Author Archives: uberjam479

Social Evaporation: Why some religious groups appear “Blessed.”

American Christians often overuse the word blessed. Whole series’ of sermons discuss how to better receive blessings, why blessings aren’t coming, or how you can work to be a tool for blessing others. Congregants are reminded they have to have faith in order to receive these vague blessings and then told about miracle anecdotes, (stories that would likely be difficult to confirm). So why is it that people, otherwise rational grown-up, non-fairy-tale-believing people continue to invest their time and money in religious institutions? There are a lot of reasons but we’ll discuss one, an important one; the phenomenon of social evaporation.

Social evaporation is very simple, but we’ll need to define some terms. First of all we have to admit that not everyone has equal access to the things we want and need, we will call those things rewards to keep it simple. People that are wealthy have access to many of the rewards, but so do people that are beautiful or talented but not necessarily wealthy. The point is that rewards are varied, things are not equal, life is not fair. This should not be news to anyone.

The people with no access to rewards, the social outcasts with mounting financial problems for example, have limited time and money to invest in a religion. So it will either provide them with rewards, or they will leave in search of something that does. People with limited or no access to rewards often seek religious groups that have high-tension verses the society in which they exist. Groups with high-tension often espouse a message that reinforces the unfairness of the world and the promise of rewards in the afterlife. This makes them feel better, it is a form of temporary reward we will call a compensator.

Religious groups that consist of people with access to rewards exist in low-tension with the society at large, and are often highly involved in the society. Their message is often one that reinforces why they are blessed. It focuses less on providing promises about the future, or compensators, because the people are not dependent on them for happiness.

When individuals with no access to rewards are surrounded by people with more access they will doubt their faith, they will question the message of the church, and ultimately leave, unless they gain access to rewards. This social evaporation is observable today in the dichotomy of rich churches and poor churches. It is interesting to see the ways that people naturally segregate themselves in search of rewards and compensators. This phenomenon is how some churches eventually gather a large percentage of wealthy people and then claim they are blessed.

It isn’t God, its science. In this case it’s social science!

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I’m back! And a disagreement with Hitchens

I know it has been months since I’ve posted. I had a work obligation that kept me away immediately following the Holiday break. So now I’m here and I have big plans to write more often. I will scale those back a bit to be realistic but look out for new posts soon.

I picked up Arguably, a collection of Christopher Hitchens essays. Many of them were published in either Vanity Fair or the Atlantic. I have enjoyed them. Although, I have to admit, not being much of a fiction reader, the book reviews were a little above me. I muddled through those few but still put the book down having learned something interesting. One of his essays is titled “Why women aren’t funny.” The title is immediately controversial in a culture that values equality and employs a substantial number of female comics and comic writers. Several funny women come to mind, both stand-up comics, actors, writers, or all three. I also personally know several women with a great sense of humor.

And so I disagreed with him. The first and only step to resolve a disagreement with an author is rip apart their argument. I record the premises and attack the assumptions on which they are built in order to discredit the conclusion. His first premise is that a man must be good at humor because his “chief task in life… is that of impressing the opposite sex” (390). His assumption then is that our purpose is a biological one, fraught with Darwinian reproductive stresses, and that men with a good sense of humor have a better chance of reproducing. There can certainly be purpose beyond reproduction, but as a utilitarian and philosophical materialist I can respect that assumption as long as we remain within that framework. A study of humor and financial bargaining concluded that “verbal humor leads to greater compliance. Subjects who received a demand accompanied by humor made a greater financial concession than no-humor subjects” (Aronoff and O’Quin, 354). This is common sense, the study also discussed how Henry Kissinger would use humor to help with negotiations with Russians. Interestingly, the study made special efforts to be sex-neutral to “minimize the possibility that joking might be more effective when used by males and received by females” (Aronoff and O’Quin, 350). They cited several past studies to support the need for making such efforts but all the articles were pre-1979 and unavailable online. Humor also reduces levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline according to Sondra Kornblatt, the author of A Better Brain at Any Age (Breyer). Hitchens first premise is solid. Humor does relax people and help in convincing them to do what you want. Brain science is difficult to argue against. Suddenly I feel like a creep for making my girlfriend laugh, thanks science.

