Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

The hijacking of religion

Just a quick musing with recent links for now, rather than a post with more developed thoughts. Religion may always have been used as a political instrument as it became more institutionalised, but I don’t know that at any previous time in history that it has been so comprehensively wielded on such a large and unprecedented scale as a weapon and legitimating tool for unconscionable crimes, including war crimes, that so obviously go against the founding precepts of the major religious traditions.

Two recent articles on the appropriation for political purposes and neocon cover of Judaism and Christianity, and call for a reclamation of these faiths:

* Khalid Amayreh, The Pesach Schizophrenia, Peoples Voice, 10 April 2007

* Charles Sullivan, The Apostles of Deception, Peoples Voice, 14 April 2007

which is made possible by a lack of religious knowledge (religious literacy that necessarily underpins faith):

* Cathy Lynn Grossman, Americans get an ‘F’ in religion, USA Today,

* Susan Jacoby, review of Blind Faith: Americans believe in religion — but know little about it, Washington Post, 4 March 2007

and in which legitimate and much needed dissent is unduly dismissed by this kind of false charge:

* Michael Boldin, The America-Haters Strike Again, Peoples Voice, 5 April 2007

We have seen the branding of those who love democracy by being dissenters as “haters”, whether it be in the US, UK or elsewhere. It seems to me that those who call for the restoration of civilised norms, human rights, true religiosity and compassion are not the haters, which has become another weasel word, along with ‘terrorism’. It seems to me that the latter group are not the ones subverting democracy and criminalising dissent, which would be closer to “hating” the healthy dissent of the democratic tradition. As President Eisenhower states (quoted in the latter article): “May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

Long live dissent, the lifeblood of democracy. And may the great religious traditions be employed to spread love, greater knowledge and compassion for all, rather than the fear and ignorance upon which the warmongers depend.

10 comments on “The hijacking of religion

  1. Jack
    15 April, 2007

    Hi Ann!

    I think there are many examples where religion was used just as “effectively”. Just consider the third century through the dark ages, the inquisition etc. Also there are many historical accounts of the unholy alliance of religion to government. Under both the Roman and Babylonian empires the two were inseparable. Islam has close ties to middle eastern government, and the Oriental block nations have a rich history.

    Other than that, I agree that we do have a problem today!

    I personally believe in the separation of church and state. Roger Williams, often called “America’s first Baptist”, wrote “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for the Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace” in 1644, (which was by no means a masterpiece, but had great influence upon Jefferson and other founding fathers–many of its concepts finding its way into our Declaration of Independence), in protest of the ties between religion and government. When the Puritans had fled England and established the colonies, they were searching for religious freedom. The problem was, they believed only in their own religious freedom, and just as quickly put a governmental yoke upon others that was just as harsh as that in England. It was much later when it was recognized that no religion should be able to impose its moral imperatives upon society, that we were able to enjoy the freedom it provided this great nation.

    In our nation we have a resurgence of two religious factions who want to force their religious perspectives on the people. We have the religious right, who want to legislate morality upon others and the “religious” left who want to do the same. The principle methods are the same, the only difference are the “morals.” The religious right doesn’t want homosexuals to marry. The religious left wants to impose greater taxation for social programs or use embryos for stem cell research. The religious right want to put prayer into public schools. The religious left want to make everyone buy hybrids and recycle.

    Contemporary secularism is just as much a faith based construct as fundamentalism, and their methods are exactly the same. Each one has a moral imperative to impose upon others, and each one self-righteously maintains that they are crusaders of absolute truth.

    Each one has their faith based…

    Origin of our beginnings-

    Right: Creation by God
    Left: Evolution by chance

    Apocalyptic message-

    Right: Armageddon
    Left: Global Warming


    Right: Repent or perish
    Left: Repent or perish

    …and a host of rules and regulations that they want to impose — the impetus for their activism and governmental involvement.

    Both sides, mind you, are very moral (by their own way of thinking), and have the shortcomings of any religious person. Self-righteousness, judgementalism, hypocrisy–with a strong need to control the behavior and thoughts of those who disagree with them. Just talk to a secular humanist about the damage social programs cause to the initiative and ambition of poor blacks and you will get the same righteous and outraged indignation you will trying to tell a fundamentalist that what homosexuals do in their own bedroom is their own business and that the government should stay out of marriage to begin with.

    Ann, I think we will see a rise, not a fall, in this in our lifetime as both sides struggle for control of the hearts and minds of the people. A struggle between western, creeping Fabianism and religious fundamentalism–with many casualties on the way.

    But THATS ok–these losses are acceptable statistics. (Said sarcastically:)

    Take care,


    (I posted on the other side of the issue, well, sort of similar at:


  2. Jack
    15 April, 2007

    Excellent post, BTW. :)


  3. radicalmuffin
    15 April, 2007

    i’ve felt this most intensely around the abortion conflict in this country. Anti-choice activists spat on peace keepers and clinic escorts at rallies at the Supreme Court. The clinic called the police on the protesters outside the clinic, which we, the clinic escorts, felt both relieved and hypocritical about since we often dealt with police as protesters ourselves. And when I watched the collegiate pro-lifers defiantly and righteously cross the injunction line a foot closer to the clinic, I understand their passion and see how we are the same.

