Also check out the McCainpedia -- a valuable fact-checking site to keep tabs on the GOP nominee.
Also check out the McCainpedia -- a valuable fact-checking site to keep tabs on the GOP nominee.
This man is being lambasted in the press for telling the truth. To my eyes, he looks like an authentic prophet... or at least a temporary oracle. I am grateful that God/dess has raised someone up to tell these truths and pray that more people can see them. As far as I can see, only guilt and complicity rile folks up and prevent them from seeing the truth he speaks and the consequences he proclaims. Anyone who thinks this man is "radical" hasn't seen radical... yet.
In any case, I stand with him. Knowing that his political message is true and desperately needs to be heard in a thousand tongues, it would be unethical not to.See fuller context for his "God damn America" line:
In addition, here's part one of his address to the National Press Club (there are 6 parts, all worth watching--especially for those who don't know what all the fuss is about).
I am from the southern West Virginia coal fields and am a fierce devotee of the sacredness of the Earth's oldest mountains. Appalachia is my material and spiritual homeland, and the devastation caused by mountaintop removal rips me apart. It's done to supply our national electrical "needs," but is ecologically devastating and threatens the Earth's most diverse temperate hardwood forests (only the tropics present greater diversity of life).
As American consumers of coal-fired electricity or its products, we are all culpable in what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. calls "the single greatest environmental crime being perpetrated in America today." In West Virginia, aggressive old-style political machines prevail and democracy--especially sacred democracy--waits to awaken. Despite the fact that my state is one of the richest places in the world in terms of native resources, only one other American state has a more impoverished population. We are colonized and fighting "Third World" political and economic obstacles and powerful out-of-region investors at a time of increasing reliance on coal (the most polluting of all fossil fuels--there is no such thing as "clean coal").
May people of goodwill continue to assist us in the struggles ahead, and may more of them awaken to the darkness at the heart of American wealth. We've no less a task than transforming the entire way humanity interacts with the natural world and revolutionizing American government at all levels. Big task, fit only for heroes. Immanent spirituality that values the human and natural worlds awakens and requires ecological and social responsibility.
One Hand Clapping in the Coal Fields
by Robert Shetterly Published on Thursday, April 17, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
We present our creation myths to ourselves as though they describe a one time event. But what we are really saying, when we say God, or Raven, or Spider, or Whatever created the Universe, rested, and looked upon the creation well-satisfied, was that he, she or it was pleased with re-creation. Out of nothing was born a closed loop process, one that changed, evolved, giving and taking, requiring dying for living, constantly trading a finite supply of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen from one recognizable living plant or animal form to another. Set in motion was a system of shape-shifting, turn taking, a slight of hand magic by which the white rabbit pulled out of the infinite darkness of the black hat becomes a red rose, then a woman, an ostrich, a swarm of bees, becomes a giant redwood, then a swaying mass of kelp in the Sargasso Sea, an Adelie Penguin, a coatimundi, a carrot. The hand opens and closes, each manifestation a new word written on the palm. Each incarnation requires the other to exist, then not to exist. The hand opens and says barred owl. We hear a hoot and the squeak of a meadow vole. It closes, opens, and says goose necked barnacle. We feel the cold surge of the tide, the wash of nutrients, the clamor of waves.This hand, opening and closing, resounds as one hand clapping in the Universe.
Imagine a trout. Imagine its gills sucking dissolved oxygen out of water, its air bladder regulating its depth, its ventral, dorsal and caudal fins propelling and directing, its sensitive lateral line tuned like an antenna to all aqueous frequencies, its scales slipping it through the water without friction, its accordion mouth, its eye, the marvelous colors of its camouflage. Then imagine it dissatisfied with its condition. The trout has developed a competitive and self-aggrandizing consciousness. Imagine that it desires profit from its environment, has worked out a fishy scheme to exploit profit from water by selling it. As the remaining water darkened, thickened, and shallowed, what would you say to that trout? What advice?
Imagine a bird, perhaps a bluebird, whose economic advisors extolled the marketing of air. The advisors proclaimed that the happiest bluebird would be the one who amassed the greatest fortune from the most efficient diminishment of the atmosphere.
Or, imagine a worm whose perceived welfare depended on the selling of topsoil, replacing humus and minerals with chemicals and pesticides.
