Religious Extremism and Political Power

The emergence of a new Caliphate in the wild, untamed, war-torn wastes of Iraq is quite unfortunate for anyone who believes democracy is a better situation than a religious fascist dictatorship. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the people in power in our own country, just a few years ago, were sort of hoping and planning for a scenario like this one. Political extremism in our country is generally relegated to anti-woman and anti-immigrant actions and activities, also the breakdown of public aid situations presumably meant to drive everyone in their hour of need to a religious charity instead. It is not a good system, generally. And, it is sort of discussed as a separate issue to the emerging caliphate in destabilized Iraq.

But, they are tied to each other, in every way imaginable.

First, since the crusades and the Imperialism that followed, carving up the land into countries that had no relationship to the people on the ground at their birth, there has been a culture of fear and intimidation, where both Islam and Christianity have difficulty trusting each other, and certainly Islam can say they have been under assault for thousands of years, in one fashion or another. Generally, these wars have been fought on soil held by Islam. Once, when Spain was taken by African Muslims, there was an actual invasion north, but this kingdom did not hold for long, and the Spanish crown recovered what was lost. The West has invaded. The West has come for oil, and manpower, and the conversion of souls. The West has built churches of wealth and beauty while permitting the mosques to decay. The West declared a Jewish kingdom, and unfortunately, everyone was so afraid of Jews and Judaism. We were all so racist and awful about the community of Holocaust survivors. There is so much history. History has set us all up for failure as the failures of so many generations push the boundaries together.

Second, in our own country, the religious extremism of the halls of power seeks to recreate the Book of Revelations to create the “end times” that actually don’t sound so wonderful, nor so ideal, with lots of death and destruction and damnation. But, you know, the good people are saved, right? Yeah. But the world is destroyed. With that destruction, the wonder of grass and trees and flowers, the push of life in the fields were does run and doves fly and hawks descend and life happens is lost, in some mythical parable of humanity’s apotheosis by fire, as if we are all that matters of the living here. Anyway, that’s a discussion for a different day. Today, let us consider the Book of Revelations, and the goals therein. The religious fanatics in our own country, who espouse the fundamental Christian agenda, have been hoping and praying for the return of Christ. They have been wishing for it, and dreaming of it, and seeking it out, in sort of the same way that a bullied child dreams of being the owner of the company while the bullies all grow up to be janitors. (“Just you wait, all you doubters, and people who think I’m wasting my life, because when Jesus gets here, you’re all going to regret it!”)

(I am, myself, a Roman Catholic, and I work at a Christian Bookstore that I adore, and I can’t help but wonder at anyone who wants to hasten the end times, when it is pretty clear to me it doesn’t happen when we want it to happen, nor when we think it should. In fact, I suspect that the end times come for all of us at the end of our lives. For, the world exists in our senses. Once our senses are lost, in death, and we burn away into the tiniest shell of soul and bacterial presence, returning to soil, then this is the end of the world. The theological mistake we often make in our religion is to misinterpret the personal as universals. And, it is a gross misjudgment of Islam to describe a religion that is so committed to peace and harmony and justice as a violent or fascist religion, and, as ever, on the ground, the fanatics can get funky. But, I digress…)

Historically, and recently, the region of the world described as the Middle East is very unstable and difficult for a variety of reasons. But, one thing is clear: To hold power in the region and create stability for the people who live there and deserve to live without war, unfortunately only really strong dictatorships seem capable of succeeding there. Ergo, the flowerings of democracy in the Arab Spring do not look like they will be able to hold without some serious cultivation and effort. Unfortunately, the blood of many patriots has already spilled to provide that fertilizing. Now, students of history, particularly recent history, will note that this is the way regions play out after an exploitation system disguised as an “empire” pulls away from areas, generally.

Generally, people in power should be able to predict that destabilizing the balance of power in a tense, taught region like the Middle East, will lead to the rise of some serious dictator shit. Some religious fanatic will grab power violently and quickly and start the execution machines pretty quick in the face of a weak, underfunded, young democracy. This was a likely outcome, even early on in the planning stages, and described as a sort of “worst-case-scenario” of the Iraq war, from the get go. But, if you believe that the end times are coming, this is a “best-case-scenario” because it means we are one step closer to the end times, where Jesus comes down and culls the herd and the fire and the horsemen and all that symbolism made literal.

Remember, again, I am Catholic, and have read my fair share of the Bible, and I don’t think you can adequately read the Bible as a literal document. For us Catholics, the Bible is a very useful document, but Jesus didn’t write it, himself. He inspired it. He never wrote a word of it. He was busy practicing what he was preaching to write anything down. And, the revelations of Paul of the end times was a metaphoric way of addressing reality, not to be confused with actual reality.

Unless you are a fundamentalist Christian, and the Bible is literally true, and things not contained therein are categorically either false or unnecessary complications. In that case, the emergent Caliphate of Iraq is an opportunity to see the end times in our own lifetimes.

Evangelical, Fundamental Christianity has become the tool of an infection that plagues our own society: We have our own deadly Caliphate. They would see children of color die in poverty instead of receiving basic care. They ship black sons away to die in prison in a continuation of slavery with the War on Drugs that started on their watch. They oppress women, and remove them from the halls of power and remove control over their own bodies as it doesn’t align with the will of the religious doctrine.

This is an infection of male power fantasies, not true religion. The idea that an individual man can transcend the flesh if only that man can live correctly, by a strict rule of law, and in this transcend, transcend, gain power, gain the favor of unknowable and otherwise quiet gods.

We have our own deadly Caliphate right here, in our country, and they hold rallies, have their own news channel for their true, correct news information, and we are saved only that the rule of law, here, permits us to vote them out of power for a while. But, their appointments remain. Their infection remains.

As a student of American History, and a white male, I can understand our caliphate only in relation to racism and the history of slavery. It is a power mindset of ownership, and the power mindset of divine rights. And, we have a big army, and the religious fanatics that were in power when the GOP declared war on Iraq despite the absence of evidence of WMD, saw an opportunity to destabilize a region, and they crossed their fingers and prayed to God that they would live to see the glory of the end times.

Never pray for glory. Glory is for God, not man. Never pray for power over others. Never pray for revenge. Pray only to be grateful, and to be amazed, and to give up our anxieties to God, that we may trust to have enough, for we are not begging God for things, but begging God for the power to endure the things.

Also, defeat the American Christian Caliphate. Strip them of power. Throw them from the halls of history, to the fringes of society where they belong. Do this, lest they continue down the path of Revelations. When presented the beauty of the forests and the fields, who would dare dream that mankind was the only reason life was created at all? Who would be so arrogant as to suggest that the flowering cactus in the hardest soil, blooming in the living desert, would do so because it is part of a factory of heavenly souls? Can the world’s existence be beautiful and true without the promise of a hereafter that’s even better? Can we accept what we have as cosmically enough, and thank God for it, here?

Can we live in a world that doesn’t make religion and spirituality the tool of power to push people into roles subservient to others?

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