Across America, right-wing extremists are propping up candidates to win positions on local school boards. They have turned public schools into political battlegrounds to further their brand of discrimination against authentic Black history, and the realities of racism and bigotry against Latinos, Asians, Judaism, Indigenous Peoples, and the LGBTQ communities. Who is left when you peel that away?
Right-wing extremists’ most recent boast is the “takeover” of the Southlake, Keller, Grapevine, and Mansfield School Boards in Texas. But they are targeting school boards all over the country. I view this as a move to control and undermine truth in education in the U.S. So, to use the vernacular, let’s “unpack” religion to attempt to understand these religious battles for power and control. As my father used to say, “Nothing is new.”
What is a general definition of religion?
Wikipedia defines it this way: “Religion commonly refers to an institution that has a set of organized practices and a structured belief system shared by and among those who are members of the institution. Their beliefs, which are often transcendental, are passed on from members to converts, and are based on either a formally documented creed or established cultural practices.” Religion is almost like a club you belong to and set up club rules and guidelines. In some of the clubs, certain people are barred from membership.
Christianity is the largest club today of the major religions. By name or brand, the two billion followers are to be stewards of the teachings of Jesus, the Christ---martyred by the establishment of his day and believed to have returned in spirit form after being killed. There are thousands of Christian denominations with their unique practices. But if you use the Christian Bible as a source, the tenets of Christianity were outlined in the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. I picked out a few interesting highlights that stand in contrast to what we see from the Christian right:
• Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.
• Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
• Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies
• Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. That thine alms may be in secret: (takes the steam out of public prayer)
Despite its majority following today, Christianity was not the first organized religion. The world’s oldest is Hinduism which dates back more than 4,000 years. It is in third place to Christianity and Islam with 900 million followers.
But thousands of years before organized religion was the belief in superhuman controlling powers, a personal God or gods. Some scholars cite human observation of nature and powerful features of nature outside of their control like rain, clouds and thunder as evidence and character of supreme beings. The oldest spiritual rituals for this type of belief system were performed 70,000 years ago in Africa. Modern spirituality is inspired by beliefs in supreme beings manifested in nature and untethered to organized religion.
Religion is broken down into three basic categories: polytheistic, pantheistic and monotheistic. Polytheism, or the belief in many Gods is believed to have originated with Hinduism in about 2500BC. Pantheism, or the belief that all is God from a number of ancient cultures, particularly African and Indigenous Peoples. Monotheism, or the belief in one God is the foundation of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim lines of religion.
But can’t we all just get along? No.
The earliest religious war I could find was in the 1500s, protestants vs Catholics. And there have been thousands since then.
Jeffrey Burton Russell, a late religious studies scholar said, “Conflicts may not be rooted strictly in religion and instead may be a cover for the underlying secular power, ethnic, social, political, and economic reasons for conflict.” Other scholars have called religious wars a modern invention from the past few centuries that have secular (economic or political) ramifications. In other words, bullshit euphemisms for the attempt to control a country’s resources and people by forcing one belief system on the masses. This sounds more akin to what we now see as the extreme Christian right, which works to ram their version of religion down the throats of others, politically, and they are not beyond threats and peer pressure. This explains their version of Christianity and the push to run their members for political office.
These actions are not part of the spirituality DNA. The two are opposites in theory and in practice. While organized religion battles to recruit members and in extreme cases political power, spiritualists are looking within and connecting with the Supreme beings on a more personal level. At least one in five Americans today reject organized religion because of dogma, political issues, and consider it antithetical to everything the Jesus Christ figure represents.
Nothing is New
In true American history religion has been used as a tool for discrimination, economic and political dominance, and killing. The narrative of the Christian nation runs counter to our alleged freedom to choose our own belief systems. And which version of Christian reigns supreme?
I agree with the adage that religion and politics should remain separate initiatives and forces, best left to their own groups or to individuals. And in that context, those who insist upon combining the two are suspect. If they truly believed in the Jesus Christ banner they wear, there would be no need or appetite for political control, they’d be much too busy loving their enemies, feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick.