Understanding the Religious Reich


The American and World-Wide Threat
of Fundamentalism

(Version 2.6)

Copyright © 1990, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given and shall not soon depart.”
— William C. Bryant


In the late 1980s, Neopagan newsletters and journals were publishing articles about a religious freedom organization (now defunct), that had been founded by Christian Fundamentalists and which had invited Neopagans to join. The response from Neopagans at the time was, I believed, naive. That led to the first publishing of this essay in 1990 under the title, “Can We Trust ‘Friendly’ Fundamentalists?” During the 1990s, organizations such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition almost completely took over the Republican Party on a local and state level, and bragged about their abilities to control the results of elections. By the mid-90s, they were riding high and convinced that they had essential control over the Congress, if not the rest of the national government.

However, Republican Representatives and Senators failed to drive Bill Clinton out of office amid a bewildering (to them) amount of high public support for the President. That support was rooted, I believe, not just in a good economy, but also in three other factors: (1) the common cultural expectation that a nation’s ruler is supposed to be a “stud” (thus fulfilling the Indo-European “Third Function” of fertility); (2) the quiet agreement of the average (straight) American male that if he were the nation’s primary power object, he too would probably take advantage of the many women approaching him as such; and (3) the simple fact that most Americans simply don’t care about a politician’s sex life, as long as it doesn’t interfere with doing his or her job.

During the 1990s, the Religious Right began to realize and admit that it had already lost the “culture wars” with the rest of modern society. This bitter pill combined with millennial fever to put some Fundamentalist Christian leaders into a frenzy. Many of them actually hoped that the dreaded Y2K Bug would lead to a collapse of the national and state governments, so that they could have used their already existing political networks and militia groups to take over in the subsequent power vacuum. When 2001 c.e. arrived and neither the longed-for Armageddon nor their Second Coming occurred, their cultural (if not their political) power was severely shaken.

History, however, shows that opponents are often most dangerous when they have accepted defeat and no longer care about their own survival — just the destruction of as many enemies as they can take down with them. Surely, many in the Religious Right were thrilled with their candidate’s successful thefts of the Presidency in 2000 and 2004 and his cheerful willingness to appoint or nominate any rightwing lunatic or corporate pirate they care to offer. In these dangerous times, American Neopagans, and all others who cherish our constitutional freedoms, should improve our understanding of what Fundamentalism is, of the long-range plans of Christian Reconstructionism/Dominionism, and of what a Fundamentalist considers “religious freedom.” For that matter, the ongoing slaughter in the Middle East, not to mention the horrific attacks against the United States in September of 2001, show that religious Fundamentalism of any sort is a threat to the lives and well-being of every man, woman and child in the world.

If, by the way, you feel that this essay and others on this site such as the one on the Real Origins of Halloween are filled with “hatred of Christianity,” you might wish to read “Anti-Christianity” and Who Hates Who?

Defining “Fundamentalism”

Throughout this essay I’m going to be referring to “Fundamentalists,” so perhaps I should clarify the term. Let me start, as I so often do, with a historical review of the term — on this occasion quoting from a standard mainstream Christian reference book, the 1964 edition of A Handbook of Theological Terms, by Van A. Harvey:

Fundamentalism is a name that was attached to the viewpoint of those who, shortly after the turn of the [19th-20th] century, resisted all liberal attempts to modify orthodox Protestant belief or to question the infallibility of the Bible in any respect. The name is derived from a series of tracts published between 1912-14, entitled The Fundamentals that aimed at defining and defending the essentials of Protestant doctrine. The most important of the fundamental doctrines were (1) the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, (2) the doctrine of the Trinity, (3) the virgin birth and deity of Christ, (4) the substitutionary theory of the atonement, (5) the bodily resurrection, ascension and second coming of Christ (parousia).

Since most of these beliefs have been a part of Christian orthodoxy [for fifteen centuries], historians have seen the uniqueness of Fundamentalism to consist in its violent opposition to all beliefs that seem opposed to some teaching of the Bible. In the twenties and thirties, this opposition was focused particularly on any theory of man’s [sic] origins, especially evolution, that seemed incompatible with the account in Genesis. Consequently, Fundamentalism tended to be identified with blind opposition to all critical inquiry.

Because of this identification, certain conservative theologians who share the above-described beliefs but who think they can be defended in a rational manner have tended to shirk the name “fundamentalist” and call themselves “evangelical conservatives.” They generally oppose the spirit of ecumenism and any theology, including neo-Reformed theology, which does not regard the Bible as the absolute and infallible rule of faith and practice.