    Anyway – here are some interesting articles on the matter of religion’s political influences:

    With God On Their Side

    Religious Right Watch

  4. thepoetryman
    15 April, 2007

    Those that would use God to circumvent
    the US constitution
    are neither godly or loving.
    They are ignorant… and wilfully so.

  5. Servant
    16 April, 2007

    This is where secular humanists get wrapped around the axle understanding what drives religion. We mistake the cause for effect. We imagine that the congregation is hired to listen to the clergy when the exact opposite is true.

    From the Charles Sullivan article:

    Every pastor, every minister of every church in the land should denounce what is happening in America and violently projected upon the world. They should criticize the wretched lies of the president and his murderous regime. They should condemn union busting, racism and sexism, corporate greed and war. They should deplore the obscene accumulation of property and wealth, while emphasizing service to the community and the poor. Most often, however, a perverted version of Christianity gives the appearance of moral credence to war and conquest.

    That’s easy for him to say.

    This is how secular humanists understand religion, but they do not contribute anything to feed the parson’s family nor fund the parsonage at all. So they are not there to stand with the would-be righteous preacher to defend them from being stoned when their would-be message is delivered. So where is their voice? If a tree falls in the woods, does the collection plate make any sound?

    Americans want to know that God hates fags and that it’s fine to worship mammon six days a week, and anyone who would say otherwise soon finds themselves looking for another pulpit.

    It’s not the message that is corrupt, it’s those who hear it. A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. Religion is just another market like everything around capitalism. And if you’re not selling what they’re buying, they’ll go somewhere else.

    I’d like to see the secular humanists try to make a living selling what they preach.


  6. peoplesgeography
    16 April, 2007

    Great comments, thank you! I hope you’ll excuse some quick scattered comments for now that probably do not do justice in responding to your thought-provoking and astute insights:

    Jack, excellent historical reminders and left-right breakdown and I was most interested to read and learn about Roger Williams. It’s interesting that both models are constricting in the same ways, and we may be seeing the limits of secular humanism. That is, it is a necessary precondition for a healthy democratic society (separation of religion and state) but that it is arguably, on its own, insufficient. Modernity’s loss of meaning* (symbolised in Newton’s clockwork universe for the scientific revolution and Nietzsche’s proclamation that ‘God is Dead’ for philosophical humanism) has in part been replaced by a dogmatic religious fervour or fundamentalism that has filled the vacuum, according to this line of thinking. It is not for me to prescribe the place of spirituality in a postmodern (and in others parts yet modern) world, I guess we’ll have to muddle through and learn to co-exist and worship undogmatically, if at possible!

    Radical Muffin, thanks very much for coming by and for the additional links, I was impressed by your honesty and comments. That certainly is a emotionally fraught topic! I admire the passion and commitment you recognise that is present on both sides of this most polarised of divides. I wonder at what point that commitment becomes fundamentalist and over the line. I wonder whether the stem cell debates will yet excite the same, if not more, controversies as the technologies advance even further. Food for thought.

    Mark, characteristically poetic, to the standard of a classic aphorism. And we are seeing it happen before our very eyes ….

    Serv, I agree that its not the message that is corrupt, that perhaps its more to do with the way its being selectively heard/ politically deployed/ cynically and blindly wielded. What to do? I’d try to get the secular humanists and religionists of good faith (and various faiths) to talk more to one another. I’m sure these networks already exist. I can think of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, for example, perhaps there are others?

    I’m aware that Religious Right is often used as shorthand to describe what the left sees as politically regressive religious Christian fundamentalists, but there are also those on the right who do not at all fit this description (harking back to a previous post about the limits to the left-right labels).

    * represented by a poem or quote from Goethe (as quoted by Max Weber, I think. Mark, this is your influence ;) ):

    Specialists without spirit,
    sensualists without heart;
    this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved!

  7. Jack
    17 April, 2007


    Would that we had 10 million more like you–the world would be a better place!


  8. peoplesgeography
    17 April, 2007

    shucks :)

    Thank you kindly, Jack

  9. Curtis
    21 April, 2007

    Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy, just as mythology is the lifeblood of religion. And yet dissenters and mythologists are somehow undemocratic and unholy.

    I, too, am puzzled.

    Excellent post!! Very interesting commentary.

  10. peoplesgeography
    21 April, 2007

    Thanks Curt. You’ve a tremendous post on mythology, btw. I had been doing some reading on Joseph Campbell and a post was in draft on mythology so I was most interested, as always, to read your thoughts. Hope to comment more substantively on this great piece at your place later.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"