Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Friday, May 9, 2014

Christian Cultural Dominance

"Investigating Christian Privilege: Its Time Has Come"2014-05-09 by Warren Blumenfeld [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/09/investigating-christian-privilege-its-time-has-come/]:
As spring peers forth from the soil and tree limbs, the annual Easter Egg Roll, sponsored by the President of the United States and the First Lady, thrills elementary and pre-school age children each year. Also, in school classrooms throughout the country, students and their teachers dip hardboiled eggs into brightly colored dyes, and display Easter eggs of pink, yellow, blue, green, red, and lavender. Some students adhere bunny, baby chick, rainbow, or angel decals to their Easter eggs. Some paint flowers or clouds; some sprinkle glitter of silver or gold. An excitement wafts through the classroom as students imagine sharing their treasures with parents or caregivers, as teachers reward the good work of their charges with delicious gleaming chocolate bunnies. A palpable excitement fills the air in anticipation of Easter Sunday as children adorn classroom bulletin boards with images of the season.
As an educator of pre-service teachers in the university, I am gratified to find that an ever increasing number of Colleges of Education include instruction on issues of power and privilege related to our socially constructed identities. We know that teachers must thoroughly come to terms with their social positions (“positionalities”), the intersectional ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities, and the impact this makes on their students.
Depending on our multiple identities, society grants us simultaneously a great array of privileges while marginalizing us based solely on these identities. Inspired by Peggy McIntosh‘s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. A number of researchers have developed extensive lists (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (“traditional” gender presentation), able-bodied, Christian, adult, age, socioeconomic class, physical size) charting the benefits and privileges accorded to individuals within differing dominant identity categories.
Many people (most likely the majority) consider the Easter events I outlined, played out in Washington, DC and in some schools in the United States, as normal, appropriate, and joyous seasonal activities. Upon critical reflection, however, others experience them as examples of institutional (governmental and educational) (re)enforcements of dominant Christian standards and what is referred to as “Christian privilege,” though presented in presumably secularized forms. They represent some of the ways in which the dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.
The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which dominant groups successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal, and as representing part of the natural order, even at times by those who are marginalized, disempowered, or rendered invisible by it.
Christian hegemony I define as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians [https://www.academia.edu/4237308/Christian_Privilege_and_the_Promotion_of_Secular_and_Not-So_Secular_Mainline_Christianity_in_Public_Schooling_and_in_the_Larger_Society]. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity, and excluding the needs, concerns, religious cultural practices, and life experiences of people who are not Christian. At times subtle and often overt, Christian hegemony is oppression by neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion, and also by design and intent.
I caution us, though, not to conceptualize dominant group privilege monolithically, for we must factor into the equation issues of context and intersectionality of identities. As there is a spectrum of Christian denominations and traditions, for example, so too is there a hierarchy or continuum of Christian privilege based on 1) historical factors, 2) numbers of practitioners, and 3) degrees of social power. I contend, therefore, that we need to view forms of privilege along a continuum or spectrum rather than conceiving them as binary opposites.
As educators raise issues of dominant group privilege, and pose questions of power and domination in our classes and in the larger society, invariably we experience resistance. I understand this only too well, not only as an educator but also in my personal development.
I can remember when I was confronted in a workshop on issues around white and male privilege. I immediately reacted that as a gay man, the heterosexism I experience sufficiently trumped any male privilege I might have otherwise, and my European-heritage Jewish identity (with anti-Semitism as a form of racism) annulled any white privilege I might have otherwise. Though I was rather slow to come to consciousness how my defense mechanisms prevented me from accepting and taking responsibility for the unearned benefits granted me by my social identities, over the years, I have understood the process from denial to acceptance to committing to ensure equity among people of all social identities.