To imagine such a trout or bluebird or worm is to envision a political or philosophical cartoon. We know such mercenary animals are impossible. They could not and would not indulge in these behaviors, not because they are dumb, less evolved than humans, but because they are inherently, genetically, wise. Their wisdom is comprised of living in harmony with their environment, being in harmony with reality. I would be hard pressed to think of another definition of wisdom other than living in harmony with the reality of nature. We have to base wisdom in the morality and value derived from living in harmony with our ultimate reality. Imagine an oak that attempts to derive its value from selling and consuming its own roots. If the point of a cartoon is to teach, then these animal and plant cartoons teach us that there is only one un-wise, one dumb species on earth.
Last week I traveled to the coal fields of eastern Kentucky. The first warm days of spring were an exultation of blooming — daffodils, magnolias, cherries, redbud. After visiting the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County which teaches environmental studies to children and adults from all over the state, we drove up onto a "reclaimed" Mountaintop Removal ( MTR ) site.
I have written quite a lot about the environmental and cultural ravages of MTR. It was based on reading, interviews, videos and photos, and first hand panoramic observance. Last fall, from up on Larry Gibson's Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, I had seen the draglines working, the coal trucks hauling, the valleys being filled, the mountains sliced in cross section exposing 18 inch seams of coal.
But I had never actually walked on a site, particularly a reclaimed site, when all the explosives and machinery are gone, the valley fills are graded, the grass growing on the compacted rubble, the wind blowing, the sun shining, the access roads muddy from heavy spring rains, blue sky and billowy clouds reflected in puddles, the only sounds wind in the grass and blue jays calling from the next mountain (the one with trees), when the crude surgery is over, and the traumatized patients have been left alone to "recover" in peace and isolation.
I was unprepared for how strongly I would react to being in the presence of these violently abused mountains. Instead of standing on the ridge of a healthy mountain observing distant devastation, it was reversed. I was walking on remnant, sham mountains who are being presented as proof that no harm has been done. These vast, stunted, grassy nubs have been released back into the company of their brother and sister mountains. Their bulldozed slopes sag and crack as though they have lost all muscle tone, as though they have been de-boned. They are flaccid, pacific the way a lobotomized person is pacific — eerily so, because they no longer have any conscious identity or will. They are neutered, gutted. Water runs right through them, polluting and flooding the towns downstream. Never again will they support the most diverse habitat in North America. No white oaks, no tulip poplars, no bears, no white pines, no golden seal, no woodpeckers, no ginseng. Thousands of plant and animal species gone. Sterile. Heart and brain removed. Evolutionary history removed. Role in future evolutionary history removed. These Appalachian Mountains, oldest in the world, are being rendered gravel cadavers growing green hair from their dead bodies. They are like lumpy, castrated, drugged semi-beings propped up in church to reassure their relatives and friends that everything is OK. They have the same credibility as mountains as a dishonestly elected man in a suit has as president when he lies to the people about the necessity for war. Just as he betrays democracy, these husks of mountains have been tortured to betray nature.
King Coal tells us that these wastelands are more useful than the original mountains. Prisons can be built here! Malls! Golf courses! Yes, and roses and doves can be tattooed on a dead body. Here's an exercise: All you need are a water soluble pen and a damp sponge.
Take the pen and write the name of a favorite animal or plant on the other palm. Close and open your hand. Think of your hand as the power of evolution and the secret of creation.
Sponge off the word and write another. Each time you do it, imagine the life cycle of that animal or plant. Keep going till your imagination fails you. Do this alone or with a friend. Write on each other's palm until tired. Remember, though, that the Earth would not run out of imagination.
Years ago, when I first heard the mysterious Zen koan that asks one to describe the sound of one hand clapping, I had no idea what it might mean, or what idea the question itself might be trying to teach. I think I do now. In every cell of every living species of every healthy ecosystem, Nature's hand is playing this little game. It loves the sound of its own hand clapping. Opening and closing. It opens and the sound of one hand clapping is the squawk of a raven. It opens and the sound is a Bottle-nosed dolphin clicking. Aspen leaves quaking. A fox barking. Girls singing at jump rope. An acorn dropping. A cricket chirping.
Mountaintop Removal cuts off the hand. To make this claim is not anti business, nor is it sentimental. It's simply reality. Nature's reality.
We live in that hand. We live at the mercy of its ability to clap.
