From peaceful Muslims to murder of liberal heroes, Progressives have a right to be pissed

muhammad_ali_02aBack in the 1960s when Muhammad Ali converted to Islam, America hardly knew how to handle the religious convictions of a boxing hero gone faithful. Here was a famous pugilist choosing a religion that was not in line with America’s generally Christian leanings. And how could a fighter not want to fight for his country?

Then Ali (ne: Cassius Clay) did the unthinkable. He asked for conscientious objector status during the war in Vietnam. The United States initially indicted Ali on grounds that his beliefs were racially and politically motivated, not religious. Ultimately the case was overturned and Ali was granted freedom and the right to pursue his profession. Which ironically, was boxing.

Such is the complexity of liberal values, which do not always fall into black and white categories. But the lesson America has long neglected to recognize from Ali’s case is his defense of the Nation of Islam as a religion of peace. Ali stood as a religious Progressive, alone in many respects, trying to defend his right to religious freedom. He was willing to fight, of course. But not to kill.

Of course Ali earned little sympathy from the political right at the time. He was called a traitor against his country. Racial implications were rife as well, with a threatening undertone that implied that this black man should get back in line and do what his country (ne: master) wanted him to do.

John_F_KennedyAli was perhaps lucky not to be assassinated for expressing his political views. Other liberal and Progressive leaders of that era did not survive their public challenges to the status quo. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as was his brother Robert. Hatred of the two men by operatives in the CIA, the mob and political conservatives was well-known. Some even speculate the Lyndon Baines Johnson was politically jealous of the two men and conspired to have JFK assassinated. Recently released information from the Kennedy family intimates their own concerns about that potential.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-1280x800-3It wasn’t long after the Kennedy assassinations that Martin Luther King, Jr. was also shot dead. The 1960s were a great period of social revolution but a deadly, punitive time to be a Progressive leader. Reasoned voices were silenced. The nation’s direction and policies were waylaid.

That is not to say that liberals were stopped from helping minorities work toward civil rights. Liberals and Progressives fought on, hewing closely to the liberal foundations of the very Constitution upon which America was founded. That’s right, the Constitution is a liberal document in that it progressively outlines the equal rights of all its citizens regardless of race, gender or even sexual orientation.

But that liberal foundation has required considerable effort to defend and protect. The fight has been compounded by an aggressive attempt by religious conservatives to essentially undermine the liberal values that guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Conservatives have attempted massive revisionism by claiming that America’s founders were Christians, and that Christian “values” drive the republic.

jesus-blackCertainly there are reflections of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America’s commitment to equality. But Christianity as a conservative religious movement has a long tradition of ignoring its equally liberal foundations. Jesus Christ was anything but a conservative. He fought the conservatives of his day in the form of Pharisees and other religious leaders determined to wield power through faith, and to manipulate others through economic and social pressures. Those conservatives in power at the time were the very forces that turned Jesus over to Roman authorities to have him crucified. So the battle between conservatives eager for power and control with the liberal agenda is a long and ancient conflict. It continues to this day.

It was not about the “jews” murdering Jesus. It was about conservatives without conscience, to quote one John Dean, who wrote a book of the same title. That book ought to be required reading for every American citizen.  It documents the power-mongering conservative movement that threatens to engulf and swallow the personal and individual rights of every person in America. All for the profit of the very few.

Conservatives have worked hard the past thirty years to blur the lines between corporate and individual rights. Indeed, the Citizens United case was specifically driven to the Supreme Court to allow more corporate money into the political process. During the 2012 presidential election, candidate Mitt Romney blurted the conservative political belief that, “Corporations are people…”

John-Lennon-john-lennon-34078983-1024-768But he’s wrong. And he’ll always be wrong about that. That very statement brings to mind the cogent statement of one John Lennon, former Beatle and outspoken critic of insane conservative political and religious motives. Lennon said: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

And what was the result for John Lennon in this world? An insane man shot him in the head on the streets of New York City.

Which brings to mind another insane statement relative to weapons like the one used to shoot John Lennon. Gun advocates love to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And so goes the insanity, and guns of military grade continue to proliferate in America, where children are shot to death in elementary schools, and gunman invade college campuses or stand up in movie theaters and open fire.

