The traditional image of Jesus and Christianity prior to it becoming the favored religion of the Roman slave state was one of peace and generosity towards the poor. It was gradually turned into its opposite beginning with Emperor Constantine, who made it a virtual, if not official, state religion of Rome. An empire which ruled huge swaths of the world at one time. The Roman Catholic Church, it’s official title today, tells you much about the cooptation of Christianity so as to make sure it was taught in a way that did not conflict with the imperial goals of the state.
That aspect of religion’s relationship to the state remains today in the Western World, in one form or another. Similar but not identical cooptation also occurred with other religions. The following are words from one English Christian song popular in the 19th century, the first three words being its title:
Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus going on before
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng
Blend with ours your voices in a triumph song
Christ, the Royal Master, leads against the foe
Forward into battle, see His banners go
Both before and after this hymn was penned, the state apparatus would declare certain rival countries demonic, uncivilized or heretic nations suitable for “Christian” cleansing. Clearly, the former ways and views of Christianity contained the seeds of anti-colonialism and were still taught to some degree and thus posed problems for states pursuing a brutal and immoral imperial policy.
I recall a personal experience I had in the army in 1968. I went to a Chaplin, a Jesuit as I found out later, in regard to my conscience objector status. He told me it was my Christian duty to fight for my country in Vietnam and entirely consistent with a belief in Jesus. I exited his office in horror.
The modern states still seek religious influence for moral justification. In America, Christianity is widely devalued, debased and taken over in many cases by ultra-right and today by fascistic forces. Hate of non-whites, immigrants, gays and women have in many cases replaced concepts of charity and acceptance.
The fascistic right needs moral justification for policies they wish to enact and pursue which are in actuality morally reprehensible. So, religion is a necessary target for fascist success. What the MAGA movement attempts to do is to completely turn the better side of religion and even non-religious moral logic 180 degrees around and create a bizarro world in which up is down and wrong is right.
Truth be told, both right and left leaning governments have sought to redefine morality and logic to various extremes for a variety of reasons in the past. While one of the ten commandments is “Thou shalt not kill” it is superseded frequently by propaganda which justifies the extreme depravity of war. Whether an offensive war justifies such murderous cruelty is often determined by privileged ruling elites or imperial interests and not those selected as the instruments of death.
While a war launched for imperial interests of conquest carries with it the right of the invaded country to defend itself (Ukraine for example), the conflict itself does little to erase the motivations for future attacks or war, so we can usually expect more conflict in the near future. What is not done nearly enough in our own case of fascism and its goals is challenging the depraved immorality displayed in the right-wing religious arena. Again, citing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, unless he is both removed from power and the authoritarian dictatorship overthrown, the threat posed remains no matter the battlefield results.
Counterattacking on the Religious Front?
It seems as though, in the interests of not mixing religion with politics, criticism from this perspective is avoided by those interested in opposing right-wing religious goals. I suggest that this is a serious shortcoming and leaves the field of religion for the fascists to pick apart and control. The same was done with patriotism, which imperially motivated politicians and especially the right seems to control and define in the eyes of many Americans. We do not now have the initiative and until we do, we have to fight on the grounds determined by the fascists, which it seems has been avoided in many if not all cases.
To counterattack in regard to religious encroachment into state affairs is both necessary and politically dangerous at the same time. The right wing and Republican propaganda machine is not only large and dangerous, it also has plenty of support in the corporate news media. Lacking is a voice sufficient in scope to get the message across on a wide enough scale and free from distortion. A Catch-22 of epic importance in reality.
Made even more difficult by the lack of political willingness historically in enforcing church/state violations. The arguments against church/state encroachment may be compelling but would they ever be heard over the rantings of the religious right/Republican hate machines? Can they be presented in a way that people will be able to grasp their meaning and importance?
Exposing Religious Hypocrisy
What religious leaders, even those not in the right-wing camp, do not have anywhere near enough appreciation for, are the dangers religious freedoms are in for under a fascist state. The only way to protect religious freedom is to keep it out of state affairs and the laws of the land. When the right bemoans the decline of organized religion, they are offering a poison pill under which the fascist leaning segments of the corporate state, today in the form of the Supreme Court, can now use religious dogma if it suits them. Indeed, this has already happened with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And has been attempted with religious prisons in states like Florida and in other state government capacities.
The question currently becomes, can a mostly secular movement prevail regarding Roe v. Wade’s overturning? The mid-terms, fast upon us, are in essence a referendum on this decision. It’s too late to do much else in this short of time. But we need to figure out a way to neutralize the religious right, which has its fingers on the door to having a role in government policy. Kansas shows that this approach is possible if handled cleverly and carefully. Fascism itself bears things in common with misdirected religious emotions — most conspicuous is imparting supreme being-like persona to certain fascist leaders and following them off a cliff if asked to jump.
Like it or Not
We need to open the eyes of the nation to the consequences of authoritarianism and fascism, which will be our destruction, brought on by the pursuit of naked power by sectors in the privileged elites, who have contaminated those they rule by spreading their depraved values/death culture. We must not allow the fascist right to define morality. Our spiritual beliefs need to be in harmony with science, democracy and economic justice and not in denial of them. The ranting of the religious right are as dangerous as Trump-speak. We must be much better at responding to their depravity and not be afraid to develop a strategy to neutralize it.
The overwhelming number of Americans hold to some level of religious belief. It follows that politics and affairs of state are inherently difficult to separate from religious matters. It also follows that the machinations of the religious-right to compromise civil society are a threat we must address.
Essential: A Strategy
A strategy must be developed to more openly and aggressively defend civil society from the reactionary religious arena. Obviously, the right-wing and fascists will counter charge that we are attacking religion itself. I think we need to make convincing arguments that separation of Church and State is essential for the survival of both!
Are we losing the struggle to preserve separation of Church and State?
Are we losing the struggle to preserve separation of Church and State?
3 - It's still to be decided.
4 - Not yet, but we need better strategies to preserve it.