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Religion

Life will get a lot tougher for women if the Republican Party gets its way.  The party seems to want to drag women and their health back to the dark ages.  I’m personally so disgusted with the troglodytes in the Republican Party that I can hardly believe it.  They’ve ticked me off in the past, but they’re so far overboard now that I think they’re trying to drag us back to the 13th century.

This is the same Republican Party that proclaims itself the party of small government.  Government is bad, according to them, and has too much power over citizens’ (and corporations, because corporations are people) lives.  So government must be made smaller so that it intrudes less than it currently does.  Regulate less!  Obama is bad!  (No matter what he does.)  This is simply  Republicans playing Machiavellian games in the name of religion, damn whoever gets hurt.

Here’s how Republicans are waging war on women in the past few weeks (they’re also waging war on gays, but that’s another story and another post):

  • The current conflagration pretty much started — this time — with the Susan G. Komen Foundation flap over Planned Parenthood.
  • Republicans promptly went ballistic over the whole contraception coverage requirement issue.  They said (and continue to say) that it goes too far, that religious organizations should be exempted.  Of course, this is a fallacious argument; the Obama Administration isn’t requiring that churches pay for contraception, only their health care arms.  (I’m explaining this badly.  But the point remains.)  They’re going all in and gearing up for a huge fight to deny women contraceptive coverage, coverage that insurance companies want to provide.  (Insurance companies do nothing out of the goodness of their heart.  They’re doing it because it’s cheaper than paying for pregnancy and childbirth.)  This is about religion for the Republicans.  Mitch McConnell admitted as much.
  • Rick Santorum’s main financial backer suggested that birth control is actually quite cheap, that “gals” could achieve that by putting an aspirin between their knees.
  • The Virginia House of Delegates passed a law requiring women who want to have an abortion to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound before those women are allowed to have their abortion.  Forcing something into a woman without her consent — even if she has to sign a consent form to have the ultrasound — is rape.  State-sanctioned rape.
  • Republicans on the House Oversight Committee held a hearing today on birth control.  Not one woman was allowed to testify, despite showing up for the hearing.  Nearly all Democratic women on the panel walked out in protest.
  • Not one Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994.  This kind of law should pass easily.  But it may not even be able to break a certain Republican filibuster.
  • Oklahoma’s senate passed a personhood act, which states that life begins at conception.  This would effectively ban all abortions.

(All this, and I didn’t even mention Rick Santorum and that Fox News commentator whose name escapes at the moment me talking about women serving on the front lines in the military.  Santorum talked about women’s feelings — and men’s feelings that they will have to protect those women.  The Fox News commentator said that women should expect to be raped.  No, that’s only if they go to Virginia and need an abortion.)

Polls show that women — including Catholic women — use birth control.  They want the choice, and they want insurance to pay for it.  I — and about half of Americans — think that a woman should have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy without onerous requirements imposed by the government.  I don’t want an abortion, but I also would not restrict another woman’s right to make that choice.  Who am I to choose for her?  Who are conservatives to impose what they want on everyone else?

This is an all-out Republican war on women.  There’s no other way to read this.  None.  It’s about nothing other than religion.  We’re supposed to live in a free country.  We have freedom of religion, which also means freedom from religion.  That means that no group is supposed to be allowed to impose its religion on another group.  Imposing religion on the rest of the country seems to be what Republicans are trying to do.  If people like Rick Santorum get their way, we’ll be living in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

What I don’t get is that the conservatives’ war on women and women’s health is not only bad policy, it’s really bad politics.  I mean, think this through.  The population is a little more than 50% female.  How does alienating a large percentage of women further Republican electoral goals in the future?  They might win today, but women are not stupid and will remember this.

It’s way past time for women, and people who love women, to stand up and call a halt to this.  It’s time to vote the Republicans persecuting women out of office.  If there aren’t acceptable alternative candidates, it’s time to run for office instead.  Women need to stand up and be counted.  It’s time to call a halt to this disgusting misogyny of which conservatives are guilty.

I haven’t wanted to talk about Mormons much; I have a Mormon family member.  I respect his right to believe what he wants.  He’s found something in the LDS church, the same as I have in Reform Judaism.  I think that’s fantastic.

Unlike some people, I don’t think Mormonism is a cult, and I don’t think they’re weird.  All religions, if you look at them from the outside, are a bit weird.  I think freedom of religion is a very good thing.  Mormons have that right, as do Catholics, Jews, evangelical Christians, or the Moonies.

I certainly did not like the way the Mormon church jumped into the Proposition 8 battle here in California.  I also didn’t like the way the Catholics got into that debate.  I think some of what the Mormons did was beyond shady, and I really don’t like the way they tried to cover their tracks.  If you have a position on some issue, and you’re working toward that end, just come out and say it.  But they have the right to do it, under our current laws.

