We the People

Once a glorious laboratory framed in robust Federalist rhetoric and purchased with Patriots’ blood, America sits now as a sick room, a critical care unit to a liberty nearly dead. The Republic wheezes as the SCOTUS tube drips its poisonous public policies into the network of our societal veins while the executives debate over how they plan to pull the plug. And We the People look up to them from the gurney: polarized, afraid, and caustically accusative. How did it happen? We forgot.

When memory fails, we fall for fallacies. Once the lies are believed, liberty bleeds out of us and feeds the despotism of deception. Think I overstate my case? Take the short quiz below:

President Barack Obama is responsible for the Affordable Care Act, which is why it is commonly called Obamacare, true or false?

A strong, conservative president can repeal the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, true or false?

The purpose of the Supreme Court is to decide on the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress, true or false?

If you felt any of these were even partially true, you have contracted Despotic Deception Disorder (DDD). I mean no disrespect with my diagnosis. The disease is hard to avoid. DDD vectors are pervasive in the Republic and can be found in the very clinics that are intended to inoculate against the malady. The free press, politicians, parents, preachers, and teachers have transmitted the propaganda of the President being the most powerful person on the planet along with the myth of the mighty court.

The Chief Executive and the Supreme Court are both part of the machinery of governance. But they are not the seat of power. They only become so when we cower under their orders or opinions to the peril of our premier founding document, the Constitution. “We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” So long as we recall that we are a nation of laws established by the governed, we will retain the liberties those laws were instituted to protect.

Which is the most powerful branch of government? Constitutionally and logically it is the legislative branch. Congress, as the direct representation of the people’s will, far outweighs the executive and judicial privileges. If only we the people would hold them to it! I believe the cure for our current malady lies in a revitalized interest in our law-making bodies, from city councils to state legislatures to US Senators and Representatives. Is the reader aware of who represents their neighborhood, county, or district? If not, I beg of you to become aware. The increasing nationalization of our politics have sapped them of substance and turned them into a Survivor-type reality show.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Hillary Rodham would have been elected as the Senator from New York, appointed as Secretary of State, and now stand as the nominated candidate for the Democratic Party? Do even sycophants the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity believe in their heart of hearts that Donald Trump was ever qualified to run for President let alone be one? Without his brand recognition, Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP would have been impossible. The Reality Show Right refuses to admit it, just as the DNC will turn a blind eye to Mrs. Clinton’s corruption.

All this became possible because neither party is constitutionally minded; and we the people have suffered under their continual insults to our liberty for so long, I fear we have lost sight of constitutionalism ourselves. Both sides are banging the drum of the Executive to appoint the right Judiciary to reign over us. All Hail the Chief! All Hail SCOTUS!

Last I checked, Americans are supposed to elect our lawyers or hire them. Once we are in a place that the Lawyer must be appointed, our “free” phone call will be worthless.


Crusaders and Jihadis: The False Equivalence

President Obama touched off a firestorm of condemnation from the political right and Christian conservatives for remarks he made during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015. The offending comment? “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”[1]

One is free to take umbrage at the President’s admonition for humility in light of the excesses of the past. But to argue against the historicity of his statement simply betrays ignorance of the facts. Crusaders did push east and pillaged under the banner of the cross. Slavery and institutionalized racism were justified through the warped usage of Scripture. Historical facts aren’t the problem with the President’s rhetorical device. The problem is its perpetuation of the false equivalence of radical Islam with Crusading Christianity; be the crusaders Knights Templar or knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

This false equivalence is commonplace in secular appeals to tolerance, perhaps because true secular humanists believe that people of any faith are radicalized to some extent and are thus equally unreasonable. But as much as some might wish it so, all faiths do not fit into the same level playing field. In the maintenance of diplomatic relations (after all, Saudi Arabia is the current guarantor of the value of America’s monetary system) and a politically correct society, it makes sense that the President would trot out the societal sins of supposedly Christian nations as an appeal for understanding in the face of the brutality that is the Islamic State[2] and by extension Dar-al-Islam.[3]

Humanity is brutal. History – modern history in particular – teaches us this.[4] That people of faith commit brutalities should not be surprising to anyone. But for a true comparison of the faiths in question, Christianity and Islam, one should first examine the lives of their founders and only then take stock of their followers to determine which expressions of belief are aberrant and which are faithful. It is with this intent that I humbly present the following comparison of Jesus of Nazareth and Abu al-Qasim Muhammad.

