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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

False Prophets

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Throughout the recent election and especially in the aftermath I have paid a good deal of attention to the so-called evangelical movement in our country and some striking similarities to Muslim and Hindu fundamentalism. While they are bitterly opposed to one another, each promoting religious exclusivism, their views on law, morality, human rights, and gender are nearly identical.

When members of these sects are in power—by whatever means they have attained it, they impose an authoritarian rule. The rule of law is subjugated to the rule of the leader who claims to speak for a God, a judgmental and apocalyptic God, who will punish any who oppose his will or his appointed representative on Earth. The authority of these leaders vests in scripture—more precisely in a very particular interpretation of their scripture, but in reality, the real power lies in the willingness of their followers to accept without question whatever they are told. As you might expect, such leadership flourishes in circumstances where education, science, and worldliness are disparaged or repressed. Nothing must be allowed to enlighten followers, or to lead them to question the ‘word’. And what is the word? It is whatever the spiritual leader claims.

Notably, all of these religious hegemonies are male dominated. Not surprisingly they are also misogynistic and racist—sometimes in the extreme. Women and believers in other religions, religious moderates and other castes and races are second class citizens, their actions and roles subject to male domination of a religious ruling class, and generally treated as just slightly more than property. Women are literally or figuratively handed from father to husband—or male relatives. Either through religious law or social pressure those judged inferior are proscribed in everything they do, from how they dress, to who they may associate with, and of course in every way with regard to their sexuality and rights of conception and birth.

While misogyny and racism may be a central theme, control of wealth and power are at the heart of these cultures. From the pastor of the fundamentalist church, to the Televangelist, to the Ayatollah, preservation of position, attainment of the power to rule other’s lives and the accrual of personal wealth are the prizes of absolutism. Fear and greed are the weapons that these false prophets wield, promising eternal damnation for the violation of the word, and earthly gain for the faithful.

We might shake our heads in disbelief that the faithful follow blindly but for so many, especially those without power or those living in poverty or in insular communities, social and political pressure are powerful inducements, while in more extreme cases the ever present threat of violence and retributive punishment are sufficient to keep the mass of believers in line.

There is nothing inherently intolerant or extreme in any of these faiths, to the contrary, many adherents display compassion, tolerance and enlightenment. That alone should tell us all we need to know. Fascism is not an invention of secularism but has its roots in the same extremist cultism that has taken root in our country and seeks to anoint political rulers as emissaries of God. It is a mistake to associate fundamentalists with the faiths they claim to represent. If you look for Jesus in the Christianity of these latter-day prophets you will find a paper thin being, a name to be invoked lacking any substance or resemblance to the figure described in the scripture millions of Catholics and Protestants worship. It is the same for mainstream Muslims and Hindi believers, yet too often the religious majority is hesitant to speak out against the tyranny of religious extremism.

It is no secret that in our country this minority has a disproportionate impact on our political process. They are aligned with individuals and institutions who they believe will pass laws and appoint judges who will favor a theocratic rule and enforce restrictions on the behaviors they judge abhorrent. Fire and brimstone supplant compassion and tolerance, suppression and restriction limit speech and thought to the degree that we can find ourselves in Alice’s looking glass. Public figures who have violated every rule of decency and certainly the very moral and ethical strictures that the fundamentalist devout claim, are lifted up and endowed with God like powers.

It is long past the time that the religious mainstream rose up to denounce the charlatanism and hypocrisy of so-called religious conservatives. Our country was founded on a principle of religious freedom, embodied in the 1st amendment to our constitution. But it is clear, that there was no intention by the framers to conflate religion and state. That separation is a sacred obligation and central to our governance. We cannot and should not repress the right of religious fundamentalists to say and practice as they wish within the constraints of civil law, but we owe no obligation to endorse their views with tacit silence, nor are we absolved if we permit extremism to define us.

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