Category: Authoritarianism

The problem with secularism

The previous several posts may lead one to think that John Cobb favors secularism. While he believes the process of secularizing is a healthy and much-needed activity for (literally) the world’s survival, he sees dangers in secularism. This may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is very important.

In Spiritual Bankruptcy, Cobb acknowledges that “the secularizers have kept the traditions fresh and alive. But as humankind faces the need to make dramatic changes, and seeks the wisdom to guide it, the dominance of secularism is today an even greater obstacle than religiousness.”

I invite you to think about politics in the US; the global rise of authoritarianism, tribalism, and various injustices; the climate crisis; and the role (or absence) of religious communities in these matters. Against this current backdrop, hear this paragraph from John Cobb:

Secularizers in any traditional Way seek to draw knowledge and understanding from the best thinkers of their day. Today experts in all fields are encouraged to be secularists. Secularism builds up its knowledge and understanding out of presently available sources rather than by critical appropriation of a tradition. The result in modern history has been the amassing of vast quantities of information, but in a way that is barren of wisdom.

What wisdom from your Way (Cobb’s term for a religious or non-religious tradition) helps you address one or more of the difficult problems now facing our world?

From “John Cobb on David Korten: An Appreciation of David Korten’s Change the Story, Change the Future,” April 12, 2018 (photo by Thomas Oord)

Russian moms

Today, the Sabbath in Jewish tradition, I’m reflecting with gratitude on the role of the Old Testament in my life. Like everyone in the Christian faith, I inherited the Jewish tradition, so I view it through a “Jesus lens.” However, the Jewish tradition belongs to every human being who welcomes its wisdom.

Judaism has a strong, though painful, history in Russia, powerfully revealed in the classic play/movie, Fiddler on the Roof. As the Russian czar cracked down on Jews, Tevye wryly asks/prays, “So we’re the chosen people? Once in a while, couldn’t you choose somebody else?”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and obscene at so many levels, including the division it has caused between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Orthodox, Jewish and secular moms, wives and girlfriends may be among Putin’s greatest problems now.

Russia is experiencing its most dramatic mobilization and forced military service since World War II. The Sabbath is a day to break away from worldly brokenness to experience (or imagine) harmony among persons, nations, and all creation. Today, I stand in harmony with the babuskas.

From “The Russian Orthodox Leader at the Core of Putin’s Ambitions,” by Jason Horowitz, New York Times, May 22, 2022

Staying grounded

The guys in my weekly “Fullness of Love” group kept quoting Heather Cox Richardson. I can be slow on the uptake, but when someone, or more than one, repeatedly suggests a resource, I eventually think, “I need to check out that person, website, blog, book, or periodical.”

Heather Cox Richardson writes a daily email “Letter from an American.” She reportedly has the largest number of Substack subscribers. She’s a professor of history at Boston College. She connects significant, though sometimes obscure, events in American history to what’s happening now.

After Richard Rohr, HCR is my second read of the day. She’s a resource that keeps me grounded in the best traditions of American democracy. Authoritarians, insurrections and wars don’t just happen. They have antecedents. Heather Cox Richardson helps me connect the dots.

Her August 27. 2022 letter began: In a speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden called out today’s MAGA Republicans for threatening “our personal rights and economic security…. They’re a threat to our very democracy.” Then, she provided a history lesson for context, a story I’d never heard, which began:

Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it.

Burlingame, ardent Methodist abolitionist and former member of Congress, was the US ambassador to China, then (uniquely) a representative from China to the US, from “Anson Burlingame, an American Diplomat,” by Stanton Jue, American Diplomacy, September 2011

“These are my people”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offers insights into our relationship with all people. This is important in our present era, marked by division, polarization and tribalism. A deeper grasp of our relatedness is both counter-cultural and essential for a healthier planet, perhaps for our very survival.

This week, a young man from our local community was charged with illegal acts during the 1/6/21 insurrection at the US Capitol. So far, a “dozen or so” Alabamians have been charged. He reportedly served in the US Marine Corps for five years after graduating from Briarwood Christian High School.

His arrest reminded me of a comment I made as I watched the violence at the Capitol unfold. As the insurrectionists broke into the Capitol and video footage showed them ransacking Senators’ desks and chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” I was horrified and angered. But I was struck by their familiarity.

When I saw a man carrying a large Confederate flag in the Rotunda, I said, “These are my people.” They were (in my opinion) clearly misguided, but they looked like folks in the communities I served during my adult life. I’m still trying to absorb the reality that these insurrectionists came from among us. Literally.

From “Alabama man charged with throwing Capitol police officer to the ground in Jan. 6 riots,” by Carol Robinson, AL.com, August 23, 2022

Let’s pretend

When I was a child, the neighborhood kids sometimes played a game called “let’s pretend,” although we called it “let’s play like.” There are computer versions of this in the metaverse. Today, the ability to play “let’s pretend” is a popular path to success in the Republican Party.

Liz Cheney is leaving Congress after just three terms because she chose not to play the game. Harriet Hageman will be Wyoming’s new representative. Hageman supported Cheney in 2016 when Cheney was first elected to Congress. That year, Hageman opposed the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, calling him “racist and xenophobic.” This was before she learned to play the game.

Today, a more-timely-than-I-want-to-admit read is “Why People Flocked To Hitler, And Why The Nazis Believed ‘Here There Is No Why,’” by Pramod K. Nayar in The Wire (August 31, 2021), based on Theodore Abel’s 1938 book, Why Hitler Came Into Power.

