30 April 2014

Socialism in America and the Birth of Nonviolence

Q: Why capitalism?  A: Because the greed of the few (the 1%) overshadows the needs of the many (the 99%).

Q: Why socialism?  A: Because the needs of the many should outweigh the greed of the few.

Socialism, real socialism, is not some invasive foreign import but is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, or life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Real socialism (as opposed to what the Bolsheviks erected after their coup d’etat known as the October Revolution) is not the end of democracy but the beginning of true democracy.  Without economic, social, and industrial democracy, political democracy is but a farce, an opiate for the people, especially in an oligarchy masquerading as a republic where corporations are people with citizenship and bribery equals speech.

Other than those who followed the line of Lenin and his ideological offspring, most American socialists never wanted to set up anything like a “People’s Democratic Socialist Workers Republic” or a “dictatorship of the proletariat” controlled by a party “vanguard”.  No, their idea, their goal, was a Cooperative Commonwealth.

Lenin, by the way, never made any attempt to introduce socialism to the USSR.  He and his acolytes set up what he himself called state capitalism modeled upon that of the Prussian Junker capitalists against whom Marx and Engels struggled with the Communist League. 

It was Lenin who introduced the idea of a “vanguard party”, Lenin who replaced democracy with “democratic centralism”, Lenin who used the Taylorism that was the bane of American labor to micromanage workers in the USSR, and Lenin’s chief lieutenant Zinoviev who made the newly-established Communist International a mere puppet of Russian policy.  Leninism and its ideological offspring (Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Fidelism, etc.) are an aberration rather than fulfillment of the vision of Marx and Engels.  Their true heir was not Vladimir Lenin but Karl Kautsky, which Engels made explicit.

The deepest roots of socialism live in the soil of America.

Many today recognize as progenitor of modern socialism the very same activist recognized as godfather of Irish, Scottish, and English republicanism, hero of the French Revolution, and father of American independence: Thomas Paine.  Paine cut his political teeth on a letter to Parliament protesting the working conditions of officers of excise in the United Kingdom.  It was the quality of that writing which led Ben Franklin to conscript him for the movement in America.

To most Americans, the name Thomas Paine means Common Sense and The Crisis, while to the rest of the world it means Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.  The first major advocate of independence in the British colonies of North America, Paine may very well be called the First American, in the sense of “American” being a citizen of the United States. 

His Rights of Man was a defense of republicanism and of the French Revolution against former ally Edmund Burke’s advocacy of constitutional monarchism and condemnation of events in France.  His The Age of Reason defended freedom of thought and the creation of an atmosphere in which that can grow against ideology, superstition, sectarianism, and theocracy.

Not as well known is Paine’s staunch advocacy of the rights of workers as first evidenced in the above-mentioned letter.  He also wrote essays against slavery, illiteracy, poverty, and other social evils, as well as for equal rights for women, public education, universal suffrage, old-age pensions, a guaranteed income, and the fair distribution of land.  In many respects, Paine was far ahead of his time.

The very first socialist party (which also functioned as a labor union) in the world was founded in New York City and Philadelphia in 1828.  It lasted only five years but left its mark on America and the rest of the world.

When Marx and Engels put together their first organization, they called it the Committees of Correspondence, the same name used by the Patriots of revolutionary America.  Marx strongly supported the cause of the Union as a reporter in New York City during the Civil War, despite his sharing of Lincoln’s misgivings about the “money power of this country”.  In the question of imperial capitalism versus planter slavocracy, the choice for Marx was easy.

In 1864, Marx and Engels helped found the International Workingmens’ Association (the First International, or IWA), anticipating the horrific abuses of the Second Industrial Revolution that began around 1867 and continued into the Gilded Age (“Belle Epoque” in Europe).  The IWA gained its first American section in 1867 and by 1870 had enough sections to support an IWA Central Committee for North America. The 30+ sections in America formed the North American Federation of the IWA the next year.

The NAF included such figures as pioneer suffragette Victoria Woodhull and former slave Frederick Douglas.  These two ran for President and Vice President respectively on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872.  When the followers of the anarchist Mikail Bakunin left the IWA after its Congress at The Hague that year to form their own group, the IWA’s international headquarters moved to New York City.  There it remained until its congress voted to dissolve in 1876.  The American sections joined together with other groups to form the Workingmens Party of America, which later became the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLPA). 