Robert Shetterly is an artist living in Maine. His nationally traveling portrait series can be viewed at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org. He can be reached at email@example.com.
GROUPS OPPOSING MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL PRACTICES
Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities, by Shirley Stewart-Burns, is now available from the WVU Press at http://www.wvupress.com, from http://www.amazon.com/, or at local bookstores nationwide.
On Sunday, George McGovern wrote an excellent editorial in favor of impeachment. He writes what anyone with even the faintest glimmer of intelligence knows: "Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly "high crimes and misdemeanors," to use the constitutional standard. ...From the beginning, the Bush-Cheney team's assumption of power was the product of questionable elections that probably should have been officially challenged - perhaps even by a congressional investigation. "
At this point, impeachment is not about vengeance or even preventing more damage from Bush and his team of bumblers--it's about restoring the integrity of the Constitution. Turning the post-Bush government over to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama does not constitute a return to democracy!.
In past times, the failure of a King was cause to end his rule in sacred sacrifice--returning him to the earth or sky to be recycled and replacing him with another. Our fields are blighted, our children killed in war, our treasury and honor despoiled. Perhaps our modern ritual equivalent of regicidal sacrifice is the four-year election. When the miasma is great--and it has never been greater--sterner measures than the ballot box are called for--we need not just a change, but a remedy and a caution and a full catharsis. Bush is an international war criminal on the grandest scale, easily more dastardly than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, who merits impeachment, trial and imprisonment.
"We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls."
This is a quotation about choosing Christian-identity pluralism over multiculturalism. It's chilling because its source is Adolf Hitler and the "different" faiths he legitimated were limited to Catholicism and Protestantism. It is disturbing, too, because Hitler sought to re-ground German identity in newly minted racist myths about the national past, sought to ground German identity not in the freedom of changing ideas or actual folk tradition, but in the exclusive orthodoxy of genetics (a form of biological fundamentalism). This is remarkably parallel to what the Book of Mormon accomplishes with American history through its doctrines of British Israelism (though I do not equate the intentions of Hitler and Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, nor suggest that Romney is Hitlerian).
The quotation is chilling because there are echoes of it in all the contemporary efforts to define America as a "Christian Nation" and erase its longstanding excursive, deist and functionallly multicultural past. This is an effort in which politicans and beleaguered Christian denominations--either losing members or gaining them through ludicrous identification with victim status--are uniting forces. The reason they have to unite is that they are vastly outnumbered, and the people either do not vote or do not get authentic tallies of their votes.
Look around you, no matter where you are (and I am in the Bible belt): the "Christian Nation" is a political, media and academic construct. It does not exist.
American folk religion is grounded in freedom. Ours is the most radically anti-authoritarian constellation of folk religions in the history of the world. They will become moreso.
The majority of Americans may be nominally Christian--but they are not churchgoers, hymn-singers, Bible-readers, nor religiously motivated voters. They are manifestly functionally secular and have a more deist orientation to a less elaborated God than the God of the Bible. The have functioned in this mode since the founding of Jamestown--a commercial, not religious, functionally multicultural venture extolled as the Founding Colony until the Civil War, when Christian holy warriors decided to find national ancestors in the theocracies of New England. They won by invading, shaming and imposing their religion on the American South. They were able to win that public relations battle only because of the moral depravity of slavery that had grown with the South's agrarian commerical structure. The "war on terror" and the proclamations of a "war of civilizations" do the same thing: isolate a negative trait and use it to justify violent suppression of the other. This makes the actor self-righteous and the other demonically unhuman--a pattern that should send up red flags in all observers.
All things southern, including the founding of our culture, were irrationally identified with slavery and aggressively suppressed in order to impose cultural homogenity and enrich the emerging industrial classes of the urban north. It's in those northern cities where black ethnic traditions and white southern dialects were aggressively suppressed and a contrived homogenity imposed through the always-false construct of "mainline" denominationalism and the mis-use of the concept of "cult" (before the early twentieth century, we referred to "sects," not "cults"). Multiculturalism was most real in the close confines of the urban poor, among displaced southerners and immigrants. Those who feared contact with the other were unable to flee West, like Mormons, or take shelter in a clean, suburban High Church. In those urban contexts, the fire of actual religious liberty, freely exercised, was carried largely by black Americans, poor whites, women preachers, Pentecostals, Jews and occultists. That is the army that really made our religious freedom possible--not the one that marched under "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" nor the one that was sequestered on the reservations. We weren't yet universal in application, but we were undeniably functionally multicultural.
