Monday, July 14, 2014

Religious zealotry exposed on the Christian "right"....needs taming as does Radical Islam

There is never a day that goes by when the world is not greeted with another shameful act, statement, pontification, or report of another spurious inroad made by religious zealots into what is generally and conventionally known as secular society.

Yesterday, in Canada, from Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, we learned of a courageous single mother and her teen-aged daughter  who began speaking out in opposition to a “sex education” program under the auspices of the public board of education for the city of Edmonton.
Contracted out to “” an evangelical, fundamentalist, pro-life corporation from the United States, the curriculum is premised on the teaching of abstinence as the “first response” for teens in relationships. Condoms are declared unreliable, and young women are made to feel shame while young men are depicted as unable to control their instincts. And these are just a few of the observations from the young co-ed who appeared with her mother on the CBC network with their complaint to the human rights commission about the content and the “values being presented in the course. Children of single parent, too, are portrayed as more likely to become involved with the law, more likely to drop out and generally less “equal” to what the curriculum considers society’s norm.

This single mother is asking for a “science-based” sexual education program that is not overlaid with “values” especially those values that are the foundation of the program currently being offered in Edmonton.

The scourge of religious fundamentalism, including a manual of do’s and dont’s for those eager and willing to drink the cool-aid of the cult, based on a literal reading and interpretation of some holy book, and too often following the leadership and guidance of some charismatic preacher, evangelist, imam, or priest or possibly even bishop, like a subjective tsunami is pouring over the hearts and minds of millions of desperate people, whose individual lives are fraught with fear, loneliness, some of the various faces of poverty, and a level of hopelessness that is ripe for the harvesting of the marauding armies of religious marketers, all determined to “carry out the will of God, Allah, or whatever name they attach to their spiritual icon.

Not only is the story from Edmonton a betrayal of the public trust that public dollars will not be used to prosletyze a particular religious and political ideology, (notwithstanding the policy statement of the Edmonton education establishment that declares its purpose to promote abstinence, thereby providing “cover” for the perpetrators of the scam) but more importantly, and also more insidiously,  the story demonstrates the deceptive, deceitful, and determined measures that the religious “right” will take in order to impose their point of view on an unsuspecting  body politic.  

Of course, anyone, like the courageous and determined single mother, defending the honour of her single parenthood as equal to other families with two parents, not to mention the honour of her innocent daughter as also equal to, if not superior to, that of children from two-parent families, who opposes this brain-washing under the banner of family values, and also under the business model of capitalistic profiteering, is and always will be considered a heretic by those engaged in this “war for the hearts and minds of the public,” no matter which side of the 49th parallel, and no matter which side of the Atlantic, Pacific or Indian Oceans.

“Onward Christian Soldiers” is a ‘chestnut’ hymn known to most who have been reared in one of the many denominations of Christendom. “Marching as to war” is one of its more exhortative lines, urging followers  of Jesus Christ Resurrected to “bring the gospel” to all corners of the earth. However, while the analogy to the training camps operating under the banner cry of Islamic jihad is exaggerated, there is a similarity to the fervor and the zealotry and the danger to one’s sanity, maturity and healthy spiritual development  that accompanies both kinds of extremism, Christian and Muslim.
Infidels, heretics, and the perfect purgation of the evils of those infidels and heretics are welcomed and accepted tenets of the ideology of those committed to the cause of their “religion”....and that cause, however perverted it may seem to those of us who despise its very existence and who speak out against the dangers of the infantilism their ideology imposes on the innocents and the vulnerable, is one for which they are prepared to surrender their “existence” whether in literal terms (as is the case of the Islamic martyrs) or metaphoric terms, as is the case in many of the lives of those engaged, for example in shooting and killing nurses and doctors who operate therapeutic abortion clinics.

In the case of Islamic radicals, Jews, Christians and even Muslims who are not compliant with and obedient to a particular strand of Islam are considered infidels, and thereby subject to “removal,” “elimination,” “purging” and  even in some cases death, as part of the responsibility of those perpetrating these acts of what could and would in any other context be considered “war crimes”. Similarly, in the case of radical, fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, those who are willing to question the beliefs, the practices and the scriptural underpinnings of the attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and actions of those “purists” are considered “heretics” and labelled as such within the ecclesial community in which all stripes of Christianity are expected to worship. In extreme cases, such as a Roman Catholic American presidential candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose is  publicly denied access to the mass, or eucharist, by the bishop of his home church, for failing to comply with church teaching on abortion. (John Kerry in 2004!)

Previously, and in some quarters still, former Roman Catholics who marry outside the church, to a ‘heretical’ prostestant or Jew, are also considered to have ‘left the fold’ and are subject to penalties should they wish to return. (Why would they?)

