Religion Versus the Ism's in Government

 by Richard “Chip” Peterson, PhD  July 25, 2010


            Many people find their purpose and goals in life through their religion. Their religion tells them what is important to do or not do and how to live a meaningful life. Their religion often provides them with a code of desirable conduct and assures them that they will achieve a beneficial immortality if they follow that code of conduct. I.e., religious people may expect to go to Heaven or Paradise if they observe all their religion's sacraments and behave appropriately. Those who willfully violate their religion's codes of conduct or commandments, will be told that they will be relegated to Hell in their afterlife.

            Communism and various other ism's tell people that they will be rewarded for building socialism or otherwise helping to make the world a better place to live — according to their practitioners views of what would be a superior world in which to live. People who advance the cause will be celebrated as martyrs or heros and adulated by others in the movement. The primary reward is that people who behave appropriately in making the world a better place, in the opinion of the movement, will expect to be praised both by their peers and by future generations who are expected to benefit from their present efforts. People who detract from the effort to build a better world may be vilified, suppressed, enslaved,  or even executed as enemies of the cause.

            The social adulation or social vilification meted out by both religions and other isms provide strong motivation for people to behave contemporaneously in a manner deemed appropriate by the leaders of either group. People are social animals who are predisposed to desire and seek social praise and to avoid social castigation. People seek social praise and feel happy when they expect to achieve it either contemporaneously or after they are dead. At the same time, people dread excommunication, banishment , public punishment, or other forms of social condemnation. Many also dread the possibility of suffering calumnious  condemnation or a trip to hell after their death.

            A problem can exist, however, if people have split loyalties—as the split loyalties may make people question the appropriateness of the leadership and the leadership dictates advanced by either group. That appears to be one reason that Communists hate religion and most communist countries have tried to ban religions and religious practices among their populations. It also is a reason that theocratic governments often try to repress any other religious practices in their territory that do not conform to the practices and beliefs advocated by the theocratic majority that controls the country and tries to control its people as well.

            The founding fathers of the United States of America were very aware of the history of the world and of other cultures, and they were very wise. They had observed how the pairing of religious views with the power of the state often  had led to horrendous repression of alternative religious or non-religious views of life. Minority religions were often persecuted and their practitioners, and even nonreligious people, often were horribly tortured or executed with very little protection of the law or of due process in Europe. All it took was an accusation, possibly made in secret by someone who hoped to gain from another's death or banishment, that a person was insufficiently religious, and that person might be tortured, painfully executed, or banished from the country entirely—with the loss of all domestic property. European history was rife with stories of pogroms, inquisitions, and horrible religious persecutions—often between Catholics and Protestants who both based their religion upon a similar historical background. Some of the repressive practices involving persecution of people accused of being insufficiently or “incorrectly” religious had even carried over to the U.S. Colonies in the form of early witch trials in Salem and other places. Furthermore, religious persecutions were still going on in many parts of the world when the U.S. was formed. The last inquisition, Auto De Fey, practice was held in Lima, Peru in around 1820, well after the United States was formed.

            Thus, in their wisdom, the founding fathers of the U.S. required that freedom of religion should be allowed in the newly formed country and that no religious test could be imposed as a requirement for office. Their intent was to prevent the country from being dominated by one religious group that would subsequently use the power of the state to repress people with other religious views. While some of the founding fathers were Protestants of various denominations, including Anglicans and  Episcopalians, Puritans and Congregationals, Lutherans, and Quakers, others were Catholics, Jewish, Unitarians, Universalists and Deists, none of them wanted to see any one religious group dominate the country and use the power of the state to try to subjugate the others, as they had witnessed in Europe.