But does any of that point toward women being less funny than men? Attraction goes both ways, men aren’t doing all the work. That’s where I think Hitchens’ argument loses force. He claims that when it comes to humor “Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men” (390). This suggests that men do not value humor in a female, a point I strongly disagree with. Hitchens claims that “Wit, after all, is the unfailing symptom of intelligence” (391). He goes further to suggest that because intelligence was an historically undesirable characteristic for males on the prowl, females were somehow selected to be less humorous, (which implies less intelligent as well, although he doesn’t comment on that). There are a few problems with this assumption. The first being a myopic view of time. Intelligence was pulling our species down from the trees long before some medieval Catholic prototype of a silent women gained popularity. To think that a modern woman is less humorous today because the brief flash of the Christian era favored women who didn’t ask as many questions is a failure to recognize the eons of time when intelligence was favored in both sexes as a means of survival. The second problem is his one-sided view of attraction. While men are typically the pursuant, it is not always the case. Women, especially intelligent women, know how to attract and snare a guy while letting him think it was all his idea. Wouldn’t a technique that lowered cortisol and adrenaline be just as effective on him?

Hitchens cites a Stanford University study on humor that found:

men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use, to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing. But they also found that some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women. (Brandt, 2005)

One of the regions that activated more in the women’s brains was the left prefrontal cortex.  Hitchens read this same article and concluded that women were less funny than men, when it clearly suggests they are just more selective in what they will find funny. Women were also found to find things unfunny quicker and more often then men. Male humor is generally more self-deprecating, or what both Hitchens and myself would classify as “filth.” I can’t argue with that, poop jokes are funny. Women are not less funny than men, they just tend to value humor differently. Hitchens made too hasty a connection between the Stanford study and his own concepts of intelligence and humor.

Hitchens went on to attribute the more serious nature of women to their role as child-bearer, a status which gives women an “unchallengeable authority.” Men find solace in humor as a way of dealing with our admittedly less important role in the continuation of the species. These huge unsupported leaps don’t need to be addressed, they are all part of his earlier argument.

Men are quick to find something funny, and a good deal of humor is at someone else’s expense. Could a preference toward humor that causes less embarrassment or harm to an individual cause women to be viewed as less funny in a world dominated by male humor? I think so.

Feel free to comment.

Aronoff, Joel, and Karen O’Quin. “Humor as a Technique of Social Influence.” Social Psychology Quarterly 44.4 (1981): 349-357. Web. 2 Mar 2014.

Brandt, Michelle. “Gender differences are a laughing matter, Stanford brain study shows.” Stanford School of Medicine, 7 Nov 2005. Web. 2 Mar 2014.

Breyer, Melissa. “8 Health Benefits of Laughter.” care2, 23 Aug 2011. Web. 2 Mar 2014.

Hitchens, Christopher. Arguably. New York: Twelve, 2011. Print.

D’Souza challenge: Chapter Two

Chapter two is titled “Survival of the Sacred: Why Religion is Winning.” D’Souza begins by imagining evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins and anthropologist Scott Atran as being dumbfounded when it comes to supplying a rational evolutionary explanation as to why religion survives. He brings up some valid points. Religion is costly to individuals and to societies. It consumes a great deal of resources especially in our monument-building past. This is nothing new. Religion helps cement a society together, that doesn’t make it right, good, or true. Being at war with a common enemy accomplishes the same thing.