In 1884, a socialist writer named Laurence Gronlund published an examination of Marxist doctrine aimed at the American worker called The Cooperative Commonwealth in its Outlines, an Exposition of Modern Socialism.  It gave American socialists a name for what they wanted to achieve, but a more popular and influential book was the utopian science fiction novel Looking Backward.  Written by Edward Bellamy, cousin of the author of the Pledge of Allegiance, the novel tells the story of the protagonist going to sleep in his basement in the late 1990’s and waking up in the year 2000 in a Cooperative Commonwealth. 

The novel, the third-best seller of the 19th century after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur, launched a movement based on the hope of achieving the Cooperative Commonwealth visualized in the book’s pages that came to be called Nationalism.  “Nationalism” in this case signified the Nation, common citizens, vis-a-vis Capital, society’s plutocrats, oligarchs, and their loyal, subservient supporters.  Gronlund himself was so impressed he withdrew his own work from publication, at least for several years.

The American socialist movement’s attraction to a work of fiction is anything but unique in this country.  Much earlier, Harriet Tubman’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped spur abolitionist sentiment in the pre-bellum years.  The work of Horatio Alger hangs like a yoke around the necks of the poor and middle class along with Ayn Rand’s bad fiction aggrandizing sociopathy.  The silent film “Birth of a Nation” gave rise to the birth of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The two foremost leaders of the American socialist movement at the dawn of the 2oth century, Eugene Debs, leader of the Socialist Party of America, and Daniel DeLeon, leader of the SLPA after 1890, frequently referenced the Founding Fathers.  For instance, one of DeLeon’s earliest essays was “The Voice of Madison”.  In spite of their rivalry, Debs and DeLeon respected each other and worked together on several projects, such as joining with Bill Haywood to organize the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) in 1905.

Jack London, best known for literary expressions of man’s rugged individualism in the face of wild nature such as The Call of the Wild and White Fang, was one of the leading literary lights of the SPA.  His socialist writings include the dystopian future history novel The Iron Heel and the nonfiction novel People of the Abyss.  Along with Clarence Darrow, Walter Lippman, Helen Keller, Sinclair Lewis, and others, London founded the SPA’s Intercollegiate Socialist Society, the party’s literary arm.

The growing American socialist movement of the early 20th century foundered in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution due to persecution by the government, splits within its ranks, and the direction of the revolution in Russia once Lenin and his acolytes had achieved full control.  At first, praise for their accomplishment in the October “Revolution” (actually a coup d’etat) was well nigh universal among socialists world-wide. 

There were actually two revolutions in Russia in 1917, a February Revolution, a true mass uprising, and an October Revolution, really a coup d’etat by the Bolshevik faction under Lenin’s leadership.  Ironically, one of the more moderate Bolsheviks, the only major figure in Russia at the February Revolution and one willing to work with Mensheviks, liberal democrats, and others, was Josef Stalin.  Returning exiles like Lenin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev were far more extremist.

Once news began to trickle out about the lack of real democracy, the increasing centralized control by the Party with no input from below, various atrocities, and the emasculation of the soviets (workers’ councils), respected socialist leaders spoke out loudly.  Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first.  From America, Debs, DeLeon, and virtually every American socialist not part of the new Communist Party joined such international voices as Scotland’s John Maclean in condemning the Bolshevik coup once it became apparent that’s what it was. 

Kautsky remarked at the time that, “Socialism without democracy is unthinkable,” echoing Luxemburg’s earlier statement that, “There is no democracy without socialism, and there is no socialism without democracy.”  One can easily imagine Marx looking at the events in Russia, shaking his head, and saying, “If this is Marxism, all I can say is that I am not a Marxist”.

In the early twentieth century, socialism, and American socialism at that, gave the world nonviolence as a means of mass social protest.

Nonviolence civil disobedience as a mass social protest tactic began in Spokane, Washington, in 1908, during the Free Speech fights of the IWW with the municipal government there. Wobblies were perturbed by the fact that whenever one of them gave a speech in the street, he or she was arrested for disturbing the peace while the Salvation Army went unmolested doing the same, even when doing so to the music of a brass band.

The Wobblies sent out a call to all men willing to be arrested. One would take the soapbox, literally, speak until arrested upon which another would take his place. So many volunteers showed that soon both the city and county jails were packed, and eventually the city surrendered.

It was from the Wobblies that Gandhi derived the practical application of his principle of nonviolence, and, of course, from Gandhi that King derived his own. Ironically, one of the chief developers of the Wobblies’ tactics was none other than Irish socialist James Connolly, who eight years later was shot in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Ireland while tied to a chair because of wounds he received helping to direct the Easter Rising.

Connolly started his socialist political career in his Scottish hometown of Edinburgh before moving to Ireland, then to America (where he worked with both the SPLA and the IWW), before returning to Ireland.