            The separation of church and state has worked admirably well in the United States. However, over the years, various secular “religions” arose around the world that eschewed a belief in a god and instead could be viewed as “secular religions.” Chief among these was Communism which took over Russia and China and other large parts of the world shortly before and after World War II. Partially to differentiate the U.S. from “godless Communism,” the U.S. Congress changed the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in the early 1950s by including the words “under God” before the word,”indivisible.” The inclusion of the godly reference recognized the fact that most U.S. Citizens were religious and recognized the authority of a god rather than the sole authority of the state over their lives. It recognized that the founding principles of the U.S. included the statement that all people are created equal and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness-- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,” In other words, the new wording recognized the fact that the U.S. was founded upon the principle that all men had individual rights granted by their “Creator,” (elsewhere referred to as “Divine Providence” in our nation's founding documents), not by a secular government.

            While Communism is the most prominent form of a secular religion, in recent years other forms of “godless religions” have risen to challenge more godly religions. Most of these forms are characterized by the belief that humans are capable of making the earth a better place for humans to live, even in the absence of  a god.

            Secular humanism does not recognize a god but requires that humans adhere to a code of conduct dedicated to justice and making the world a better place to live for all other humans. Atheists and agnostics can be secular humanists, and often are, as that philosophy provides them with a code of conduct that explains how they should live their lives in order to have a positive influence upon the welfare of other people. Communism and socialism could be considered by some to be forms of a secular humanism in that they claim that adherence to their principles will make the world a better place to live for all people—unfortunately, the communist and socialist philosophies work better in theory than in fact since economies typically stagnate under such forms of government, and despotic dictators have often assumed power in the guise of advancing their country's socialist or communist evolution. Unlike Communism and socialist philosophies, secular humanism, per se, does not require that its adherents acquire government force that they can use to  make others adhere to their principles. Instead, secular humanists rely upon individuals' desires to live good lives to do the right thing by other people –so personal conscience rather than government force should be the guiding principle that influences individuals behavior. Secular humanists, however, do proselytize to gain other adherents to their philosophy and may object to religious proselytizing by organized religions to the extent it conflicts with their views. Secular humanists, in particular, may be opposed to situations in which organized religions obtain support from the state, since, in a way, organized religions expound a philosophy that may be competitive with the philosophy of secular humanists.

            Another form of ism that has arisen in recent years that has many attributes of a secular religion is environmentalism. Environmentalists tend to believe that Mother Earth is sacrosanct and that humans should not undertake actions that may harm Mother Earth or the environment that she provides. Adherents of environmental beliefs can be conventionally religious, but also believe that humans have a responsibility to care for the earth on which they live. Adherents of environmentalism often practice attributes of conventional religion. They often have environmental “saints” or gurus who are greatly respected for advancing the causes of the environmentalists. This encourages others to seek public favor of the group by advancing the same or similar causes. They also may excoriate people, often political people or parties, whom they feel interfere with their objectives. Like religious adherents, the level of emotion with which they defend their beliefs is often high, and they often attempt to gain favorable publicity for their causes by demonstrating emotionally to gain public recognition.

            It should be said that some of the policies advanced by environmentalists are often beneficial. Clean water benefits all and reductions in sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions are clearly beneficial for people and environments that otherwise would be poisoned with heavy metals or hurt by acid rain, etc. Also, reducing chemical emissions that were harming the earth's ozone layer and subjecting the earth to greater risks from ultraviolet light caused mutations is also undoubtedly beneficial for earth based life in the long run. However, because of the religious fervor of many environmentalists, their policies may be unthinkingly taken to extremes—as when DDT was totally banned on flimsy evidence and malaria deaths skyrocketed in many countries.

