Talibangelists (aka (aka the pseudo-Christian, far right) would love to force everyone believe in and obey their highly-adulterated pseudo-religion, and to punish those who don’t. Or won’t. Punishment is big on their agenda: unbelievers, those who stray, followers of a real faith, scientists, intellectuals, people of colour, gays, people with an “R” in their name — they love to punish anyone not among their small circle of authoritarian theocrats (aka theocons, because their pseudo-religious ideology is conservative-far right) and enablers (cue the theme music from The Handmaid’s Tale).
In order to bring their authoritarian ideology into public policy and ramp up the punishment machine, they must infiltrate and then replace the governments of the world with their own theocracy. In the USA, where they are strongest and most numerous, they already have a running start: numerous Talibangelists are active in the Trump administration, close to the president, on the supreme court, and among the justice system (Attorney General Barr being one). They are close to success and have had much of their agenda made into US public policy already. They intend to rewrite the very Constitution to enable their goals, especially that irksome Establishment Clause that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” that prevents religious (or in their case, pseudo-religious) control over the government.
They can’t do it without their religious disguise. Any similar attempt to overthrown the government would be seen as what it is: a rightwing, authoritarian coup d’etat. They’d be rounded up and jailed. Charged with treason. But by pretending to be religious, they can make everything they do about religious freedom, about biblical law, about god, and make themselves look like champions of Christians (particularly the Evangelicals and other rightwing religious sects who seem most gullible to this con). But in fact they are as deeply anti-Christian as they are anti-democracy.
They would have all national laws based on or subservient to biblical laws — including, they note with anticipatory glee, stoning homosexuals. Talibangelist laws have been compared to Islamic sharia law, but the comparison is unfair: Talibangelists ideals are much more aggressive, punitive, unforgiving, and oppressive. Despite that, theocons get offended and shirty when you compare their biblical laws with sharia laws.
Of course, they don’t want all the bible’s laws enacted: only those that are convenient for them or that fit their homophobic, misogynistic, racist, nationalist ideology. And also because, for all their codswallop about the bible and their morality, they simply can’t obey the vast majority of them (where, for example, would they even find the silver trumpets that must be sounded at feasts, at the new moon, and also “in times of tribulation, to call the congregation together”?).
They wouldn’t want, for example, the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) because that would mean their better-than-Jesus president would be stoned to death for his many sins in that category. Or for liars to be punished as Proverbs 19:5 demands, because he’d suffer every time he tweets or holds a press conference. What about the law not to fail to repay a debt (Lev. 19:13) or not to steal money stealthily (Lev. 19:11) or not to overcharge or underpay for an article (Lev 25:14) or not to work people oppressively (Lev. 25:43), not to covet and scheme to acquire another’s possession (Ex. 20:15), not to bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18)… Trump has broken so many mitzvot, not just the ten commandments, that even the theocons have lost count.
Nor do the Talibangelists want to obey all laws themselves. They ignore the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 because it would mean no more bacon or shrimp. They don’t want to obey the law in Numbers 15:32-36 that forbids work on the Sabbath on penalty of death because it would mean they wouldn’t have places to dine or shop that day (it’s okay if other people have to work on the Sabbath because their deaths don’t matter). As the LA Times pointed out,
The Hebrew Bible enjoins us many times not to mistreat or oppress foreigners, and it offers provisions for the care and feeding of strangers. Leviticus says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” and the book of Hebrews reminds us to “show hospitality to strangers.” I didn’t see the memo, but God must have revised his thinking on immigration before his endorsement of Trump.
So many biblical laws are just plain inconvenient to the Talibangelists, or threaten their power base, so they ignore them. Surely it’s not hypocrisy to demand others obey laws you refuse to even recognize? Or to forgive your president the same sins you would have others put to death for?