Of the two methods of a “weaker” opponent carrying out a war of attrition against a superior foe, guerrilla war and nonviolence, nonviolence is the only one that permits eventual reconciliation while allowing both sides to save face.  Historical experience has shown that when a minority gets into power using violence, it never ends well.  Take, for example, the Montagnards (usually but incorrectly called Jacobins) of the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks of the Russian Revolution, or the Khomeinists of the Iran Revolution.

At Tyner Junior High School, there was a small group of us who got picked on a lot. Then one day we decided, “Hey, an injury to one of us is an injury to all of us”. So, when one of us got picked on, we all would go meet the bully and tell him he would have to fight each of us one at a time, or he could quit.  We never picked fights or pushed anyone around, but we did stand up for each other and even kids outside our group. And we never had to fight, not even once. We were the runts, but not even the biggest bully wants to fight 100 runts, even one at a time.

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” – Eugene Debs, 18 September 1918



24 April 2014

Laicity in the American Republic

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Justice for all.” – Pledge of Allegiance as originally written by Francis Bellamy, vice president of the Society of Christian Socialists and chief spokesperson for the socialist Nationalist Clubs movement.

The “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” part of this earliest form of the pledge, never submitted for approval, derives from the slogan adopted by the Third Republic of France.  This hendriatris, or tripartite motto, dates back to the Club de Cordeliers in the French Revolution, whose slogan was “liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort” (liberty, equality, fraternity or death).

During the French Revolution, several tripartite mottoes floated around the country, almost all of which had both “liberté” and “égalité”, including “liberté, égalité, justice”.  An example of a hendriatris even closer to home might be “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, or perhaps “baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie”.

Besides “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, another ideal of the Third Republic (and succeeding incarnations) since 1905 has been “laïcité”, often translated as “secularism”.  Secularism does not necessarily mean anti-religion; in politics, what we would now call political science, secularism simply means exclusion of religion from interference in government affairs.

Laïcité in France before 1905 was only partial and sporadic, though always there since 1789, and only became “official” that year.

It is from the French word laïcité that laicity derives, a word rarely used in English but a valid word nevertheless.  That laicity, that separation of church and state, was America’s unique gift to the world, for never before in written history, certainly not in the modern era, had a country existed without an official religion.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that America was “not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”  While few were hostile to religion itself, nearly all the major leaders were very hostile toward religion in the hands of government and government as a thrall of religion.

Growing up Episcopalian amongst the deluge of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians who inhabit the American South and living next to a family the husband and wife of which became our Jewish godparents, I really took to heart the separation of church and state upon which our republic was founded and learned to be fiercely resistant to any attempt to have the yoke of someone else’s religion placed around my neck, knowing that such a yoke would not be easy nor its burden light.

As I grew up and began thinking about eventually entering seminary, which I thought about as far back as junior high school and started planning to do in high school, I began to see that imposition of religion on a governmental level was not only unfair to those not of that particular faith but damaging to and corrupting of both government and religion.  In fact, the reason I listed the establishment of the Christian Church as the official religion of the Roman Empire as one of the five great tragedies of world history in that class my junior year at Tyner High was because of the way that corrupted Christianity.

I should add here that throughout my time at East Brainerd Elementary School, first through sixth grades, a teacher from outside came into our class once a week for Bible lessons.  Part of the reason I didn’t see a conflict at the time was that my teacher in first and second grade at the school was also my Sunday School teacher at St. Martin’s Episcopal.  Both, incidentally, were within easy walking distance of our house on Walnut Grove/North Joiner Road.

Now we’ve come to the part of this essay that is its main focus.

Founding Fathers

First, let’s look at some quotes from some of those Founding Fathers themselves, including our first four POTUSes (POTUS= President of the United States).

If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Catholic Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England. -- Benjamin Franklin, letter to the London Packet, 3 June 1772

As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith. -- Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. -- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.  It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. -- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, 1794

I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country. -- George Washington, response to Presbyterian clergymen from Massachusetts and New Hampshire protesting the Constitution making no mention of Jesus Christ, 2 November 1789

We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions ... shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power ... we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society. -- John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, 8 April 1785

The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. -- John Adams, from the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, passed by the U.S. Senate unanimously

The impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical... -- Thomas Jefferson, debate in the Virginia General Assembly on the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1779

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for is faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. -- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1 January 1802

Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law. -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, 10 February 1814

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.  -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, 17 March 1814

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. -- James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments to the Virginia General Assembly, 20 June 1785

What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy. -- James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 20 June 1785

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever? -- James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 20 June 1785

Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform. -- James Madison, speech in Congress, 15 August 1789

The appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, [is] contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment'. -- James Madison, vetoing a bill granting federal land in Mississippi Territory for a Baptist church, 2 March 1811

(This was about two weeks after Madison had vetoed a similar bill granting federal land to an Episcopal church in Alexandria, District of Columbia, on 21 February 1811)

Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself. – James Madison, in a letter to Baptist churches in North Carolina, 3 June 1811

The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State. -- James Madison, in a letter to Robert Walsh, 2 March 1819

Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. -- James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, 10 July 1822

Later 19th century POTUSes

Now let’s check out what some of the later POTUSes in the 19th century, both pre- and anti-bellum, had to say.

It is most interesting that both Grant and Garfield proposed that the federal government tax churches, presumably their property not strictly for religious services.

I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government. - Andrew Jackson, refusing to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer in 1832

We admit of no government by divine right, believing that so far as power is concerned the Beneficent Creator has made no distinction amongst men; that all are upon an equality, and that the only legitimate right to govern is an express grant of power from the governed. -- William Henry Harrison, inaugural address, 4 March 1841

The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. -- John Tyler, letter to Joseph Simpson, a prominent Jewish leader in Baltimore complaining of Gen. Winfield Scott addressing a missionary society, 10 July 1843

Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the United States I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments office. -- James K. Polk, diary entry of his response to a Presbyterian minister opposing Catholic army chaplains, 1846

I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled. -- Millard Fillmore, address during Presidential campaign, 1856

The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked. --Abraham Lincoln, letter to Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, 2 January 1863

Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect security of free thought, free speech, and free press, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion. Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that neither the state nor nation, or both combined, shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical tenets. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separated. -- Ulysses S Grant, address to the Army of the Tennessee, Des Moines, Iowa, 25 September 1875

I would also call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property.... I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation. -- Ulysses S. Grant, message to Congress, 7 December 1875

We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference. -- Rutherford B. Hayes, speech in Marion, Ohio, 31 July 1875

The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community. -- James A. Garfield, speech in Congress, 1874

In my judgment, while it is the duty of Congress to respect to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen … not any ecclesiastical organization can be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the national government.-- James A Garfield, inaugural address, 4 March 1881

The public schools shall be free from sectarian influences and, above all, free from any attitude of hostility to the adherents of any particular creed. – Theodore Roosevelt, speech on “American Common Schools” in Boston, 30 November 1893

20th century POTUSes
Now we arrive in the 20th century.

I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools -- Theodore Roosevelt, New York public address, 12 October 1915

The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either from within or from without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free. -- Calvin Coolidge, inaugural address, 4 March 1925

I come of Quaker stock. My ancestors were persecuted for their beliefs. Here they sought and found religious freedom. By blood and conviction I stand for religious tolerance both in act and in spirit. -- Herbert C. Hoover, New Day, 1928

We have gone a long way toward civilization and religious tolerance, and we have a good example in this country. Here the many Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church do not seek to destroy one another in physical violence just because they do not interpret every verse of the Bible in exactly the same way. Here we now have the freedom of all religions, and I hope that never again will we have a repetition of religious bigotry, as we have had in certain periods of our own history. There is no room for that kind of foolishness here. -- Harry Truman, Mr. Citizen, 1960

And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this Center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are. -- Dwight Eisenhower, speech at opening of Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., 28 June 1957

It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state in the United States—that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a different conclusion. -- John F. Kennedy, letter to Glenn L. Archer, 23 February 1959

Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state. -- John F. Kennedy, interview, Look, 3 March 3 1959

I believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. -- John F. Kennedy, speech to Greater Houston Ministerial Association, 12 September 1960

We do not want an official state church. If ninety-nine percent of the population were Catholics, I would still be opposed to it. I do not want civil power combined with religious power. I want to make it clear that I am committed as a matter of deep personal conviction to separation.  -- John F Kennedy, interview on “Face the Nation,” CBS-TV, 30 October 1960

As you know, the separation of church and state is not subject to discussion or alteration. Under our Constitution no church or religion can be supported by the U.S. Government. We maintain freedom of religion so that an American can either worship in the church of his choice or choose to go to no church at all. -- Richard Nixon, telegram to E.S. James of Baptist Standard, 21 October 1960

Last year I was on Pat Robertson's show, and we discussed our basic Christian faith—for instance, separation of church and state. It's contrary to my beliefs to try to exalt Christianity as having some sort of preferential status in the United States. That violates the Constitution. I'm not in favor of mandatory prayer in school or of using public funds to finance religious education. -- Jimmy Carter, interview in Christianity Today, 2 March 1998

I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my authority to violate this principle in any way. -- Jimmy Carter, letter to Jack V. Harwell, 11 August 1977

We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. -- Ronald Reagan, speech in Valley Stream, New York, 26 October 1984

From two major SCOTUS decisions

Lastly, here’re quotes from the majority opinions in two of the most pivotal cases in American jurisprudence regarding church and state separation.

