privilege to any of them above any other. The line of secular equality is maintained.

The writer wishes to ensure that Islam isn’t spread any further. The method by which this is achieved is important. The state restricting individual beliefs and the right to worship according to one’s beliefs, is oppressive by its nature. To restrict the spread of any massively flawed ideology, it is the best practice to subject it to scrutiny and inquiry, to criticism and satire, not to oppression.

The writer apparently sees it as his/her ‘moral obligation’ to fight to outlaw beliefs that the writer doesn’t particular like. By claiming a ‘moral obligation’ first requires their own assumption that their belief is the ‘right’ one, and that all others are therefore to be measured against that one individual’s belief, and banned if it doesn’t fit the narrow scope. It’s a very Islamist-like delusion of grandeur. It is also self defeating, because whilst at the beginning the writer insists they do not claim “a right to an ideology that is…” before themselves claiming some sort of ideological crusade designed to oppress those who do not subscribe to his/her particular views. What if I, or others, dislike this ideological crusade? Must we launch our own ideological crusade to fight the ideological crusade of the one fighting the ideological crusade? What if someone disagrees then with my ideological crusade? We then find ourselves in the odd position of a sort of Hobbesian state of war, punishing each other for thoughts that offend our own. It ironically appears to be the culmination of a logical trail that leads directly from the “your views offend me” Islamist rule book. This right to our own individual thoughts, and expression without harming the same right for others, requires secular democratic protections. Secularism protects a Muslim’s right to worship and believe according to one’s own conscience, in their own private setting, whilst equally protecting the writer’s right to express discontent. It permits neither the right to abuse the liberty of the other.

The secular claim is simple; the state must remain neutral in matters of individual belief, and as such has no inherent right to restrict thoughts, to punish belief, nor to ban private worship where no harm is coming to the liberty of others. This is an individual’s right to decide. Provided they act within the confines of secular law, they are not to be harassed by anyone assigning themselves a ‘moral obligation’ to oppress that basic right. Ensuring individual liberty of thought, is vital to the health of a democracy. The same is not true of the state oppressing the rights of individuals by placating the irrational fears of anti-secularists.

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–  The confusion here – as we shall see again later – is between on the one hand disliking a belief – which we are all entitled to, and to vocalise – and on the other hand, wishing to oppress the right of others to believe that particular idea that we may dislike. It is of course not oppressive to criticise, to inquire, or to mock a particular belief; on the contrary, it is a necessary predicate for an open and free society, and as it turns out, the only legitimate way by which society tames an ideology. The oppression stems from the desire to see the state punishing people for their choice of belief when it doesn’t interfere with the same rights for others.

Here, the writer is advocating the privilege of power for those of us who proclaim non-belief, over everyone else. We get to decide what thoughts are acceptable. So then, why stop with Islam? I might believe that no civilised society should have to put up with an ideology that seeks to oppress others by punishing individual thoughts, or when and how they choose to pray. I could advocate a position of privilege for those who think like me, and demand punishment for those who don’t. Instead, I say that you should be as entitled to your beliefs – regardless of whether I like them or not – as religious folk should be to theirs, as I should be entitled to my own views, and none should be afforded a place of privilege. A line of secular equality maintained for all.

The writer then asks if I personally believe people should be allowed to “promote such views through public institutions via mosques and universities”. I had no idea that a Mosque was a public institution. But yes, Churches and Mosques should absolutely be allowed to argue that we non-believers will be sent to hell for the victimless crime of not believing. It is a putrid belief that I find myself debating a lot, but the state should not be sending early morning police raids into a Church suspected of promoting the concepts of heaven and hell. We do not defeat ideas, or dilute the power of ideas, by banning them. We do so by debating them and appealing to reason. Punishing the right to hold a particular belief, or to express a particular belief, similarly oppresses my right to hear that particular belief. I should be free to decide for myself, and to weigh up the arguments, not to have political or religious fanatics decide for me.

On the issue of public institutions; no…. they absolutely should not be recognising specific beliefs nor granting specific privileges to any single beliefs. Nor should universities be preventing students from their own beliefs, and sharing those beliefs with like-minded students. A university banning a specific society simply for its beliefs – if those societies are not actively promoting violence – or granting specific privileges (such as hideously segregating students by gender in lecture theatres) would offend my sense of secular freedom. In the same way that I wouldn’t wish to ban the Communist societies at universities nor any Nationalist societies at universities, despite my opposition to their message. Universities should not be in the business of deciding what views are “acceptable” and punishing those who don’t adhere to “acceptable” thoughts. Universities should promote free inquiry, discussion, and debate. When I was a student, I would have been particularly annoyed to hear that those in a position of power had banned beliefs and ideas, and thus banned me from hearing those ideas and beliefs and arguments, simply because they didn’t like them.

This leads me on to my next point; how do you police beliefs? If we are to ban the building of Mosques, does the state then take it upon itself to restrict the number of Muslims allowed to congregate in one place in case mass prayer breaks out? What if a Muslim invites friends to his or her house to pray? How many years in prison should that gain? What if Muslims in Universities get together to talk of Islam, should the University throw them out? How many Muslims are allowed to talk to each other at any one time at a university without state punishment? I am yet to hear anyone tell me how they intend to police Muslims being Muslims.

The writer of the above complaint seems to be under the impression that it is her/his right to get to decide which ideologies should be forbidden, on threat of punishment, automatically placing his/her own ideological position out of the line of fire that he/she is more than willing to place others into, thus granting themselves undeserved and self righteous privilege. Again, two sides, same coin. They have bizarrely decided that other people shouldn’t be allowed to worship in their own place of worship according to their own conscience, and that conscience must be molded to fit a narrative advocated by just one group. This is supremacy, and represents a disingenuous tactic designed to sound as if we’re being protected from a force that wishes us harm, whilst placing themselves in a position of privilege above the rest of us.

On a side note, it is also vastly inconsistent that there doesn’t seem to be an equal outburst of opposition to the “Catch the Fire Ministries” church also being built in Bendigo, and run by the misogynistic, homophobic cult leader, Daniel Nalliah. Or, for that matter, any of the other 20+ Christian centres in Bendigo, despite Christianity’s equally as oppressive and imperial history. Strange that.

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– A massive selection of inconsequential arguments to deal with here. Firstly, it is bewildering to me the suggestion that I am “guilty of the very thing I condemn in others”. I simply condemn the use of the state to punish beliefs, by banning places of private worship. If creationists wish to come together, I do not wish the state to prevent that right. I am not calling for the outlawing of creationist beliefs, nor the right to express those beliefs. I absolutely reserve the right to mock those beliefs, and to criticise those beliefs, but the right to hold those beliefs without punishment is vital. As a non-believer, I frequently and happily mock and criticise Islam. The freedom to criticise and satirise all ideas – especially political or religious authoritarian ideas – is the bedrock of a progressive and civil society. The freedom to hold those beliefs, is equally important to the health of a civil society.

The writer’s second point is entirely their own criticisms of Islam and detracts from the point of the article itself. I have plenty of complaints about Islam. It is just isn’t relevant to this debate. A personal dislike of a religion or ideology is extraneous to a conversation about secular protections and civil rights. I dislike a lot of Jesus’ teachings from the Gospels and Revelation, nor am I a fan of Communism or Fascism, but I accept that others similarly may not accept my liberal, secular beliefs. Neither of us has a right to punish the other for disagreeing. Whether someone likes a faith or an ideology or not, cannot be an acceptable reason to grant that one person and his/her beliefs a privileged social position entitling them an inherent right to oppress the same right of others who wish to privately and individually adhere to their own beliefs. The issue is the right to worship and believe according to one’s own conscience without the state punishing the individual for an expression of belief that doesn’t harm others, debating specific dogmas is entirely different. Indeed, the right to present a specific dogma to be debated, is the right we must insist be protected for all.