The rational, sane thing to do would be to pay attention to the real first phrase of the Second Amendment, which says “A well-regulated militia… being necessary for the security of a free state….”

And yes, the Second Amendment goes on to say that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. So protect that right, but also protect against guns getting into the hands of insane people. Set up standards that are hard to achieve because that is what is meant by the phrase “a well-regulated militia.” Because that is what is required for the security of a free state.

It works both ways you see. We need to question why people feel they need military grade weapons to walk safely on the streets. The police in communities across the nation are now militarizing their force in order to protect against the ramping up of military grade weapons owned by private citizens! That’s because we don’t have a well-regulated militia.

Liberals and Progressives have suffered far more losses and more political heroes to gun violence than conservatives. We need to ask 1) why that is and 2) how would conservative react if it had been their heroes shot down in cold blood?

Brady1We could take the example of James Brady, the White House Press Secretary who was shot while defending Ronald Reagan. Brady served a notably conservative President, yet when faced with the debilitating consequences of his compromised condition due to gun violence, Brady became one of the leading gun control advocates of his time.

But the apparently violent motives underlying conservatism is not limited to just guns, shooting and wars. There is a violent strain that runs through so much of the rhetoric of conservatism. Another liberal victim of gun violence was Gabrielle Giffords. Time Magazine carried this observation about her shooting. “Last March, at the height of the health care Gabrielle Giffordsreform battle, Giffords’ office was vandalized. She mentioned in an MSNBC interview that a Sarah Palin graphic had depicted her district in the crosshair of a gun sight. “They’ve got to realize there are consequences to that,” she said. “The rhetoric is incredibly heated.” The corner next to her office had also become, she said, a popular spot for Tea Party protests.”

So who really has the right to be pissed in America? Is it the conservatives and Tea Party that so aggressively state their convictions and are pissed about taxes, social welfare and progressive reforms on equal rights?

Or is it the Progressives whose heroes have been randomly, pointedly and successively shot down in cold blood for standing up for the equal rights guaranteed all citizens by the United States Constitution?

There is so much opportunity for progress in America, but only if people can peacefully come to terms with the real and true history of the United States. That is, our liberal heritage is at continual risk from a violent, intolerant, often racist sector whose worldview claims to be on the right side of politics and religion, but whose words and actions stand in direct conflict with those who believe in equal rights on the political front and equal souls on the religious front.

The fatal flaws of originalism and fundamentalism as literalistic truth

Originalism is a flawed ideology that is wearing down the wit and wisdom of the Founding Fathers. The same is true of biblical literalism and fundamentalism, which are anachronistic methods of interpreting scriptural truth.

Originalism is a flawed ideology that is wearing down the wit and wisdom of the Founding Fathers. The same is true of biblical literalism and fundamentalism, which are anachronistic methods of interpreting scriptural truth.

By Christopher Cudworth

The human instinct to distill ideas down to their simplest level is an admirable endeavor. Ernest Hemingway used words with economy. His prose still overflowed with meaning.

The authors of the Holy Bible also showed talent for saying what needed to be said. For that same reason the Bible can be difficult to deconstruct. Picking apart the supposed Word of God is no small deed.

In government, the United States Constitution enjoys a status that is similarly sacroscant. Legal scholars hesitate to embellish on the laws written by the Founding Fathers, who frankly beat the crap out of each other over every word.

But we too soon forget about that. Instead there seems to be a tendency for people of a certain legal bent who appear to believe the Constitution is on par with holy writ. Yet they also claim to be able to discern what the original authors truly meant through an interesting legal theory called originalism.

Originalism as an ideology

Originalism is just what it sounds like. Originalists believe the Constitution is to be taken literally, just as it was written, rather than interpreted or amended, as Americans have occasionally seen fit to do.

Originalism therefore operates in much the same intellectual sphere as biblical literalism and its dogmatic progeny, fundamentalism. Biblical fundamentalists believe the Bible says certain things that are immutably true. Absolutes. In its most literal mode, fundamentalism essentially does the same thing to Holy Scripture that originalism does with the United States Constitution.