There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter into our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed ... Those who made our Constitution saw this, and used the most apt and comprehensive language in it to prevent such a catastrophe. -- Supreme Court of Wisconsin, majority opinion, Weiss v. District Board (aka Edgerton Bible case), 18 March 1890

The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach. -- Hugo Black, majority opinion, Everson v. Board of Education, 10 February 1947

The laicity, the secularism, of our Founding Fathers and their Constitution has always been one of the guiding principles of my political and religious existence, no matter whether I was in a liberal phase or a conservative phase of political philosophy or holding strong belief, passive belief, nonbelief, disbelief, unbelief, or anti-belief in religious thought. 

I have only to look at the world around me to see the consequences of letting even a stray footstep cross that threshold from either side.  There is no such thing as a harmless amount of religion in government.  The phrase “a little bit of theocracy” is like saying “a little bit of pregnancy”.  Theocracy is the corruption of religion into ideology and the decay of government into totalitarianism.


All experience of humanity has shown, and most graphically since mid-20th century, that no matter how much theocratists adhere to democratic processes in the beginning and deny that their ideology even is theocracy, their end is the same authoritarian rule as if it were established by an iron heel.


The word “theocracy”, incidentally, was coined by first century Jewish historian and former anti-Roman rebel Titus Flavius Josephus specifically to describe the government under which the Jews of his time suffered.  It was precisely that form of misgovernment and abuse of spiritual authority against which the Galilean prophet Jesus of Nazareth rose.  I always find it astounding that any person calling themselves Christian would advocate the very thing he hated most.


23 April 2014

Abraham Lincoln, socialist at heart

Our 16th POTUS, Abraham Lincoln, was rightly cast by alternative history novelist Harry Turtledove as a former Republican turned leader of the Socialist Party, which in Turtledove’s Southern Victory series is the other major party opposite the Democratic Party, the Republican Party drastically losing support after the Confederacy’s victory in the Civil War.  A large part of the reason for Lincoln’s switch was the increasingly right-ward shift of the Republican Party in support of the economic oligarchy clashing with his own radical leanings.  Were there to be a Second Coming of Lincoln, he would undoubtedly make the same call in real life as his fictional counterpart did in Turtledove’s novels.

To illustrate his real leanings vis-à-vis the Fourth Branch of the U.S. government—the most important (at least since the early 1980’s), the Corporate Branch—here are three quotes, either verified by other researchers or plucked from a federal government website.  Not what one might expect from the first person elected president from the Republican Party, especially considering the corrupted version of the second decade of the 21st century.

From a speech in the Illinois legislature, January 1837:

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.”

Sounds like what the Bush and Obama administrations did openly and secretly in the aftermath of global economic collapse of 2008 caused by the prolifigacy of the finance bourgeoisie, i.e. banks, lenders, venture capitalists, stock brokers, etc.

From his first State of the Union address, 3 December 1861:

“It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

“Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

“Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

From his letter to Col. William F. Elkins, 21 November 1864:

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.  It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety
of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

The last of these quotations first appeared to the wider public in Jack London’s 1908 dystopian future history novel, The Iron Heel.  Subsequent research by several scholars through Lincoln’s papers has proven its veracity. 

And yes, the author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild was an avid socialist, a member of the Socialist Labor Party, one of the founders of the Socialist Party of America, a strong supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World, a founder of SPA’s Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which became the League for Industrial Democracy, which was parent of the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which became Students for a Democratic Society in 1958.

19 April 2014

The Other (Revolutionary) Beatitudes

Most Christians are familiar with the Beatitudes from the version of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, which were written to be both uplifting and inoffensive.  Fewer know about the other version in the Gospel of Luke, probably older and much more revolutionary.  Found at Luke 6:20-26, the text here is from the New Revised Standard Version:


“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Lends credence to the version of the historical Jesus described in Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

16 April 2014

A Modest Proposal for Peace with the Middle East

America’s image in North Africa and West Asia is often tarnished by the perception both here and east of the Atlantic of Islamophobia pervading all levels of U.S. society.  The degree to which “Islamophobic America” is a reality is up for debate.  For every Murfreesboro or Lower Manhattan you have one or more East Brainerds as in Chattanooga.  For every birther claming President Obama is a Muslim stands a legion of the less deluded.