On this day after Wyoming’s primary, Cheney’s statement to her Trump-supporting colleagues is relevant: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

From “Liz Cheney Was Brave When the Country Needed Her to Be,” by Michael A. Cohen, an opinion piece in The Daily Beast, August 17, 2022

Nameless, faceless, helpless, powerless

It’s been a tough year for women. Progress is not inevitable and human rights can be taken away. But, freedom resonates within the human spirit, and political or religious oppression cannot erase the memory of freedom in those who have experienced it. I believe freedom ultimately will win.

(After that paragraph, this post could go in several directions. You may need to pause a moment and let your mind and emotions roam around whatever application is most relevant to your life.)

The direction I’m going with this is Afghanistan, prompted by an August 12 article by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino in The New York Times (updated on August 15) that profiles several Afghan women whose lives have been upended, and whose hopes have been doused, by the Taliban’s resumption of power in Kabul one year ago. Afghan women aren’t nameless, of course, even as the regime thwarts any hint of individualism and requires female faces to once again be covered.

The regime’s male dominance surely robs the country of well more than 50% of its brain-power and potential. The spokesman for the ominously named, decree-issuing Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice offered this mind-bending attempt to frame the narrative: “All these decrees are for the protection of women, not the oppression of women…. A woman is a helpless and powerless creature.” One day, he’ll know better. Sadly, dire Afghan poverty perpetuates this illusion.

From “Taliban Rewind the Clock: ‘A Woman Is a Helpless and Powerless Creature,’” by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino, The New York Times, August 12, 2022 (Updated August 15, 2022)

Faith–the “Yes” that says “No”

Tough love establishes and consistently affirms vital boundaries. In the realm of faith, tough love’s Greatest Affirmation is in the face of “evil, sin and death.” Those words came to mind yesterday. An Internet search pointed me to Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. You can consult them later.

When we put our trust into something really big–when we say “Yes” to the Universe and our place within it–we encounter “lesser things.” A big “Yes” (a “cosmic “Yes”) says “No” to realities, opinions, people, ideologies, parties, etc., that are unhelpful, obstructive, antagonistic or destructive.

Diana Butler Bass said “No” in her brief, clear-headed, articulate 8/11/22 response to a fresh wave of anger on the American right, “Bad Blood: Christian theology and civil war.” Here’s the gist:

Civil wars are the most uncivil of wars, bloodletting between siblings the most violent conflicts. … And now (after the Mar-a-Lago search warrant) all this glib chatter of civil war. But people aren’t kidding: they desire blood; they’ve been longing for it; they crave revenge. … A legally executed search warrant results in all this over-the-top, verbal frenzy of violence, fixated on bloody vengeance, purifying the nation. Blood. It is always about blood.

From “Now They’re Calling for Violence,” by Peter Wehner, The Atlantic, August 11, 2022

Faith–after religion

National Socialism, the German party of Adolf Hitler known as the Nazis, was a movement of “Christian nationalism,” fueled by several destructive energies, including racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. The Nazis took over the German state church, replacing authentic faith with religious conformity.

German pastor/scholar Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was among dissidents who formed the Confessing Church. Before he was executed by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer envisioned a “religionless Christianity” that would shed the outward “garment,” or appearance of religion and return to genuine faith.

Today, “Christian nationalism” is popular among some in America’s religious right. However, many people of faith who see things differently will find Bonhoeffer freshly relevant. His writings help me look beyond the outward forms of religion for an inclusive faith that embraces justice.

From “Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” at followingjesus.org

Faith–the challenge of inclusion

Historically, religion has focused on achieving, maintaining and enforcing group (or national) purity codes. This encourages allegiance to the group and conformity to prevailing group standards.

In An Introduction to the Old Testament (2003, p. 9), Walter Brueggemann wrote:

In the traditioning process of telling and retelling in order to make faith possible for the next generation, each version of retelling … intends … that its particular retelling should be the “final” one, but each of act of traditioning is eventually overcome and in fact displaced (“superseded”) by a fresher version.

The velocity of change makes enforcement of group standards increasingly difficult. But, long ago, the Jewish faith introduced an even greater complication with which it and other religions must deal: The continual expansion (or re-traditioning) of the meaning of “group.” We are all brothers and sisters.

We’re in a time of “us versus them” regression, but the world will eventually return to an ever-expanding awareness that we’re in this together, and ultimately there is no “them,” only “us.” This week’s theme is the challenge of inclusion in an era of renewed racism, tribalism and authoritarianism.

From “The Right’s Rising Authoritarian Ally,” by Elaine Godfrey, The Atlantic Daily, August 4, 2022

Time for some re-reading

The title of one of my favorite classes was Erich Fromm. It was a small discussion for doctoral students, but ordinary seminary students could enroll. Each week, we read one of Fromm’s many (thankfully paperback) books. I gave them away long ago, thinking I had internalized Fromm’s big ideas.

Born in Frankfurt in 1900, Fromm fled Nazi Germany in 1941. His experience with Hitler’s fascism shaped his professional practice of psychology and sociology. My two favorite required readings from that class were Escape from Freedom (1941) and its sequel, The Sane Society (1955).

After 45+ years, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Doug Mastriano have me reaching back for Fromm’s critique of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Today’s “Christian nationalism” forgets there was no religious test for soldiers of several nations who died to liberate Normandy and Europe.

From “Choosing Christianity over Christian nationalism,” by Amanda Tyler, Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, June 5, 2020