Talibangelists pretend to hew to a literal interpretation of the bible, but by their cherry-picking the laws and stories that suit them, we know it’s not true. Their real focus is power. Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, said in an interview about her book on the pseudo-religious right,
When you dig a little deeper into what the movement leaders talk about when they talk with one another, they actually advocate for a very wide range of policy issues that don’t just have to do with abortion or same-sex marriage. A lot of it has to do with economic policy. A lot of it has to do with foreign policy, social policy. It’s important to look at the movement in this broader fashion as a political movement that wants power… They say that the Bible favors minimal government or no government. The Bible is against regulation, against the social safety net. Unless the social safety net is managed by the church.
If that isn’t clear (or scary) enough, Stewart further clarifies:
Christian nationalism is a political ideology. It says that what makes the United States distinctive is not our democratic system of government, or our Constitution, or our history of assimilating diverse people in a pluralist society. Instead, it insists that the foundation of legitimate government is bound up inextricably with the reactionary understanding of a particular religion. It basically says that the U.S. was founded on the Bible, and can only succeed if it stays true to that foundation.It’s also not just an ideology, but a device for mobilizing and often manipulating large segments of the population and for concentrating power in the hands of this new elite. Vladimir Putin in Russia, or Viktor Orban in Hungary, or Erdogan in Turkey tie themselves closely to religious conservatives in their countries, to consolidate an authoritarian form of power. We’re seeing this today with Trump’s alliances, with our own religious conservatives.
Although they claim to be bible-based, they don’t actually read the original bible, but rather read a translation of it into English (often the poetic but sometimes inaccurate King James’ Version or KJV). For all their waving and thumping of the book (and for all the president’s banal photo ops with one), they don’t really want others to read it (or other books, of course) because someone might find the Beatitudes or read the actual words of Jesus, and the Talibangelist hypocrisy would be easily exposed.
Even some real Christians are worried about the trend to illiteracy in the religious community, especially among those who most espouse the bible, but don’t read it. Evangelical pastor Bruce Gerencser commented:
As you can see, theological and biblical ignorance are widespread within the Evangelical community. Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli pull no punches when they say: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Many Christians can’t name the four Gospels or more than two or three of the disciples. The same can be said for the Ten Commandments. Some of the ignorance can be attributed to the fact that many Evangelical pastors preach what is commonly called “felt needs” sermons; that people who gather on Sunday to worship God want to hear uplifting sermons that inspire them to live for Jesus. These overworked, stressed out children of God want to be told that their lives matter and that God has a purpose and plan for them. They want to hear sermons based on the Bible stories of men and women who were greatly used by God or who wrought great victories in his name. Theological sermons are often met with restlessness and yawns. What congregants want is a Jesus fix, not a seminary lecture.
Talibangelists use religion as paint: they smear it on everything so they can make everything a religious issue. For example, education. They demand bibles be read in the classroom and classes in bible studies be taught. When school boards or parents resist, they get vilified by the Talibangelists as atheists, or liberals, or socialists, and opponents of Christianity. Whinging about secularists and humanists in the bureaucracy who oppose god helps rile up their gun-toting, flag-waving, bible-thumping base of followers.
Because they push pseudo-literalism, Talibangelists are creationists, which means fervently anti-science. They push to have that risible biblical creation mythology taught in schools (well, one of the two creation legends anyway). They’d prefer it taught instead of science (particularly evolution), but when they can’t get that, they lie and say there’s a controversy over teaching evolution (a controversy they alone concocted) and demand creationism be taught beside evolution for the sake of fairness. Yeah, some may call it “intelligent” design (ID) but that’s nothing more than creationism in a wig and dress.
More to the point, Talibangelists don’t just want religion in schools: they want to de-educate Americans through their version of that religion only. No kid will get educated in Islam, or Buddhism, or Judaism, just the pseudo-Christianity. Educated and intelligent people are anathema to theocons because smart folk are less likely to be conned into falling for the Talibangelist hokum. In the legal battle to keep creationism out of local schools in the town of Dover, PA (wonderfully retold in Charles Pierce’s book, Idiot America), local pastor Ray Mummert summed up the threat to Talibangelist views:
We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.
