Center for a Stateless Society » What’s a Secular Heretic to Do?

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One doesn’t have to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim to be turned into a frothing at the mouth, dogmatic-fanatic. One can be morphed into a frothing at the mouth, dogmatic-fanatic about most anything today. But in particular, ‘scientific theories’ and political ideologies seem to be as much a cause of irrational fanaticism as any one of the major world-religions:

What’s a Secular Heretic to Do?

Sheldon Richman | @SheldonRichman

Secular and religion-based political systems can bear an uncanny resemblance. Observing their respective dogmas, catechisms, and sacraments, we might even wonder, with William Cavanaugh, whether the divide is as sharp as we commonly think. Recent events certainly call the distinction into question. We see that a secularist can be as much a fanatic who is willing to denounce heresy and impose his will through violence as any religionist. As Cavanaugh writes in The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict:

I argue that there is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion and that essentialist attempts to separate religious violence from secular violence are incoherent. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of different configurations of power. The question then becomes why such essentialist constructions are so common. I argue that, in what are called ‘Western’ societies, the attempt to create a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion that is essentially prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of the liberal nation-state. The myth of religious violence helps to construct and marginalize a religious Other, prone to fanaticism, to contrast with the rational, peace-making, secular subject. This myth can be and is used in domestic politics to legitimate the marginalization of certain types of practices and groups labeled religious, while underwriting the nation-state’s monopoly on its citizens’ willingness to sacrifice and kill. In foreign policy, the myth of religious violence serves to cast nonsecular social orders … in the role of villain. They have not yet learned to remove the dangerous influence of religion from political life. Their violence is therefore irrational and fanatical. Our violence, being secular, is rational, peace making, and sometimes regrettably necessary to contain their violence. We find ourselves obliged to bomb them into liberal democracy….

In the West, revulsion toward killing and dying in the name of one’s religion is one of the principal means by which we become convinced that killing and dying in the name of the nation-state is laudable and proper….

What is implied in the conventional wisdom is that there is an essential difference between religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, on the one hand, and secular ideologies and institutions such as nationalism, Marxism, capitalism, and liberalism, on the other, and that the former are essentially more prone to violence—more absolutist, divisive, and irrational—than the latter. It is this claim that I find both unsustainable and dangerous. It is unsustainable because ideologies and institutions labeled secular can be just as absolutist, divisive, and irrational as those labeled religious. It is dangerous because it helps to marginalize, and even legitimate violence against, those forms of life that are labeled religious.” (Emphasis added.)

I submit that Cavanaugh’s point is verified by the widespread reaction to anyone who dares doubt the CIA’s narrative in the alleged Russian hacking of the Democrats’ email accounts. Woe betide anyone who would question the “intelligence community’s [sic]” infallibility or honor. More broadly, observe the treatment accorded anyone doubting that bureaucrats are selfless disinterested guardians of the public weal.

But those are not the only signs of our secular dogma. One can also detect it in the hysterical denunciation of anyone who expresses skepticism toward the scientific priesthood in the matter of climate (formerly climate change; formerly global warming). Climate denier, sinner: recant or suffer excommunication! (It’s no coincidence that the priesthood provides support for measures that would expand bureaucratic power over our lives.)

And the invective aimed at those who believe that American-flag burners ought not to be imprisoned, much less stripped of citizenship, or that people ought to be free not to stand for the national anthem or Pledge of Allegiance (to a flag!) certainly demonstrates that at least one secular democratic republic is no stranger to sacred rituals and objects, or the concepts heresy, blasphemy, and infidel.

These examples demonstrate that both progressives and conservatives each have their secular dogmas, and they occasionally overlap. One cannot always predict how one side or the other will come down in any given case because shifting occurs under the pressure of politics. One who questions “American exceptionalism” is likely to be branded a heretic — but branded by whom? In the recent campaign, President Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton invoked American exceptionalism, but Republican President-elect Donald Trump distanced himself from the idea. (“I don’t like the term.”) Normally Republicans are the heresy hunters on this matter, but this was not a normal year.

Recall how Ron Paul was treated when during his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination he put the 9/11 attacks in context: “They’re over here because we’re over there.” Rudy Giuliani and others demanded that Paul recant.

At any rate, as Alex Nowrasteh shows, the right indeed has its “own, nationalist version of PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions. I call it ‘patriotic correctness.’ It’s a full-throated, un-nuanced, uncompromising defense of American nationalism, history and cherry-picked ideals. Central to its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can’t be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts [excommunication?] and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.”

Let’s look closer at the heresy that the CIA may be neither honest nor free of error. Here’s another area where Trump has shaken things up. In the past, Democrats and progressives were liable to be the ones expressing wariness about the CIA, and Republicans and conservatives were the ones to defend it. Today it is Trump who dismisses the CIA allegations against the Russians (which not all government spy agencies believe), while Democrats act appalled that anyone would doubt “our 17 intelligence agencies.” They feign incredulity that Michael Flynn (of whom I am no fan), Trump’s choice for national security adviser, would say that the CIA has been politicized. They seem to forget that their beloved President John F. Kennedy came to despise the CIA and threatened to destroy it after it misled him about the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion. Despite Trump, however, most establishment Republicans are sticking to the old script.

The outrage against those who cast aspersions on America’s spy bureaucracy is ludicrous. Do people really forget that in 2013 Director of National Intelligence James Clapper publicly lied — there is no other word — when he flatly denied to a Senate committee that Americans were being spied on en masse? (Edward Snowden soon exposed Clapper’s shameless lie.) Do they also forget that the CIA was politicized during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq? The Bush administration wanted a reason to invade, and the agency was told to come up with evidence of WMD and of involvement with al-Qaeda. There was no evidence, but that did not matter. Counter-evidence was ignored or ridiculed. That was hardly the first instance of politicization.

Defense of the CIA in the email disclosures is a massive exercise in question-begging — that is, in assuming what is disputed. When skeptics demand evidence, apologists (including many “news reporters”) respond by asking why the skeptics are unconcerned about a foreign power’s attempt to undermine American democracy. Some have gone so far as to accuse skeptics of being Vladimir Putin’s useful idiots, if not actual agents. McCarthyism lives.

But why would we take the CIA on faith, unless we are committed to a secular nation-state dogma that must not be questioned?

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Source: Center for a Stateless Society » What’s a Secular Heretic to Do?

P.S.

How an Evidence-Free CIA Finding Alleging Russian Interference in the US Election was Turned into an Indisputable ‘Truth’

Only a few days ago the New York Times acknowledged that the CIA finding that the Kremlin hacked the Democratic National Convention’s computers with the intention of influencing the US presidential election was based, not on evidence, but conjecture. Today, the newspaper’s reporters have forgotten their earlier caveats and have begun to treat the intelligence agency’s guess-work as an established truth.

How an Evidence-Free CIA Finding Alleging Russian Interference in the US Election was Turned into an Indisputable ‘Truth’ | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization

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