Thursday, February 1, 2024 #20

 In fact, he (Chris Hedges) writes, it was while studying at Harvard Divinity School that he first learned American Christians are the Nazis’ modern ‘ideological inheritors.’ Bearing not ‘swastikas and brown shirts’ but ‘patriotism and the pages of the Bible,’ these new fascists are led by a ‘theocratic sect’ of Calvinism called Dominionism….The Dominionist movement ‘shares prominent features with classical fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race. If Christian fascists win, then ‘labor unions civil-rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the workforce to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship. The key, Hedges claims, is he certainty of evangelical faith. Confidence, we are told, is a fascist ploy, while real Christians accept that we ‘do not understand what life is about…Faith presupposes that we cannot know. We can never know.’ Those who take comfort in evangelical dogmas are fleeing what Hedges calls our ‘Culture of Despair’ the social and economic conditions of modern industrialized America. (From Ryan T. Anderson’s piece entitled, Christianity is an Enemy That Gives Hedges Meaning, 3/7/07, in….reprinted from the last post in this space.

While it does not make its way into the popular coverage of the news, Dominionism, offers a relatively new and dangerous insight into what some say is going on underneath the headlines in the United States, if not also elsewhere.

Dominion theology, also known as dominionism, is  a group of Christian political ideologues that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians and based on their understandings of biblical law. Extents of rule and ways of acquiring governing authority are varied. For example, dominion theology can include theonomy* but does not necessarily involve advocacy of adherence to the Mosaic Law (Ten Commandments) as the basis of government. The label is primarily applied to groups of Christians in the United States. Prominent adherents of those ideologies include Calvinist Christian reconstructionism#, Charismatic and Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology, and the New Apostolic Reformation. (

*theonomy: a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law.

#reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Calvinist theonomic movement, developed under the direction of R.J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North, and has had an important influence on the Christian right in the United States. Its central theme is that society should be reconstructed under the leadership of Jesus in all aspects of life. In keeping with the biblical cultural mandate, reconstructionists advocate for theonomy and the restoration of certain biblical laws said to have continued applicability. Those include the death penalty, not only for murder, but also for idolatry, open homosexuality, adultery, witchcraft and blasphemy. …..Evangelical leaders who endorsed it (reconstructionism) explicitly or implicitly include Jerry Falwell Se.,m Bill Gothard, Jay Grimstead, D. James Kennedy, Tim LaHaye, Doug Phillips, Howard Phillips, Pat Robertson, Francis Schaeffer and Wayne Whitehead. (

Directly confronting the historic tradition enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Known as ‘the establishment clause,’ the opening lines of the First Amendment prohibit the government from creating an official religion or favoring one religion (or nonreligion) over another…..The U.S. Supreme Court has also said that states must uphold this religions freedom principle. ‘The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state,’ which must be kept high and impregnable’. (Justice Hugo Black, Everson v Board of Education (1947).  (from

Without probing the historic links between the rise of reconstructionism, Dominionism, and the spectre of an envisioned imposition of Sharia Law, for example in the United States, while the specifics of which laws and regulations each would permit and prohibit, the prospect of a religiously defined and operating ‘state’ are beyond the scope of the imagination and expectation of most in the West. Furthermore, directly in conflict with a state in which no religion is dominant, and also where the absence of religion legally tolerated and celebrated, theonomy, whether in the form of Dominionism and reconstructionism or Sharia Law, takes matters of faith, primarily based on a literal, left-brain, legalistic reading and interpretation of holy writing (Bible, Koran) and imposes them on the secular society.

Not only is such a prospective development not conducive or supportive of a tolerant and small-l liberal society, in that those who subscribe are immediately part of the governance, while those who do not subscribe are considered some form of alien, (dhimmis, non-Muslim, under Sharia Law). “Apostates’ might be an appellation for those in a state under Dominionism, just as ‘liberal’ was a term of disdain for fundamental evangelicals in the Anglican Seminary of the 1990’s.

What remains both tragic and ironic, in the extreme, in any discussion of such matters, outside but not unrelated to the social and the political implications of these energies and movements, is that each comes from what has traditionally been regarded as the ‘left side’ (logos) of the human brain, to the denial, or at least shelving of the activity and significance of the right brain (mythos).