To avoid being attacked by these intelligent, and educated people, Trump (who is neither) has surrounded himself with a buffer of people who generally too dim to be a threat (*cough* *cough* Mike Pence *cough* Jared Kushner *cough* Rudy Guiliani *cough*). Others, of course, are simply too corrupt and venal to bite the hand that feeds them, and some fit both descriptions. But among them are the inevitable Talibangelists chewing away at America and its democracy to build their power base.
Creationism (or in its pig-with-lipstick form, ID) is just one wedge issue the Talibangelists use to try to de-educate and gull the populace. Abortion (or rather, a woman’s right to choose) has long been another hot-button issue (misogynist Talibangelists don’t want ANYONE to choose for themselves: in their ideology only the theocrats get to make choices, and it should be made by men). The right to die with dignity (assisted suicide) offends them immensely because they want to be able to say who dies and when (and help by stoning where possible).
Prayer in public spaces, bible study in the classroom, lesbian and gay rights (Talibangelists want a class-based society with themselves at the apex, not equality, besides, they need someone to stone), censorship of film and books (those they didn’t approve of, like Harry Potter novels), revoking the state-church separation laws; there are many issues in play by the Talibangelists, usually many at the same time. And because Mummert’s “intelligent, educated segment” stands against them, Talibangelists want to de-educate the populace to rid themselves of those meddlesome folk (as Trump, channelling Henry II, rid himself of the intelligent, educated FBI director James Comey)
Why else would Betty DeVos — an inexperienced, ditzy Talibangelist billionaire who never attended a public school (and even attended a private religious university), nor had to deal with public school teachers, making lunches, school supply shortages, rundown buildings — be named Secretary of Education? Simply to expedite the de-education of Americans through egregious defunding and deregulation, and when that fails, unsafe school re-openings during this pandemic (if you can’t de-educate the kids, then just kill ’em).
They present everything as confrontational, with doughty Christians (played by themselves) being the embattled victims of some leftwing-liberal-Democrat-socialist-communist-atheist-abortionist conspiracy to take their religion away (Democrats are going to cancel Christianity, tweeted Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s lawyers, this year). The fake “war on Christmas” pushed by Fox “news” every winter is one example of this aggressive, lying tactic. Keep repeating the lie and eventually people will start to believe it – an old propaganda tactic successfully used by both Goebbels and Stalin.
Trump’ has even suggested changing the Constitution to grant him extra terms, and looks for his model his mentor and hero, president-for-life. Vladimir Putin. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tweeted that he had been “named to head up” a 2024 re-election campaign for Donald Trump, even though it would violate the Constitution. Trump is already acting like the king the Talibangelists so desire (or rather, he’s their messiah).
As Katherine Stewart said in her interview about the fight to control and theocratize the USA:
This movement doesn’t really believe in modern representative democracy. At bottom, they sound as though they prefer autocrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. Paula White is always calling Trump a king. Ralph Drollinger is always talking about kinging and kings. Trump has been referred to as King Cyrus. The thing about kings like Cyrus is that they don’t have to follow the rules. They are the law. Trump understands this longing for the hard hand of the despot. That is what has made him such an attractive leader to this movement.
But back to biblical laws. In 2008 A. J. Jacobs wrote a delightful book titled The Year of Living Biblically, it was subtitled: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It’s both a humorous, and nsightful look at biblical commandments . Can anyone live by all of these laws in the 21st century? Well, no. In part it’s because a lot of the laws have no relevance today: they were written about or for the Second Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed in 70 CE by the Roman legions. With no temple, laws about sacrifices, priestly garments, and the kohanim (hereditary priests) simply have no purpose.
It’s not just the two versions of the Ten Commandments we’re talking about (one in Exodus, the other in Deuteronomy), although Trump has also broken most of those, too. There are a full 613 laws or commandments (more properly called mitzvot) in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) alone. These are called the mosaic laws because they are allegedly written by Moses. Plus there are numerous rules, admonitions and punishments in the rest of the Tanakh (the entire Jewish bible). It’s so complicated that Jewish scholars and rabbis wrote massive commentaries on the laws (the Talmud) trying to sort it all out.