Notice that over 40 years ago this Christian scholar was mentioning the “…violent opposition to all beliefs that seem opposed to some teaching…” The term “Fundamentalist” has since been extended by the mass media to refer to “Fundamentalist” Jews, Moslems, and even Hindus! In each case, the inference is that some people refuse to budge from the most conservative version of their faith that is available to them and resist, even to the point of violence, all competing worldviews, including scientific knowledge about the origins of life, the age of the Earth, and the fact that Earth is not really the center of the universe. Non-Protestant Christian examples would be ultra-conservatives within both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism, as well as some Mormons (though non-Mormons often consider all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints “non-Christian”). Non-Christian examples include some Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, and many if not most Muslims. Atheistic and agnostic examples would include many Marxists and Secular Humanists.

Vocabulary Note: I’ve spent years trying to come up with appropriate cross-religious terminology to use to refer to particular religious phenomena. “Fundamentalist” is the best term I’ve been able to find to use as shorthand for “ultra-conservative, rigidly dualist, deliberately ignorant, force approving, religious fanatic/extremist.” It at least has the advantage that most English speakers already know it and many of them use it this way, much to the annoyance of some who call themselves Fundamentalist. Mainstream theologians and religious studies professors have not been forthcoming with alternate terminology, perhaps because of their own academic or theological agendas/fashions/limits. I am very much open to suggestions for other terms that will cover this complex but distinctive spiritual/religious dysfunction. As Karen Armstrong says, in her brilliant (if genteely dualist) The Battle for God, “...the term is not perfect, but it is a useful label for movements that, despite their differences, bear a strong family resemblance.”

It should be obvious that the following words are my religious, philosophical, historical, political, and cultural opinions. But so are the statements made by those who disagree with me, even if they claim that their opinions are their “God’s.”

The Unholy Trinity

It seems to me that the primary emotions driving Fundamentalists are an Unholy Trinity of anger, hatred and fear: anger that there are other belief systems in the world (implying the possibility that their own faith might not be the One True Right and Only Way after all); hatred of these other competing faiths and their followers for daring to exist and declining to convert; a fear that if these other faiths are allowed to continue, that they will seduce the Fundamentalists’ membership away, and (for the theists) an even deeper fear that if their beliefs are actually incorrect, then they will have essentially wasted their lives avoiding happiness in the here-and-now while chasing their “pie in the sky when they die.”

While a psychological analysis of their religious beliefs infuriates The True Believer, it can nonetheless be quite revealing to outside observers. It seems obvious to me that this Unholy Trinity is a religious expression of the severely dysfunctional childhoods so common to Fundamentalists. The emotional repression involved in being raised as a Fundamentalist tends to breed anger, hatred and fear towards yourself and the world around you.

Fundamentalism, with its pervasive sense of guilt about most normal physical and emotional feelings, and its patriarchal structure wherein the father’s word is law, creates family atmospheres in which emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse of children is the rule, not the exception. Such abuse, now being publicized thanks to organizations such as Fundamentalists Anonymous, Walk Away, and various incest survivors’ groups, can’t help but create personalities in which legitimate anger, hatred, and fear towards their abusers is redirected inwards, creating the guilt and shame so useful for their religious authorities. Later in life, these painful emotions can be redirected again, this time towards approved targets — people with different religious and moral convictions than those one’s family claims.

Again, I’m using the term “Fundamentalists” very broadly. I’ve heard similar life histories from people raised as Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses — and I can clearly remember the patterns from my own Roman Catholic childhood.

The Unholy Trinity is exhibited in other ways that have affected all of Western history: anger towards ambiguity (why can’t Mom/Dad/Siblings be predictable?); hatred towards women (why didn’t Mom protect me?); and a generalized fear of the entire world (what awful thing will happen to me next?). The resulting emotional turmoil from these factors can’t help but warp the overall worldview, and thus the religious beliefs and actions, of the victims.