The next point raised, is the existence of Muslims in the World, and their relationship to violence. Well, then one must also point out that the gay community in Uganda are in fear of their lives due to Christian supremacy, or that currently Christian militants are working their way across Central African Republic, violently displacing and hurting tens of thousands of Muslim inhabitants in what the UN describes as ethnic cleansing. One Christian militant, having looted the local mosque, stood and shouted:

“We didn’t want the Muslims here and we don’t want their mosque here any more either”

– Both Uganda, and Central African Republic, along with every country in which Christianity has at some point controlled the apparatus of state, has resulted in violence and oppression. Perhaps we should also be banning the building of Churches and threatening state punishments for those who hold Christian beliefs. The ability of any faith to become hardline and oppressive when it has state power, suggests religion in general – rather than just Islam – when given an ounce of privileged power, becomes oppressive. Indeed, Christianity provided the backdrop to the emergence of a need for secularism. To have to invent an ‘ism’ as a safeguard for basic rights, suggests the religious settlement wasn’t too good at it. The Baptists of New England fully supported Jefferson and Madison in their wonderful efforts to secularise the US Constitution, through fear that largely protestant sects – protected and privileged by state constitutions – would be granted a nationally recognised privileged position, spelling danger for the smaller sects. The problem of state sponsored oppression is not unique to Islam, nor Christianity. The problem is a single interpretation of Islam and Christianity when attached to state power and granted specific privileges. All ideas and concepts should absolutely be free for inquiry, discussion, criticism, belief, worship, and satire, where it does not harm the civil rights and liberties of the individual.

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– It’s ludicrous that it even needs pointing out, but if “fairie worshipers” were an actual thing, it would be classed as a belief until it introduced specific doctrine. Belief is simply trust that something is true. An ideology incorporates belief into a system of ideas that form political and economic theories. Islam is used as both, from different groups. For most it is a belief that influences their life as a guide and doesn’t require me to live by the same set of rules. For Islamists, it is a political system that must be implemented, and violently if necessary. Secularism tames both. It ensures the hideously oppressive desire to control ideas suitable only to the individual, is not given a place of privilege or supremacy by the state to interfere with the liberty of others. All are open to worship and belief, all are open to criticism and satire and inquiry without fear of state punishment.

The second point seems to be wholly inconsistent to me. It is impossible to pinpoint what it is the writer is advocating. At first there is an acknowledgment of no inherent right to punish certain beliefs, but this is quickly negated by the claim that society shouldn’t have to put up with beliefs this particular commenter doesn’t like. He asks “what reason” a society should “put up with” an ideology that distinguishes between believer and non-believer.  Again, this can be applied to most ideologies. Distinctions disagreeable to an individual, may be perfectly reasonable to another. Capitalism distinguishes between employer and employee on a level that Communists might disapprove of. Class distinctions, racial distinctions, national distinctions, gender, sexuality, belief, the list is endless. The commenter thus defines ‘society’ as one in which only they get to decide who does and doesn’t fit that conception of society, using examples that can apply to plenty of other ideologies. The commenter thus places his or herself in a position of privilege whereby those who don’t share the exact thoughts of him/her are bizarrely excluded from this conception of ‘society’ simply because they are of one particular faith whose political distinctions are disagreeable to the commenter, even though those specifically mentioned distinctions are replicated in thousands of ideologies and thoughts that should – for the sake of anti-secular consistency – also be banned by the state. Reason surely dictates that none be granted that position of privilege. And that is the “reason” a society should “put up with” ideas that another individual may find disagreeable.

In truth, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, Communists, Fascists, Liberals, Conservatives, and a plethora of beliefs and backgrounds all constitute society, with inherent and as Jefferson so beautifully noted – unalienable rights – protected equally by the civil state, with none permitted a privileged position, none recognised as supreme of thought, and none entitled a right to inhibit the liberty of others. This is a secular society. Any deviation, is supremacist by its nature.

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– What an interesting policy idea. For every problem caused by ideological supremacy in another country, we should mimic it in the west. For every gay person hurt by a Christian supremacist in Uganda, gay people should, by this insane logic, hurt a Christian in the West. Perhaps for every non-believer and “heretic” murdered by Christian supremacists in the past, we non-believers should seek revenge, promoted by the state, to murder a Christian. This seems to be what the commenter is oddly implying.

Incidentally, the commenter seems to agree with my point; societies based on the supremacy of one particular ideology, are by their very nature, oppressive. We absolutely agree on that. My solution is secular democracy, whilst the commenter’s solution for the ills caused by a society based on the supremacy of one particular ideology,  is a society based on the supremacy of another particular ideology.

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– Here, I am informed that we must oppose the Mosque in Bendigo, because Hizb ut-Tahrir exists. It is a curious argument, because the commenter doesn’t provide any shred of evidence that the Mosque in Bendigo is to be run by Hizb, and actively and covertly working to radicalise young Muslims. Instead, because Hizb exists, so Mosques must be opposed! It is the hysterical and inconsistent non-argument of anti-secularists, who have more in common with the Islamists they claim to hate, than either side would care to admit. As it stands, I’m unaware of any ties between the Mosque in Bendigo, and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

A nation is not Christian, nor Muslim, nor Atheist. It belongs to no particular sect, and equally no particular sect has an inherent right to state recognised privilege. A nation belongs to all those who live in it, with equal civil rights by which no sect be granted privileges. It doesn’t matter if the demand for privilege comes from the religious, or the non-religious. The coin is the same, the sides just have different faces. So far, no one has been able to produced a single valid argument – free from paranoid hysteria – that legitimises oppressing basic rights of Muslim citizens in Bendigo, and so for that reason, I continue to support the establishing of a Mosque in Bendigo.


Why secularism is good for the religious.

April 12, 2014

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“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
– Thomas Jefferson.

A wall of Separation between Church and State” was a phrase first coined by Thomas Jefferson in his famous letter penned to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The significance of Jefferson’s letter was that the phrase was not coined as an attack on religion in the United States, but protection for the freedom to be religious according to one’s own conscience. The Danbury Baptists in Connecticut were concerned that the powerful Congregationalist Church in the state may acquire a position of privilege and power and that their right to practice their faith freely, would be under threat. The same worry almost two centuries earlier had prompted the pilgrims to flee England, for a land in which they could worship according to their own conscience and without fear of state oppression. Jefferson wrote to the Baptists to reassure them that the constitution of the United States protected their right to believe and to worship, and would not empower another sect with state privilege above any other. Secularism protects and enhances the rights of the believers, to believer without fear.

Jefferson’s point in his letter to the Baptists was that secularism protects the right of individual interpretation of faith for the individual believer. Secularism concludes that belief is between the individual and their God, and has nothing to do with any Earthly power. If the individual wishes to dedicate their entire existence to their belief – including their choice of clothing, France banning the veil is the opposite of secularism – the secular state protects that right. Conversely, the Earthly power must not empower or permit privilege to a particular choice of belief, to the detriment of all others. A line of equality is maintained by state neutrality. We are equal regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, belief, and gender. From that position, we are free to test and elevate the boundaries of our own abilities and to seek happiness, without harming the same liberty for others.

