Monday, April 11, 2005

The Spread of Theocracy

During my commute this morning, I heard a brief news story on NPR regarding a Christian pastor in Iran who may be sentenced to death for apostasy. The story doesn't seem to be getting much attention yet, but can be found on a few sites, such as Compass Direct;

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand must appear before the Islamic (sharia) court of Iran within nine days. An exact court date has not been released. Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor will be brought up before the Islamic court between April 11 and 14 to face charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to the Christian belief. Both "crimes" are punishable by death...
Such situations are hard to even imagine for those of us who take religious freedom for granted; a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution;

Amendment I - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
The Constitution also protects us from having our government taken over by religious extremists who demand that every office holder adhere to a particular set of religious beliefs;

Article VI. - ...The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
With these checks of power in place, the US seems to be safe from the threat of the type of theocratic government we see in power in Iran. We are safe, aren't we?

Consider the wording of the following piece of legislation, The Constitution Restoration Act, currently before the Senate - bill S. 520;

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer or agent of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official or personal capacity), concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.'
A governmental agent can claim God as the "sovereign source of law", and there's not a thing the courts can do about it. My skin is beginning to crawl. What is this all about?

Here's David Kubiak's take on this bill, from his article entitled Introducing The Constitution Restoration Act - Say Hello To Taliban America And Goodbye To Godless Judges, Courts And Law;

...In other words, the bill ensures that God's divine word (and our infallible leaders' interpretation thereof) will hereafter trump all our pathetic democratic notions about freedom, law and rights -- and our courts can't say a thing. This, of course, will take "In God We Trust" to an entirely new level, because soon He (and His personally anointed political elite) will be all the legal recourse we have left.
Katherine Yurica suggests it's not simply the religious right that is behind this bill. She links it to the Dominionists, also called the Christian Reconstructionists. In case these folks aren't familiar to you, here's a good definition offered by Frederick Clarkson;

...But another largely overlooked reason for the persistent success of the Christian Right is a theological shift since the 1960s. The catalyst for the shift is Christian Reconstructionism--arguably the driving ideology of the Christian Right in the 1990s.

The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist ideas. Because as a theology it is controversial, even among evangelicals, many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
The source for much of the thought behind Christian Reconstructionism is found in Institutes of Biblical Law, published in 1973 by Rousas John Rushdoony. A brief perusal of the Chalcedon Foundation, founded by Rushdoony, makes it clear that Clarkson is not exaggerating. Here's just one direct quote from one of their theology articles;

...From this discussion we can see that, according to the teaching of the Torah and following the metaphysical, moral and judicial definitions provided by the law of Israel, this sin, this metaphysical disorder, this moral and social disorder which is the nature of homosexuality, merits the death penalty...
Some might think that the reconstructionists will never have much influence, as their views are seen as too extreme. I suggest to you that they already have much more influence than we might imagine. Knowing that some folks see them as rather scary, they now work through other organizations.

One of these organizations is the Council for National Policy, which was described by ABC News as "the most powerful Conservative group you've never heard of." A look at their membership roster shows us that the gang's all there; Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Trent Lott, Ed Meese, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, among quite a few other well known names. Also included is Gary North, the son-in-law of Rushdoony. This list, from 1998, includes R.J. Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism, as a member of the CNP.

Another name on this list that Episcopalians might recall is Howard Ahmanson, the wealthy backer of the American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, who served on the board of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation for a couple of decades.

If you want to read further about what is going on behind the scenes within the religious right, visit Theocracy Watch. Religious Tolerance offers a good summary of Dominionism here.

I don't feel very safe anymore. Do you? Any suggestions as to how to thwart this Christian version of the Taliban?

One thing I'm planning to do is to try to attend this conference; Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right, being held at the CUNY Graduate Center April 29 and 30. Note that two of the writers quoted above, Katherine Yurica and Frederick Clarkson, will be making presentations, as well as Karen Armstrong. Jeff Sharlet, who some of you may recognize as the editor of The Revealer, will also be there as a presenter.


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