This roots of this country's post-European culture were planted by overly-aggressive treasure seekers in Jamestown, Virginia, not by Puritan authoritarians off course in Massachusetts. Despite its many flaws, this country has been an unprecedented haven for excursive religions and autonomous gnosis, both of which continue to proliferate and enrich the world. That's the historical reality and it's the reality today. Really look around you. If you see a "Christian Nation," go a little further down the road, at least to the closest big burg, or find another website. If you still see Christian hegemony, I suggest that you're inhabiting a nightmare and might want to wake up to greet your fellow citizens and true allies.
Christian Dominonists are a small minority, but so were true Nazi loyalists. There are real dangers. There is no shortage of politicians and investors who are willing to bastardize religion for personal domination. There are dangers from craven politicians and strategists like the atheist Karl Rove, who are willing to use religion to unite frightened and poorly informed people in an orgy of fear--especially when, as we're told, the margins of victory are so slight and the migrations of small groups decisive. This manipulation is being done in contrived rhetoric against "terrorism" and against "multiculturalism". Terrorism exists, but it was created and encouraged by the same sorts of crass manipulators, here and in the Middle East, who want to unite constituencies through fear in order to gain personal wealth and power or fulfill a egomaniacal religious fantasy that no majority will ever share. Both these attempts at false unity--from Osama and from George W.--are grounded in the problems of Abrahamic authoritarianism and the ease with which popular sentiment is jerked around by modern media and calculated misinformation. They are grounded in the substitution of dogma for direct experience, books and tradition for the Living God. They are made possible only when true democracy is suppressed, only when the sacredness of universal freedom is denied.
American culture is our ally and the ally of Paganism. Paganism will flower here, and through true liberty will transform this culture and many others. Freedom allows direct spiritual experience. Direct spiritual experience undermines all forms of fundamentalism, all forms of authoritarianism, all forms of static tradition. When people achieve the kind of insight that allows personal authority and true freedom, the vast majority of them will leave Abrahamic religions behind. Common Pagan spiritual experience is not truly marginal or unusual--when more people are freed from the shackels of dogma and social expectation, few will freely choose the Christian faith. It is not satisfying and it does not deliver what it promises; its orthodoxies are manifestly false.
Back to the seed quotation from Hitler: There's a very interesting, well-sourced article on Fortean Times about the Nazis and Christmas (which has one of the most disturbing paintings at the heading that I've ever seen--minimalist, in a sense--just a hand and a tree--but extremely creepy).
This article also provides good information for answering charges that the Hitler regime had Neo-Pagan/anti-Christian agendae. This is an ill-informed "guilt by association" fallacy that is often levelled against contemporary American Pagans and modern Nordic faiths. Though it excludes neither Pagan nor Christian, the truth about the Nazi orientation to religion and so-called "folk" identity is much more complex. The article includes these two quotations from Hitler, in reference to Himmler:
"What nonsense! Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the Church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave…"
And on Himmler's archæological digs:
"Why do we have to call the whole world's attention to the fact that we have no past? It isn't enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when we were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is digging up these villages… and enthusing over every potsherd and stone axe he finds."
And here's the gist of the author's conclusions:
"In response to these points, we should note that there was never wholesale Party support for the openly anti-Christian agendas of a Rosenberg or a Heydrich or a universal embracing of the neo-pagan theatricals of Himmler and the SS. Instead, the two Confessions continued to exist, suffering differing degrees of interference and persecution, and many Nazis continued to practise Christianity in the way they always had, but with an added awareness of the huge ideological potential that appropriating elements of religion offered to the regime. "
The article is worth reading. It provides valuable insights into the way cultural forms, religious identity, and nationalism intersect and are sometimes crassly manipulated. True freedom is the only antidote to the pathological egos of those who would manipulate the most sacred things for power and money. It's a head's up to those of us who know we're free and would like to stay that way--true peoples of Goddess, true peoples of God, truly free people.
***And to go along with this, here's an article that explains why the truth is increasingly invisible... Are we being deliberately divided? Maybe not, but a divided people are easier for a minority to conquer.
