Grover Norquist: High Priest of Purple Kool-Aid

Grover Norquist is quoted in Mallory Simon’s “GOP Resistance to Anti-Tax Pledge Grows” as saying:

“You’ve had some people discussing impure thoughts on national television.”

“Impure”?…  Is The Taxpayer Protection Pledge a religion? With its own “elect”? And its own high priest and Lord High Executioner: Grover Norquist? Thank God for the former cult members who have had “impure” thoughts and are going on national television to either repent or to “weasel out” of their pledges.

No elected representative should take any other pledge than to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and to faithfully exercise the duties of their office. The Norquist pledge, while it has rallied support for candidates’ election to office, limits their ability to exercise of the duties of office, as many former signers are discovering while standing at the edge of “the fiscal cliff”.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge (“Anti-Tax Pledge”) was always bad religion. It asked candidates, and the whole country, to follow the example of another religious high priest, Jim Jones, who led this flock into the jungle where they frank the purple Kool-Aid of mass suicide.

We’re not in the jungle of Guyana with Jim Jones. We’re in the United States of America. Time to dump the purple Kool-Aid religion. Time for some fresh orange juice, a bowl of nutritious oatmeal with raisins, and lots of conversation over coffee in the Congress and the White House.

Alice in Wonderland – Did I Miss Something?

President George W. Bush

Official portrait from the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Sometime my stuff gets published. Other times it doesn’t.  This one was submitted to several major outlets eight months before the 2004 Presidential election that re-elected George W Bush. It never saw the light of day.

I wrote this following a Presidential Bush news conference. I was disturbed by the President. I was equally disturbed by the press. Here’s the piece as originally submitted…and rejected.  This morning, all these years later, the editor of “Views from the Edge” accepted the submission!

 

Did I miss something?  I watched the President’s news conference Tuesday night and scratched my head over the media coverage that followed it.  Time after time when asked to address reasons for concern about his truth-telling, the President of the United States sidestepped the question like a running back seeking to avoid the hit of a middle linebacker.

Question: “What about the pre-Iraq war claim that we needed to invade Iraq because we knew beyond any shadow of doubt that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that we knew where they were?”

Sidestep: Saddam Hussein was an evil man.  He was a threat and the people of Iraq and the world are safer because a brutal dictator is gone.

This question and response typified virtually every exchange between the questioner and the President.  It was as though one were speaking English and the other Greek, as though the one responding were deaf, or as though the President believed that if he just repeated his handler’s lines again, the American people would follow him.  Does the President believe that we’re willing to trust authority, exchanging truth for falsehood, for the sake of security?

If ever there were grounds for impeachment, surely it is this President’s use of disinformation to mislead Congress and the American people into a war and occupation that have alienated traditional allies and fanned the fires of hatred of the U.S. across the Arab and Muslim worlds.  In the name of a “war on terror” this President continually makes up reality to suit his mission: the export of Western democracy everywhere in the world, supposing that of course everyone would want what we have.

Did I miss something?  At virtually every turn of the press conference the President repeated answers to questions that were not being asked and refused to answer the question that was being asked.  Nowhere in the mainstream press or television media have I seen this most obvious disconnect addressed head on. They all back off, like bit players in a king’s court.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Kevin Phillips, the conservative Republican critic of the Bush Presidency, author of The Bush Dynasty, spoke the truth about this President’s deception and the long-lasting devastating consequences of his policies.  Asked about John Kerry’s presidential candidacy, Mr. Phillips answered that it remained to be seen whether Kerry had enough fire in his belly to “go for the jugular.”

What will it take for us, the American people, to recognize that this President has taken us into an Alice-in-Wonderland world where up is down and earth is sky and falsehood is truth?  What will it take before all of us insist that the Mad Hatter not define our reality? Have we become so cynical about our democratically elected officials that we expect evasion from our questions?

Did I miss something?  Did not this President once again refuse to take any responsibility for peddling disinformation that has placed 135,000 American soldiers directly in “harm’s way” while putting all of us at home in the sights of growing numbers of people around the world who see the truth and hate us?