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were the strongest proponents among the Founding Fathers for including Muslims (along with Catholics, Jews, and unbelievers) as equal citizens.  They were joined, believe it or not, by an overwhelming majority of Baptists in the new country, especially leading minister John Leland.

Together those men helped ensure the inclusion of the ban on religious tests for public office in the Constitution.  A little over a century earlier, the charter of the colony of Carolina prescribed freedom of religion and full citizenship to “Jews, dissenters, and heathen”, the “dissenters” specifically intended to include Catholics and Muslims.

To alleviate at least some of the tension present in the air between us and our neighbors to the east and to show that we Americans are bigger than our most small-minded citizens, I have a few modest proposals.

First, I move that the current Pledge of Allegiance be altered to: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Oligarchy for which it stands, one Nation under Allah, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

(“Republic” changed to “Oligarchy” to reflect the study recently released by Princeton and Northwestern Universities determining that as the American political reality since 1981.)

Furthermore, I propose that our official motto be changed to “In Allah we trust”, that all currency and coin of the United States of America display this on its obverse, and that all species of money with the current form of the motto be recalled for destruction.

I also propose that all official oaths at every level of government for elected and appointed office, for military induction, and for court testimony end with “So help me, Allah” instead of the words currently most common.

Yes, I know, many will decry this as the beginning of the Islamicization of America and the adoption of the United States as the western annex of the Caliphate under the idea that a little bit of theocracy is like a little bit of pregnancy.  But such a step would completely rob many of America’s enemies of one of their strongest rhetorical weapons. 

It would also endear us to the hearts of Muslims throughout the world in North and Sub-Saharan Africa and in West, Central, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as give hope to Muslims who are victims of violent and sometimes deadly persecution in the Central African Republic, Burma, and Thailand.  Arab Christians and Arab Jews, who use the name Allah for God at least in their daily speech, will likely welcome it as well, even if the government of Malaysia does not.

For those repulsed by the idea of using the Arabic word “Allah” instead of the more familiar “God”, you should know that the word translated into English as “God” in the books of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and parts of Ezekiel is “Alaha”, the Aramaic equivalent of “Allah”.  In fact, Jesus himself would have used the word Alaha for God in daily life.

Arab-speaking Christians have used the word Allah for God since the third century CE, three-and-a-half centuries before Muhammad, the earliest to do so being the Nabateans of southern Palestine, followed by the Ghassanids and the Tanukhids of northern Arabia-southern Syria and the Lakhmids of southern Mesopotamia.

14 April 2014

The Crucifixion of Jesus bar Joses, some facts

If you are looking for something about a deeper meaning for his death, look elsewhere.  Any murder, including state-sanctioned homicide, is meaningless.  Besides, if the death of Jesus bar Joses (as he would have been called in the anglicized form of the Hellenized version of the Aramaic names converted into the Greek in which all the gospels were written) were the main point of the story, all the gospels would begin with the triumphal entrance.

No Bible story is more fetishized by the Church, and by most Christians within it, than the crucifixion of Jesus bar Joses and the events leading up to it.  For the medieval Church in the West (still followed in some corners) and for American fundamentalist Christians today, its importance surpasses even that which is supposed to be the main event, his subsequent resurrection.  In both these cases, authorities and believers alike ignore what the man actually had to say.  Like the song by the punk group The The says, “They’ve forgotten the message and worship the creeds.”

Can you imagine people walking around with miniature guillotines around necks?  Miniature gallows?  Electric chairs?  Gurneys for lethal injection?  That’s exactly what a cross is. 

How about with any of those implements of torture and death filled with their suffering victims?  That is exactly what a crucifix is. 

However, that many Christians wear these exemplifies psychopathy no more than the ritual symbolic cannibalism in which most of them engage every Sunday, sometimes daily, even twice or thrice daily.  That is all they can actually do since, for the overwhelming majority, their only knowledge of the meaning of Eucharist derives from the gospels viewed as if in a vacuum, which doesn’t allow for knowledge of the proper context of the ceremony’s actual and much less carnivorous antecedents.

The fetishists act and talk almost as if Jesus bar Joses were the only person crucified ever, except for the two poor saps there next to him as window-dressing, a first century version of “red shirts” in Star Trek: The Original Series.  Crucifixion, if fact, was millennia old by the first century, practiced in the Levant not only by the Romans but by the Persians and Seleucids who preceded them as the imperial power in the region.