Arguing with Fundamentalists

Many people of good will are naive enough to think that they can logically persuade Fundamentalists to be more tolerant. Unfortunately, trying to discuss religion with a Fundamentalist (and many Evangelicals) is like trying to discuss color theory with people who can only see black and white. When you try to point out, however diplomatically, that their vision is limited by their inability to see red, green, blue or yellow, they will insist that it is your view that is the limited one, because you can’t see that a black and white world view is more accurate in some ultimate way. If you suggest that the universe is more complex than their dogmatic divisions of 100% Truth vs. 100% Falsehood, they will accuse you of being dogmatic, because you refuse to concede that their dogmas might be 100% True. Their next step is usually to denounce you as demonic, or the dupe of demons, for thinking that there might be any Truth outside their particular denomination’s version of their scriptures.

More sophisticated (or pretentious) Fundamentalists will suggest that critics of Fundamentalism should try to raise objections which show that it fails on “its own terms,” rather than on “your terms.” This, of course, is impossible, not because Fundamentalism has no gaping holes in its theology (it has many, as any moderate or liberal Jewish, Christian or Islamic theologian will be happy to explain), but because it is a closed logic system that defines itself as always True and all differing views as always False — hence logical “failure” can never be demonstrated because it literally cannot be perceived by the Fundamentalists. In other words, they cheat.

The immunity to change that characterizes the Fundamentalist logic system is turned into a virtue by sneering references to “the theological fallacy of testing God’s authoritative word by extra-scriptural standards” — as if a book that’s been around for two thousand years hasn’t provided plenty of time for scribes to insert ex post facto evidence of its prophetic “fulfillment.” As for what they assume “your terms” are, this is usually a simplistic cartoon that distorts and blurs together every competing view on the planet into a dualistic mirror of their own, which they then can triumphantly defeat. This is the famous “straw man” gambit (making up an easily-defeated caricature of your opponent’s supposed arguments) that first year philosophy students learn about.

When Fundamentalism’s prime philosophical opposition came from Scientistic atheists and agnostics, who were dualists themselves, it was relatively easy for Fundamentalists to get away with playing this game. They are much more confused — and threatened — by pluralism, relativity, and ambiguity, hence their urgent need to reduce all complexity to the psychologically soothing (if philosophically and spiritually bankrupt) simplicity of dualism. More dangerously, for those of us who care about human rights, this desperate need for a simple universe leads Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists to desire secular power to enforce their theological, economic, and social opinions (which they call “God’s Law”) upon every man, woman, and child on the planet, and to violently eliminate all competing worldviews. (Jewish Fundamentalists, however, only want to have total domination over the territory that their predecessors ruled 2,500 years ago, as well as over every Jewish family elsewhere in the world.) When Fundamentalists get into secular power, they use that power to shove their dogmas down everyone else’s throats using whatever violence is necessary to silence dissent, as any glance at Ireland, Israel/Palestine and most Islamic nations will reveal. And then their insatiable lust for power will lead them to try to export their Fundamentalism elsewhere, until the entire world is under their control.

Religious Genocide and Toleration

While Jews have often been falsely blamed for many things, it does seem true that the ancient Hebrews invented religious genocide, which is the killing of other peoples for having a different religion than the killers’ own. They did this by murdering the priestesses and priests of the competing deities worshiped within their own population, then the competing clergy of all the local tribes. For good measure, they also killed the conquered tribe’s adults and boys, keeping only the little girls whom they could then rape and brainwash into the new religion of Yahwehism and their new roles as slaves to men (don’t take my word for it, the “Old Testament” is filled with examples). Jeramiah and his revisionist followers did their worst to remove the evidence of Yahweh’s wife Tiamat, and demoted the other deities to “angels.” The history of what then became known as Judaism is, if we are to believe the Biblical tales (as we are ordered to do), in large part one of sanctimonious religious terrorism — practiced right up to the time when their weapons were physically taken away from them.

Whenever they were a conquered people, the Jews believed fervently and sincerely in religious freedom, but whenever they had land and political freedom again, that freedom vanished for all but themselves. Fifteen centuries of officially approved Christian oppression and persecution, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust (which had little to do with a few Nazi’s garbled Germanic Meso-Paganism, and very much to do with a pandemic Catholic and Lutheran anti-Semitism), made religious freedom again a cherished ideal. Yet as soon as there was a chance for another Jewish state, Fundamentalist Jews were quick to oppress the non-Fundamentalist Jews and all the non-Jews then or later in residence. The results have been the current mess you can observe on your TV news every night.