Impeachment will not happen, of course, because no one has the stomach for another partisan wrestling match, and because a Presidential election is only eight months away.  As the recent DFL ad here in Minnesota regarding sexual offenders reminds us, neither party is immune to demagoguery. But in the name of sanity, this President must be turned out of office and our political discussions must shift boldly to insist unfailingly that real questions receive real answers rather than shifty side-step speeches that only take us further down the rabbit hole of national illusion and implosion.

What do YOU think?

Sit and reflect awhile

Amish Rocking chair

This post requests YOUR views on a hot topic.

“The GOOD Society: Religion and Politics” drew a crowd last night in Chaska.  The panel was a Quaker, a Christian, and a Baha’i. Those who came were Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Unitarian-Universalist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, agnostic, atheist searching together. Add your voice to the discussion.

QUESTIONS FOR YOUR COMMENT:

What is your vision of the GOOD society, the kind of world you believe in?  Here are several answers from last night to whet your appetite.

The kingdom of God realized (Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven”).

What would that look like? What would be different if it was realized?

What are the qualities of that society? A ‘kingdom’ is a society.

The kin-dom of God, the idea of the kingdom without the ‘g’ – the society of universal kinship. “There is only nation: the human family.”

Agree or disagree and why?

The Unites States is a secular republic, not a religious republic. The founders were clear that America was not to be a theocracy. The “wall of separation” between church and state guarantees the free expression of religion.  It also protects the state (government) against any one religion being on the throne, as in Iran, and as had once been the case in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

What is the role of religion in the shaping of public life and in politics? By “politics” we do not mean “dirty politics” or “partisan politics’; we mean politics as the work of the polis (the people) in determining the values and laws that hold a religiously free society together. For example:

The Minnesota referendum on Marriage illustrates the problem.

What is “marriage”? Who defines it? Is it a religious concept or a civil concept?

Should a constitution be amended to define marriage?

Should the “wall of separation” leave the definition of and celebration of                  “marriage” (however defined) to the church, synagogue, mosque, etc., and instead provide for “civil unions” (legal contracts between two people irrespective of gender)?

All of us have religious/humanist and political traditions that informs us. One of those for me is the “Principles of Church Order” adopted in 1789 at the founding of the Presbyterian Church in the United States meeting in Philadelphia.  The Rev. John Witherspoon, one of the  signers of the Declaration of Independence and President of Princeton University, was also a key player in the Principles of Church Order intended to guide the church’s internal life and its relation to “the civil power”. Three of the eight principles, it seems to me, inform the current discussion.

On Church and State:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience…. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable. We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.

In short, we live in a secular democratic republic in which “the civil power” does not aid any religion, but protects the free exercise of all religions equally, without privileging one over another.

On the shared search for truth and goodness: That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it of no consequence what a person’s opinions are.  On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty.  Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

In short: ideas do matter. The search for what I’m calling “the good society” is based on a shared commitment to the search for truth, not just opinion. Some degree of objectivity or what philosopher Gabriel Marcell called “inter-subjectivity”, not just my own subjectivity. My opinion might be that the moon is made of green cheese or that Earth, not the sun, is the center of our solar system. Ideas and opinions have social consequences.  And in all things, the truth exists for the sake of “goodness” – human and environmental wellbeing.

On the exercise of mutual forbearance: That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effective provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good character and principles may differ.  And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.

In summary:  In a secular democratic republic, 1) no religion gets to “capture the flag” of the United States of America.  We honor individual conscience as the corrective light that reforms the prevailing ideas of truth and goodness. 2) We seek truth rather than sinking into the swamp of “I’m sorry, that’s the way I feel, and it’s none of your business, and yours is none of mine.” The acceptance of pluralism is not surrender to the swamp of anarchy or the refusal to look at the evidence of science or to engage in the common search for solutions to social problems.  3) Where we differ and disagree, however intensely, we will exercise mutual respect and patience while we work it out together.

Enough for this morning.  Chime in. Let others know what you’re thinking.

Thanks for visiting.