Raising issues of privilege remain difficult, but I believe necessary if our country is to progress and redress the mistakes of the past. In this vein, I wrote a commentary a few years again while teaching at a large public Midwestern University, which contained an eight-foot Christian cross in its Memorial Union “Chapel.” When I first witnessed it, I thought to myself, “What is this huge and overpowering Christian cross doing in a public tax supported, land grant university? Isn’t this supposed to be a non-denominational space for students and staff to enter for reflection and respite? Do these religious symbols not violate the First Amendment’s clause of the United States Constitution by promoting one religion over all others? How many Christians who enter this space actually perceived this as unusual or inappropriate on a university campus that purports to welcome students from all walks of life?”
In the editorial, I began by using the analogy of the fish being the last to see or feel the water since it is so pervasive to highlight how those with privilege (in this instance, Christians) often are the last to perceive and acknowledge the privileges they are accorded as Christians.
Local electronic media interviewed me about my intent for raising the issue. I stated that I was concerned that our university, by exhibiting the very large and smaller Christian crosses, which are highly visible upon entry into the Chapel, as well as a couple of very small Jewish symbols on the stain glass window, overtly promotes some religions over others. “Are we in the business,” I asked, “of endorsing religion at a state tax supported land grant institution?” Moreover, by promoting religion, in very real ways we are marginalizing members of the university community who do not adhere to these faith backgrounds. While these religious symbols may be comforting to some, for others they can trigger negative emotions and collective memory of the long history of religious conflict and persecution.
A few years later, I objected to my university’s decision to hold its university-wide honors banquet and ceremonies at the Cornerstone [Baptist] Church in our town as an alternative to the intended university site, which was undergoing renovations following summer floods. In my commentary, I wrote: “Is the Cornerstone Church or any religious site, in fact, ‘just a facility’? Can a religious institution be considered a neutral site? Take, for example, the recently explosive controversies surrounding the Islamic Centers in both New York City and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to prove just the opposite. Furthermore, can a building dominated by religious symbols not invoke emotions – the full spectrum from glowingly positive to horrifyingly negative – in those whom they surround? What messages are we sending by choosing this or any religious institution to conduct university business? Can it not appear that we are affirming one denomination or one religion over all others? What are the implications for [our university] supporting these institutions by choosing to hold university events paid with public tax dollars?”
While I received much positive support from students, faculty, and some community members, others called me a “religious bigot” and an “angry Jew.” How many of us have been accused of being “the angry…” (fill in the blank) when we challenge dominance?
I have realized much over the years. The first is that it is best to join with others in raising issues of power and privilege. It is often more effective, and helps to insulate the individual from the enormous resistance that can and often does develop. Unfortunately, I have not yet learned this lesson well, since I often put my own head on the chopping block before I join with others to raise these issues jointly. Also, no matter how difficult the backlash, we need to continue to teach about and to continually investigate our own positionalities.
By challenging dominant group privilege and hegemony, we do not condemn or even contest Christianity, or whiteness, or maleness, or heterosexuality, or physical or mental abilities, and so on per se, but, instead, we are interrogating the unearned and automatic privileges that come with these social identities. For in the famous words of Bob Dylan,
“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be passed
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’”

"Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy"
2014-05-12 by Warren J. Blumenfeld [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/05/church-and-state-in-america-a-brief-primer/]:
American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.
Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”
While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).
In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”
Going even further, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that even any “subtle pressure” that local citizens might feel would not be enough to ban such prayers. This ruling follows the precedent-setting case thirty years ago in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding Nebraska legislature’s funding of a chaplain who delivered daily prayers.
The court’s majority (Scalia) Law further codifies de facto practices into de jure policies.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, asserted: “When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.” She argued assertively that: “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.”
By expressing the majority view asserting tradition as justification, Kennedy steps in the grease tracking and smearing it across the legislative landscape. The high court’s decision is less about protecting religious freedom as it is about maintaining and expanding Christian supremacy and the furtherance of Christian privilege. In reality, the First Amendment’s “non-establishment” of religion clause applies to all faiths except Christian denominations, even though Kennedy asserted that these (Christian) prayers were “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, that are long-established by Congress and state legislatures.
Though I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court’s (re)inscription of a Christian religious imposition and imperative in the public square by maintaining a long-standing tradition.