Jesus of Nazareth was a monotheist his entire life. He was born into a Jewish family[5] and publically taught the Shema, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.”[6] Muhammad was born into the family of the Banu Hashim, a branch of the powerful Quraysh, which was the ruling tribe of Mecca that was responsible for guarding Mecca’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’bah.[7] At this time, the shrine was a center of Arabian pagan worship and pilgrimage[8] and contained 360 idols, of which Allah was one.[9] This part of Muhammad’s background is critical to understanding his development of Islam later in life.

According to the Gospel records, Jesus had an encounter with the devil in the early days of his ministry. The recorded response he had to the devil’s various temptations was “It is written.” Thus, by continual appeals to the Jewish holy writ, Jesus triumphed over the devil’s temptations.[10] Muhammad’s interaction with the devil had a different outcome. In order to conciliate the Quraysh who were hesitant to embrace his newly proclaimed monotheism, Muhammad spoke what have become known as the “Satanic verses” in which he allowed for the Arabian gods al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat to be intercessory spirits with Allah. He later recanted this declaration with verses that implied that Satan had cast the words into his previous recitation.[11]

In one of the many encounters that Jesus had with the religious establishment of his day, a woman who had been captured in the act of adultery was brought before him for judgment. The Law of Moses commanded stoning as the punishment for adultery and they wanted to know what Jesus would do. In a response worthy of Solomon, Jesus declared “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, all the accusers left. “Did no one condemn you?” Jesus asked the woman. “No one, Lord,” she said. “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[12] Muhammad’s encounters with adulterous women went a bit differently. In one of them, a woman from Ghamid came to him, confessed to adultery, and asked for purification. When Muhammad learned that she was pregnant, he mercifully allowed her to give birth and raise the child until it was weaned. Thereupon, he ordered the woman buried alive up to her chest and then stoned to death.[13]

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”[14] Jesus backed up these words with dramatic actions as we shall see later. Muhammad ordered the assassination of Ka’b ibn Al-Ashraf because Al-Ashraf had “hurt Allah and His Apostle.”[15] The nature of the hurt? Ka’b had written poetic verses which were critical of Muhammad and decried the outcomes of the Battle of Badr.[16]

Jesus counseled against divorce, declaring that its cause was unforgiveness in the human heart.[17] Muhammad arranged the marriage of Zaynab bint Jahsh to his adopted son. After they divorced, Muhammad took her as his wife.[18] His action was sanctified through revelations in the Qur’an.[19]

All conical records portray Jesus as celibate throughout his life and a bachelor at the time of his execution.[20] Additionally, his concern for and estimation of children are well documented.[21] Muhammad became betrothed to his third wife, Aisha, when she was six years old. The marriage was consummated, in Aisha’s words, when she was nine.[22]

On the night of his arrest, Jesus made it clear that he went willingly. When he asked the mob that invaded the garden who they were looking for, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am he,” he said and they all lurched backward and fell to the ground.[23] Jesus then offered himself up for arrest and requested that his disciples be let go. But Peter would have none of it. He drew his sword and cut the right ear off Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away and then healed Malchus’s ear.[24] Muhammad had no reservations with regard to the use of the sword. He commanded the beheading of unbelievers met in battle.[25] He also killed prisoners of war. One such instance occurred after the Battle of the Trench in Medina. Muhammad ordered the slaughter of all the males of the Jewish tribe known as the Banu Qurayza who had confronted his forces in battle.[26] All the males, estimates range from 600 to 900, were led to the city square and beheaded. Their women and children were sold into slavery. [27] One he kept for himself as a concubine.[28]