Let’s not overlook the equally charming history of Islam — another desert monotheism that started by committing religious genocide against local Paleopagans, blaspheming their deities, erasing the memories of their deity’s Divine Consort, enslaving their women, and oppressing unbelievers whenever possible. Moslem leaders and clergy, too, have promoted the ideals of religious freedom and toleration whenever economic or political fortunes have been against them, only to toss those ideals out the window when Islam was in power. You may examine modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any other nation in which Fundamentalist Moslems are in power, for current examples. Most of the hatred for the United States and the Western World that motivated the Islamic terrorists who committed mass murder in the U.S. was rooted firmly in Islamic Fundamentalism. (The rest came from long-standing economic and political grievances, some of them the direct result of our Power Elite’s decisions over the last fifty years, that the American people have ignored to our sorrow.)

That brings us back to Christian Fundamentalism and a bloody history with which most Neopagans (and other western non-Christians) are only too familiar. More men, women, and children have been enslaved, tortured, raped, mutilated, and murdered in the name of Jesus Christ than in the name of any other deity in recorded history. Conservative Christians have oppressed Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Pagans, and other Christians throughout their centuries of power; preaching religious intolerance as the word of Jehovah whenever they had the military, political, or economic power to make it stick — and then piously preaching brotherhood, peace, and toleration when they didn’t. One cannot honestly argue that these people “weren’t real Christians,” when the people ordering and leading the Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms and lynch mobs were usually the highest religious authorities in their denominations, making decisions based on what was then mainstream Christian doctrines laid down after the movement took over the Roman Empire.

The various sayings to be found in their scriptures give monotheists a choice of which Trinity to worship. One is the previously mentioned Unholy Trinity of anger, hatred and fear: anger towards the unbelievers, hatred of “sin” (i.e. different moral beliefs and those who live by them) and fear “of the Lord” (meaning, fear of deviation from the One True Way and fear of weapon-bearing enforcers of orthodoxy). The other option is a somewhat holier Trinity of peace (from the spiritual serenity their beliefs are supposed to give them), love for all humanity (as supposedly being fellow children of the same God), and hope for a new world (here or in their Heaven). Because of the dualism inherent in conservative monotheism, however, individuals and sects tend to flip-flop between the corresponding extremes. The liberals and the oppressed among them stress the positive side of their scriptural message, while the conservatives and those in power stress the negative side. Of course, the conservatives often use the positive vocabulary when proselytizing, and both the liberals and the conservatives routinely describe each other as not being real members of The Faith. This gives both camps what is now called “plausible deniability” for ancient and modern crimes committed in the name of Moses, Jesus or Mohammed.

Do we blame modern ultra-conservative Jews, Christians or Moslems for the crimes of their predecessors? Of course not. No one deserves to be blamed for real or alleged crimes committed by their ancestors or predecessors (though that kind of liberal thinking destroys the whole Original Sin doctrine). We can and should, however, blame specific Fundamentalists and their beliefs for crimes they advocate and commit today. Jewish Fundamentalists murdering Palestinians, Islamic Fundamentalists bombing shopping malls and and flying jets into office buildings, and right wing Christians killing doctors and clinic workers (not to mention right wing Catholics and Protestants murdering each other’s families in Ireland) are all acting out some of their belief systems’ most basic (fundamental) doctrines, beneath the additional layers of political and economic conflict. For those who insist that they must keep all of their faith’s doctrines, not just the ones they like, this should inspire a reassessment of those doctrines. But of course, it seldom does, because absolute truth claims are inseperable from atrocities committed to support those claims.

Why Neopagans Frighten Fundamentalists

Do Fundamentalist monotheists hate Neopagans more than they do the members of all the other competing religions around these days? Well, not all of them do. Most of the Fundamentalist Moslems in the world, for example, have never heard of Neopaganism. They are too busy killing Christians in Lebanon, Jews in Israel/Palestine, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Indonesia, authors in England, moderate Moslems at home, and “Satanic Americans” in office towers, to pay any attention to what appears to be a Western religious movement with no appreciable presence in the Islamic world. I’m sure though, if any Neopagans show up over there and are stupid enough to mention their beliefs, Islamic Fundamentalists will be quick to add them to their target list.

Most of the Fundamentalist Jews aren’t paying any attention to Neopaganism either. We’re just one more non-Jewish religion that their kids are straying off to, and we’re viewed as a form of “craziness” rather than evil (I suppose that’s an improvement). Of course, some rabbis have noticed that many Neopagans are “offering our cakes to the Queen of Heaven,” just like the Caanites whom their predecessors slaughtered so many years ago, so we are causing some fear and loathing in those Orthodox and Hassidic Jews who know of us.