The House of Representative recently passed HR 1955, "The Violent Radicalization Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007", apparently intended to assess homegrown "terrorism" threats and causes is on a fast-track through Congress. Proponents claim the bill would centralize information about the formation of domestic terrorists and would not impinge on constitutional rights. It sounds a new COINTELPRO, however, and could lead to irrational and unjustified monitoring of religious minorities.
The bill has not been scheduled for action in the Senate, but you can track it here.
A good way to get emails about the votes of your representatives is to sign up for the "MegaVote" legislative summary--YOUR representatives' votes, recent and upcoming, will be sent to you on a weekly basis. It doesn't cover all legislation, but it is a useful tool for monitoring your putative voices in DC.
Perhaps it's time to read RU Sirius's QuestionAuthority Proposal. If you like it, consider joining the MondoGlobo anti-authoritarian social network. MondoGlobo defines its purpose as "defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals."
Yesterday I blogged on Manifold Oneness about one of my culture heroes, B. R. Ambedkar. He's something of the James Madison of modern India, having been one of the major shapers of its constitution. In his life and after, he led millions of fellow outcast and economically depressed Hindus in formal conversion to Buddhism--this included inspiring the single largest mass conversion in human history. He's all about positive cultural change through the power of conversion. As a rich parallel, His life and work has a lot to offer Pagans as we quest for allies and inspiration in the long task of effecting ethical and democratic revolution. He is one of the major founders of the "engaged Buddhist" movement (which is nowadays one of the primary "sites" for Pagan-Buddhist interaction and mutual influence).
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about his constititutional sources (think about how this intellectual legacy is similar to the one we've charted here in relation to classical, northern European and Iroquois sources of the American democratic ideals):
In this task Ambedkar's study of sangha practice among early Buddhists and his extensive reading in Buddhist scriptures was to come to his aid. Sangha practice incorporated voting by ballot, rules of debate and precedence and the use of agendas, committees and proposals to conduct business. Sangha practice itself was modelled on the oligarchic system of governance followed by tribal republics of ancient India such as the Shakyas and the Lichchavis. Thus, although Ambedkar used Western models to give his Constitution shape, its spirit was Indian and, indeed, tribal.
There's much more in the Manifold Oneness entry, so please take a look there. For now, I leave you with a couple of quotations from this great culture worker:
“Freedom of mind is the real freedom. A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains, is a slave, not a free man. One whose mind is not free, though he may not be in prison, is a prisoner and not a free man. One whose mind is not free though alive, is no better than dead. Freedom of mind is the proof of one’s existence.”
"Religion is for man; man is not for religion... If you want to gain self-respect, change your religion. If you want to create a cooperating society, change your religion. If you want power, change your religion. If you want equality, change your religion. If you want independence, change your religion. If you want to make the world in which you live happy, change your religion...."
“Learn to live in this world with self-respect. You should always cherish some ambition of doing something in this world. But remember that the age of selflessness has ended. A new epoch is set in. All things are now possible because of your being able to participate in the politics and legislature of your country.”
In the United States, November 20th is National Transgender Day of Remembrance.
A list of victims may be found on
The widespread hatred of transgendered and gender variant people is symptomatic of the spiritual ignorance that has predominated in recent centuries, and it represents the areas in which many still resist true democracy. It's always cognate with a hatred of (or false pretense to) spiritual freedom, sexual freedom, women, Earth, Eros, alchemy, the Great Work. Transgendered identity archetypally represents full self-possession and sovereignty over the body and the imago. Violence against the transgendered is the pathological lashing out of a soul against its own deep nature. It's a spiritual problem afflicting culture and it will cease only with spiritual work that changes self and culture.
Hermaphroditus, look at the names of the dead.
Ardhanarisvara, read the names of the dead.
Melek Ta'us, remember the names of the dead.
Eris, look at the names of the dead.
Antinous, read the names of the dead.
Hoor-paar-kraat, remember the names of the dead.
Tlazolteotl, look at the names of the dead.
Azathoth, look at the names of the dead.
Pomba-Gira, read the names of the dead.
Inanna, remember the names of the dead.
Baphomet, look at the names of the dead.
Avalokitesvara, read the names of the dead.
Faro, remember the names of the dead.
To which I add, preserving the formula:
Tiresias, look at the names of the dead
PerAa Hatschepsut, read the names of the dead
Heru-Suti, remember the names of the dead.
Go to the Site. Remember the Names!