If we imagine a small group of twenty believers of a particular faith, it is quite likely that each will have differences pertaining to interpretation of articles of faith, given that religious literature is so vast in scope even for one religion. They may be small differences or large important differences. In that situation, it would be absurd to say “Number 12 in the group has the inherent authority to punish those of us who don’t abandon our interpretation, and follow his interpretation“. It is obvious that no single individual in the group has that privilege of authority, simply because a faith is not an absolute science. We must start from the premise that all 20 have the equal right to belief. It is also obvious that if number 12 did institute a policy by which those who disagreed with him were punished, the differences do not suddenly go away. The individual beliefs will still differ, opinions don’t change, it is fear of punishment that will prevent those differences from being expressed, and so not only is the individual oppressed, but the right of all of us to hear dissenting views and not be told what we – as grown adults – should be allowed to hear, is similarly oppressed. Humanity is blessed with curiosity, and uniformity of thought is impossible, and attempts to argue otherwise are inevitably bloody and oppressive. Shia and Sunni, Catholic and Protestant; history teaches us that granting privilege to one interpretation, does not end well. If your faith relies on fear to survive, it not only has no right to privilege, it absolutely doesn’t deserve privilege.

An individual’s interpretation is anchored to their own experiences throughout life. As Jefferson noted; it is a matter that lies solely between an individual and his or her God. Only secularism protects the right of each individual within the group to disagree, to question, and to value each individual’s right to interpret their faith according to their conscience and without fear of oppression by any other member. If the personal belief of each member is strong, it will withstand the freedom of others to differ. Indeed, whilst secularism may diminish the privilege and supremacy of a single interpretation, it is the only mechanism by which religious liberty for the whole group is preserved and protected.

The great Thomas Paine expressed beautifully a concept in one sentence, that religious texts have failed to express through thousands of pages:

“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”

– Secularism guarantees equal rights as citizens under the law. If a Christian wishes the right to build a private temple of worship, the same right must be extended to Hindu’s, to Muslims, to Sikhs and so on. If, as an atheist, I wish the right to “offend” the beliefs of others, I must accept the right for others to hold views that “offend” my beliefs. You are free to believe that homosexuality is a sin, you are not free to restrict the liberty and equal civil rights of gay people according to your belief. Your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. You are free to believe that those who abandon their faith are evil. You are not free to restrict the liberty of those who abandon their faith based on your belief. Because again, your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. Similarly, if someone believes those who subscribe to your religion are a great evil and should be restricted and punished, they’re free to believe that, they’re just not free to enforce it through the state. We are all to be considered equal regardless of belief, or ethnicity, or sexuality, and of gender. This further enhances our security when questioning, criticising, and inquiring. The mark of a civilised society.

It isn’t just a single religion controlling the apparatus of state that leads almost inevitably to human rights violations. It is the tyranny of a single sect, of a single religion that tends to cause problems for smaller sects of the same faith. When Catholics held state power, Protestants were brutally slaughtered. When Protestants held state power, predictably, Catholics were brutally slaughtered. To end this ceaseless war between sects vying for power, required secularism and declarations of inalienable rights that no religion had a right to violate.

Indeed, the fight isn’t between secularism and religion – religion is protected and freed by secularism and anyone wishing to oppress rights based on someone’s belief, is by definition not secular – the fight is between secularism and a particular individual’s interpretation of their religion to the often violent exclusion of all others. If, in the group of 20, 19 of the members all believe one interpretation to be correct, but you don’t, those 19 still have no inherent right to force you to live by their beliefs. You have the right to criticise the beliefs of the 19, to believe differently to all of them, and to worship freely according to your conscience only without fear. You have a criticism of the Bible or Qur’an? Then say it, or keep it to yourself, or write it, or express it in anyway you wish. No one has a right to prevent you from that. Your expression of your faith – as long as it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of anyone else – is yours only. Secularism is therefore the only mechanism by which the smaller sects, and the individual believers are protected. A real world example, would see the natural rights of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia currently facing oppression, completely protected. The barriers to freedom and equal rights for Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia are the necessary result of one sect opposed to Shia beliefs presuming a place of privilege that they do not deserve. Shia Muslims in Saudi are prevented from obtaining high office. Shia parents are banned from using certain names for their children. Saudi schools teach children that Shiites are a Jewish conspiracy, and need to be destroyed. I struggle to describe this hideous manipulation of the young minds of children, as anything other than abuse. The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia face oppression, for no other reason than the Salafi leadership doesn’t believe what they believe. The presumption on the part of the leadership, is that their belief is inherently privileged. It is a position maintained by force, and if a privilege must be maintained by force, it is wholly illegitimate.

If a religious authority in a non-secular country suddenly decries an aspect of your daily life, or something you consider sacred to you, as a violation of the state’s religious principles, you are in danger of the state punishing you. Your human rights are in the hands of the religious authority. In a secular state, if the same religious authority were to decry an aspect of your daily life as a violation of their religious belief, they’d be free to say so, they wouldn’t be free to punish you for it. Your liberty and right to believe differently is preserved and protected. No single religious person or group has a right to punish you for not accepting and living according to their beliefs. Secularism recognises this and trusts you as an individual to come to your own conclusions and beliefs freely and without fear.

It is clear to me that a faith loses its integrity the moment an individual is forced to accept it at gun point. When I hear the claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the World, I choose to discount not only those children considered ‘Muslim’ by way of being born to Muslim parents, but also those who live in countries in which it is illegal to leave the faith, or to openly question or criticise the faith. At it stands, apostasy is illegal in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Apostasy in Jehovah’s Witness families is enough for a child to be disowned. It is supremacy by way of threat. If we were to hold a gun to someone’s head, and instructed them to say that they are in fact a giraffe or I’ll fire the gun, we wouldn’t then suggest the giraffe population was clearly growing. The integrity of an individual’s faith is diminished entirely when it is actively forced upon others. Similarly, a child isn’t to be considered of a particular faith. They have not reached an age by which they can rationalise, critique, and accept or reject religious precepts. Their minds are a sponge, and if a particular religion is indeed correct, teaching a child to be critical and curious will lead that child to the religious truth of that faith anyway. It should be obvious to all that a faith enhances its integrity if those who find it, find it through their own free inquiry and will, rather than indoctrination and threat. Secularism is an idea based on free inquiry, expression and will. The opposite, is indoctrination and threat.

Secularism begins and ends with the idea that the beliefs of an individual are sacred to that individual, and have no inherent right to trespass upon the liberty of others. A Sunni majority has no inherent right to force Shia to live by the dictates of their interpretation of Islam, Congregationalists have no inherent right to force Baptists by threat of state punishment, to live according to the dictates of their interpretation of Christianity. As a non-believer, no religious faith or sect has the right to threaten me with state punishment, if I do not adhere to, or if I criticise or satirise their religious guidelines. Similarly, I have no right to prevent or restrict your liberty in believing anything you choose to belief and worshiping where ever you choose to worship, as long as it isn’t forced through the mechanism of state. We are equal citizens deserving of equal protections. Progress – both individual and societal – is the product of free inquiry, debate, expression and compromise, and not forced adherence. If you believe a slightly different interpretation of your faith, than what is demanded of you by the authorities, then feel free! Express it! Secularism encourages that discussion. Indeed, as secularists, we believe only you have the right to decide what it is you believe, and how you express that belief. The chains between you and those wishing to regulate your thoughts, are completely smashed. To paraphrase Jefferson, the state should not be in the business of regulating your opinion and your expression; to do so is by its nature oppression. For that reason alone, secularism is good for those who are religious.


The Tea Party: In the shadow on the Confederacy.