He refers to several atheists as “Darwinists,” a term only used pejoratively by theists to describe a person who understands the theory of evolution. He writes that “Darwinists are hoping that by explaining the existence of religion they can expose its natural roots and undermine its supernatural authority” (14).  D’Souza then quotes Dawkins as saying, “The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain.” D’Souza intentionally chose a weak sentence, making Dawkins sound like he was guessing or just thinking aloud. He didn’t cite the quote either so I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but the topic is discussed at length in chapter five of The God Delusion. Dawkins combines his ideas with Dennett’s work and explores the ways in which we are “psychologically primed for religion” (208). It’s a great read if you haven’t read it already. Our pattern recognition “software” finds faces in the darkness and sees spirits everywhere. Early forms of religion, like ancestor worship, are partially explained by this human trait.

D’Souza’s main argument in his short 2000 word “chapter” is that religion is growing because religious people are having more babies. He brings up some sociological factors dealing with the decline of fertility rates in Europe and attempts to explain this phenomenon as being directly related to the happiness and sense of community created by religion. He even claims that society, in the past, viewed children as gifts from God and that “traditional cultures still view them that way” (18). He failed to mention that more traditional cultures also practice infanticide, genital mutilation, and child marriages. But that isn’t the worst of it, his entire diatribe about fertility rates and religion completely ignores one extremely important factor; women. He claims that religious people have more children because they have a “zest for life” and because in poorer countries sex is “one of their only means of recreation.” Even his explanation of lower birth rates in Europe leaves out the role of women. The truth is that more educated, egalitarian societies have less children because women are in control of their own reproductive rights. The religious countries that D’Souza refers to, but never specifically names, are the countries where women have no freedom, no access to contraception, and no chance at upward mobility through education. That’s why he leaves out specifics. Even in America some women are trained from birth to be subservient baby machines and punished for independent thought. This is where religion wins, this is where freedom loses. D’Souza intentionally puts the right’s of women aside in his explanation of fertility rates among religious people.

D’Souza challenge: Chapter One

This is the second installment of my commentary on Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s so Great about Christianity? Check out the first part if you missed it. It covered the introduction.

Chapter one is modestly titled “The Twilight of Atheism: The Global Triumph of Christianity.” It is a parade of half-truths and not-so-cleverly worded lies.

God has come back to life. The world is witnessing a huge explosion of religious conversion and growth, and Christianity is growing faster than any other religion. Nietzsche’s proclamation “God is dead” is now proven false. Nietzsche is dead. The ranks of the unbelievers are shrinking as a proportion of the world’s population. Secularism has lost its identification with progress and modernity, and consequently it has lost the main source of its appeal. God is very much alive, and His future prospects look to be excellent. This is the biggest comeback story of the twenty-first century.

D’Souza is correct in that some religious groups are growing. It would be hard to defend his second statement however. A huge explosion? This statement only works if you include Mormonism, which I doubt the majority of D’Souza’s fan club would honestly include. Mormons have more families with three or more children by nearly double any other religious group. They also have a fairly rigorous conversion campaign. So they are out-breeding and out proselytizing all other American groups. America aside, the fastest growing religion is Islam.  Although there are several that aren’t far behind, including the nones.  D’Souza is right about Christianity’s growth in South America and Africa, but what he fails to mention is that in those places, especially in Africa, Christianity is just a relabeling of what they already believed. West Africans are practicing a highly syncretic version of Christianity and their own tribal beliefs, probably Yoruba or another form of ancestor worship. And while it is successful the results can be terrifying.

Watch this:

The American forms of Christianity that are growing are doing so because our culture and our Constitution have created an environment that is extremely habitable to them. Evangelical Christianity thrives on consumerism and our competitive religious marketplace has helped it evolve into a money machine. American televangelists and superdome mega-church clerics pedal a slick combination of fear and hope and walk away billionaires. They write, or have written for them, hundreds of books a year. The kinds of books New York Times contributing author Ross Douthat wrote about in Bad Religion. Douthat derides Osteen for being “promiscuous in his get-rich-quick anecdotes” and taking advantage of the lowest point in the recession to feed on people’s fears and financial instability (209). This is the Christianity that is growing, a predatory, feverish, consumer-driven, exploitative religion that selectively forgets Jesus’s many explicit warnings against worshiping money and possession.