It’s the Christian Fundamentalists, however, in whom we inspire the greatest anger, hatred, and fear. They routinely denounce Buddhism, Taoism, the New Age, and all other competing belief systems, just as they have always done, but seem to save their greatest vituperation for occultists in general and Neopagans (especially Witches) in particular. As most Neopagans know, Christian Fundamentalists are constantly publishing and broadcasting blasphemies against our deities, slanders against our members, and half-truths and outright lies about our beliefs and practices. Over and over, they strive to convince the general public, the media, and the civil governments that we are devil worshiping murderers, rapists, child abusers, and even cannibals. Their kids beat up our kids in school, their adults vandalize our stores and temples, shoot bullets through our windows, and manipulate the courts to remove our children from us. Why? What is it about Neopaganism that makes some Christian Fundamentalists so desperate that they will repeatedly violate most of their own Ten Commandments to try and stop us?

There are a number of theological reasons why Fundamentalists of any monotheistic persuasion would find Neopaganism disturbing; after all, we disagree with them about almost everything they consider important. But so do the Buddhists, the Taoists, the Hindus, and most of the other “new” religions on the American religious scene. The real reasons for the severity of Fundamentalist attacks on the Neopagan community are, as usual, not theological at all.

We believe in magic — that anyone can learn to do miracles. That makes their Christ (assuming he ever actually lived, which is still an open question among non-Fundamentalist historians) merely another famous magician among many. This destroys the main body of “evidence” (most of which was written down centuries after he supposedly died) for special claims of his divinity and thus for the Fundamentalists’ special position as holders of The Only Truth. Modern magic yanks the rug out from underneath Christian assertions of uniqueness, to which they can only respond with the Manichean heresy that their Devil is as powerful as their God and can do “counterfeit miracles” for non-Christians.

Neopagans believe in pluralism and multiplicity — making us very hard to pin down and define, and bringing up that dreaded feminine ambiguity. Worse, we worship goddesses, our women have places of honor and leadership, and gay and lesbian people are seldom discriminated against. These attitudes threaten both the male egos that control Fundamentalism and the inherent sexism of their way of life, and present the terrifying danger that Fundamentalist women and girls (not to mention any gay men and boys unlucky enough to be born into Fundamentalist homes) might find our religions far more attractive than their own — which, of course, many of them do!

Neopaganism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, with our numbers doubling every five or six years. That’s a pretty healthy wave of competition for minds, hearts, and pocketbooks. We have members in every walk of life and every subset of the general population, including government and the military, which can only slow down Fundamentalists’ theocratic ambitions.

Perhaps worst of all, many of us who call ourselves Pagans, Druids and Witches have deliberately chosen to identify ourselves with the victims of Fundamentalism — with the millions upon millions who have suffered at the hands of conservative Jewish, Christian, and Islamic leaders and followers down through the centuries. While reincarnation has not been officially accepted belief in monotheism for the last thousand years or so, a certain wave of fear must still pass over some modern Fundamentalists when they realize, however subconsciously, that we just might be their victims come back from the grave to haunt them for their crimes, and that this time when they try to silence us, they will fail.

But silencing us is something that they must at least attempt, and not only because we are a healthy, growing competitor in the marketplace of religious ideas. As a pluralistic, decentralized, feminist, ecological, and democratic collection of religions, Neopaganism represents the future of faith in a world of ever-increasing change and diversity. Fundamentalists know that the world is changing and that they cannot control the changes. Neopaganism combines a revival of old deities that the Fundamentalists have been taught from childhood were demonic, with patterns of belief and practice that fit perfectly with the new global culture now emerging. The Fundamentalists have no psychological options left. They either have to cure themselves of the dysfunctional personalities that have made them Fundamentalists, or (being dualists) try to destroy us. Guess which tactic they usually choose?

The Religious Reich and Christian Reconstructionism/Dominionism

In recent years, the United States and other western countries have seen the rise of what I call the “Religious Reich,” led by Fundamentalist Christian men with literally theocratic agendas. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “theocracy” means literally “rule by a God,” but in practice it means rule by men claiming to speak for their God. How has this manifested in the U.S.A.?