In her monumental work, The Lost Art of Scripture, Rescuing the Sacred Texts, Karen Armstrong writes some penetrating and insightful prose:

(Referencing Lion Man, a partly human body (with) a head of a cave-lion, standing some thirty-one centimeters tall, some 40,000 years old, a figurine in the Ulm Museum):

From a strictly rational perspective Lion Man could be dismissed as a delusion. But neurologists tell us that in fact we have no direct contact with the world we inhabit. We have only perspectives that come to us through the intricate circuits of our nervous system, so that we all—scientists as well as mystics—know only representations of reality, not reality itself. We deal with the world as it appears to us, not as it intrinsically is, so some of our interpretations may, be more accurate than others. This somewhat disturbing news means that ‘objective truths’ on which we rely are inherently illusive. (Borrowing here from Michael R. Trimble, The Soul in the Brain, The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art and Belief, Baltimore, 2007 and from B. Spilka, et al, The Psychology of Religion, 3rd edition, Guilford, NY, 2003) The world is there; its energy and form exist. But our apprehension of it is only a mental projection. The world is outside our bodies, but not outside our minds. ‘We are this little universe’, the Benedictine mystic Bede Griffiths (1906-93) explained, ‘a microcosm in which the macrocosm is present as a hologram.’ We are surrounded by a reality that transcends- or ‘goes beyond’- our conceptual grasp…..(But) in recent decades, neurologists have discovered that the right hemisphere of the brain is essential to the creation of poetry, music, and religion. IT is involved with the formation of our sense of self, and has a broader, less focused mode of attention that the left hemisphere, which is more pragmatic and selective. Above all, it sees itself as connected to the outside world, whereas the left hemisphere holds aloof from it. Specialising in language, analysis and problem-solving, the left side of our brain suppresses information that it cannot grasp conceptually. The right hemisphere, however, whose functions tended in the past to be overlooked by scientists, has a holistic rather than an analytical vision; it sees each thing in relation to the whole and perceives the interconnectedness of reality. It is, therefore, at home with metaphor, in which disparate entities become one, while the left hemisphere tends to be literal and to wrest things from their context so that it can categorize and make use of them. News reaches the right hemisphere first, where it appears as part of an interlocking unity; it then passes to the left hemisphere, where it is defined, analysed and its use assessed. But the left can produce only a reductive version of complex reality, and once processed, this information is passed back to the right hemisphere, where we see it-insofar as we can- in the context of the whole. (Armstrong, op cit, p.3,4,5) (Borrowing here from Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, New Haven, CT, 2009)

Positing a right-left brain image, however, does not suggest or imply that each ‘brain’ competes with the other, although the ‘left’ is by nature competitive, and ‘largely ignorant of the work of the right, it tends to be overconfident. The right hemisphere, however, has a more comprehensive vision of reality, which…we can never fully grasp; it is more at home with embodiment and the physical than the left. The left brain is essential to our survival and enables us to investigate and master our environment, but it can offer us only an abstract representation of the complex information it receives from the right. Because the right hemisphere is less self-centred, it is more realistic than the left hemisphere. Its wide-ranging vision enables it to hold different views of reality simultaneously, and unlike the left, it does not form certainties based on abstraction. Profoundly attuned to the Other-to everything that is not ourselves- the right hemisphere is alert to relationships. It is the seat of empathy, pathos, and our sense of justice. Because it can see an-other point of view, it inhibits our natural selfishness. (Armstrong, op. cit. p. 6 …borrowed from McGilchrist, op.cit.)

What does all this neuroscience, right-left-brain ‘stuff’ have to do with Dominionism, and the conflict both between and among faith communities, and their implications on the future of the planet?

First, left-brain competitions, while appropriate in moderation in select situations, given our obsession (as Hillman constantly reminds us) with the literal, the empirical, the nominal and the ‘extrinsic’ tilt the playing field on which we all live in favour of its dominance. Intellectual, cognitive, and ultimately narrow perspectives that are naturally exclusive of the ‘whole’ and ‘the Other,’ while captivating and dominating our attention, is nevertheless, also highly constricting. Indeed, it would seem that much of contemporary religious dialogue and debate, takes place on that level. It is not to say that these deliberations are unethical, immoral or even merely secular. Religion and faith are not either ideas or activities that can be contained in either intellectual or neurological boxes. Also, when attempting to ‘contemplate, reflect upon, imagine or even aspire to whatever might be deemed ‘deity’ or God, from whatever faith tradition, while one is conscious that any activity of this nature cannot attain ‘full awareness,’ full intellectual or perceptual grasp. And words like “awe,” and “awesome” and “super-natural” and ‘ephemeral’ and ‘ethereal’ and even ‘imaginative’ spring up on our radar to hint at our attempt to ‘relate.’ Some writers have even equated the notion of God with ‘relationship’ in both the literal and the abstract.