The unlamented Hasmonean dynasty, more corrupt and tyrannical than the Herodians were at their worst and as detrimental to their own people as the Stewarts were to Scotland, avidly practiced crucifixion from the time they came to power, at first as high priests, then as kings who were also high priests.  The most atrocious event took place in 87 BCE at the end of the Second Judean Civil War, when Alexander Jannaeus, king and high priest, crucified some 800 rebel prisoners and slit the throats of their wives and children in front of them.

Several hundred miles west, in 71 BCE, the Roman general Crassus crucified the 6000 captured rebel slaves of the Third Servile War, led by Spartacus, along the Appian Way.

After the death of Herod the Great, Judea rose in a revolt against Archelaus and his Roman allies which quickly fell apart.  The Romans crucified over 2000 rebels in the aftermath.

The height of the Great Jewish War of 66-73 CE was the Siege of Jerusalem, lasting from February through August.  Throughout the siege, rebels and other persons caught trying to escape the city were crucified within view of the walls.  Josephus reports at the peak there were 500 victims a day on average.

No, crucifixion was most definitely not unique, even in Palestine.  In nearly all cases, however, its use was confined to political rebels.  The two “bandits” reportedly crucified on either side of Jesus bar Joses were called in the Greek “lestai”, a word which can be translated as “bandit” but almost always meant the equivalent of today’s “terrorist”.

Christians almost universally equate the Christ (from the Greek word “Christos”) or Messiah (from the Hebrew word “Moshiach”) with the kingly Messiah ben David.  According to the books of Samuel and Kings, Moshiach was a title held by every King of the Jews from the time of Saul; it means simply “Anointed”.  Priests and prophets were also messiahs.

Old Persian had a word similar to “Christos”, by the way, that is transliterated “Chrestus”, which meant “the Good”.

However, Christians use the term specifically for the eschatological figure.  Which would be fine, except there were (and are) two figures out of four in 1st century Jewish eschatology referred to as Messiah: the Messiah ben David and the Messiah ben Joseph.  They were/are also respectively called Messiah ben Judah and Messiah ben Ephraim.  The other two were/are the Righteous Priest and Elijah.  The Righteous Priest also had/has an aka, Messiah ben Levi, though he was/is rarely referred to as such.  Elijah was and still is just Elijah.

The Messiah ben Joseph is supposed to precede the Messiah ben David, bringing truth, teaching righteousness, healing, calling people to redemption, and sacrificing himself in death.  He is referred to as Lamb of God and identified with the Suffering Servant.  The Messiah ben David follows in his wake, defeating the last ruler of the fourth empire in battle and bringing him to Mount Zion for judgment.  After enumerating the ruler’s sins and those of his empire, the Messiah ben David then slays this last ruler with his own hand.

In other words, if Jesus bar Joses were brought before the procurator of Judea (which included Samaria and Idumea), Pontius Pilatus in this case, under the charge of claiming he was the Messiah ben David, he was not being charged with simply being a prophet bringing a message of repentance and salvation but of planning a revolution to overthrow the Roman Empire and kill its ruler, Tiberius Julius Caesar.  Upon conviction, the penalty for that, indeed a penalty almost exclusively reserved for rebels, was crucifixion.

If Jesus bar Joses were claiming to be the Messiah ben David, then he was guilty and was given the penalty afforded under Roman law.  The sign above him on the cross (King of the Jews) indicates that this is indeed what he was convicted of claiming.  Repeated denials recorded in the gospels lead me to think he probably was not, but if claiming anything, then it was to be the Messiah ben Joseph.  The Romans or their priestly allies may not have thought one much different from the other.

As for his first confrontation, that with the Jewish leadership, many commentators opine that this took place before the Great Sanhedrin of 71 elders.  If this were the case, the presider would not have been the current High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas, but Gamaliel I, who was the current Nasi, the official at the head of the Great Sanhedrin, at the time. 

There were two major power centers among the Jews in Judea in the first century, the Temple and the Great Sanhedrin.  Of the two, the former eclipsed the latter, at least with Rome.  The independence of the Great Sanhedrin was handicapped by the fact that it met on the Temple Mount.  As one might expect, the Temple was the major base of the Sadducees and the Great Sanhedrin the major base of the Pharisees, though there were some of both in each, as well as in the Lesser Sanhedrins of 23 in major cities throughout Judea and Galilee, and in synagogues throughout Palestine and in the Diaspora.

The Samaritans, both in Palestine and in their own Diaspora, had synagogues as well.  The third major Jewish sect in Palestine, the Essenes, were based at Qumran and had communities in every major city in Palestine and many throughout Egypt and West Asia.