            Because of their willingness to blindly follow the causes advanced by their “leaders'” it is not uncommon for environmentalists to change their policy goals dramatically or to advocate policies with a great deal of emotion and urgency even if new information suggests that their policies make little sense. For instance, I met an adamant environmentalist who had first become interested in the movement by reading the statements put out by the Club of Rome in the 1970s and was now an ardent supporter of Global Warming actions. For those who don't remember, in the 1970s the U.S. was experiencing some very cold winters and the Club of Rome environmentalists were writing that the earth would soon run out of adequate resources. As a result, it was possible that some humans would freeze in the dark, and government actions were necessary to ensure that available resources would be wisely used and allocated to ensure that they would be appropriately used in future years. In contrast, at the present time, global warming activists believe that people are using too many resources that increase the carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere and will result in catastrophic warming in future years. Thus, they believe that strong government action is required in order to ensure that people do not use too many hydrocarbon resources. Their fear is not that we will run out, but rather that we will use too many resources. Even though they see that the problem is opposite to what the Club of Rome saw, too many versus too few resources utilized, their proposed solution is the same—more government control over individuals' lives. That is basically the bottom line—environmentalists want to use governmental power to control other peoples' lives.

            Present day environmentalists of the global warming persuasion are so committed to finding a way to justify greater governmental influence over other peoples' lives that they tend to ignore inconvenient facts and some have even falsified data to support their beliefs. Leaked e-mails from the East Anglia research group in Britain have shown that a number of so called climate “scientists” have intentionally suppressed data that would not support their human-based global warming hypotheses, and have tried to exclude dissenting views from the major journals in their field.      Furthermore, none have tended to admit that carbon dioxide levels have been far higher in the past than at present and that the earth has survived, and even thrived, when temperatures were higher. Carbon dioxide is plant food that is essential to all organic life on the earth, including humans. Thus, when the earth was warmer and growing seasons were longer in the past, the Earth could support a higher level of organic life. North America was mostly covered in ice only a little over 10,000 years ago and life has certainly prospered there as the Earth has warmed and the ice sheets have retreated since then. Human activity contributed very little to that warming trend because, even now, human activity produces only  a few percent of the total carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere each year. Thus, even if it should have an effect, there is no need to take drastic government action now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Nonetheless, like religious fanatics, many environmentalists are ruled by emotion rather than reason, and others are ruled by a desire to induce government agencies to impose their will on other people. Thus, they are unwilling to listen to any facts that are not in accord with their predetermined views and their basic biases. Like fanatical religious people who believe they will become saints if they are willing to die for their cause, many environmentalists advocate their views with equal passion in the certitude that they are right and that if other people will adopt their views they will be vindicated by making the Earth a better place on which to live.

            In another related form of “do-gooder” advice reversal, for many years, nanny state busy bodies told people that animal fats were bad for them so they should eat margarine instead of butter. Where possible, they even tried to get margarine included in recommended diets in lieu of butter. Now, many of the same people have discovered that margarines consist of “trans-fats” that may be more harmful for people than the animal fats they replace. Now many of the same nanny state busy bodies are trying to use the power of government to eliminate transfats from the publics' diets by forcing all commercial food suppliers to list and/or limit the transfats contained in their food. Again, even though the recommendations are now exactly opposite to the recommendations they made before, in both cases the solution is the same—state power should be used to control other peoples' lives, with the rationalization that people must be forced to do what is good for themselves since they may not do so if left to their own devices. Many environmentalists and related do-gooders are not content to let individuals “pursue happiness” any way they see fit—instead they believe government force should be used to control other peoples' actions-- even if those actions affect only the individual concerned.

            It is interesting that while the founders of the United States correctly tried to separate religious passion from the force of government, at the present time various secular religions are trying to gain control of governmental force in order to advance their secular “religious” views. Not only do Communists and socialists try to capture control of governments in order to advance their views with government force, environmentalists do likewise.

            At the present time, it is wise to remember George Washington's admonition that while government involves force that, like a fire in a hearth, can be used beneficially when kept under control, also like a fire, excessive government force  can burn a house down when it gets out of control. Thus, it is wise to avoid the takeover of our government by anyone with extreme religious or secularly-religious views. Toward that end our founding fathers tried to ensure that religious views could not be used as a qualification for public office. Perhaps we should be equally skeptical of people who adhere strongly to secularly religious views such as communism, socialism, and environmentalism.




Email Chip with any questions.,

Richard Peterson Campaign, Richard Peterson treasurer