It has done so through the Republican Party, which has become an unholy-owned subsidiary of Fundamentalist lunatics; as has become obvious to nearly everyone in politics — including the Internal Revenue Service, which on June 10th, 1999 c.e. finally revoked the Christian Coalition’s tax-exempt status. What many Americans don’t know, however (until it’s too late), is that the Religious Reich focuses as much attention on taking over local school boards, town halls, and county governments, as it does on grabbing for power on the statewide and national levels. This is part of their long-range theocratic plan for America, which they call “Christian Reconstructionism” or “Dominionist theology.” They want to take over enough state governments to call for a constitutional convention (according to some arguments, they are only a few states away from that goal). At such an event they could legally scrap our current Constitution and the entire Bill of Rights, replacing them with their own twisted vision of “Biblical Law,” which, like “Islamic Law,” means whatever the men in charge say it does.

If they succeed in taking over America because the rest of us were too lazy to fight them, too cynical to bother voting, or too tired to fight for verifiable elections — or if their cherished cultural collapse should occur — they fully intend to institute the death penalty for being homosexual, for having or performing (or assisting someone to have or perform) an abortion, for living in “sin” (including all unconventional partnerships, lovestyles, and family structures), for practicing “witchcraft” (any minority religious, metaphysical, astrological or New Age belief system), and for having or distributing pornography (anything that turns them on sexually).

I know it sounds unlikely that anyone could think this way in modern times, but remember, their predecessors have been terrorizing unbelievers for centuries, slowing down only when they lost political power. Today they’re close to regaining the secular power they lust after, thanks to gaybashers, anti-feminists, dozens of right-wing millionaires (think Amway, Domino’s, Coors), and thousands of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian preachers, Catholic priests and Orthodox and Hassidic rabbis who see their livelihoods and power threatened by sweeping global change. They depend on the votes of millions of neophobes and xenophobes who are terrified of the future and willing to vote for whoever their preacher/priest/rabbi tells them to. They now control the Executive and Legislative branches of the American govenment and are trying hard to take over the Judicial.

One excellent book that will give you the lowdown on the Christian Coalition’s founder Pat Robertson and his plans is The Most Dangerous Man in America? by Robert Boston. It’s a pretty scary book, at least for anyone who cherishes their freedom of conscience.

The dangers of the Religious Reich don’t stop at America’s borders. The Christian Reconstructionists see their conquest of America as only the first step to ruling the entire world. As Robertson puts it:

“There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.”

Every man, woman and child on our planet is to be ruled by Christian Fundamentalist men — in their God’s name, of course. They are to exercise “dominion” over the entire world, hence the term “Dominionists.”

Don’t believe me or other liberals on this topic? If you want to know the sordid details, straight from the Religious Reich’s own messiah, just read The Institutes of Biblical Law, by Rousas John Rushdoony, the ayatollah of Christian Reconstructionism, or as his publisher describes him, “the president and founder of Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization dedicated to Christian reconstruction of every area of life and thought.” That’s your life and your thought they want to reconstruct and have dominion over. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and all their right-wing fundraisers praise, quote and follow Rushdoony, who lays out his plans and goals as clearly as Adolph Hitler did his own in Mein Kampf. Read it and you’ll see why I use the term Religious “Reich” instead of Right. Rushdoony and his followers clearly agree that, “…general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training must be derived from faith…” Unfortunately, the person who said that line the first time was Adolph Hitler.

Whether you are a moderate or liberal Christian or Jew, a Hindu, Taoist, Unitarian, Pagan, Agnostic or Atheist; whether you are gay, straight or bi; male, female, or undecided; if your lifestyle, beliefs, or political views are even the slightest bit different from those of the Religious Reich, you are a target. Let’s not make the same mistakes that German democrats and liberals did in the 1930s. Let’s make sure that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 both remain fiction, by getting off our comfortable rear ends, stepping away from our keyboards, and exercising our citizenship rights while we still have them.

Future generations (assuming we have any), will define the 21st century of the Common Era in terms of three major wars: the conflict between the American Empire and the Chinese Empire, the battle between Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists (each of whom identify the other with “godless liberalism”), and the competition between the memes of dualism and pluralism. Thanks to the political influence of the Christian Reconstructionists and Dominionists in the Bush II administration, all three wars are now connected, at least as far as the rulers of America are concerned.

How Fundamentalists Define “Religious Freedom”

In their quest for absolute power, spokespersons for the Religious Reich often use the language of the civil liberties movements, in fighting what they perceive as government interference in their practice of religion. Some Neopagans say that we should work with such “friendly Fundamentalists” in a common quest for religious freedom. I urge caution and further investigation of individuals, groups, and their motives, before doing so.