Elie Wiesel on Mormon Proxy Baptisms

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author and survivor of the Holocaust, has called on Mitt Romney to join him in calling on the Church of Latter Day Saints (“Mormons”) to stop baptizing Jews who have died.  I wrote the following comment on the Huffington Post story:

We’re taught, and rightly so, to be respectful of religions and views different from our own. But that does not erase the responsibility to think critically about one’s beliefs and practices or those of others. I have the greatest respect for Elie Wiesel and am grateful to him for exposing a practice that insults every Jew, every Christian, every Muslim, every Buddhist, everyone who could not in good conscience embrace any religion at all, by imposing Mormon baptism. Nothing could be more arrogant. The proxy baptisms are not the only beliefs and practices that deserve thoughtful examination. More troublesome to me is the underlying Mormon assumptions that make the United States of America the very center of all human history – the alleged geography of a real Garden of Eden (in Missouri) and of the Second Coming of Christ (also in Missouri). As much as the proxy baptisms, those beliefs should send chills down the spines of everyone whose God belongs to no one nation, no one culture, no one religion – the God of the heavens and the Earth “Whose ways are not our ways and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts.”

An earlier commentary on the matter (posted earlier) addresses the matter moer fully. It’s a reflection that includes a visit to the Mormon Visitation Center in NYC. Let me know what you think.

The God of American Exceptionalism

Gordon C. Stewart          February 7, 2012

Jacket of My People Is the Enemy

“The stairway smelled of piss….

This [a tenement apartment in East Harlem] was to be my home.  I wondered, for a moment, why. Then I remembered that this is the sort of place in which most people live, in most of the world, for most of the time. This or something worse. Then I was home.”  – William Stringfellow, My People Is the Enemy: An Autobiographical Polemic.

I’ve been holding my breath, wrestling with whether to speak aloud what I hear and see.

I’m a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, in the debt to the bold witness of the late William Stringfellow, lay theologian. I’m also a religious pluralist. I believe with Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet that there is not just one way, there are many sides to the mountain and many paths on which the Divine Mystery is experienced.

I have learned over the years to respect the multiplicity of ways different sides of the mountain experience the living God. I work hard to understand my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish neighbors. I often experience these discussions as encounters with God whose vastness, like the ocean, is so much greater than any of the tea cups in which we hold a few drops of the sea.

I also know that some forms of religion are just plain nuts. The religion of Jim Jones whose followers drank the purple Kool Aid in shared suicide in the jungle of Guyana is only the most ludicrous example of why we need to join comedian Lewis Black’s raging objection to political distortions of the truth: “You can’t just make s—t up!” Religion represents the best and the worst of the human psyche (the Greek word for ‘soul’).

Joseph Campbell, among others, long ago opened the aperture on my theological camera. He helped me to see that what we are all dealing with, on all sides of the mountain, is myth, the human spirit’s uniquely creative meaning-making activity that expresses both the grandeur and the terror of finite experience. Myth is not the opposite of truth; it is the story that points us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal.

My way of looking at the world is shaped by a vast variety of voices. Among them are Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose experiences of the horror of the absence of God caused them to poke their fingers in the eyes of prevailing religious traditions whose tidy moral worlds turn God into a cosmic sadist.

Any religion worth its salt in the 21st century has to pass through the existential protests of these thinkers and of the shrieks and cries that still echo across the world from Auschwitz and Buchenwald that poke holes in every theory of a morally ordered universe. The Garden of Eden was lost a long time ago and, in the wake of the closing of the gates to it, any religion has to take account of the human history that looks much more like the trail of tears paved by Cain’s slaying of Abel than like two innocent people in Paradise before the fall.

Yet there is a deep longing for something more tangible, more trustworthy than myth. Something one can touch, see, feel, smell – a story that is not a story but fact. The longing is strongest when we experience great uncertainty and insecurity.

With this perspective, I have been looking again at the fastest growing religion in America, Mormonism, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).

My first experience with the Mormons came quite by accident thirty years ago. I was riding a bus in New York City on my way uptown to visit African-American theologian James Cone at Union Theological Seminary in Harlem when I noticed the sign “Mormon Visitation Center.”  Already stressed by an unfamiliar transit system and feeling quite alone, I decided to get off the bus and take the tour.