October 10, 2013

The Signing of the Constitution. By Thomas Rossiter.

The Signing of the Constitution. By Thomas Rossiter.

As the days turn into weeks, the US shutdown edges no closer to being resolved. Polls consistently show that the public believe the Republican Party shoulders most of the blame for the chaos and the threat of default. Moderate Republicans join the growing chorus of disapproval of the shutdown and takeover by a small fringe group of well funded Tea Party Senators and House members. But it isn’t just the public, Democrats, the President, the courts, and moderate Republicans who blame the Tea Party faction for the shutdown, the Tea Party doesn’t seem to have the Constitution on its side either.

The Constitution of the United States is a work of genius. Largely influenced by James Madison’s brilliance for applying enlightenment philosophy to practical politics, and moderating the thoughts of Jefferson (who wished for the Constitution and all laws to be replaced every ‘generation’; 35 years) and the ideas of Hamilton (who pushed for a President elected for life); the Constitution ensures the minority cannot and should not be allowed to dictate policy on threat of economic or political catastrophe. The delegates to the Constitutional convention knew that the Constitution must be adaptable to the progress of US society beyond their own lifetime, and so amendments were the answer. The Founding generation – though they knew the threat loomed heavily – could not have accounted for the Constitutional issues that would arise when a Civil War eventually proved the biggest threat to the Union. One of which, was the debt.

The Fourteenth Amendment is one of those Constitutional Amendments that isn’t ambiguous. There isn’t much room for discussion or debate over its legitimate meaning. Section 4:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

– The validity of public debt shall not be questioned. The Amendment was passed in 1868, as a result of political wrangling in a Congress worried that the public debt would be used as a weapon by southern States for reconstruction concessions in social and economic spheres of influence. The 14th Amendment put a stop to that threat. The South reacted bitterly to all of the 14th’s provisions (including section 4), refusing to ratify it. They wished to use the threat of the debt, to force the US government to bend to their will, despite losing an election, and a war. The South was eventually forced to sign up, with threat of exclusion from representation in the United States Congress, if they refused. The 14th Amendment was an attempt to prevent the minority – and those who lose elections – from seeking to rule on their own terms. And it worked, until today.

It would appear with the threat of default looming on the horizon, the Republican Party has decided that the wording of the 14th is not clear enough, choosing instead to openly and proudly use the public debt as a weapon to extract concessions that they didn’t manage to win through the electoral process. It took over 140 years, but we cannot be under any illusion; as they move further to the right, the Republicans have spent the past few years channelling the spirit of the Confederacy when it comes to voter suppression, when it comes to subtle hints at secession upon the election of a candidate they didn’t like, and now in seeking to use the debt ceiling as a way to defund and delay an established, Constitutional law.

On the validity of the 14th Amendment, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote in 1935:

“While this provision was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War, its language indicates a broader connotation. Nor can we perceive any reason for not considering the expression ‘the validity of the public debt’ as embracing whatever concerns the integrity of the public obligations.”

– It is all embracing. It isn’t questionable. It should not be used as a tool for partisan point scoring.

Section 5 of the 14th Amendment tells us exactly which branch of government is in charge of ensuring the 14th Amendment is carried through:

“The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

– It is Congress’s job to ensure that the validity of the public debt of the United States is not questioned. The historical context of the Amendment is such, that the Amendment was specifically designed to prevent the threat of default unless concessions are met. This isn’t new money the President is asking for, it is money already spent, debts already incurred. It is House Republicans refusing to pay the bills unless they get what they want. And whilst Speaker Boehner is right in that the debt ceiling has been used by both parties as a bargaining chip before, it has never been used to threaten closure of government and default on debts.

The President has no power to invoke the 14th Amendment to unilaterally incur and pay the US’s debts. The constitutional crisis caused by such a move by the President, may well prove to be more damaging than the threat of default itself. The President has been clear; the 14th Amendment does not allow him the power to raise the debt ceiling himself.

To this end, the Republicans know just how dangerous the course they have chosen is. This isn’t a negotiation. This is a threat of force. In 2011 Standard & Poor’s Credit Rating Agency issued the following statement:

“Since we revised the outlook on our ‘AAA’ long-term rating to negative from stable on April 18, 2011, the political debate about the U.S.’ fiscal stance and the related issue of the U.S. government debt ceiling has, in our view, only become more entangled. Despite months of negotiations, the two sides remain at odds on fundamental fiscal policy issues. Consequently, we believe there is an increasing risk of a substantial policy stalemate enduring beyond any near-term agreement to raise the debt ceiling. As a consequence, we now believe that we could lower our ratings on the U.S. within three months.”

– They are quite clear. The debt itself is not what will lead ratings agencies to lower the US’s Credit Rating. It is the politics of the debt ceiling and continued threat of political instability. This instability is driven by a small group of highly financed Republicans, distrusted and disliked not just by the American people and the Democrat Party, but also by their own colleagues. Whilst this is true, the instability is also the product of a lack of clarity on just which branch of government is responsible for ensuring payment of public debt, and if it is constitutional to use the payment of the public debt as political leverage. It is quite clear that the Republicans are using that lack of clarity for political posturing and to circumnavigate the democratic process that didn’t go the way they wanted. If this isn’t the use of force to extract concessions and hinder the stability of Constitutional, democratic government, the entire economy, and the will of the people in the United States, I don’t know what is. In theory, a law exists to deal with that threat:

18 USC Chapter 115 – TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES:
“If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”

– There are several reasons here why I would argue that the Republicans in Congress have already openly played loose with this law. Firstly, the use of the tactic of closing down the government, by attempting to hinder, and delay the execution of the Affordable Care Act – a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Secondly, by attempting to prevent, hinder, or delay the payment of debts that the 14th Amendment insists shall not be questioned, and shall be enforced by Congress. And thirdly, the word “conspire” is key, especially given the months of planning that this shutdown has seemingly involved. The legal framework of the United States has been completely disregarded by a very small fringe right-winged movement that cannot abide elections that they did not win, and constitutional laws that they do not like.

Whether or not the Republican Party has broken, or cleverly maneuvered its way around Federal laws, is up for debate. The period of reconstruction attempted to set straight the Southern treat of using the debt as a bargaining chip, with the 14th Amendment. Today that democratic idea is being challenged by the children of the Confederacy. Reason dictates that if a small band of fringe Congressional representatives are able to close down the government, threaten economic disaster, unless a concession is made to defund or delay a law that the American people largely voted on in 2012, that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Judiciary – all three branches of government – then something is seriously wrong with a democratic framework that allows for such a vicious tactic.


Thomas Jefferson would have hated the Tea Party.

March 7, 2013

450px-TJ_Memorial_StatueIf the Tea Party section of the Republican Party wish to cling onto ‘small government’ advocates from the Founding days of the Republic, then perhaps Virginian Congressman and later, Minister to Russia, John Randolph of Roanoke would be a better candidate for their hero worship. Randolph lead the House of Representative fight against Jefferson, despite being of the same Party; later leaving the Democratic-Republican base that he shared with Jefferson, because he perceived Jefferson’s Presidency as overstepping Constitutional power several times over.

Randolph saw Jefferson’s Presidential first term as vastly exceeding Constitutional power, especially when it came to purchasing the Louisiana territory. Randolph, again, notes his disapproval, when Jefferson attempted to buy Florida from Napoleon. In fact, practically everything President Jefferson did, was opposed by the extreme small government, States-Rights advocate, John Randolph. With regard the Presidency of John Quincy Adams, Randolph refers to him as a traitor, and insists – like the drama queens of the Tea Party movement’s references to President Obama today – that the Government had been overtaken and he wished to ‘take it back’. Any form of economic equality, he opposed. It is Randolph that the Tea Party Republicans of today should call their own. But if you’re in Florida, or the Louisiana territory…. your very existence as an American citizen, was opposed by those small government advocates. Thomas Jefferson can most certainly not be held up as a hero of the Tea Party.