D’Souza claims that Secularism has lost it’s “identification with progress and modernity.” This is an odd statement. I doubt that most people could define secularism correctly, much less comprehend its impact on our lives. The growing trend away from identifying with any religious group is not a trend toward identifying as a “secularist.” It represents a decline in the appeal of what religious groups offer. People are more connected then ever before and no longer require a local group of family or friends in order to support their social well-being. Those are great things, and it is good to have close friends to spend real time with. But what churches offer can be provided by simple groups of like-minded people finding each other online and meeting for coffee every once in awhile.

The religions that D’Souza claims are making a huge explosion in humanity are doing so for reasons he glosses over or fails to mention entirely. Greed, fear, and high birth-rates are the only thing holding these groups afloat. The non-believers may soon be the third largest religious demographic in the world, trailing only behind the many facets of Christianity and Islam. Covering the rest of the chapter would be a waste of my time and yours. D’Souza can’t defend what he writes against the most cursory of google searches or even a little common sense.

D’Souza’s Challenge Accepted

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Dinesh D’Souza (yes, the guy that referred to President Obama as a “grown-up Trayvon” that America should “survive”) is a former White House policy analyst and a research scholar at Stanford. He was often the punching-bag at debates with the late Christopher Hitchens. I believe he has also debated Sam Harris and I’m sure many others. He wrote What’s so great about Christianity?, a rebuttal to several books commonly grouped together as the “New Atheist” collection. They include both Hitchens and Harris, as well as Dawkins, Dennett, Stenger, and a handful of others. Flipping through the sections and scanning the table of contents I can see it includes many of the more current Christian arguments against atheism and rationalism. My goal is to rebut each short chapter of D’Souza’s book in order and with references, beginning with the introduction.

D’Souza begins reminding Christians that they must know what they believe and be able to communicate and explain Christianity to skeptics. He is correct to point this out. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has shown that when it comes to facts about religion, atheists are the most informed. Clearly Christians know the least about what they claim to believe when compared to the people who claim not to believe. As a rationalist this points toward a very obvious conclusion, but I’ll just let that go for now.

D’Souza, unsurprisingly, frames several arguments as black or white. Christians commonly see things in this polarized way. You are either a brother or a sworn enemy, nothing exists in between. He states that “Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it” (xiv-xv). This is textbook false dichotomy, he also begs the question by including his miracle nonsense with his system types. The universe could be a closed system where miracles are possible, or it could be an open system where miracles are impossible. Or what all evidence points toward today, a closed system where miracles are the wishful-thinking of one tiny insignificant group of evolved, self-aware apes on a single planet in an unremarkable back alley of rather boring solar system. Please enjoy this short vignette:

The saddest bit in the introduction is a laughable biblical reference. He refers to Atheists as money-changers that must be driven out of the temple. This just fails to make any sense at all. The money-changers provided a service to temple-goers and were just one part of the religious money-sucking machine that hopefully peaked with today’s mega-church super-structure personality cults. The prosperity gospel preachers are today’s money-changers, John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, the list goes on an on. Even many Christians see them for what they are. To label atheists as the temple money changers is to completely misunderstand either the purpose and symbol of the money changers or to misrepresent the atheists, or both. D’Souza writes that atheists want to “discredit the factual claims of religion” (xv), another laughable line plucked from many. What claims does “religion” make that are not, in truth, the claims of psychology, sociology, or some other science? Does he really think that “thou shalt not murder” was original thought? Nobody else had considered not murdering everybody? What factual claims does “religion,” a naked concept, make? None.