Unlike the streets outside that were filled with trash and lit by flashing neon signs, the Visitation Center was spick-and-span. Everything was in perfect order, complete with a hologram of a Mormon family in a tranquil woods sitting in a circle, listening to the white upper-middle-class family’s father sitting on a stump higher than the other members of the family, reading from the Book of Mormon to an enthralled wife and two perfect, obedient, happy children. The hologram elicited two responses. One was amazement. I had never seen or even heard of a hologram. The other was a sense of outrage at the perpetration of a promise that was, in short, nothing but a hologram, the illusionary projection of someone’s idea of Eden that would strike a chord with visitors who long for the lost woods of the Garden of Eden. It offered a world of perfection: orderly, tidy, white, rural – nothing like the urban world on the street outside – the antidote to the realities and complexities of life in New York City.

When I left the Mormon Visitation Center it never crossed my mind that the Mormon vision or mythology would become the fastest growing mythology in America in the 21st Century. I was relieved to get back on the bus on my way to Harlem.

I ask myself now why this is so. I look again at Mormon beliefs and practices to try to understand.

In Mormon teaching, the Garden of Eden was a historical place, and it was not in the Mesopotamian Valley by the Euphrates River, as in the original biblical myth of Genesis. It was in North America…in Missouri .

“According to Joseph Smith [Mormonism’s founder] the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri and following his expulsion from the Garden, Adam traveled northward to a place near modern-day Gallatin, Missouri. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the name Adam-ondi-Ahman “is in the original language spoken by Adam, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph” (Journal of Discourses 18:343) – Bill McKeever, Mormon Research Ministry.

It is to this very spot of physical geography that Jesus will return at the Second Coming. None of this is in the realm of myth. It’s fact. You can go there to touch it and  walk on it, knowing that Adam was there long before you and that, after you have walked there, it will prove to be the epicenter of the universe, the very spot where Christ will return.

Why is the Mormon myth gaining such traction in America? And why would I break the code of silence, the well-advised reticence to those of us who share White Calf’s belief that the Divine Mystery is known differently on different sides of the mountain?

Some things are too important to leave unaddressed. The Mormon mythology is quintessentially American.

The myth that America is the center of transcendent goodness and power, the world’s epicenter, the original Garden of Eden and the place of Christ’s return, the people of “Manifest Destiny”, the one exception to the rising and falling of empires and nations, is losing its hold on us at home and abroad. We are losing our sense of innocence. Yet there lurks the nostalgia for the secure home provided by the illegitimate marriage of Jesus’ gospel of the Kingdom of God with America, “the City set upon a hill” of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and of John Winthrop’s sermon to English settlers on their voyage to the new world.

As Nietzsche knew, such gods don’t die easily, even when they’re already dead. When the town crier takes his lantern into the darkened town square at midnight crying “God is dead! God is dead!” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the rest of the town regarded him as a madman. But it would be only a matter of time before the news would reach their ears.  It was the god of Western civilization that Nietzsche’s madman pronounced dead.

When something dear to us dies, especially when it is the prevailing religious myth of a nation about its own holiness and invulnerability, we become like starving people who continue to look in the same old bare cupboard for bread.

What better place to go than the reassurance that America is still the center – the ancestral home of a real man named Adam, who came complete with his own (now lost language, the special place to which Jesus (who visited the lost tribe of Israel in the Americas between his resurrection and bodily ascension into heaven) will return? When the Christian story the story is concretized to a finite, mortal place, it power as myth – pointing us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal – is not only lost but turned on its head.

There are many sides of the mountain, and it behooves all of us to approach people of different religious traditions with open ears and open minds. But approaching another’s religious beliefs respectfully does not require that we pretend not to see what we see or that we conclude that all religions are really the same or that one opinion is as good as another in the free market of religious truth claims. “You can’t just make stuff up!”

Let me say without hesitation that what I see in Mormonism is but the most exaggerated illustration of the idolization of the nation that includes so much of the American churches of whatever stripe where the nation is enshrined as God and where patriotism is the unspoken highest virtue with the cross wrapped in a flag.

The American wars of foreign intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan could not have happened without this widespread faith in American goodness and exceptionalism. It is the cardinal sin that afflicts us across all denominational and religious lines. Whenever the Jesus executed by the Roman Empire becomes the Imperial King of a new empire, those who continue to hear the shrieks and cries of the world that suffers – and who continue to smell the piss on the stairway in the place we call “home”- are obliged to break the silence, violate the code, and get back on the bus to Harlem.