What is it about any aspiration to a religious faith that is both so captivating and so elusive? And what is the primary aspiration for the millions who have, do and continue to seek some relationship with God? And, while such a desire may ennoble the aspirant, it can also profoundly wound, divide, separate, alienate and even kill.

Armstrong offers some insight into the human engagement in what she calls a ‘deep-seated human aspiration for transformation….This…is a major theme of scripture: people want to ‘get beyond’ suffering and mortality and devise ways of achieving this. Today we are less ambitious; we want to be slimmer, healthier, younger and more attractive than we really are. We feel that a ‘better self’ lurks beneath our lamentably imperfect one: we want to be kinder, braver, more brilliant, and charismatic. But the scriptures go further, insisting that each one of us can become a Buddha, a sage, a Christ or even a god. The American scholar Frederick Streng has this working definition of religion:

Religion is a means of ultimate transformation…An ultimate transformation is a fundamental change from being caught up in the troubles of common existence (sin, ignorance) to living in such a way that one can cope at the deepest level with these troubles. That capacity for living allows one to experience the most authentic or deepest reality-the ultimate.

The myths, rituals, sacred texts and ethical practices of religion develop a plan of action ‘whereby people reach beyond themselves to connect with the true and ultimate reality that will save them from the destructive forces of everyday existence. (borrowed from Streng, Understanding Religious Life, 3rd ed. Belmont CA, 1985)Living with what is ultimately real and true, people have found that they are not only better able to bear these destructive tensions, but that life itself acquires new depth and purpose.

But what is this ‘true and ultimate reality?’ We will see that the scriptures (from all faiths) have given it various names-rta, Brahmin, Dao, nirvana, Elohim or God-but in the modern West we have developed an inadequate and ultimately unworkable idea of the divine, which previous generations would have found naïve and immature. As a child, I learned this response to the question, ‘What is God?’ in the Catholic catechism: ‘God is the Supreme Spirit, who alone exists of himself, and is infinite in all perfections.’ This is not only arid and uninspiring but fundamentally incorrect because it attempts to define, a word whose literal meaning is to ‘set limits upon,’ an essentially illimitable reality. We shall see that when the left hemisphere was less cultivated than it is today, what we call ‘God’ was neither a ‘spirit’ nor a being. God was rather, Reality itself. Not only did God have no gender, but leading theologians and mystics insisted that God did not ‘exist’ in any way that we can understand. Before the modern period, the ‘ultimate reality’ came closer to what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1899-1976) called ‘Being,’ a fundamental energy that supports and pervades everything that exists. You cannot see, touch or hear it, but can only watch it mysteriously at work in the people, objects and natural forces that it informs. It is essentially indefinable because it is impossible to get outside it and view it objectively.

Traditionally, the scared was experienced as a presence that permeates the whole of reality-humans, animals, plants, stars, wind and rain. The Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) carefully referred to it a ‘something’ because it was indefinable and, therefore, transcended propositional thought. He had experienced

                                                               A sense sublime

                              Of something far more deeply interfused

                            Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns

                           And the round ocean and the living air,

                           And the blue sky and in the mind of man. (Lines Composed a few Miles above Tintern Abbey)

He had, he says, ‘learned’ to acquire this insight. We might say he achieved it by deliberately cultivating a right-hemispheric awareness by—for a limited time—suppressing the analytical activities of the left. When people tried to access the ‘ultimate,’ therefore, they were not submitting to an alien, omnipotent and distant ‘being’ but were attempting to achieve a more authentic mode of existence. We shall see that right up to the early modern period, sages, poets and theologians insisted that what we call ‘God,’ ‘Brahman,’ or ‘Dao’ was ineffable, indescribable and unknowable—and yet was with them: a constant source of life, energy and inspiration. Religion-and scripture-were, therefore, arts forms that helped them to live in relation to this transcendent reality and somehow embody it. (Armstrong, op. cit. pps. 8-9)

The poetic mind, as a lens though which to both view and to imagine who we are, as well as how we ‘relate’ to ultimate reality might offer both a new key-hole into a new experience of faith as well as de-escalate the wars of religion, politics, greed, ambition and indifference both to life itself and especially to those considered ‘the enemy’.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home