Secularism. Separation of Church and State. But what’s the point? What is secularism intended to keep in or out of government?
Secularism developed in the US because colonists did not wish to repeat their ancestors’ experience in Europe: 150 years of bloody wars and persecution over religious beliefs. But it wasn’t precisely the mixing of religion with government that created cruelty, it was the linking of power, wealth, and force with cold hearts and official creeds. Those armed with legal and military power of the state also wielded the unholy conviction “there-is-only-one-religion-and-it-happens-to-be-mine.”
Any ideology can become hijacked. Those who view human relations in terms of rivalry, domination, obedience, and punishment can gut the essence of any ideology, be it democracy, Islam, communism, or capitalism, and corrupt it into an ideology that emphasizes those same priorities while abandoning love, honesty, equality, and joy.
In bloody Europe, Christianity had been hijacked: the Prince of Peace had been transformed into the Prince of War and Jesus’ priority of love and his disregard for wealth and power were displaced by church and royalty preoccupations with rivalry, control, wealth, obedience, and dogma. Had it not been for the resurrection, Jesus would have been rolling over in his grave.
Early Americans were passionate about their beliefs, but their beliefs varied, and they had no desire for government to endorse one and suppress the rest. To separate ideology of Church from weapons and power of State, writers of the US Constitution included Article 6, which prohibits requiring religious tests of public office seekers, and the 1st Amendment, which allows for the free exercise of religion and forbids an established US religion.
Secularism’s intention is to prevent belief systems from being imposed by financial, legal, military, or other type of power upon others. The purposes of secularism are multiple: to allow equality and freedom of conscience for all, whether polytheist, monotheist, or freethinker; to diminish war and cruelty; to preserve human rights.
Secularism maintains that people can’t persecute or be persecuted for their beliefs. People should not be taxed or conscripted to support an ideology they do not endorse. As with the 1st Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech, the purpose of secularism was never to promote cruelty, but to contain it.
A major purpose was to foster a government that would solve problems humanely based upon reason rather than upon commands of religious authorities and established figures. Individuals, regardless of rank, wealth, or religion, could access truth and use reason to develop benevolent policies.
But is the US government (USG) secular? Are people trampled by wars due to an entanglement of ideology with legal and military force? Are wealth and power connected with a creed? Are truth and reason cherished?
…Iran, Mossadegh 1953; Guatemala, Arbenz 1954; Dominican Republic, Trujillo 1961; Congo, Lumumba 1961; Iraq, Qassim 1963….
Since 1945, the USG has tried to overthrow more than 50 foreign leaders. Spending millions on each target abroad, the USG has misled voters, planted false news, rigged elections, sabotaged reforms, incited riots, bribed officers to revolt, provoked oppression in leaders, trained police and death squads in torture and kidnapping, illegally sold drugs and weapons to finance war, and imprisoned and executed thousands without reasonable definition or evidence of guilt.
The Association for Responsible Dissent, founded by former CIA officials, estimates that more than 6 million have died due to CIA covert operations. Meanwhile, the CIA document “Worldwide Attack Matrix” details current and recommended covert operations combatting terrorism in 80 nations.
When justifying its attacks, the USG claims to be confronting inhumanity or danger. This is half-truth at best, for targeted leaders range from compassionate to cruel. Often, the USG finances an unpopular, brutalizing dictator for decades, then publicizes his cruelty as pretext for invasion only when he defies USG goals. Many popular leaders thwarted USG goals merely by alleviating starvation, low wages, and landlessness, by maintaining neutrality in the Cold War, or by seeking to demilitarize Latin America.
Then, out from the shadows emerge US money motives: profits for US fruit companies, banks, and investors, fear of nationalization of oil and phone companies, contracts for canals, gas pipelines, weapons, and military bases. Personal financial connections typically link the USG to these businesses whose interests benefit from USG aggression.
But what is this? This behavior does not represent American hearts and minds. Even if we all had banana plantations or pipelines abroad, most of us wouldn’t want to kill people just to protect our bananas and pipes. Most would give money to prevent killing rather than kill to get money.
That is only covert operations. What about overt operations?
On Wikipedia’s timeline of USG military activity, guess how many years from 1775 to 2014 do not contain a military operation? Only 14! While we are led to believe the USG perpetually uses its military for noble purposes, protestors from across the political spectrum have denounced every war since 1775, and their well-informed words suggest that an ideology of control and self-centered greed drive US foreign policy.
Writing in 1899, Yale professor William Graham Summer recognized that by embarking on the Spanish-American War, the US had discarded its symbol of freedom and adopted Spain’s imperialism: “…we are throwing away some of the most important elements of the American symbol and are adopting some of the most important elements of the Spanish symbol. We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.”