In my own journey into , through and out from the path of active ministry in the Anglican/Episcopal church in both Canada and the United States, I have encountered many of these same zealots who demanded my removal, broke into my residence, left messages of hate on my phone  answering machine, spawned libellous and untrue rumours about a phony and fallacious DUI, and made public accusations and attacks on my character that warranted legal action, including action against the hierarchy of the church for its failure to provide the basis of ‘due process’. When I removed the Sunday School Curriculum promoted by David C. Cook from one of the hotbeds of Christian fundamentalism, just south of Denver Colorado, Colorado Springs, the home of “family values,” and replaced it with something the Canadian church then called “The Whole People of God,” and when I  suggested that some might like to read writings like Original Blessing by Matthew Fox and “People of the Lie” by Scott Peck, I was labelled a heretic. A silent and secret campaign was mounted to remove me from my position, conducted by the insiders who provided much of the funding for the small parish to survive,  and a verbal “shoot-out” just as in the old west occurred between one of the wardens who firmly subscribed to this poppycock of faux religiosity and me in the sanctuary of the little church which failed to accommodate both of us.

As one who has fought against all forms of religious tyranny, including the abuse of Episcopal power both through overt commission and covert omission, *

·       through such failures as the blatant failure to orient new clergy to the full truth of the situation into which they were ‘sentencing’ an unsuspecting victim, and

·       such failures as not becoming familiar with the depth and the desperation of individual parishes that remained outside their  conscious awareness and conscience through a act of avoidance and denial of having to confront the realities of their responsibilities, and

·       through their conscious and willful or unconscious and irresponsible falling into the trap of putting the accounts and the fund-raising processes of the church ahead of the spiritual lives of their parishioners

·       through the conscious and blind membership in what could be called an old boys club of insiders, thereby imposing a gate-keeping exclusion on those who did and will not belong to the club

·       through a blind submission to the demands of a radical feminism that sought and continues to hold adult women as victims in relationships with male clergy, thereby infantilizing those very women and removing any responsibility for their complicity in relationships

·       through a failure to engage in their own spiritual growth and development, including their capacity to discern, accept responsibility for and heal their  brokenness, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, including a full conscious awareness and discernment of their emotional lives

·       through a failure to accept responsibility to provide spiritual, professional and psychological support for all clergy, including the responsibility to provide leadership in acquiring the necessary funding and resources for such support

And when one combines a desperate and overt and willful determination to “grow both numbers and dollars” as a way of defining the resume of the episcopate to the exclusion of all of the failures noted above, as well as the failure to integrate first different racial demographics, including different sexual orientations and even non-gay  females from the centrality of the life of the church, and even more insidiously to sanction the exclusion of the “underclass” of society from the pews of the ‘hallowed’ upper-class high church pews, it is not difficult to see how easy it might be for zealots to seize control of too many parishes, whose public face announced moderation and acceptance of all of God’s children., (created in the image of God, imago dei) yet whose psychic and spiritual reality exposed a growing cancer of hypocrisy, deception, the abuse of power and a growing divide between the insiders and the rogues, like me.

While there were no bullets fired at me, there were clearly political, verbal assaults that were neither acknowledged nor accounted for, nor even challenged by the ecclesial hierarchy, in my decade-plus attempt to survive in a hostile environment. I know intimately of the dangers of religious fundamentalism, religious zealotry and religious bigotry, from the inside, and I clearly identify with that courageous mother and teen-aged daughter who are speaking out against such insidious  religious fundamental instruction in sexual development. And the dangers of religious zealotry are growing exponentially as the variety and deviousness of the methods of delivery of the self-righteous indoctrination by the fanatic fringes of all faiths  increase.

And it will take a significant resistance movement by those willing to take the risk of estrangement, ostracism and outright slander  to counter this cancer in all our Christian religious encampments.
*Editor’s Note: This piece is not asserting that all bishops in the Anglican/Episcopal church are predisposed to the fundamentalist, literalist, evangelical point of view; it is however, recognizing that if this radical element is not and cannot be controlled or even negotiated with toward a common “yes” within the individual congregation or parish, (they are simply unable and unwilling to moderate or compromise on their rigid, righteous and purist positions), then how is the world to expect, anticipate or even hope for a peaceful truce between such diametrically opposed factions in the Islamic world as the radical Sunni faction(s) and the moderate Sunni, the Zealot Shia and the moderate Shia factions. So before Christians start demanding an end to violence from the Islamic radicals, they might give consideration to the need for some negotiated accommodations within the Christian church.

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