I often hear criticism against nations founded upon an “official” religion, denomination, or sect like England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, India, and many others across the globe, and how these countries restrict religious freedom to those who fall outside the mainstream religiously. I argue, nonetheless, that we must include the United States on this list.
Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America. He was astounded to find a certain paradox: on one hand, he observed that the United States promoted itself around the world as a country separating “church and state,” where religious freedom and tolerance were among its defining tenets, but on the other hand, he witnessed that: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”
He answered this apparent contradiction by proposing that in this country with no officially sanctioned governmental religion, denominations were compelled to compete with one another and promote themselves in order to attract and keep parishioners, thereby making religion even stronger. While the government was not technically supporting Christian denominations and churches, per se, religion to Tocqueville should be considered as the first of their political institutions since he observed the enormous influence churches had on the political process.
Though he favored U.S. style democracy, he found its major limitation to be in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs. In a country that promoted the notion that the majority rules, this effectively silenced minorities by what Tocqueville termed the “tyranny of the majority.” This is a crucial point because in a democracy, without specific guarantees of minority rights – in this case minority religious rights – there is a danger of religious domination or tyranny over religious minorities and non-believers. The majority, in religious matters, have historically been adherents to mainline Protestant Christian denominations who often imposed their values and standards upon those who believed otherwise.
We witness this in the phrases “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and Annuit Coeptis (He [God] (or Providence) has favored our undertakings) on the Great Seal of the United States and printed on the back of the one-dollar bill. These constitute examples of Christian cultural imperialism and Christian hegemony.
Just moments before the opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway was announced from the Supreme Court bench, the court began its public session as it has for decades with the marshal citing a traditional statement ending, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.
“Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion,” Governor Rick Perry declared at the Texas State Capitol building in Austin before signing HB 308 in 2013, which allows public schools to display scenes and symbols of “traditional winter holidays.”
I take issues with Perry. As residents of this country, we must ensure both freedom of as well as freedom from religion in the public square. While having the guaranteed right to worship in our private lives and spaces, we must ensure that religion stay out of our public spaces, which I believe is characteristically coercive.
The Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen coined and proposed the concept of “cultural pluralism” to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot” enforced by dominant group hegemony), but rather one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres. He imagined an inclusive model, one that ensures individuals’ and groups’ freedom of as well as freedom from religion as a national goal: freedom to live and practice religion in the private sphere, and freedom from religion in the public realm.
A student enrolled in my Multicultural Foundation in Schools and Society class, however, wrote on his final paper for the course:
“[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life…I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation…Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state.”
This student’s response represents the majority of U.S.-Americans who believe that the United States was created as a Christian nation, with 51% agreeing with this view and only 25% disagreeing. The Supreme Court apparently validated this tyrannical perspective this week.

"Church and State in America: A Brief Primer"
2014-05-05 by Ira Chernus [http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/05/05/church-and-state-in-america-a-brief-primer/]:
The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.
If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they’ll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation’s history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.
To understand that history we have to begin in the European Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the religious life of almost all western Europeans. Politically each area was usually ruled by a single a monarch. Since “Church” and “state” were both monolithic institutions, it made sense to talk about “church-state relations” quite literally.
In principle, both sides usually agreed that the state ruled over the affairs of this world and the church ruled over the affairs of the soul as it headed toward the next world. In practice, though, each side often tried to extend its power over the other.
When the Protestant reformation came along in the 16th century, it refuted the Catholic church’s claim to control other-worldly affairs. But it did not challenge the basic idea that each area should have one secular ruler and one established church, and the two should live side by side, each respecting the other’s domain. So tensions between church and state inevitably continued.
Since nearly all the early European colonists in what would become the United States were Protestants, they brought that Protestant view with them. Different denominations had majorities in the various colonies, and each had its own model of church-state relations.
But nearly everyone assumed that it could make sense for a colony to have one established church, which would have special privileges from and influence upon the colony. Most of the colonies did, in fact, have established churches.