Are YOU "Other" ?
Finally a group that's advocating for the pro-choice stance from a spiritual point of view:
My thoughts on this subject: Nothing's more basic to freedom or spirituality than sovereignty over one's own body. There's certainly no spiritual integrity in telling other people what to do with their bodies or in encouraging an overpopulated world to add a few more people.
Abortion is not tantamount to murder. Claiming that it is is another way that folks can feel like they're doing something important on a life-or-death level without significant risk--the "pro-life" struggle gives bourgeois, patriotic American Christians a zero-risk cause and a chance to pretend they're doing something as important as abolition or opposing genocide, when all they're actually accomplishing is empowerment of the state and a bit of self-congratulations and unmerited feel-good self-righteousness.
They are, in other words, meddlesome nuisances with monstrously distorted notions of compassion. Even if they comprise the majority, there are political and religious reasons to insist that abortion cannot be outlawed or otherwise become inaccessible to any pregnant female who sincerely desires it. Even if she is a young adolescent, this is her decision to make and a government that doesn't guarantee that right is not a legitimate government.
Saying in law that abortion equals murder would reverse all historical precedent related to the beginning of life and the role of the state in managing spaces INSIDE the human body. It would also impose a religious worldview that violates the historically majority positions of most religions that life begins with the first breath or with quickening. We have social consensus that life unquestionably exists after birth, but we do not have consensus about the status of the fetus. The pre-birth status of the fetus has been a religious question--not a scientific or legal question--for millennia. Because our religions differ on pre-birth status, we will never have consensus and the state must protect choice. Issues like abortion (and gay marriage) should be arbitrated primarily under freedom of religion. The entrance of the state into this domain constitutes a tyrannical imposition and is a violation of natural law, which guaruntees reproductive freedom and the biological and herbal means--in pre-surgical models--to exercise reproductive sovereignty. The state has no right to create a new class of "human" beings and mandate--against the majority of cultural precedent about when life begins--an essentially religious dogma. Such imposition should be resisted by whatever means is most effective, and it is virtuous to challenge, disobey and impede any and all restrictions on access to abortion.
Even if abortion ends a human life, the principle of sovereignty over one's own body is more politically and spiritually important, trumping any "obligation" to carry an unintended pregnancy to term. Abortion may indeed be killing in some sense, but if so, it's killing that the mother has a right to. Abortion is not, in any sense, murder and not a cause for guilt or shame.
It was reported in late August 2007 that Roberta Stewart was noticeably absent from a private meeting at which George W. Bush, acting President of the United States, spoke briefly to invited members of the families of Nevada soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike other members of the Stewart family, the decedant's wife was not invited. It seems likely that this oversight is due to the centrality of the Stewart family--Roberta Stewart in particular--in Wiccan religious rights advocacy. It seems, in fact, rather pointed.
Stewart was propelled into national prominence in a long legal battle to get the symbol of her husband's faith, a pentacle, engraved on his Veteran's Administration-issued tombstone. This has made her not only a real, grieving survivor, but also a living symbol of our ongoing struggle for full, equal religious liberty.
Stewart joined and catalyzed an existing effort in which Rosemary Kooiman and others had already played a significant part, but Roberta and Partick's names became those most associated with this effort, in part because they ultimately succeeded.
Why wasn't Roberta Stewart invited? Why, when her slight became news, did Bush call her to apologize?
The most interesting thing is that after the fact, the Bush White House found it necessary or politically expedient to acknowledge that the widow's exclusion was unseemly and to do it via a personal phone call from the Chief Executive himself. It was likely not Bush himself who chose to exclude her, but rather some White House events planner acting on some set of established guidelines (which in part are clearly rooted in Bush's personal preferences); when the actual slight became public knowledge in a climate already dire for Bush's public image, it seems to have merited the highest-level beaurocratic response: Bush himself, on the phone, calling a Witch to apologize.
If you would like to hear an interview with Roberta Stewart, you may do so at the Culture Shocks website (archived as show #997--in their archives, you can also find show #981, with Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation).
There has been a long and ongoing struggle for responsible, accurate represenation of Pagan religions, especially those that use the words "Witch" and "Witchcraft," and that effort has far to go and much left to achieve. There has, however, been significant progress over the last 30 years.