But I have a real issue with the practice of posthumous baptism.  Maureen Dowd’s column (quoted below; emphasis mine) is on this today.  That is an absolute violation of those people’s freedom of religion.  It’s tantamount to identity theft.

Another famous nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens, wrote in Slate on Monday about “the weird and sinister belief system of the LDS,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Aside from Joseph Smith, whom Hitchens calls “a fraud and conjurer well known to the authorities in upstate New York,” the writer also wonders about the Mormon practice of amassing archives of the dead and “praying them in” as a way to “retrospectively ‘baptize’ everybody as a convert.”

Hitchens noted that they “got hold of a list of those put to death by the Nazis’ Final Solution” and “began making these massacred Jews into honorary LDS members as well.” He called it “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

The Mormons even baptized Anne Frank.

It took Ernest Michel, then chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, three years to get Mormons to agree to stop proxy-baptizing Holocaust victims.

Mormons desisted in 1995 after Michel, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “discovered that his own mother, father, grandmother and best childhood friend, all from Mannheim, Germany, had been posthumously baptized.”

Michel told the news agency that “I was hurt that my parents, who were killed as Jews in Auschwitz, were being listed as members of the Mormon faith.”

Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.” Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.

Americablog has been talking about this since (and some other practices) at least 2009.

As I’ve said, I believe in freedom of religion.  But that doesn’t extend to posthumously stealing someone’s identity.  Richard Bushman, quoted in Dowd’s op-ed, says that this practice has stopped.  But it’s happened pretty recently.  And with the “lying for the lord” practice, I’m not so sure it’s believable.

Anne Frank is a Jew.  President Obama’s mother is whatever religion she was before she died.  I think — and this starts with the evangelicals but certainly doesn’t end there — that people ought to stay out of other people’s business all together, whether that business is religion or being gay, or whatever.  American society seems to have forgotten that, which is a real shame.

I’m going to do the unthinkable – defend a Republican.  But what’s happening is wrong and needs to be called out.

This post isn’t about Mitt Romney’s (or Jon Huntsman’s, although he’s been so quiet I’d forgotten he was running) qualifications to be president.  I think that Romney is the least scary (and this isn’t saying much; the Republican field looks pretty much like a gaggle of wing nuts to me) Republican candidate for president.  This post also isn’t about Mormons or the Mormon church, although I don’t have much love for them, either, considering how they went to work to pass Proposition 8 in California.

This post is about the shameful castigation of Mormonism by some people.

We went through this in 1960.  Perhaps Romney and Huntsman need to borrow from John Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association about his Catholicism:

I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.

But I hate to even suggest that they do that.  We have freedom of religion in this country.  We do not have a religious test in this country to determine who can and can’t hold office.  It’s just a knee-jerk conservative reaction to anything different from themselves.

Maybe Mormonism is a cult.  Maybe it isn’t.  But that doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if a Protestant or a Jew or a Muslim or a Catholic or a Mormon or a Moonie runs for president.  Each candidate should be evaluated based on his or her qualifications for the job.  That doesn’t include religion.

I don’t think any of the Republican candidates are qualified to be president.  But that’s because I think they’re all nuts who want to do away with the Federal Reserve, disband the EPA, and think that any government at all is a horrible wrong (you can see some of the proposals from last night’s Republican debate here).  That has nothing to do with any of the candidates’ religions.

This post might be a bit naïve, but a lot of people are skirting around it, not quite coming out and saying it.  I feel like it needs to be said.  Loudly.  I don’t have the megaphone that some have.  Since all I have is 20 or so regular readers and a computer with a free blog, this is the best I can do.

Is anyone else disturbed by how present religion is in American politics?  It seems to be particularly bad on the Republican side as candidates try to outdo each other with how devout and pious they are.  There is a de facto contest, especially in presidential politics, to outdo each other religiously.  And it seems to me that it’s gotten worse in recent years.  Ronald Reagan didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve like this.  Heck, George W. Bush didn’t either.

Rick Perry had a prayer rally.  Michele Bachmann is from a fundamentalist Lutheran sect.  Newt Gingrich converted to Catholicism.  Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons.  All that’s fine; it’s completely fine to have a religion.  I’m reasonably religious myself; it’s impossible not to be when you’ve converted to Judaism, as I did almost a year ago.  But I don’t let my religion override my common sense in questioning what I see in the world.  (In fact, questioning is encouraged in Judaism.)

The rise of religion in politics is disturbing to me.  Religion is used to demagogue gays, science, really anything that can be remotely called progressive.  That bothers me, because at the same time we’re seeing the rise of religion, we’re seeing the decline of intellectualism on the right.  I’m not saying that right-wing politicians aren’t intelligent (although it’s clear that some of them are lightweights), but no one is thinking any more.  It’s all about the ideology.  I agreed with almost nothing he said, but I miss William F. Buckley.  There was a right-wing intellectual.  There are none like him now.  That’s a real pity.