By the early 1700s, though, the colonies were filling up with immigrants from different places who held different religious views. So the established churches everywhere had to tolerate dissent from the official religion, to a greater or lesser degree. At the same time, the colonies were experimenting with all sorts of different political structures.
Thus “church” and “state” were no longer monolithic entities as they had been in medieval times. Gradually, the term “church” became a code word for religion in general, including the many different religious beliefs and practices held by different groups and individuals. And the term “state” became a code word for the many various political structures — town, city, county, colonial legislature, royal council, etc.
Things got more complicated in the 18th century as people found their identity based less in fixed social institutions and more in open-ended individual conscience. The Enlightenment philosophers taught that religion was a matter of private belief and individual relationship with God. They also taught that every individual was free to choose their own political views and that the state should base its policies on the will of the majority.
A large Christian revival movement called the Great Awakening reinforced the idea that religion is a matter of inner experience and personal relationship with God more than membership in a church. So the Enlightenment and the Awakening combined to promote individualism and the notion of religion as a private matter.
By the time of the American Revolution, then, there was a complex triangular structure, with private individuals, political institutions (“state”), and religious institutions (“church”) all interacting. So the term “church-state relations” meant, more than ever, an endlessly complex set of changing relations among all the different forms of religious and political life.
But there was a growing belief in the colonies that the private individual had highest priority, that the main role of the state was to protect the individual’s rights, including the right to decide on one’s own religion.
The colonists who joined the Revolution against England all agreed on one thing: the English political system was a tyranny, and the Church of England was part of that tyranny. So there was growing fear of the very idea of an established church.
It was only natural, then, that the new United States would want to protect its citizens from an established church. So the first words of the Bill of Rights said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
But there was no clear agreement then, as there is none now, about exactly what those words mean.
Some see the two clauses making two opposites points. “No law respecting establishment of religion” makes it illegal to force people to practice a religion; “no law prohibiting free exercise” makes it illegal to stop people from practicing religion. The “no establishment” clause protects the people and the government from religion. The “free exercise” clause protects religion from the government and the will of the majority.
But some say that both clauses actually make the same point: They both protect individuals from the federal government. The government cannot impose a religious institution on any individual, nor can the government restrict any individual’s religious life. In fact some religious institutions supported the 1st amendment when it was ratified and refused to take any support from the government because they feared such support would entitle the government to impose controls upon them.
The debate about the meaning of the 1st amendment and the intentions of the founders still rages on because they did not bequeath to us any single consistent view on church and state. They all claimed to be Christian. But they had many different ideas of what it meant to be Christian. Each individual could hold what we might see as contradictory views and practices.
To take one important example: Thomas Jefferson created the image of a “wall of separation between church and state” and wrote powerfully about the need to protect the religious freedom of every individual. Yet in the Declaration of Independence he based the entire political philosophy of the new nation on the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Without God, Jefferson’s whole political philosophy makes no sense. Jefferson was also devoted to the teachings of Jesus, but only as he understood them; he even created his own version of the Gospels. Jefferson also supported, on occasion, legislation to create public prayer days and to punish people who broke Sabbath laws.
If we cannot expect logical consistency even from Thomas Jefferson, we certainly can’t expect it from the founding fathers as a group.
The 1st amendment was the product of political compromise among the founders. So perhaps it is best to see it as the beginning of a conversation or debate about the relation of political and religious life. Perhaps many of the founders knew that all they could agree on was the need to continue the debate.
Though the founders disagreed on what it meant to be Christian, they all assumed that some version of what each one saw as the “basics” of Christianity was more or less necessary as a foundation of an orderly society. Most of them assumed that Christian values were the basis of political liberty.
Even those who were wary of Christian bias would probably have agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the recent Greece case:
“Prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define.”
So most of the founders saw no contradiction between the federal government guaranteeing freedom of religion and the states having established churches that could get special privileges from government, provide prayers for political occasions, and dictate the teaching of religion in schools
But by the late 18th century all the states had so much diversity that the power of established churches was rapidly fading. Massachusetts was the last state to end its established church, in 1833. By the 19th century, then, Americans did not merely believe in the right to dissent from the dominant church. They assumed that there would no longer be any dominant church.