Once upon a time, the offices of high priest and nasi were one, with the high priest presiding over both the Temple and the Great Sanhedrin, but the two offices were divorced around 191 BCE, during the Oniad dynasty.  Were it a formal court, Ananus ben Seth would not have been allowed anywhere near it; the first high priest under direct Roman rule from 6 CE, Ananus imposed the death penalty so often that even the Romans were appalled and deposed him, forbidding him to have any further hand in Jewish jurisprudence.

Several features of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus bar Joses portrayed in the gospels as unique and given a special meaning were actually common to all capital cases.

When Pilatus washed his hands after passing sentence, this was not a declaration that the Jews had overcome his wishes and was about to crucify Jesus bar Joses against his will.  Instead, he was merely repeating what all Roman officials did after condemning someone to death.  The hand-washing signified his personal absolution of the impending death because he was only following the law.

The flogging was standard before a crucifixion, both to further humiliate and to hasten death, in the latter case a form of mercy.  As for the wild fantasies of Christian mythologists, there was no need to entwine metal balls and fragments of bone in the leather for the whip to rip skin.  In fact, if the condemned had been flogged with such a device, he would have been dead long before he was crucified.

Anyone who doubts that has never seen a leather bullwhip strip a coffee table of its surface in the living room of a frat house in the midst of a drunken stupor.  Or viewed photographs of the backs of former slaves in the antebellum American South.

Carrying the cross to the site of one’s crucifixion was also standard.  Only instead of the whole cross, crossbeam and upright, usually just the crossbeam was involved, particularly if the site was one especially marked out for that purpose, as the names Gulgalta (Golgotha) and Calvariae Locus (Calvary) would indicate.

Rather than being tall, often depicted as at least twice the height of the average human, the uprights were not much higher than the average person, leaving the condemned person at roughly eye-level.

Condemned prisoners were stripped completely naked, no loin cloths for the sake of modesty as is usually portrayed in art.  Like, for instance, in the cartoon accompanying this piece.

Death occurred for a variety of reasons, including cardiac rupture or failure, hypovolemic shock, acidosis, arrhythmia, pulmonary embolism, sepsis, dehydration, and animals, the last two depending on how long the torment lasted.  Several of these could cause death within a few hours, contrary to some opinions stating that our subject died too quickly. 

Asphyxiation, claimed by some to be a result of crucifixion, was in fact not.  The reason for leg-breaking, in addition to the extra pain, was that it caused fat embolisms and killed quicker.

The rush to get Jesus bar Joses and the two red shirts down from their crosses before sundown had nothing to do with an approaching Pesach (Passover).  According to Josephus, such was the standard practice for executions in Palestine, even by the Romans, due to the strict religious prohibition in the Torah against leaving the body of a condemned person up after sundown.

Speaking of Passover, the placement of the events of the Passion at this time of year clearly came about because the writers wanted to identify the Lamb of God with the Passover Lamb, not necessarily because it happened then.  The crowds carrying palm branches and crying “Hosanna” argue against it having been Pesach, since those are signal features of the feast of Sukkoth (Booths or Tabernacles; aka Feast of Ingathering) that takes place in the fall.  Waving palms and shouting “Hosanna” at Pesach in the first century would be like trimming a Christmas tree and setting up a crèche scene during Holy Week.

Crucifixion, as a regular form of execution, probably originated in Iran.  The Islamic Republic there revived it as a possible form of execution shortly after coming to power, but, unlike its use of stoning, there is no record of it ever having been used, not even rumors.  The statute stipulates that if the condemned survives three days, they go free and clear.

In the second half of the 20th century, the residents of barangay San Pedro Cutud in the city of San Fernando in Pampanga, Philippines have carried out a number of crucifixions every Good Friday for several decades.  They do actually hammer nails through the volunteers hands and feet, but they carefully sterilize the implements and have medical personnel standing by.  The crucified remain up for about 15 minutes.

The year I went, Good Friday 1991, I got to help lift one of the crosses and place it into the ground, with the guy nailed to it.  I had been standing at the foot of the cross taking pictures of him being nailed so I thought it only polite.

Some of the crucified have performed this act several years.  In all other cases I know about this being done elsewhere, all participants are Kapampangans originally from San Pedro Cutud.

To see a real crucifixion to the death, travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the penalty is not only in the statutes but actually used, even as late as the 2000’s.  Since 2013, however, the crucifixion had taken place only after beheading, so you may be too late.  You may have to travel to Sudan instead.

P.S.:  No, I had not read Reza Aslan's excellent Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth before I wrote this, but I highly recommend it.