Wikipedia suggests that,
According to one standard reckoning, there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments that can be observed today, of which there are 26 commands that apply only within the Land of Israel. Furthermore, there are some time-related commandments from which women are exempt (examples include shofar, sukkah, lulav, tzitzit and tefillin). Some depend on the special status of a person in Judaism (such as kohanim), while others apply only to men or only to women.
You can find lists of the 613 laws online (including here and here), although the wording for any depends on the translation. The New Testament actually has very few commandments per se, although it has plenty of advice and admonitions like “be patient” and “be vigilant” and “be not slothful in business.” In fact, Jesus wanted to keep the law exactly as it was, as it was written in the Torah. He warned he was there to fulfill the law, not to change any of it (“not one jot or tittle” of it, as written in older translations). From Matthew 17-20 (emphasis added):
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Let’s not digress into the whole bitter pissing match between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, except to point out that 2,000 years ago the Pharisees were the keepers of tradition, the “spiritual fathers of the rabbinic tradition” that became modern Judaism, and would today likely be among the Orthodox Jews. Jesus came down on the side of orthodoxy: keep all the laws, not just those that suited your own purpose. It was Paul, a man who neither met Jesus nor even read his words (the gospels were mostly written after Paul’s death), who decided he could cherry-pick from the laws and ignore what he pleased when he concocted his own religion —now called Christianity.)
The Talibangelists are winning in the USA by subverting and gulling those who think these people are actually religious. And as they push harder to dumb-down and de-educate Americans, they gain greater ground. The sole hope for redemption and the survival of the nation’s democracy, for its education and its science lies in the November election: voting Trump out of office means the majority of his appointed Talibangelists will go, too. If he wins: the coup will be complete: America will make Iran or North Korea look like hedonist states.
It will be harder to achieve such pseudo-religious success in other countries, though, although the pseudo-religious right does exist in many nations. In part that’s because of Trump himself. His erratic, blustering, blundering, and incompetent reign has alienated many of America’s former allies, and made people look long and hard at Trump and the people around them. Few like what they see (aside, of course, from Putin) and few want to follow the pseudo-religious path he and his self-serving pseudo-religious sycophants and enablers (*cough* *cough* Mitch McConnell, Jared Kushner, Lindsay Graham *cough*) have taken.,
The other stumbling block is the pandemic itself: most international borders are closed to Americans, making it more difficult for theocons to get to other states to organize and proselytize there. Had Trump managed the pandemic with even a semblance of competence, these borders might still be open, but for now it means the virus of Talibangelism is mostly contained to within the USA’s borders (admittedly some of this virus has, sadly, leaked over into Canada).
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Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Democracy is predicated on citizen participation. Our founders would be disheartened by low voter turnouts.
Our founders left us with how to keep our democracy. John Jay, signer of the declaration stated, “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic.” Benjamin Rush, another signer of the declaration, agreed with Jay, “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge.” An educated populace is crucial to a democratic government. Thomas Jefferson was a key proponent of education as a safeguard to tyranny. “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people … they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
In the February 2018 issue of Science magazine, Dr. Susan Hockfield, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote, “Lamentably, we also live in a new heyday of anti-science activism. Fake news and “alternative facts abound. Climate-change deniers occupy political office and determine environmental policy.”
“Betsy Devos and her cadre of religious extremists are reinterpreting the law for the sake of letting bigotted personal beliefs trump all other considerations, including essential nondiscrimination protections for vulnerable students,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists. “This is government sponsorship of discrimination couched in Orwellian language of religious freedom.”
“Few figures in contemporary American history have been as destructive for religious freedom as Betsy DeVos. Ignoring the religious freedom of the large majority of Americans—who believe that religion cannot be used to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans, people of color, women, religious minorities, and atheists—is an attack on religious freedom itself,” added Gill.
What’s called the ‘American church’, he suggests, has drifted so far away from the faith that they aren’t in it. It’s a set of narratives, he finds, that are “unbearably narrow and biased.” Really, it’s just a set of fictions sold by people who were servants of “power, nearly all of it white power.” Evangelicalism, finally, is not an effort that traces to Martin Luther, much less to Jesus. It’s simply a mode of politics by another name.
And that’s not Christian.