Yet the 19th century was dominated by one religious view: evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals emphasized individual experience as the basis of religion. So religion became, more than ever, a matter of individual choice, which led to the creation of many new churches. But the evangelical fervor also strengthened the idea that all Christians share basic values in common, and that these were the core values of the American way of life — a view that would surface again in some 20th century Supreme Court decisions.
For evangelicals, the “wall of separation” meant that everyone was free to influence the government as much as possible according to their own version of Christian values, with the goal of making America the kingdom of God on earth. For some that meant causes we would consider liberal, like free public schools for all and the abolition of slavery. For some it meant causes that we would call conservative, like prohibition of alcohol and teaching the Bible in public schools. Many felt comfortable supporting all these reform movements.
From the 1840s on large waves of Catholic immigrants came to the U.S.. They learned to accept religious pluralism and reject the old Catholic tradition of one universal church for everyone. But they created their own schools, raising new questions about state support for religious education. These problems, like nearly all problems of church and state in the 19th century, were dealt with at the local and state levels.
After the Civil War, the 14th amendment made all states subject to rule by the federal constitution, opening the way for federal courts to apply the 1st amendment and rule on church-state issues. In 1879 the Supreme Court issued its first opinion directly dealing with church and state. It ruled that the government could forbid Mormons from practicing polygamy. The Court cited words written by Jefferson indicating that the wall of separation prevents the government only from controlling religious beliefs. But the government could forbid behaviors it deemed harmful to society.
However it was not until the 1940s that the Supreme Court began addressing the church-state question in earnest. By that time the federal government was playing a much larger role in the life of every American, while a slowly rising tide of secularism was undermining the notion of America as a Christian nation. For growing numbers of Americans, “the American way of life” meant a dedication to pluralism, diversity, and the fullest protection of individual rights. These factors combined to bring many issues related to religion before the Court.
In 1940 the Court took on the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses who argued they should be able to go door to door without a state license. The Court agreed, declaring for the first time that the 1stamendment’s “free exercise of religion” clause applied to local and state governments as well as the federal.
In the same year, though, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that their children should not be required to salute the flag in school because it violated their free exercise of religion. The Court ruled against them. Then two years later, in an almost identical case, it ruled that the Jehovah’s Witness children did not have to salute the flag.
Why the abrupt turnaround? There is some evidence that the Court was influenced by a wave of criticism of its first decision from scholars and newspapers, and also by dismay over a wave of anti-Jehovah’s Witness prejudice after the first ruling. This case reminds us that the Court is never making its decision in some abstract realm of pure legal rationality. It is always, to some extent, a barometer of the climate of public opinion.
In the Everson case of 1947 taxpayers argued that their town, which paid for children’s bus rides to public school, should not pay for Catholic children’s bus rides to Catholic school. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black penned a famous, stirring defense of the wall of separation, arguing that the 1st amendment’s “no establishment of religion” clause applied to local and state as well as federal law. This became an accepted principle of later Court cases. Yet Black and the majority decided in favor of the Catholic children getting public money because it was going to them as individuals, not to the church.
This case, and the Court’s reversal in the Jehovah’s Witness cases, foreshadowed the history of church-state cases ever since then. There has been no consistent pattern, but rather what Justice Robert Jackson called a “winding, serpentine” wall of separation, full of all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns in the Court’s views.
Vagueness often prevails. In the Lemon case of 1971, the Court ruled that no law may “have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion” and left it for later Courts to figure out what that means. Now the Court has added another contorted brick to that wall, by a 5-4 margin, as has so often been true in recent church-state cases.
The Court still reflects the climate of public opinion, which remains divided and uncertain about the proper relation of religious life to the body politic and the lives of individuals, or what we have come to call “church and state.” So the debate initiated by the 1st amendment goes on — which may be just what the founders intended.

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