It’s scary how much the Republican presidential candidates seem to be letting religion rule them.  I don’t mean privately; that’s perfectly fine.  I mean publicly, where it shouldn’t matter.  Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but when it’s this public it scares me.  People – people who write better than me – need to be talking and writing about it.  And voters need to call a halt to it, too.  Only then will this end.

I read a story on the congressional hearings on Muslims in America that are planned by Rep. Peter King (R-NY).  I have a real problem with these hearings.  Not that there aren’t radical Muslims here that wish America ill, but there are many other people who wish us ill, too.  At best, these hearings are myopic.  At worst, they’re a calculated attempt to smear an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.  And there are some real constitutional issues here, too.

The first thing that jumps out is the First Amendment.  Congress has absolutely no business sticking its nose into religion in any way.  Singling out one group whose common characteristic is religion is wrong and can’t be allowed to pass without comment.

Many people are commenting, of course.

Eugene Robinson:

King has decided to investigate Islam.

A Republican from Long Island in his 10th term, King seems untroubled that the freedoms of religion and association are guaranteed by the Constitution. His public exercise in Islamophobia, scheduled to begin Thursday, can do no good – and much harm.

The legitimate-sounding goal of this exercise, King explained Sunday on CNN, is to investigate “self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community” and the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism. Who doesn’t want to uncover al-Qaeda sleeper cells? Who doesn’t want to do everything that is possible – and legal – to prevent terrorist attacks?

But King further alleges that Muslim Americans have failed to demonstrate “sufficient cooperation” with law enforcement in uncovering potential terrorist plots. With this libel, King casts doubt on the loyalties of millions of Americans solely because of their faith. This is religious persecution – and it’s un-American and wrong.

Richard Cohen:

King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. On Thursday, he will inaugurate hearings into something or other. Their official title is “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” The last part – “that community’s response” – is already clear when it comes to King. The Muslim American community has taken umbrage and has demonstrated its outrage in, among other places, King’s Long Island district. King thinks it is being overly sensitive.

King is setting a dangerous precedent. The government has no business examining any peaceful religious group because a handful of adherents have broken the law. If it did, it would be past time to look into the Roman Catholic Church, which clearly was – or maybe still is – concealing the sex crimes of priests and others. The organization BishopAccountability.org reports that “perhaps more than 100,000 children” have been sexually abused since 1950 by Catholic clergymen of one sort or another. Nearly 6,000 priests have been accused of abuse – 5.3 percent of the total active in that period. Almost none of them had a day in court, and in many cases their crimes were covered up and the offenders allowed to go on their merry way.

Congress, though, has not investigated the church, and you can bet your 401(k) it will not. The church is politically powerful and, anyway, we have a very fine tradition in this country of government keeping its nose out of religion.

In the case of the Muslim American community, there is no evidence of any centralized conspiracy involving terrorism or that Muslims are any less appalled and opposed to terrorism than non-Muslims. Not a single government official has suggested otherwise and whatever (insignificant) information is produced by these hearings will be hugely offset by the comfort they provide anti-Muslim bigots. A political insane asylum has formed in America organized around the mad conviction that President Obama is a Muslim and not therefore a real American.

This is the real damage King does. Inherent in his rhetoric and his insistence on holding his hearings is the insinuation that Islam is not American. This, of course, is what some people once thought of Roman Catholicism. The aptly named Know Nothing movement of the mid-19th century was organized around such sentiment.

Terrorism remains a threat and there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism – or, to put it another way, terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. In this country, much of the internal threat comes from a very small number of addled young men whose incompetence is often just plain awe-inspiring. They no more represent the American Muslim community than some randy priest does Peter King. As low as the standard is, Congress has better things to do.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA):

[S]omething similarly sinister is returning to our country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is organizing congressional hearings on Muslim Americans. These hearings are scheduled to take place within the House Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. By framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion.

This should be deeply troubling to Americans of all races and religions. An investigation specifically targeting a single religion implies, erroneously, a dangerous disloyalty, with one broad sweep of the discriminatory brush.

This is an extremely dangerous precedent.  Singling out a group of people is wrong on so many levels that I don’t really know where to start.  There’s religion and constitutionality.  This reminds me of McCarthyism and the search for activities that he (Senator McCarthy) deemed un-American in some way.  Peter King seems to be doing the same thing with his investigation into Islam.  Cohen is right in his view that this will provide a huge amount of fodder for the bigots in our country.  They don’t need any more excuses.  No one denies that radical Islam exists.  But there are radical groups all over the country that need to be looked at.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to investigate domestic terrorism.  But when you pin it all on one group, that’s a problem.  Who’s next, if this is allowed to stand?  Jews?  Gays?  Roman Catholics?  We’ve seen the slippery slope in our country with McCarthy’s excesses.  History repeats itself over and over.  It can’t be allowed to again in this case.

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