It is apparently without parody nor any sort of critical thought process, that often we hear the Tea Party sect of the Republicans refer to their party as “The Party of Jefferson!”. Tea Party fanatics hold up placards demanding a return to the principles of long lost ‘Republican Party’ icons. They insist that government has become too tyrannical! Alex Jones insisted on Jefferson’s libertarian credentials a couple of times. These are big claims. Most notably, they don’t appear to appeal to Jefferson’s thoughts nor actions, except in a very limited sense of what the man said and achieved.

The simplistic tendency to hold Jefferson up as a model of small government. The rewriting of history to attempt to appeal to a modern narrative – as when those still insistent on flying the Confederate flag tell us it’s a flag that represents State’s Rights – should be taken for the pitifully weak interpretation that it is. The dogmatism of free market liberalism, and anti-government interference in any way, is a relatively new phenomena.

Thomas Jefferson can very thinly be linked to the 21st Century Tea Party Republican Party ideals, if we play loose with history and just claim a common link between the Third President, and the Tea Party in regard ‘small government’. Or we could accept that the Republican Party’s Tea Party incarnation as it exists today is not in any way to be reconciled with any incarnation of the Republican Party of the 18th Century; that the Tea Party would most certainly reject Jefferson if he were alive today, and that whisking Jefferson away from the context of his time, and understanding of America, achieves nothing.

The opening line of the Republican Party’s website states:

“We believe in the power and opportunity of America’s free-market economy.”

– We should then measure Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on Capitalism alongside this unwavering dogmatic commitment of the 21st Century Republicans to free market Capitalism.

We know that Jefferson romantically wished for a Republic based primarily on agriculture. He was a product of 18th Century Virginia. A Southern Plantation owner, who mistrusted commerce and industry in the North. He worried that the growth of industry would eventually take over; an industrial Capitalist class would emerge, and people would be reliant on low wages, unable to pursue other means of self fulfilment which would inevitably be the intrigue of a wealthy few; a new Aristocracy. According to Clay Jenkinson, in his book, “Becoming Jefferson’s People” Jefferson supported:

“a graduated income tax that would serve as a disincentive to vast accumulations of wealth and would make funds available for some sort of benign redistribution downward.”

– Jefferson’s worry about an agrarian American being over taken by wage labour within an industrialised and commercial context goes further. He worried that commerce would lead to an economy based on want (which, is what we have):


“And with the laborers of England generally, does not the moral coercion of want subject their will as despotically to that of their employer, as the physical constraint does the soldier, the seaman, or the slave?”

In the wake of moneyed interests beginning to take hold in the new Nation at the beginning of the 19th Century, Jefferson seems just as skeptical of their power to engage politically, as he does of Monarchical power:

“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

I wonder then, if Jefferson would ever have identified himself with an apparent ‘grass roots’ political movement funded largely by the Koch empire and perpetuated by the Murdoch News Empire. How would he have reacted, to a right winged Judiciary, who, in 2010 declared that it was unconstitutional to limit the amount a Corporate entity can spend endorsing a candidate for office, claiming that to limit it, would be to undermine the Corporations 1st Amendment right to free expression; essentially making a citizen out of a corporation. I will accept that premise, the moment a law enforcement body imprisons Exxon for shipping oil to the Nazis after Pearl Harbour and happily funding Himmler’s personal bank account.

American Petroleum Institute, whose members include Exxon, financed mainly Republican candidates in the 2010 mid-terms. Martin Durbin, API’s executive vice president for government affairs quite openly said:

“At the end of the day, our mission is trying to influence the policy debate.”

Koch Industries Inc (those wonderful funders of the Tea Party – giving power back to the people!), gave $1.79mn to candidates. 90% of those candidates were Republicans. This of course comes as President Obama proposed ending subsidies for Gas and Electric companies by 2012. Apparently those companies aren’t happy that their Welfare cheque is about to be scrapped. A Welfare cheque that adds up to over $45bn. I wonder how Jefferson might have reacted to that little gem.

Jefferson is somewhat of an enigma for those of us who claim his opening line of the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration, that he penned at such a young age, to be the very definition of Enlightenment thinking applied politically:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

– This sentence, whilst beautifully crafted, and the first port of call for those of us who happily claim liberal secular democracy to be the most superior framework of governance thus conceived by man, is not wholly Jefferson’s making. He is paraphrasing Locke. In his second treatise, Locke writes:

“man hath by nature a power …. to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men.”

– Jefferson omits property, and estate from his own rewriting of the quote. Locke is convinced that property, is a natural right. Jefferson is not. The very first measure of Capitalism; the right to private property, Jefferson does not see fit to protect. In his private writings, he expands:

“It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land. By an universal law, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common.”

His views on property extends to his views on taxation. We all know that the Republicans of 2013 are quite adverse to raising any sort of tax on the wealthiest few, insisting as they do, that those. I have written previously on the Myth of the Wealth Creators. Jefferson however, most certainly takes a bit of a different view to modern Republicans. Writing to the great Polish and American General, Thaddeus Kosciusko in 1811, Jefferson says:

“The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied… Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone – without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings.”

– Jefferson’s views on tax, are similar to his views on Government. That, less is better, but it is necessary, it must be progressive, and it can be used for government funded projects (including healthcare, as we shall see later in this article). He certainly was no Libertarian as Alex Jones suggests. Likewise, he was no fan of economic inequality, nor did he base Republican philosophy on a refusal to tax the wealthy, nor did he accept Corporate power as legitimate in the political sphere, nor did he believe that wealth is individually created, free from a government funded framework; he believed much the opposite, that the wealthy must bare the heaviest tax burden, and that the government can and should provide for the general well being of the public, especially against, as we have already noted, the growth of commerce and industry.

He is no friend of the wealthy either:

E”xperience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”

– He has as much contempt for the prey of the wealthy on the poor, as he does for the Monarchs of Europe. Though we must point out the inconsistency in this quote, given that Jefferson was a rather wealthy man, who used slave labour to build, and rebuild, and maintain his place at Monticello. If that isn’t preying on the poor, I’m not sure what is.

The claim that Jefferson was a strict Constitutionalist is, much like every other claim on Jefferson’s character and actions; both true and untrue depending on the situation. At one point, he rejects the idea of funding a National Museum, claiming it to be beyond the power for government set out in the Constitution. He also argued against a National Bank put fourth by Alexander Hamilton, noting that the Constitution did not give that specific power. And yet, he’s quite happy to double the size of the Nation with the purchase of the Louisiana territory, using money not appropriated by Congress; this is a hugely unconstitutional show of executive central power. Let us also not forget the quote posted at the top of this article. Jefferson was not a strict constitutionalist. He was a pragmatist and an advocate for well reasoned public policy.

The right winged writers such as Thomas DiLorenzo; famed for positioning Lincoln as an awful tyrant, whom claim Jefferson stood against government funded infrastructure projects, standing opposite the big bad centralised Government proposals of the Hamiltonians. This is of course, untrue. During Jefferson’s administration, as Dumas Malone’s most wonderful six volume biography (of which, I am still making my way through) of Jefferson points out,

“The congressional session was nearing its end when the President transmitted to the Senate (April 6, 1808) a report on roads and canals, drafted by the Secretary of the Treasury, which comprised the most comprehensive and constructive domestic program that emanated from this administration.”