Helen Keller, a socialist, decried WWI in 1916: “The Civil War was fought to decide whether the slaveholders of the South or the capitalists of the North should exploit the West. The Spanish-American War decided that the United States should exploit Cuba and the Philippines….The present war is to decide who shall exploit the Balkans, Turkey, Persia, Egypt, India, China, Africa….The workers know they have no enemies except their masters…. they are not free when they are compelled to work twelve or ten or eight hours a day….”
Protestors warned that the military itself robs its soldiers of life, freedom, and humanity. Jewish Quaker Milton Mayer clarified in 1939: “It is not Hitler I must fight, but Fascism…If I want to beat Fascism, I cannot beat it at its own game….Fascism is an order in which men exist for the state. And in no condition to which men submit do they exist for the state so completely as in war.”
In 1963, Murray Rothbart, founder of American libertarianism, refuted the “root myth” that the State wages war to defend life and freedom. A person’s own government conscripts him into a military that tramples his liberties, dehumanizes his mind, and transforms him “into an efficient engine of murder…Can any conceivable foreign State do anything worse to him that what ‘his’ army is now doing for his alleged benefit?”
An interesting feature of US military history is that wars against Native Americans are typically ignored. In school, we learn of the Revolutionary War and jump to the War of 1812. But between 1775 and 1800 there were only two years in which there was not a major battle. Why no mention of the wars to seize Kentucky and Tennessee from the Chickasaws, and Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin from the Shawnee and Winnebagos? And what about the earlier clearing of the East by extermination of the Wampanoag, Pequots, Delawares, and Yamasees?
As the wars spread west and surviving Native Americans were funneled onto reservations, their children kidnapped to attend school, signature motivations repeatedly surfaced: mining, ranching, railroads, and demolition of foreign culture.
The trivialization of these wars is a clue that foreign policy ideology views them as pest extermination programs necessary for “progress” rather than avaricious wars against beings and cultures worthy of respect. Yet had the USG been truly secular, had it not harbored this honest-to-goodness conviction that its people and culture were chosen, exceptional, and deserving of the land’s resources, perhaps much despair could have been averted.
The fears, biases, and goals driving USG foreign policies back then continue to steer USG policies today in Latin America, the Mid-East, and beyond. And, just as policymakers thought they were doing the right thing back then for the sake of national security, profits, railroads, miners, ranchers, and Westernization, policymakers think they are doing the right thing today.
And in some ways, though less severely, as we live trapped in jobs and school, overpopulated, powerless to stop the destruction and paving over of wilderness for the sake of money, we find ourselves victims of the ideology that conquered the former inhabitants.
Besides aiming to prevent bloodshed and inequality, another purpose of Enlightenment-inspired secularism was to invent a government in which reason prevailed. But does it?
Certainly, Americans are raised to be problem solvers. All those hours of school and homework require children to sacrifice their bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits to solve problem after problem. Perhaps repression of spirit and molding of obedient mind create an adult unable or uneager to think, for what kind of problem-solving goes on in US foreign policy-making?
Consider US arms shipments to Syria, already a recipient of CIA “attention” by 1949. We can easily list topics provoking conflict for Syrian parties and relevant foreign nations. Many issues pertain to defensive, understandable fears and injustices: Fear of death, torture, abuse; rage over an atomic Israel, the Golan Heights, the Palestinian plight; Syrian involvement in Lebanon; opposition to the Iraq War; border disputes with Turkey; safe-havens for Kurdish, Armenian, and Palestinian militants; Southeastern Anatolia Project water disputes with Turkey and Iraq; disastrous irrigation problems; despair over poverty, unemployment, alienation, prejudice; threats to beliefs, values, dignity. When acting defensively, the use of violence is not necessarily legitimate, but grievances behind the violence are legitimate and merit attention.
Aggressive roots of violence also typically appear to various degrees within all sides: cruelty; greed; desires to dominate, humiliate, impose political, economic, or religious beliefs upon others; ambitions to extort money and power from others amidst war’s chaos. In these cases, both the violence and motivations are illegitimate.
But how do Russian, US, and Saudi Arabian shipments of arms to either side of the conflict address defensive or aggressive motivations? Where is the rationale? How do weapons assuage distrust, prejudice, or alienation and nurture harmony between enemies? How do weapons forge a satisfactory agreement about hydroelectricity and water rights among Turkey, Iraq, and Syria? Do weapons prevent or cause human rights abuses?
How can millions spent on weapons reduce poverty? Or does the USG believe hiring Syrians as soldiers alleviates poverty? Shouldn’t poverty and unemployment be remedied in ways that do not sabotage greater goals of life, joy, and peace?