We should not be fooled by Fundamentalist references to religious freedom. Their complaints about “unconstitutional government interference with religious practices” are actually about the Fundamentalists’ loss of their traditional — and very unconstitutional — privileges. For three hundred years, North American religious zealots have been shoving their theology down our throats, usually with the connivance of the civil government. Where do you think most of our laws about sex, drugs and gambling originated? From “blue laws” that close stores on Sundays, to mandatory (monotheistic) prayers at graduations, conservative Christians have dominated the public American culture since shortly after the Revolution. But, over the course of the last few decades, courts and legislatures have gradually taken away one after another of the Fundamentalists’ special privileges. Organized prayer is no longer allowed in schools, evolution is taught in biology classes, kids (at least the ones in big cities) can now learn about safe sex and birth control methods, etc. — all of which upsets the Religious Reich terribly.

The Religious Reich complains that the existence of rights for secular people (including the right not to be subjected to Fundamentalist opinions) violates their rights as spreaders of the Gospel. They argue that the separation of church and state is itself a violation of the first amendment freedom of religion clause, i.e., that they have the “right” to use the government to promote Christianity as long as they aren’t pushing any particular denomination of it. Often they attack the American Civil Liberties Union for its pro-separation stand, despite the fact that the ACLU has done more to fight for genuine freedom of religion than any other organization in American History.

The Christian Reconstructionists and Dominionists of the Religious Reich would prefer that the United States of America was a Fundamentalist theocracy in which they would have every one of their old privileges back, and a number of new ones as well (with only Fundamentalist Christians eligible to vote, run for office, or teach in the schools, for example). No matter how friendly, reasonable and ecumenical they may occasionally act towards non-Christian groups, on the day they decide they don’t need us anymore they will cheerfully rip our throats out.

Does that sound paranoid? Perhaps. But we know their track record. Fundamentalists have never supported religious freedom for anyone but themselves except as a temporary tactic. They are going to have to be a lot more convincing if they expect us to be able to trust them. I suppose they could start by publishing apologies for, and retractions of, all the lies that they have published and broadcast about us over the years, signed by all the national leaders of the Religious Reich (most of whom have built their careers on such lies). I’m not going to hold my breath waiting, however. Even Pope John Paul II’s mealy-mouthed apology for the crimes of his Church didn’t include the slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of alleged Devil-worshiping “witches,” let alone the millions of Paleopagans killed by the Church’s missionaries, the Teutonic Knights, the Conquistadors, and other blessed representatives.

How are Critics of Fundamentalism Different from Those They Criticize?

I am often asked by those who have read or heard my strong opinions about Fundamentalists, how it is that I am “different” from them. I am told that my opinions about them are just as harsh as their opinions are about my religious community and how dare I express mine! I am told that I am spreading hate against Fundamentalists by mentioning how hate-filled they are. So how, then, are those who consider Fundamentalism a threat to civilization and freedom, different from the Fundamentalists who say nasty things about us? Are we really “just the same” as the people we oppose?

I think most people who are critical of Fundamentalism would agree that:

  • We don’t want to shut down their places of worship and outlaw their religions.
  • We don’t want to discriminate against them in hiring, in housing, in the military, or in the receipt of social services.
  • We don’t want to take over the government and force every citizen to live according to our theological opinions, whether we think a deity gave us those opinions or not.
  • We don’t want to organize paramilitary groups to overthrow secular governments, or to plant bombs, or to fly jumbo jets into office buildings, all for the greater “glory” of our deities.
  • We don’t want to kill people for being gay or lesbian, or for having sex with someone they aren’t married to, or for sassing their parents, or for practicing divination, or for belonging to a “false religion.”
  • We don’t want to drive people from their homes and places of worship, and kill them if they resist, because we think some deity gave our predecessors a deed of property once upon a time.

Yet all these things are what most Jewish, Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists do want to do. And have done when they were able to. And will do again, if ordinary people who aren’t religious fanatics don’t take action to stop them.

In short, we don’t want to be sanctimonious, bloodthirsty, power-mad, bigoted lunatics like they are.