– He notes that the programme was not put into affect, because the threat of being drawn into the conflict in Europe at the time, loomed heavy. Whilst Jefferson stood against debt-financing of any sort, including government debt-financed programmes (though, as most things in his life, his principles and his private life seem to contradict each other), he most certainly wasn’t against State intervention for infrastructure spending. Speaking of government spending on roads, railways, canals, and public education He says:

“By these operations, new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.”

He was however, in theory (less so in practice) dedicated first to the Constitution. He made his worries known that the Constitution may not give adequate power for great government funded improvement projects, and may require an amendment further down the line, to make those powers possible. And yet, Jefferson then authorises the biggest nationalised road building project, with the Cumberland Road, with an extension of the road granted under the Presidency of Republican James Monroe in 1820.

He also notes that publicly funded education, is as important to the defence of a free people, as any other (guns etc):

“The tax which will be paid for education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up if we leave the people to ignorance.”

Further, it wasn’t just the Federalists of John Adam’s Presidency that supported government run healthcare. The Congress of 1798 passed “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman”. This meant that the government ran a series of hospitals that were paid for by labour merchant marine sailors via a tax. Whilst we may expect this from the Adam’s administration, we wouldn’t expect it from the hero of the Tea Party movement, Thomas Jefferson. Government run healthcare, according to these people, is the worst of the worst. You must be a socialist if you support it! Well, according to Adam Rothman, a Georgetown University history professor:

“…Jefferson (Hamilton’s strict constructionist nemesis) also supported federal marine hospitals, and along with his own Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, took steps to improve them during his presidency. So I guess you could say it had bipartisan support.”

We should also note the vast difference in Republican rhetoric on the use of religion in the public sphere. Jefferson did not believe that religion could be used to define an American citizen. In his own words:

“But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

– For this, and other such quotes, he angered the Christian Right of the day, many during the 1796 election campaign insisting that he was an Atheist, unworthy of public office. Pamphlets and newspapers denounced him as a heretic, whilst Church sermons were conducted insisting that if elected, Jefferson would work to destroy Christianity. Even as late as 1830, the Philadelphia public library refused to shelve any works by Jefferson, for being anti-religious. New York minister John Mitchell Mason’s “Voice of Warning to Christians,” states openly, before going on to explain why Jefferson is an ‘infidel’:

I dread the election of Mr. Jefferson, because I believe him to be a confirmed infidel: you desire it, because, while he is politically acceptable, you either doubt this fact, or do not consider it essential. Let us, like brethren, reason this matter.

– In essence, if he were alive today, the Christian Right – the Tea Party Republicans – would undoubtedly be comparing Jefferson to Hitler at some point.

Republicans today have no such problem, because they have spent the past fifty years slowly eroding secular rights, in favour of theocratic Christian ‘morality’. Reagan was the ideal candidate to play on this anti-Constitutional religious dogmatic approach to politics. He was quite willing to break down the wall that was so brilliantly erected between Church and State some 200 years previous.
In 1988 Reagan completely destroyed any trace of Enlightenment thinking within the Republican Party, that brought around the creation of the secular United States of America with his State of the Union address, in which he states:

Well now, we come to a family issue that we must have the courage to confront. Tonight, I call America — a good nation, a moral people — to charitable but realistic consideration of the terrible cost of abortion on demand. To those who say this violates a woman’s right to control of her own body — can they deny that now medical evidence confirms the unborn child is a living human being entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all federal funding for abortion — and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense.”

– By linking “good and moral people” to “Judeo-Christian tradition” and ensuring that public policy be not only influenced, but entirely informed by “Judeo-Christian tradition”, Reagan severs the link between the Republican Party of today, and the so-called Republican Party of Jefferson. This continues to the present day. Jefferson is insistent that belief in ‘God’ is not a requirement to be bound together as Americans. The new hope of the Republican Party, Marco Rubio seemingly doesn’t agree:

“We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.”

– Jefferson therefore, is not bound to the common values that Rubio insists make up the collective “we”. Jefferson, for Rubio, is unAmerican.

The ideological hero of the Tea Party Right disagrees with their principles in most ways.

We cannot claim that Jefferson was a free market Capitalist, nor that he was pro-government spending. We cannot claim he was an Atheist, nor that he was religious. He seems to transcend rivalry between many two opposite ideals, and instead chooses a course of pragmatism. A great commitment to the absolutely necessity of secularism for the sake of human rights. Modern day Republicans are still at war with the Soviet Union, claiming Socialism and ‘War on Christianity’ at every turn.
He was a pragmatist. He was neither on the Tea Party Right, nor the Democrat Centre-Left of today’s political spectrum.

Jefferson was a man who believed that small government was the best government; and yet he doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase. He was a man who wrote that all men are created equal; and yet he owned over 200 slaves. He was a man who was deeply committed to Republican values of equality; And yet, when asked to promote women to Federal offices insisted that the Republic wasn’t ready for such an “innovation”. He was a man who often retreated back to Monticello claiming to be done with public life, only to find his way back soon after. He was a man of many contradictions, but many brilliances. He was supremely gifted at the art of the written word, but lacking in putting into practice many of the principles he so eloquently professed. His contribution to posterity is timeless, and brilliant.

He must be remembered in the context of his time, and for aiding in the creation of a spectacular new way of running governments; based on reason, the right for people to govern themselves, and equality. He wasn’t perfect, he didn’t take his Republican principles to their rightful conclusions with regard slavery and women’s rights. But he understood that eventually, slaves would be emancipated, that rights would be extended beyond white, male land owners and that government would have a future role to play in providing for improvements, and general well being, and that the founding documents that frame the new Nation provide for such updates when the people demand it to be so. This is where Jefferson and his undeniable genius can be placed; not within a curiously narrow framework of revised history by a 21st Century Christian Right Winged funded-by-billionaires incoherent Tea Party movement that reshapes history to suit its ends.


…wouldn’t you just eat a salad?

January 26, 2011

“we are always asked
to understand the other person’s
viewpoint
no matter how
out-dated
foolish or
obnoxious”

In my Politics class, we sit and have a rather tedious discussion most weeks. There is a bin in the corner, about 3 metres from where I sit. I sit with a bottle of water most weeks and finish it by the time the class is over. I wonder if I throw the empty bottle in the direction of the bin, if I will get it on target. I position myself by swinging slightly backward on my chair. I always decide against it. It is tedious because there is no control over the class. People talk on one table about subjects that are absolutely nothing to do with the original topic of debate. Others frequently don’t understand the point of the arguments made by specific political philosophers, and end up rambling on for a moment or two about nothing. They would say more, if they didn’t speak. The day previous, at the gym, in the changing room, a man was in the toilet cubicle. He obviously thought no one was in the toilet and randomly said “Oh fuck it’s a big one!!!!” I am not sure how to respond to that. It’s obviously a sentence of genius. Do I edge slowly toward the door and leave quietly? Or do I bow down in front of the cubicle and worship this legend as he comes out of his castle? Two Christian girls in our class, during a rather slow discussion on Nietzsche attempted to link the entire concept of democracy (not just modern democracy, democracy in general) to Christianity. Christians often narrow mindedly take credit for concepts they simply didn’t create; usually in the subject of art, as if without Christianity there would never have been a Leonardo. But I’ve never seen such a terrible argument presented as to why democracy is a loving gift bestowed upon the World by that beacon of democracy; Christianity.

