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Posted on Jul 11, 2011
Raised in the Catholic Church, I was a pretty confused kid. Father O’Reilly, one of the priests at St. Peter’s, the church our family attended most of the time, spoke with such a pronounced brogue that I couldn’t follow him. But I didn’t understand the Mass either, so I smiled and pretended he made sense, just accepting him on faith along with the rest of it.
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Hell for everybody but us? It clearly made some feel special, but I couldn’t make it sit right.
Of course, that was a long time ago and things have changed in the church to some degree. Not soon enough to keep me, but I hope it’s less confusing for kids today—especially now, when religious extremism is all you hear about in the media.
To listen to the bloviators, “religious extremist” means Muslim, and too many Americans buy in without understanding that this “God is (only) on our side” nonsense infects elements in pretty much every belief system. But while violent fanatics are certainly dangerous and should be dealt with appropriately, it’s vital that we recognize extremism wherever it appears. Because in some cases fanatical belief puts on a benevolent face and encroaches through stealth; rather than fly planes into buildings or massacre nonbelievers on a train or in gas chambers, these adherents ease into institutions and infiltrate systems with the aim of gaining legitimacy and, eventually, control.
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Take a look at fundamentalist, Dominionist Christianity. They’re the bunch, per writer and researcher Chris Berlet, who are called not only to be “active political participants in civic society, but also seek to dominate the political process as part of a mandate from God.” Or, as sociologist Sara Diamond puts it, they “alone are biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns—and there is no consensus on when that might be.”
A mandate from God that the adherents of this particular One True Faith should take over our nation’s institutions? Yup. And I’m afraid it’s easy to dismiss the idea as arrogant posturing and just laugh. OK, maybe wince when that clown in Florida burns the Quran, or shake our heads when a Christian organizer says gays are Nazis, or, per another more recent source, “barbarians.” Maybe you scoffed when a Christian leader said 9/11 was God’s punishment for creeping secularism, but these folks are serious.
For example, one of the secular institutions on which this bunch is working its wiles is our armed forces. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, that a cult-like extremist group could quietly weave its way into control of the command structure of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines? But think about it: Did the “Jesus rifles” just happen by accident? Remember the 800,000 high-powered rifle sights engraved with Bible codes proclaiming “Jesus as the light of the world” and other quotes that our troops unwittingly carried into battle in two primarily Muslim countries? Just a fluke? Ya’ think? Just an innocent mistake, the unfortunate mix of a zealous Christian manufacturer and a sleepy Pentagon acquisitions officer?
Hard to imagine, isn’t it? How could religious zealots possibly infiltrate and gain control over our military? Well, for one, you might start with the military academies in West Point, Colorado Springs and Annapolis, the institutions where young Americans train to become the commanding officers who control the kids carrying those rifles.
A friend called my attention to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and Mikey Weinstein, the Air Force Academy graduate who founded it. Going through the academy some years ago, Weinstein, who is Jewish, encountered some bias but nothing that seemed ingrained in the system. Going through the same academy in recent years, however, his Jewish sons and Christian daughter-in-law encountered a systemic level of anti-Semitism and fundamentalist Christian proselytizing that was insulting, infuriating and alarming.
A lawyer, a Republican who served as legal counsel to the Reagan White House, Weinstein is a strong supporter of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Armed with his belief that the separation of church and state must apply to our nation’s military, he met with walls of denial and indifference from the academy’s leadership. Finally, frustrated at his inability to make those in charge understand that not only his kids but all cadets have a right to an education at the Air Force Academy free of religious oppression, indoctrination and intimidation, Weinstein formed the MRFF to ensure that all young Americans who choose to serve their country can do so without being coerced to buy into the Dominionist Christian belief system. It’s a tough fight.
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