The fact that "damage control" was necessary strongly suggests that the media climate regarding Wiccan and Pagan issues is changing for the better in spite of the existing power structure and its hostility to earth-centered religions. This is especially true because of the sacrifices made by Wiccan soldiers and their families--sacrifices made at the command of George W. Bush.
If those sacrifices are for nothing else, let them be for this: a prophetic challenge to the powers that be, arising from and returning to the earth like all life; greater religious liberty for all, lived joyfully, etched in stone, remembered, venerated, made real; a widow's quest, modeling modern Pagan virtue that changes the world, illegitimate power momentarily humbled.
Of all places, the burial grounds of America's hallowed dead should be places that reflect the First Freedom in its rich diversity. We do not have to support the war, or even the decision to fight it, in order to see this truth.
Only Ms. Stewart can say if she was offended not to be asked, or if Bush's call is enough to make up for any personal slight. But this case is much bigger than Ms. Stewart alone; in slighting her, Bush slighted all earth-centered/magical religionists, including the thousands in active duty military or civilian government service. Bush is the (acting) secular head of a presently and historically pluralist nation. His conduct in this case, and the conduct of his administration during the tombstone appeals, makes it clear that minority religions have had a functionally second-class status in the minds of administration officials.
The recent slight to Roberta Stewart and to the memory of Patrick Stewart should surprise no one. We should welcome Bush's attempt to redress the slight and are grateful for the grace with which Roberta Stewart represents Paganism to the general culture, but we should be cautious in assuming Bush has had some authentic change of heart. Just a few short years ago, he explicitly claimed in two instances that Wicca is not a legitimate religion:
"I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made."
-- Bush, interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America by Peggy Wehmeyer on 24 June 1999.
And when asked to respond in writing to a series of questions by the Web, White and Blue website in October 2000, Bush again claimed that Wicca is not a legitimate religion. He was specifically asked, "With religious diversity increasing, what are your thoughts on the protection of religious freedom and the separation of church and state? Should religions like Wicca be banned from recognition by the military, as some legislators suggest?"
Candidate Bush's response was especially revealing, and as a written response from a campaign headquarters, we have to imagine that the wording was carefully chosen--much more carefully than in impromptu interview responses to unanticipated questions. He wrote:
"I am committed to the First Amendment principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity. Whether Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, or Muslim, Americans should be able to participate in their constitutional free exercise of religion. I do not think witchcraft is a religion, and I do not think it is in any way appropriate for the U.S. military to promote it."
In other words, he recognizes Abrahamic religions (including the non-Christian religions of Judaism and Islam) and heterodox Christianities like Mormonism, but specifically excludes "witchcraft." It's not right for the military to PROMOTE any religion; but was Bush suggesting that in his vocabulary, it's okay for the military to promote Abrahamic faiths, but not Witchcraft? This rubric suggests that the "tolerance" and "diversity" he extols is limited to a narrow range of middle-eastern religious choices and that faiths not fitting the Abrahamic paradigm are false.
For some reason, in public interviews Bush refused to use the term employed in the question--Wicca--and resorted instead to lowercase "witchcraft." Wiccans do call themselves Witches, but so do many other Pagans who aren't Wiccan, and witchraft per se (lowercase--no dignity of the majuscule) is recognized as a broad inter-religious practice like "prayer" or "ritual". Could it be that Bush likes the ease with which the unknowing conflate Witchcraft and Satanism? Was he hoping to re-ignite the 1980s "satanic conspiracy" paranoia that was almost as big as the Red Scare, and which was so helpful to Republicans? It being his first presidential campaign, perhaps he was trying to stir up the fundamentalist base and spread a mis-informed hostility to Wiccan/Pagan religion because it would serve immediate political ends. (That's the only reason large-scale religious persecution has ever been ignited, and ancient Christian unity was bought with Pagan blood spilt by the imperialist state, not by the blood of Jesus).
This interpretation is underscored by the fact that during the campaign, Bush conspired with other Republican officials, like Strom Thurmond, to limit Wiccan religious rites/rights on U.S. military bases. Thurmond specificallly referred to Wiccan religious practice as "satanic". Let's hope the now-dead Thurmond is truly a relic of the past.Bush's campaign did use the word "Wicca" when sending out letters to people who wrote his campaign in protest of the interview comments, presumably if they had used the word in writing to him:
"On behalf of Governor Bush, thank you for your letter about Wicca. Governor Bush respects the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religious expression for all Americans. His comments regarding Wicca are an expression of his personal views and his faith."