D’Souza lists what he plans to demonstrate in his book with a handy numbered list, conveniently recreated here, with my comments in italics:

1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. OK, the first part I will give him, but he should have stopped there. Religion is a major cultural cornerstone and it has been argued satisfactorily that Christianity could be considered the foundation of Western civilization and thought. Some people want to claim that rationalism was born of Christianity, those people are unaware of the pre-Socratics I suppose. I would argue that rationalism, which found an outlet in monastic tradition, and breeched Christianity like that alien baby-thing in the first Alien movie, was the real foundation of Western Civilization, but that is a big claim to make and I would need more to argue that point. Where D’Souza went wrong was adding that bit at the end about Christianity being the root of our most cherished values. That is just plainly incorrect. How could it be that Hindus share many of the same values? Also Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Taoists, humanists etc…
Christianity is just one of many value systems that are rooted in universal human values, values that survived because of natural selection. D’Souza is misinformed and demonstrating truth in his statement will doubtlessly prove very difficult.

2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. I imagine he plans to seriously cite articles from Answers in Genesis, and the Discovery Institute. This statement is an example of the way Christians have been historically guilty of moving the goal posts. Evolution was the devil until the evidence was too great to argue with, then it was god’s handiwork. I’m sure it’ll be easy for D’Souza to make these kinds of claims, and unfortunately such claims are completely unfalsifiable, making them basically immune to reason.

3. Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. See above, I guess he dedicates a whole section to Darwin. I find it odd that Christians continue to attack a 150 year old theory, as if it hasn’t been built upon and clarified by thousands of dedicated scientists, from anthropologists to zoologists.

4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. He is right, science just makes them so improbable that it would be absurd to believe in them.

5. It is reasonable to have faith. I imagine in this section he will use the word faith vaguely when it suits him and then specifically when he tries to make a point that ties in to Christianity. The English language is not perfect and sometimes people use the multiple meanings of words to confuse those that aren’t paying attention.

6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. This is an old argument, thoroughly trounced by Hitchens in several of his debates and in his book “God is not Great,” which I thought I had a copy of around here somewhere… I will likely post a video of Hitchens rebuttal to this question when this section arrives because he has already put it far more eloquently then I ever could.

7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. Well that is just mean. I’ll have to work hard to overcome my cowardly moral escapism to find what will likely be gaping holes in that argument. Christians imagine Atheism as a complete value system and, ironically, attempt to discredit it that way.

 

The very last paragraph of the introduction is my favorite. Here D’Souza addresses the non-believers specifically. He asks “You have been engaged in the pursuit of happiness for a very long time; ever wonder why you haven’t found it?” “How long did you intend to continue this joyless search for joy?” Older societies had much less and felt abundant; why do you, in the midst of plenty, continue to feel scarcity pressing down upon you?” (xvii) This will only work on people very susceptible to suggestion. Notice advertisers use the same tactic to sell you things you didn’t know you needed. At least he comes out and tells the readers honestly he is intending to convert them, what he doesn’t mention is that it is with fear, coercion, and misdirection.

 

 

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Conversations with my Father: part 1, religion as economy

One of my philosophy professors once told me that people study philosophy for one of two reasons: they are either trying to prove their father right, or prove their father wrong. I knew when I heard it that I fell into the latter group. My father is annoyingly religious, and I am not. Professor Messick also said that philosophy and religion were very similar and that his adage applied equally to both. I immediately realized that nearly every paper I had written, every forum post, every argument, was a conversation with my father. In my mind he is perhaps a more formidable debater than in reality. I needed to understand religion in order to understand him. A better understanding of myself, society, and the world was incidental.

My conclusion after several years of study is that religion, in general, is a form of control, a comforting lie evolved over many hundreds of years (millions, if you take it from Bellah), based on supernatural promises that cannot be delivered. Karl Marx’ definition is most fitting; “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.” Marx was an economist as well as a philosopher and saw religion in that light. Many sociologists have picked up where Marx left off by expanding his theory. Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, explain, in great detail, the economics of religious belief in their book, A Theory of Religion. Understanding religion as a cyclical pattern of dependance and control is often offensive to theists but provides for the most predictive models. Stark and Brainbridge borrow from Travis Hirschi to describe four factors of social investment, the accumulation of social capital: attachment, investment or commitment, involvement, and belief. These terms can overlap but ideally describe four separately measurable concepts.