That’s what makes us different. If saying so sounds harsh, or rude, or biased, or politically incorrect, so be it. If some people reading this consider themselves to be Fundamentalists, but don’t agree with this Fundamentalist agenda, then perhaps they should change their religious label to something else. Better yet, they should actually take control of their current denominations from the lunatics and fanatics.

Real Religious Freedom Organizations

I highly recommend that Neopagan and other liberal religious people be prepared to take magical action to defeat the magical malpractice of Fundamentalist “prayer warriors” and to prevent unconstitutional and dishonest plots by the Religious Reich by casting Spells for Democracy. But magic/prayer is always most effective if it is backed up with action in the physical, cultural, social, and political worlds.

Fortunately, those of us in the Neopagan community who are looking for genuine religious freedom groups to join do have some trustworthy choices. There’s always People for the American Way (2000 M St. NW, #400, Washington DC 20036). This group has pluralistic, feminist, and democratic biases fully in keeping with Neopagan polytheology. They have been keeping tabs on the Religious Reich for twenty years, and their Right Wing Watch Online webpages contains a wealth of information the Fundamentalists would rather you didn’t read. I’m a member and I recommend them.

A group affiliated with PFAW is the Progressive Religious Partnership, composed of liberal and moderate clergy and congregations from mainstream denominations. According to their website, “People of faith across America are joining together to answer the prophetic call to action, standing up to the hypocrisy of the Religious Right and reclaiming the vocabulary of our faiths. In response to those who manipulate the deep divisions in our culture, we will challenge racism and sexism as we struggle for opportunity and economic justice for all, and promote a healing sexuality. Together, the Progressive Religious Partnership will help each and all of us to be more effective advocates for social and economic justice.” Well, that will get them denounced by the Reich as closet Satanists!

A major force fighting the Religious Reich is Americans United for Separation of Church and State (1816 Jefferson Place NW, Washington, DC 20036), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization of moderate and liberal Christians, Jews, Unitarians, Atheists, Agnostics, and yes, a few of Neopagans! You can visit their website or send email to their net liaison at hays@au.org. Their phone number is 202-466-3234. Their newsletter, Church & State is an excellent source of news and advice on the fight against theocracy. I’m a member and I recommend them.

Also worthwhile is The Freedom Writer, a newsletter published by the Institute for First Amendment Studies. IFAS was founded by ex-Fundamentalist minister Skipp Porteous (author of Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and other fine works) and attorney Barbara Simon. Their publication, now available online, focuses on the activities of the Religious Reich, exposing fraudulent ministers, anti-Semitism, censorship campaigns, etc. There are also frequent news clipping about civil liberties victories. You can send IFAS email at “ifas@berkshire.net” or snailmail at Box 589, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Their phone number is 1-800-370-3329.

For keeping tabs on trends throughout the American religious scene, I can recommend Religion Watch (Box 652, N. Bellmore, NY 11710, $19.95 year USA). The editor, Richard P. Cimino, does an excellent job of reporting trends in both mainstream and minority religious movements, albeit with a Christian moderate’s bias. Every issue has statistical and analytical material of interest to those of us paying attention to religious freedom issues.

Of course, for civil liberties activism in general, there is no beating the American Civil Liberties Union. I’m a card carrying member and proud of it (even if that does mean I can never be elected President). Controversial as the ACLU is, and disgusting as some of their clients have been over the years, they remain the largest and most effective defense against all those forces (including the Religious Reich) who would trash our Bill of Rights.

Because the Religious Reich has so identified itself with the Republican Party in the USA, some of the ways to fight it are through supporting the Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party, and their efforts to ensure that future elections are fair and honest.

If Neopagans are going to support civil liberties and anti-discrimination groups, which I think we should, then we should be selective in our choice of allies. It’s usually the extreme Fundamentalists themselves who oppress our civil liberties. We’ll be much better off setting up our own groups, or supporting organizations that are genuinely neutral in matters of religious belief.

Not just Neopagans, but all those who believe in simple human decency and freedom of religion for all people, everywhere in the world, must stop being so damned passive and start taking effective action to contain, subvert, and dethrone Fundamentalism wherever and whenever it oppresses its own and other peoples. Fundamentalists can only thrive in atmospheres in which their fanaticism is considered “just their religious belief,” and something to be tolerated by everyone else, rather than the world-wide threat to peace, justice, democracy, and civilization that it is. (For my Call to Arms against worldwide Fundamentalism, visit that link.)

Deeply hath sunk the lesson they have given and shall not soon depart.

Copyright © 1990, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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