How can US drones and weapons shipments have power to weaken extremists’ fears that the US aims to subjugate the Mid-East?
So if weapons are not intended to solve problems, why does the USG send them every which way? Whose wallet do they serve?
Can US weapons control and obliterate aggressive mentalities? Perhaps some. But for every aggressive mentality destroyed, many more are created. Governments and terrorists share a tiresome tool box of negative techniques which they use upon enemies: threats, bombs, invasions, kidnapping, isolation, confinement, intimidation, humiliation, sexual abuse, torture, killing. But it is well-known amongst neurobiologists that repeatedly provoking fear or pain in organisms ignites aggression, and every one of these negative techniques causes debilitating effects on neurobiology that decrease or destroy the capacity to be reasonable, caring, and peaceful.
In fact, that tiresome tool box can virtually transform its victims into aggressors. What happens inside the brain? Peace-inducing serotonin levels plunge, alarm-triggering noradrenaline levels rise, and the hippocampus erodes, resulting in an exaggerated perception of threat, an exaggerated startle response, and reduction of the capacity to invent constructive, non-violent responses to threats.
Aggressive mentalities are spawned by war, thrive upon war, and are perfectly camouflaged within it. So why are so-called “allies” arming one side against the other and inflaming conflict, rather than helping both sides solve problems?
Do these allies fear that negotiations with enemies could reward them with unwanted status? But devoting billions on war to vanquish enemies also gives them status. Instead of harnessing the negative behavior of violence of one side to engage with the violence of the other side, why not channel the positive motivations of both sides into cooperative, constructive solutions?
Those who are violent, including 9/11 terrorists, often possess some legitimate grievances that are shared by numerous peaceful persons. If we could work proactively with non-violent groups to remedy legitimate grievances, the wind would be taken from the sail of those who believe only violence can achieve justice. If terrorism against the US, for example, could be addressed within the larger framework of anti-Americanism, a sentiment shared by many reasonable, peaceful people, we could redress wrongs and deflate terrorism in the process. This seems more rational than churning along in futile cycles of action and reaction that breed aggressive minds.
In Roman times, people offered enormous sacrifices to deities to ensure divine protection. Once Christianized, Roman Emperor Constantine sacrificed tremendous financial sums to the construction and decoration of Christian churches. One apse of a single church was laminated with 500 pounds of gold that could have supported about 12,000 poor people for a year.
Today, some believe with the same undoubting conviction that financial and blood sacrifices to war are imperative to preserve us from evil. And in a debilitating cycle, costly, oil-consuming wars are waged to acquire oil and other wealth to finance future wars.
Since 1812, the USG has poured $6.8 trillion into major wars, not including covert wars and the ignored wars with Native Americans. The US Department of Defense has directly spent more than $757 billion on Iraq since 2003. Indirect costs, including payment of interest on funds to finance the war, repair costs of broken vehicles, and replacement costs of missing equipment raise the figure to exceed $1.1 trillion.
On top of that, the USG’s black budget, the top-secret spending for the CIA, National Security Agency, and various spy-intelligence programs, is estimated to have been at least $50 billion per year for the past five years. Even the US “foreign aid” budget is largely military assistance, often amounting to one-third of total foreign aid. In 2012, for example, of the total US foreign aid budget of $48.4 billion, $17.2 billion was military assistance.
The other category of foreign aid, economic assistance, receives rebuke for indebting underdeveloped nations to overdeveloped nations and attaching inappropriate economic, political, and military strings that augment US power. Moreover, money budgeted to the US Agency for International Development includes funding for the National Endowment for Democracy, a controversial agency established in 1983 when the CIA was undergoing heavy scrutiny, an agency that allegedly operates certain activities previously performed covertly by the CIA. Does the NED promote democracy or US power?
The impractical showering of money upon the deities and church buildings and the current cascading of money into the technology and implementation of USG violence demonstrate an unverified faith in the power of these sacrifices to ward off evil. Yet the utility of such sacrifices has not been substantiated by reasoned analysis of all threats to life and relative effectiveness of various solutions.
Would our ancestors have been better off had they shared sacrifices of money with their enemies and the poor instead of offering them excessively to deities and buildings? What about today?
Is it more effective to allocate another $1 million to weapons and spy-intelligence programs or to other forms of intelligence, such as skills development in empathy, cooperative negotiation, and problem-solving?
To the CIA’s Worldwide Attack Matrix or to a Worldwide Kindness, Recreation, and Friendship Matrix and Worldwide Parenting with Love Matrix?
To environmentally destructive wars and weapons shipments to control oil basins or to programs that make renewable, non-polluting energy accessible and affordable worldwide?
And are Americans more threatened by foreigners or by other Americans, natural disasters, and disease?