1. Attachment results from the “positive evaluation of an exchange partner.” When we interact socially with a person or group we are exchanging in some way or another. I welcome you to my home and feel important and popular for having a visitor, you feel honored to have been invited and we both have a good time being engaged socially. This builds social capital between us and a measure of attachment is earned. If we continue this trend, especially with the involvement of others we continue to gain social capital and the level of attachment increases. Now we are good friends, best friends, inseparable, etc… In a religious setting, the minister may tell his congregation that God loves them, that they are free from sins through Jesus’ sacrifice, and that God wants them to be successful. These statements support a positive self-image which is known to improve mood and health, the congregation, in return, pays the minister as well as maintains the church, and an attachment between the minister and/or the organization and the individuals is strengthened.

2. Investment or commitment “are costs expended in the exchange which have not yet yielded their full potential of desired rewards.” We are good friends now and we have invested social capitol in each other, as well as grown in our attachment, but there remains future benefits yet to be realized that could be shared and earned together. Two people romantically involved often have the future benefits of marriage and strong social attachment through family ties in mind. Religious people invest in supernatural compensators, such as immortality, or freedom from the guilt of perceived sins through their investments in religious organizations. The future benefit of a place in heaven is a reward religious people see as worth the cost of the continued investment in the group.

3. Involvement is the amount of “resources that one invests in an exchange.” I may only attend church twice yearly and have little invested in the organization or the social capital achieved from such an investment, yet my attachment to religious concepts, or my belief in the supernatural compensators offered by religion, may be high, despite my lack of regular involvement. Alternatively, I might be highly involved in a relationship with another person or group, allocating mass resources toward the construction of attachment and mutual investment in order to be compensated in the future. Involvement can offered by measured by time or money spent supporting an organization.

4. Belief is “the positive evaluation of an explanation.” An explanation, in this sense, is a statement about how and why certain rewards and costs are earned or incurred. To belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I must adhere to several rules pertaining to my lifestyle, specifically the abjuration of alcohol, because it is forbidden by the church. The reward is inclusion in a group that actively seeks to share in the benefits of association. Now members of the church will patronize my business and my children will grow up with the children of other church members, our social norms will be reinforced and supported through our shared beliefs. The cost for this inclusion is following the rules of the organization, which could mean not participating in activities that have pleasure, satisfaction, or entertainment value.

The combination of these four factors creates a structure of exchanges of rewards and costs that can trap an individual within itself. The religio-socio-canopy, or cage, defines your social norms and becomes a system of control. It may cost you money, as in the Mormon defeat of California’s Prop 8 through the cohersive collection of mass amounts of advertising dollars throughout the community. Or it may cost you political allegiance, the same example applies, although there are many more, such as the purpose of the Christian Coalition or other Christian Dominionist groups. Once you are socially invested in an organization the choice to leave that organization becomes a choice between giving up all your current social rewards or continuing to pay the costs and maintaining your relationships. This makes a group of religious people easier to control and it makes leaving such a group a difficult life choice. The more an individual invests in a group, the more rewards they receive and the more costs they incur, but the level of attachment also grows increasing their social dependency on the group. The cycle reinforces itself and strengthens the organization at the cost of the individual’s freedom and independence. They become emotionally and socially dependent on an organization that uses them to further its own goals.

So what would my father say to all this? He would likely dismiss it as the overanalyzing of armchair atheists bent on the destruction of society and inspired by the evils of secular thinking, or Satan himself. He would likely offer some anecdotal evidence for the existence of the supernatural or argue from the authority of the Bible. These are weak subjective arguments, easily defeated, but is religion completely explained by economic theory? How does economic theory explain altruism or suicide bombing? Is it strong belief that inspires people to be self-sacrificing? How are ascetic religions explained? Can they even be defined the same way that organized religions are defined? If economic theories do completely describe religion, what are the implications of that knowledge? Can a humanist perspective provide purpose for people’s lives, especially those downtrodden or suffering, the group most drawn to fervent belief?