Both deign to read the minds of the original authors, with sole right to do so bequeathed to those who think alike.

Backwards progress

The inevitable convergence of these cultural thought memes has been in progress for a long time, but most pronouncedly in the last 40 years or so, when conservative thought leaders on the political side began dragging America back to the so-called “original” interpretation of the United States Constitution and conservative religious factions began demanding that the Bible be represented only as infallible, inerrant and literal in its context.

The problem with both originalism and fundamentalism as social constructs is that they by definition ignore the significant social changes by which society has evolved to provide equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, creed, religion, gender or sexual orientation. To ignore these changes is to dumb down the culture rather than enlighten through social progress and yes, through revelation. Turning the words of the Constitution or the Bible into gods themselves is rather a form of idol worship, ignoring the plain fact that the words themselves are but symbols of the actions of humankind.

Slaves to ideology

For example, both the Constitution and the Bible in their “original” forms share a common flaw in tolerance and promotion of human slavery. This single aspect when it comes to civil and spiritual rights is sufficient to call other notions of originalism and literalistic fundamentalism into question.

In the book of Exodus 21, the Bible sets for the following laws. We can therefore also imagine them as part of the United States Constitution, which when it was written and installed as the law of the land did not ban slavery.

Exodus 21:  “There are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door of the doorpost; and his master shall pierce hs ear with an awl, and he shall serve him for life.”

A different time? Not so fast.

Certainly arguments could be made that slavery was perhaps, in some way, a different social institution then than it is now. But that would just be lying to ourselves about the egregious nature of slavery as a social institution in order to accommodate the anachronism of a literalistic ideology that cannot account for social change.

The Bible was plainly wrong to advocate slavery, and so was the US Constitution in its original and sustained enactments until the passage of the 13th Amendment that abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude. So neither the literalistic fundamentalism of the Bible or the United States Constitution can be trusted with complete abandon. It took nearly 100 years and thousands of lives to accomplish the human rights goal of banning slavery in America. It took another 40 years or so to give women the full rights of citizenship.

The lessons of Constitutional Amendments

No less than 27 Amendments have been ratified to the United States Constitution, including those protecting the right to bear arms, which was not guaranteed in the “original” Constitution but needed to be defined to create the “more perfect union” through a Bill of Rights and amendments designed to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. As a nation we have deigned through amendments to the Constitution to bring clarity to many issues that deserve full measure of understanding. We have also struggled with many of these issues even with greater definition through enactments of law such as those that affect separation of church and state, so strongly implied in our history as neither establishment of a national religion nor the right to practice religious freedom. Clearly the only preventative measure to uphold that span of rights is a separation of church and state. Yet so many refuse to acknowledge even that plain truth, so determined are they to impose their own religion on the masses. Those efforts, in turn, have produced an erosion of scientific understanding, humanistic approach to civil law, and egregious attempts to control and define the private rights of individuals in medical, social and personal terms, right down to the womb of a woman.

Originally flawed

So despite the apparent aims of Constitutional “originalists” to drag America kicking and screaming back to a “literal” interpretation of the Constitution in which Supreme Court justices try to play mind reader or simply impose their own prejudicial will upon the nation on whatever issue they choose, there can be no such thing as originalism. It simply does not exist, did not exist when the Constitution was written, and later ratified, and so we should cease deceiving ourselves as a nation and quit trying to paint everything in our laws as “original” and/or black and white.

The same goes for literalistic fundamentalism, which bears part of the blame at least for the anachronistic mindset of a nation falling into intellectual ruin because 50% of its populace can’t make sense of metaphorical truth, not even when Jesus Christ himself was a teacher who made use of organic parables to convey spiritual truth.

Originalists and fundamentalists are lost in a maze of wishful thinking and backwards logic. Our Founding Fathers thought better of the Constitution to force it to lie there and play dead after it was written, and Jesus castigated the Pharisees and other teachers of the law for turning scripture into law. Neither is a legacy worth living, yet there are millions of people who believe they speak the truth without testing it against the wisdom of time and social change. That is a fatal flaw for any nation.