Secularism was intended to promote a society guided by reason, truth, equality, and humanity rather than dogma, wealth, weapons, and obsessions of established powers. But what have we been seeing in foreign policy?
Since the first foreign policies towards Native Americans, through subsequent overt and covert violent actions and deception, we have witnessed this creed:
“The goal of human relations is to control and use others to serve ourselves. Mangling the truth gives us control. Mangling people gives us truth. The highest form of intelligence is spy-intelligence. Threats, bribes, and torture make others behave. Others’ ideas are irrelevant. Some nations and people are more powerful and wealthy and therefore more moral than others. Our wealth and power indicate divine favor. Our use of violence is divine.”
“There is no greater good than the pursuit of wealth. If it makes money, it is good. Those who hinder the flow of wealth and power to us are enemies. Enemies are evil and unworthy of friendship and understanding. Enemies are incomprehensible and must be destroyed. The purpose of nature is to serve humans and to make wealth. Land and all life species can be destroyed as we pursue our goals.”
But…this is a religion – one that undermines the purposes of secularism, one that destroys the positive potential for human relations and social evolution not only internationally but domestically.
This religion flaunts the 1st Amendment and has effectively sabotaged the Article 6 prohibition against religious tests for office. For why are presidential candidates always this wealthy man who wants war in this way or that wealthy man who wants war in that way? Is this a required identity and worldview to hold office? A test?
The Americans I know are caring and generous. They would sooner gyp themselves than see another get the short end of the stick. They would never want another being to suffer. Yet these qualities don’t win points on the religious test for office. In fact, it is hardly likely the majority of Americans let alone the founder of any world religion would pass the USG religious test.
Jesus would fail: no wealth, can’t be bought, doesn’t bribe, helps the poor, believes in generosity, doesn’t intimidate others, relates to others with kindness, cares about enemies, and his lack of wealth and power is undeniable proof of lack of divine favor. While his predicted failure to pass USG’s religious test to hold office might be mistakenly perceived as a success for secularism, it is instead a symptom of oppression of the USG Religion.
How did the USG Established Religion survive in a secular society? Because it is a secular religion with secular deities: Wealth, War, and Control. Not being supernatural, they slipped in and displaced Truth, Love, and Reason.
But for those who don’t recognize a religion without supernatural, anthropomorphic deities, let’s identify the deities worshipped in minds that plan assassinations, airstrikes, drones, weapons sales, pipeline contracts, reconstruction contracts, unexploded cluster bombs, investments in military technology, interest rates on loans for war, interrogation, lies, and torture.
Here they are now front and center: Plutos of Wealth, Mars of War, and Phobos of Panic. In the wings we see Eris of Strife, Pallor of Terror, and Deimos of Dread. Vulcanus is hard at work making weapons.
And there stands the Devil: the enemy so thoroughly and undoubtedly evil, so devoid of positive motivations, that one must never seek to understand or befriend him. He is that permanent slot filled by the enemy of the hour, be it Wild Savage, Red Communist, or Terrorist. He is the whipping boy.
But these deities of Wealth, War, and Control are cruel: never ending sacrifices; never soothing their followers’ addictions; never conquering their perpetually feared Devil.
Is the USG the lone worshipper? Never. Like flypaper on a summer day, Wealth, War, and Control attract global adherents. Yet this religion oppresses both its followers and its victims. And it egregiously suppresses the beliefs of Buddhists, Christians, Freethinkers, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, and all who revere compassion, equality, freedom, ijma, love, maslah, nature, non-violence, reason, al-solh, truth, and understanding. It oppresses all who believe the Devil is the war, not the other side of war.
If secular society has secular religion, then we need secular secularism: separation of legal and military powers from domination by any organization and ideology, whether religious or secular. We must separate the imbalanced influence of corporations of weapons, oil, electricity, reconstruction, banks, etc. from US policymaking, including election campaigns and nominations. Without this separation, the single-minded pursuit of wealth of these organizations will crush humanity and justice, as surely as they were crushed centuries ago in Europe.
And we must separate government from domination by the psychology buttressing this Established Religion. We need individuals in policymaking positions who honor Truth, Love, and Reason, not Wealth, War, and Control. We need individuals who do not equate the enemy with the Devil but who recognize positive and negative motivations within each side of conflict and channel the positive into cooperative, non-violent solutions.
Kristin Y. Christman is author of The Taxonomy of Peace: A Comprehensive Classification of the Roots and Escalators of Violence and 650 Solutions for Peace, an independently created project begun the September of 9/11 and located online. She is a homeschooling mother with degrees from Dartmouth College, Brown University, and the University at Albany in Russian and public administration. http://sites.google.com/site/paradigmforpeace