Changing my father’s mind about his faith is not my goal. He wouldn’t be who he is without it. What began as a somewhat unconscious need to prove him wrong has turned into a challenging journey in the pursuit of a concrete understanding of human need and the history of spirituality, a journey that has begun to define me. Although I doubt he’ll ever read this, (and it’s probably better that he doesn’t); Thanks Dad.

 

 

 

Dominionism. Part one.

“If a man is ambitious for power, he can have no better supporters than the poor: They are not worried about their own possessions, since they have none, and whatever will put something into their pockets is right and proper in their eyes.”

Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86-34 BCE) from Jugurthine War 86.3

The very earliest republics quickly figured out that the “great unwashed” were easily roused toward political goals if they were promised material rewards. Ambitious leaders in Sallust’s time took full advantage of the plebian courts, announcing plans to share the spoils of war with volunteer soldiers and redistribute public land to the poor, before discussing his intentions with the senate. Once the word of their promises had spread they could win positions of power with or without the blessing of the consuls or any other elected authority. They used the desperation of the poor as a political tool to gain power and authority. It was during times of economic hardship that both Germany and Yugoslavia fell under the authority of ambitious demagogues. There were many factors leading to the destruction and chaos that followed in each case but fascism seemed an easy answer, the only answer, at the time.

America is facing a similar economic crisis. The government was shut down for 16 days while the nation’s ability to pay its debts was held hostage by those opposed to health-care reform. Manufacturing jobs, which accounted for over 50% of American jobs in the 60s and 70s have been outsourced and replaced by service jobs that, on average, pay much less. I only have a vague understanding of how the deregulation of banks through the repeal of the Glass act allowed Wall Street to intentionally bet against its own investments and walk away smiling. It is enough to know there is a problem and that deregulation is not the answer. Unregulated capitalism will only continue to make the rich richer and poor poorer.

Many of the politicians responsible for the stand-off in the House of Representatives belong to what was a fringe group of ultra right-wing Christian Dominionists. They have used the malaise and dissatisfaction of the American public, in a campaign of deception, to reach for more power. Dominionists make several claims that have no historical merit or are based entirely on a myopic interpretation of the Bible (see part 2). They claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, a claim immediately exposed as false by reading many of the founding father’s writings, or simply by noting that the constitution fails to mention God entirely. They also claim that natural disasters and misfortune are the plight of a nation indulgent in sin. Sins like abortion, acceptance of homosexuality, and inter-racial marriage have all been labeled as the cause of various droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Along with this very mystical worldview there is a natural mistrust of the educated and the informed. The world becomes polarized between “us” and “them,” the saved and the unsaved. Anything that is discordant with their Biblical view is interpreted as the work of evil forces. Opposition is painted as evil and associated with dictatorships, subversive plots, and conspiracy theories. Healthy rational debate becomes impossible when you believe you are fighting against supernatural evil powers. Politics must involve compromise.

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Barry Goldwater, (1909–1998), five-term US Senator, Republican Party nominee for President in 1964*, Maj. Gen., US Air Force Reserves, author of The Conscience of a Conservative.

A pluralist society demands compromise and more than anything an informed public. America is no longer informed and, as illustrated in the shut down, is quickly losing the ability to compromise or even communicate effectively while the lower classes are fooled with mystical promises about the afterlife or an American-Christian utopia. People need to be informed, they need to know they are being preyed upon. They are being used for their numbers and their votes, and most of all what little money or influence they have; used to push an agenda that does not care about them, used like a virus to make more believers and spread the Gospel to anyone that will listen.

Here is a great article about Ted Cruz, an up-and-coming Republican leader whose background is soaked in dominion theory.

Look out for Dominionism Part two, coming soon.