That does very little to clarify anything about the problems with the interview comments. Does the "real Bush" hold a pluralist interpretation of the First Amendment, or a Dominionist one that would limit religious freedom to choices between Christian (or Abrahamic?) faiths? Which is more important to him--the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the pluralist precedents of established law--or the "personal" and "faith" views of the letter? If he believes the Constitution intends a "Christian nation," the language of the campaign letter seems contrived to avoid clearly stating that Wiccans fit the First Amendment or religious test clause criteria for equal consideration. In other words, he's deliberately unclear about whether full religious liberty extends to non-Abrahamic religions.
Bush has slighted minority religions, especially Pagan religions, on multiple occasions. Ignorance of and hostility to the non-Christian is such a repeated pattern in his work as to be a hallmark of his administration, whether it's the slight of Roberta Stewart or the use of "Crusade" rhetoric in relation to his wars in the Middle East. There are many examples, and most (tellingly) apply to Muslims or Pagans. Alongside these slights and denigrations, Bush has also attempted to extend special privileges to Christianity, and violated Constitutional principles as governor of Texas by declaring June 10, 2000 "Jesus Day" in that state. (Here's the content of that proclamation; here's the Wikipedia entry on it; here's a scan of the document itself; and here's Snopes.com's attestation that it's true).
Once in the presidency, Bush moved to create the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. This office has functioned to privilege protestant Christianity over all other religions and to disburse money to groups whose political allegiance benefits the Republican Party. The manifest purpose of this office is to flatter Christians and pay off their leaders in exchange for votes.
David Kuo, former Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned and wrote a book about how Bush has cynically used the office to manipulate Christians politically.
Among other things, the funds dispersed to faith-based programs have been used to proselytize non-Christians in violation of Constitutional and international law. (This article is part of a New York Times series on diminishing separation between State and (Christian) Church. See the whole series here, including a searchable list of religious earmarks). Bush has also linked some foreign aid disbursements to the faith-based funding program, giving money to agencies that proselytize and linking the name and reputation of the United States to Christian evangelical organizations, many of questionable repute.
Perhaps Bush's tactics of marginalizing Paganism and elevating his own religion were more acceptable to the general public, which still knows very little about Pagan religions, before Bush was regularly deploying Pagans to fight in the wars he started. Back when some people thought he had credibility on military matters. Perhaps his own religious claims had more legitimacy before the public beheld his lies, betrayals and hypocrisy. Pagan folk are exponentially more populous now than seven years ago and far more of our friends and neighbors now understand the reality: we worship the earth and the old God/dess(e)s, not the Abrahamic devil. We have more clergy, more public exposure, more converts (and more of us are overtly calling for converts to come to us for the good of the earth and the renewal of culture). Times are changing.
Our religions and understanding of them are spreading quickly and we are beginning to demand--and secure--our rights.
Pressure and the commitment of large numbers of Americans to principles of religious liberty successfully chagrined the administration and exerted influence on reluctant VA and Bush to live up to founding principles. We have many historical and general precedents on our side, and specific precedents are mounting. A US District Court has ruled on Wiccan prisoner's rights, specifically recognizing that
1. Wicca is a legitimate religion
2. that Wiccans can be solitary or can worship in groups (a religion doesn't have to be incorporated, nor does a practitioner have to be a part of an established group to make solitary professions)
3. there are multiple Wiccan traditions comparable in diversity to Christian denominations
4. Wiccan inmates are protected in their religious identity and expression by the 1st and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.
And we've also been recognized and accurately portrayed in the US Army Chaplains Manual. While Wiccan and Pagan folk still experience regular discrimination--especially in military and prison contexts, but also in child custody cases--the American tradition of civil liberties is on our side and precedents are mounting in our favor.
I was offended by the Stewart slight and by the length of time it took to get a star carved on a stone alongside the scores of other recognized symbols of other religions. It's take more than a reluctant bit of crow-eating to make me feel that religious freedom is taken seriously by members of the Bush administration. Our potential power as citizens, yes--our quest for meaning, no. They're out for themselves and will do what sells to their constituency. (Like it or not, we're part of their constituency and they're slowly being forced to recognize it).
Let's keep up the pressure! We are changing the culture.
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