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Sunday, October 25 2020 @ 10:58 AM CDT

Freedom Versus Fundamentalism

Whited Sepulchers

by Populist Party

...Thomas Jefferson said religion was "a matter which lies solely between man and his God." Therefore, the citizens of the fledgling country Jefferson helped create would have an unparalleled freedom: To seek Truth and Knowledge without the leash of government telling them how to do it...
A Temple to Zeus is perfectly American. It's not only allowable, but would showcase that powerful liberty which Americans acknowledge: Religious freedom. Within every U.S. city, a citizen is entitled by First Amendment rights to select whatever house of worship he or she pleases. As long as religious practice doesn't infringe on the rights of others, we are constitutionally guaranteed this right. We can select any church, mosque, temple, or shrine which appeals to individual tastes or cultural heritage. An American even possesses the right to resurrect the Cult of Isis or Apollo. . . or to invent a new religion altogether. Just as importantly, citizens retain the freedom to not practice as well.

But it's the first ten words of that First Amendment which declare, in no uncertain terms, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." A Jew can believe that eating pork is wrong, a Hindu can refuse a hamburger, and a fundamentalist Christian can believe that women came from Adam's spare rib, yet no governmental authority can impose these theological notions on the population. If, for example, within 50 years the majority of Americans convert to one of Islam's strictest sects, the individual citizen can never be forced to pray, to fast, or to destroy his non-Islamic literature.

Afghanistan's former government didn't permit this liberty. It required men to grow their beards a specific length or risk imprisonment, while the woman who refused to wear her body-length burqa robe would be publicly beaten, tortured, or stoned to death. When the Taliban were overthrown, hundreds of young men happily smiled for cameras as they enjoyed a collective shave, indulging with wild abandon a freedom that the global community would never think twice about. Others willingly chose to keep their beards in observance of religious dogma. The point is that all Afghans once again had the freedom to choose.

It isn't necessarily an insult to the faithful that religion is largely a matter of opinion and circumstance. As children, we are raised in accordance with the cultural/historical customs of our family, our villa, and our local society. If you were born in India, you'd likely be Hindu. Born five centuries ago in South America? You'd revere Quetzatcoatl.

The march of deities through history's pages has been colorful testament to religion's diversity. Bearded Zeus, mighty Thor, blood-thirsty Tlaloc, and resurrected Osiris once had legions of worshipers. In Babylon there were one hundred gods, and India's pantheon totaled in the tens of millions. This variety is not merely an ancient one; single faiths continually splinter into rival interpretations, from the Catholic-Protestant sundering to the Sunni-Shiite split. Into this already crowded field entirely new religions arise, such as Joseph Smith's founding of Mormonism and L. Ron Hubbard's controversial Scientology.

Yet there have always been those factions seeking to press their religious opinions on entire civilizations. This is particularly true among monotheistic faiths; the conviction of One God permits no other contenders. It is this philosophy which lies at the heart of religious government.

Alas, many American religious leaders resent the concept of religious freedom. What they seek is religious dominion. The late Jerry Falwell was a prime example of this; he despised America's Constitution, and desperately tried to advance dominion. Not a progressive society, but a fundamentalist one.

"If we are going to save America and evangelize the world," said Falwell, "We cannot accommodate secular philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Christian truth."

How is this so different from the words of former Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who, before September 11, 2001, oversaw the campaign to destroy all his country's ancient Buddhist statues, some of which dated back to the second century? And what reason for this destruction? Omar explained: "I don't care about anything else but Islam."

This is not a new attitude; it is in fact a very old one. Fundamentalists like Falwell, Omar, Pat Robertson, and others of this small but deadly pathology of the global populace operate on the absolutist perception that the world breaks down into camps of Good and Evil, believers and infidels. Religious pluralism, indeed, any pluralism, is forbidden. Law comes from the "inspired" rule of the church or mosque.

Significantly, the same week of Falwell's death saw the nation of Turkey in the midst of a direct battle against fundamentalist pathology in their own government. One million Turkish citizens, backed by the military, have demonstrated against the pro-Islamist state being insidiously fashioned by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's regime. Consider this statement by Turkish business group TUSIAD: "The indivisible integrity of secularism and democracy lays the foundations of the Turkish republic." Flag-waving citizens chant that "Turkey will remain secular" and called for Erdogan's entire government to step down (he has a history of hard-line Islamic sympathies; he has been critical of secular government, has a history with a now-banned pro-Islamist group, and even served time for inciting religious riots.)

In fact, much of Turkey charges that the new government has been insidiously advancing a faith-based agenda that could destroy the progressive state currently enjoyed, and that additional pro-Islamists in other positions of power would use their veto power to tip the balance into outright theocracy and rule by Sharia, the Muslim code of law.

Despite American fundamentalist fallacies, the American republic is also founded on secularism. While the Declaration justifies revolution by invoking "inalienable rights" given to Man by a Creator or God (not a Jehovah or Allah or Ahura Mazda,) it is the Constitution that is the foundation of American government. Nowhere in its text is mention made of God, Jesus, or even a generic Creator. It is a secular document, and according to its own words, is "the supreme Law of the Land."

Thomas Jefferson said religion was "a matter which lies solely between man and his God." Therefore, the citizens of the fledgling country Jefferson helped create would have an unparalleled freedom: To seek Truth and Knowledge without the leash of government telling them how to do it.

This was a spectacular advancement for civilization, an emergence from the gloom of a Dark Age. Suddenly, a pluralist society was born that needed not fear being tortured or executed for pursuing knowledge, science, or diverse philosophies. A new age had dawned.

In much of the Muslim world, there is no liberty - only submission - to a theocratic elite. Invoking God, women are violently oppressed and shut away like lepers, scientific inquiry is stifled, and free expression is deemed an act of Satan. Much of the Muslim world seeks a global caliphate. Falwell sought a forced global Christendom. The results would be identical - except for the name of the God to whom dissidents are sacrificed, and the specific holy book being chanted while blood runs in the streets.

Fundamentalist Christians and Islamists are of the same pathology. They see Earth as a big game of Risk for supernatural puppeteers. This is why secularism must prevail. It's not about atheism or removing the freedom to worship. It's about keeping government and faith separate.

Fundamentalists are nothing less than our own Taliban wannabes. They stand for a perverse rape of the Constitutional wall of separation, theological dominion over a "land of the free." It's worse than disingenuous: it is traitorous to American liberty, including religious freedom itself.

by Brian Trent,who is a professional essayist, screenwriter, and novelist; he is the author of "Remembering Hypatia" and the forthcoming "Never Grow Old: the Novel of Gilgamesh." Brian is a contributor to American Chronicle and The Humanist Magazine. Brian is a Populist Party featured columnist.


The Populist Party of America is a political party that seeks solutions to our problems through the establishment of a Constitutional Democracy and strict adherence to the Bill of Rights.

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