I pointed out that forms of democracy (quite different to democracy today, I accept) appeared long before Christianity stamped its ugly, overbearing foot on the progress of humanity. One of the two girls looked at me as if I was an utter idiot. She told me, in a naturally patronising voice that democracy came long after Christianity and was a product of it. I mentioned Rome to her, and the election of Tribunes of the People’s assembly, the Senate, and that after around 300bc the lower classes were allowed to stand for office, and that although Rome’s democracy was massively flawed; it was still democratic by the standards of that particular time. The Roman people idolised their Republic. They were scared of absolute power. The Ancient Greeks, long before Jesus Christ wasn’t born, invented Constitutions and in some respects, invented Democracy. She said “no“.

Then more talking ensued…

One person talking louder to make themselves known after the last person. About eight different conversations in the same small room is too much even for my confidence and ego to try to fight over. I dropped my argument. I stared around the room and out of the window. My Kindle holds thousands of books. I have downloaded at least 200 so far, and have only started reading one. Tony Blair’s most recent book. It’s very self serving and has an air of utter arrogance about it. He describes himself as a rebel at heart. He was certainly a great statesman and I have a lot of time for much of what he achieved. But the fact remains, his “modernising” turned the Labour Party into a Tory-Lite Party, capitulating to the excessive power of finance capital. I am reading poems by Bukowski too. As you can tell by the start of this blog. I wish I had more time, and a quiet room. That way, I would have spent the next thirty minutes destroying the argument of massively misinformed, delusional Christians. I get a kind of sadistic enjoyment out of it. I don’t respect or understand their view, when their view is ridiculous, and just outright bullshit.

Democracy, previous to Rome can be traced back as far as pre-historic civilisation. Tribes working as a unit would presume to work together far more democratically, for the common good, than any system forced upon humanity during Christianities harsh hold over Europe. In fact, Christian Europe resembled a system far closer to the that advocated in the Old Testament. The first Pope, in the Bible, says:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
-1 Peter 2:13-17

I think that’s pretty conclusive. Firstly, I take issue with ‘live as God’s slaves’. No. The Christian God disgusts me. I cannot think of anyone worse, to be the ‘slave’ of.  Secondly, it is evident that the first Catholic Pope demanded that his contempories submit to the sovereign authority, whom at the time, was an Emperor, far removed from any democratic principles. St Peter’s role in the Church spanned four Roman Emperors; Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and eventually being crucified under the despotic lunatic Nero. We don’t know who he was writing about when he demanded we all submit to Caesar. I doubt it was Nero, given that Nero really didn’t like Christians. But even if St Peter had demanded that the Caligula, Claudius or Tiberius were to be submitted to entirely, the nature of those first three Emperors after Augustus should be examined. Perhaps they were deep down, democratic?

Tiberius was massively disliked, especially before he died. He spent far more money on the Imperial palaces than on the people. Although the area that St Peter would have lived for much of his life; Israel, has a town named “Tiberias” after the Emperor………. created by…….. King Herod. Executions for small crime went up under Tiberius. He was a bit of a maniac. In fact, he was so anti-democratic, he had his main opponent in the Senate; Gaius Asinius, executed for treason, simply for opposing the Emperor. Why would a loving God desire his faithful subjects to give themselves up to such tyranny? Why didn’t he demand the overthrow of such evil, for a far more democratic model? Why wasn’t that God preaching democratic values, if democracy truly is the product of Christian logic?

Caligula was no better. He had absolutely every Senator who opposed the Emperor investigated, and if he deemed it necessary, executed. This sent a stark warning to the Senate and the final remnant of the old Republic; submit entirely to the Emperor, or die. He then started dressing as a God in public, he called himself Jupiter in documents, and he made Senators who he distrusted, run by the side of his chariot to show their inferiority. Two temples were created and funded by Caligula, for the sake of worshipping…. Caligula. Perhaps this is the beacon of democracy and rule by the people that St Peter was obviously referring to when he demanded people ‘honor the emperor’.

Claudius, likewise, was not elected by popular democratic means. He was the grandson of the sister of Augustus; Octavia. So he believed, through his bloodline, that he was entitled to the Imperial throne. Inherited public power is about as far removed from democracy as it is possible to get.  He pronounced himself the Judge and Jury in many trials during his reign. Absolutely less democratic than even the hardly democratic Republican era of Rome.

So, that leaves us with the notion that St Peter, when asking his people to submit as slaves to God and as subject to Caesar, did not care one bit for democracy, or for personal and intellectual freedom, or the plight of the Imperial subjects and the injustices within the Empire. And so we must conclude, that early Christianity has more in common with its Middle Ages history, than it does with a couple of Christian students’ warped interpretation of democratic history.

Christianity during the Middle Ages was most certainly responsible for the most cruel period of human history in Europe. It was also used as the basis for Monarchy. Kings and Queens did not use Christianity in a manipulative sense just to hold on to power, they genuinely believed, as did their subjects, that they had a divine right to rule, laid out by God. They had inherited the throne of David. That was the justification for Monarchy ruled by ruthless, violent Christianity. Henry VIII was so worried about how he was to be viewed as a King by God, that he divorced Catherine of Aragon, on the pretence that God had punished him by giving him no male heir with Catherine, because she was his dead brother’s wife first.

The Pope arguably had the most power in Europe during the Middle Ages. English people did not consider themselves English first. They considered themselves loyal to the Pope. They did not elect the Pope and they had no say over the policies coming out of Rome. They merely had to accept what the Vatican was telling them. Thomas More (who, quite comically, is now a Saint) advocated the burning to death of anyone who dared to own a Bible in English. Catholics believed only the Vatican and those who were scholarly and rich enough to read Latin, should have the right to interpret the Bible for the rest of the Catholic World. That couldn’t be less democratic if it tried. It wasn’t until Henry broke with Rome in 1534, that England as a culture and a united people started to take some shape. But even then, the despotic power of Rome was merely transfered to the despotic power of the King. No form of democracy was created. The beginnings of Protestantism were not democratic. Americas beginnings were not democratic. The Athens system in the centuries preceding the apparent birth of Jesus included a system that did not allow women or slaves the right to vote. America, similarly started off, for a very long time actually, not allowing women or slaves or anyone whose skin colour was slightly darker than their own, the right to vote.

Skip a couple of Centuries to America, and some would argue that Christianity was responsible for the birth of the nation. Not true. The historian Robert T Handy argues that:

“No more than 10 percent– probably less– of Americans in 1800 were members of congregations.”

Most of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons and Deists. They were, as was America, products of the Enlightenment. Freemasonry and the thinking of the Enlightenment, the moving away from strict Christian dogma, is far more important to the development of early America. George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, and the man who was essentially the pillar on which the early Republic stood and managed to survive the early years, was a devout Freemason from the early 1750s, until the day he died. He became a master mason at the end of the 1590s.

Thomas Jefferson famously despised the dogma of organised religion, stating:

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god.”

Jefferson received a letter from the third President, John Adams, stating:

“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

It is thus evident that the United States was not the product of some new found Christian love and appreciation for democratic principles. The Constitution specifically states that there shall be no religious oppression. It does not mention the wondrous contribution Christianity has made to the onset of democracy.

Democracy, like Capitalism, like falls of Kingdoms and Republics and Empires is the result of social evolution and the collective cultural mind of a population rebelling to meet the challenges of major shifts in consciousness and technology and economics. It is not the result of Christian dogma.

The historical reality is almost always, on every issue, entirely at odds with Christian delusion. They never accept it. They invent history. Just like the two girls invented history, and invented their own special brand of logic in my politics class. It was however, one of the only times that my mind hasn’t wandered in that class. Usually we talk about one particular philosopher and it just gets too crowded with the sounds of unrecognisable voices blurred together. It all just sounds like a constant irritating ringing in my ear. There was a man sat out a chip shop in Leicester yesterday. It was 11am. The chip shop must have only just opened. He had a huge bowl of chips. He had his legs wide open, to accommodate the mass of draping fat that swung down below his knees as he sat. At that point, wouldn’t you just accept you may have been wrong all those years? Wouldn’t you just eat a salad?


The Presentation

October 19, 2010

Yesterday at University I had my first presentation of the year. I had under a week to prepare it. It went pretty well though. I quite like being the first to present, and I have no problem talking in front of people. I get quite passionate when I talk too. Which must be a good thing. I get my grade back next week. I thought i’d publish my guidelines on here, for what I wanted to present. The presentation follows the question.

Presentation 1 – Debate and discuss: ‘Increasing concentration of media ownership into fewer hands means news will become less reliable as a source of information and public scrutiny’. Explain why you agree or disagree.

The corporate media is a business; enshrined by law to protect shareholders.
A media corporation is not unusual, it is a corporation. It has to play by the very same rules as every other corporation. This presents institutionalised problems right at the very fundamental making of a media corporation.
Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation, writes:

The law forbids any motivation for their actions, if it is to assist workers, improve the environment, or help consumers save money. As corporate officials; stewards of other peoples money, they have no legal authority to pursue such goals as ends in themselves – only as means to serve the corporation’s own interests, which generally means to maximise the wealth of its shareholders. Corporate social responsibility is thus illegal – at least when it is genuine.

Corporate media is no different. Its only concern and its only legal requirement, is to make money. It is not concerned with preserving and progressing democracy through what it likes to call an open and free press. It merely wants to make money, become dominant, and have influence. Wealth and power centralized within the State are considered great evils; wealth and power concentrated in very very few hands within a wealthy private elite, who remember are unelected and who are not in any way concerned with the public good, is strangely considered free.
When Jefferson stated that “The only security of all is in a free press” he was writing at a time when Corporations, including the press, had social responsibility enshrined in law. Corporations in those days were not allowed to attempt to influence elections, nor could they fund campaigns and if they were seen to be committing a public harm, they would be dismantled. The free press in Jefferson’s time, were not media conglomarates ruled by very wealthy elites.

Justice Hugo Black asserted that “The first amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public”. When corporate media attempts to consolidate its power, we don’t particularly receive diverse and antagonistic sources.

I wont try to suggest that all media outlets in the UK have the same agenda. It’s obvious to anyone that the Daily Mail has a far more right winged approach to the society and Nationhood and economics, than the Guardian. But, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t similar in other ways. The media is generally conservative, because it exists as a result of the economic and social structure that is in place and that it benefits from, and so anything that might threaten the power of business (for example; a working class or left wing version of events) is only ever going to be published in a negative light. For example, the top story on Sky News this morning was that 35 business leaders have backed George Osbourne’s plans for spending cuts. It was reported as if this is some sort of proof that the Conservatives are doing the exact right thing. The Sky News report said the document of support was signed by Stuart Rose, the M&S Chairman. What it doesn’t say, is that Stuart Rose is set to be made a Lord, by the Conservative Party and is a life long supporter of them. It also says that a group called Diageo signed the letter. It doesn’t go into any detail. Diageo is the parent company of Guiness and Johnny Walker and other big alcohol names. However, what the report doesn’t say is that over the past couple of years Diageo has restructured itself so as to avoid as much tax as possible, despite making most of its money in the UK. Another businessman to sign the statement in support of the Conservative Party, is Justin King, chief executive of J Sainsbury. What the report doesn’t say is that The President of J Sainsbury, is John Sainsbury, Baron of Preston Candover, with a net worth of £1.3bn, he is a Conservative Party donor, and member of the Conservative Party. Another businessman to sign the statement in support of the Conservative Party is Simon Wolfson, chief executive of Next. What Sky or any other broadcaster or newspaper doesn’t say, is that Wolfson is a member of the Conservative Party and donated to David Cameron’s 2005 campaign, and named by the Telegraph as the “37th-most important British conservative.” None of the British press or media in general today, have published this side of the story. And so information, it could be argued, has been withheld.

To own and run a successful newspaper in the UK, you have to have money. To have money, it is fairly unlikely that you are a pro-union left winger with socialist ideals. To enhance your wealth, you need to be somewhat dedicated to neoliberal ideals. This is one of the main reasons we do not have working class publications any more. And so one side of the argument is very much presented. Reliable sources of information, as well as two sides of the argument are almost never presented.

For example, during the election campaign, every party ran on the notion that spending needed cutting drastically, and that Gordon Brown referring to Gillian Duffy as a bigot was awful. None of them challenged the consensus. None of them bothered to point out that Gillian Duffy had actually asked Brown before hand “What are you going to do about all the Eastern Europeans”. To me, that stinks of bigotry and ignorance. On the economy, the Sun printed last Monday, a double page spread about benefit cheating, entitled “Benefit Ghettos: Worst welfare blackspots finally revealed”. It began the story with “Britain’s benefit black spots where up to eight out of ten people live on State handouts are exposed in shocking new figures released today”. This struck me as particularly over dramatic. Words like ‘exposed’ and ‘shocking’ add to the idea that we should all be intensely angry at a few people on benefits. This isn’t new, or exposing, or shocking, most Papers have ran stories on benefits over their life time. The suggestion is, during time of economic hardship, those living on benefits; if they aren’t the biggest problem, then it’s immigrants. Always the same story, time and time again. Now, what wont get published much, is the fact that according to statistics, in 2007 to 2008. Benefit cheating cost us around £800mn, whilst Corporate tax avoidance cost us £18.5bn. It would seem that when men in expensive suits do it, the papers aren’t too bothered by it. When a single mum in a council house in Liverpool does it and about 300% less, it’s a National scandal. The papers stay clear of it. I’d suggest this is simply because half of the companies who owe a fortune in lost revenue due to elaborate tax avoidance schemes, are key advertisers. Andy Coulson, the Tory party communications Director, and ex editor of the News of the World, must have had a say in the fact that both the Sun and the News Of The World tend to stay entirely clear of the Lord Ashcroft tax avoidance affair.
During the Summer of 2008, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law paid (around £34,000 in total) for the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, to fly Santorini (a Greek Island) for private talks on a yacht, with Rupert Murdoch. Also in Santorini for the talks was a lady named Rebekah Wade……………. Editor of The Sun.
It is no coincidence, that a couple of days after Murdoch spoke in the Sun, stating of David Cameron:
“What does he really feel in his stomach? Is he going to be a new Thatcher, which is what the country needs? The UK desperately needs less government and freer markets“
Cameron then made a speech, in which he said of Ofcom:
“So with a Conservative Government, OFCOM as we know it will cease to exist.“
Surely that’s no coincidence. I pick on Murdoch because he’s the current king of the media. He really pushed for a Conservative government and not just with the Sun. After every leaders debate, Sky News awarded victory to Cameron. Even the first, in which Clegg mania took off and the entire Country was pretty certain Clegg won; Sky News said 45% of people polled said Cameron won and only 23% said Clegg won. I don’t think 45% of Conservative HQ would have said that Cameron won.

To conclude, the concentration of media into fewer private hands, is no different to concentration of media in government hands; it provides only a certain side of a story, which is to say to side of the story which least affects its advertisers negatively, or the business community in general. Profit comes before responsibility much of the time.