In his testimony before Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. In answer to Pilate’s question if Jesus was King of the Jews, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”[29] A quote from a former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University, Mark A. Gabriel, offers a good contrast:

“With Allah by their side, Muhammad and his army set their sights on conquering the world. This is the Muhammad that the Islamic radical is emulating. Muhammad personally led his army into twenty-six battles, and they were very successful. The motley group that began in a desolate city in the desert subdued the cities of Arabia one by one until, right before his death, Muhammad had total control of the entire Arabian Peninsula.”[30]

Most Muslims are not Jihadis and most Christians are not Crusaders or cross burners. But in light of the teachings and histories of Muhammad and Jesus, which adherents of these faiths exhibit faithfulness to the example of their founders?

[1] President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast”,  hereafter cited as RPNPB, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast, (accessed February 6, 2015).
[2] It has been the policy of the White House to refer to the group as ISIL and the President maintained this preference in his comments. Using ISIL instead of ISIS or some other designation is more diplomatic nuance which the author believes is ill advised whatever its motivation.
[3] Dar-al-Islam, “the house of Islam”; i.e., the Islamic world.
[4] Even as I write this, it is reported that ISIS has beheaded 20 Coptic Christians as a warning to “crusaders.” Updated to 21 the next day. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/15/video-purports-to-show-isis-militants-beheading-christian-hostages/, (accessed February 15, 2015). I cannot but help to wonder if they are somehow trying to resonate with the President’s recent remarks.
[5] Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:4-7. All Biblical references are to the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[6] Mark 12:28-30; Deut 6:4-5
[7] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Muhammad”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/396226/Muhammad, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[8] “Ka’bah”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/309173/Kabah, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[9] Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, © 2000, 2002 by Karen Armstrong, p.11, https://archive.org/stream/IslamAShortHistoryKarenArmstrong/Islam-A-Short-History-Karen-Armstrong#page/n49/mode/2up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[10] Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
[11] Silas, “Muhammad and the Satanic Verses”, http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/sverses.htm, (accessed February 8, 2015). I have endeavored to restrict citations regarding Muhammad to accepted authoritative sources and Islamic sources. Answering Islam is not an Islamic site. But the author of the article did such a fantastic job documenting the evidence for the Satanic verses that I felt no need to replicate them.
[12] John 8:2-11 New American Standard Bible
[13] From the Hadith Shaih Muslim, Book 17, Number 4206, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/muslim/017-smt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015).
[14] Matt 5:44
[15] From the Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 59, Number 369, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/059-sbt.php, (accessed February 15, 2015). In sending the assassins, Muhammad authorized lying and deception to get the job done.
[16] W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 18, https://archive.org/stream/muhammadatmedina029655mbp#page/n39/mode/1up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[17] Matt 5:31-32; 19:1-9
[18] Muslims cast this incestuous story in their version of a liberating light, i.e. that blood and legal relations shouldn’t be equated. See “Zaynab bint Jahsh”, http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/zaynab_bint_jahsh.php, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[19] Qur’an 33:36-37
[20] The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Old Testament prophetic literature also depicts the Messiah as such.
[21] Matt 19:13-15
[22] From Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 58, Number 234-235, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/058-sbt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015). It is estimated that Muhammad was in his fifties at the time of their marriage. Imagine this scene in most modern Western countries: a middle-aged man dreams of a little girl and falls in love with her picture, marries and has intercourse with her while she is prepubescent. This is the scene that is romanticized in the cited Hadith.
[23] John 18:1-6
[24] John 18:7-11; Luke 22:50-51
[25] Qur’an 47:4
[26] “Muhammad and the Jews of Medina”, http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/ma_jews.shtml, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[27] Richard A. Gabriel, “Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet”, http://www.historynet.com/muhammad-the-warrior-prophet.htm, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[28] “List of Muhammad’s Wives and Concubines”, No. 8, http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Muhammads_Wives_and_Concubines, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[29] John 18:36 New International Version. Scripturally, Christianity is only a political movement in its eschatology. The King is shown as returning to set up His Kingdom on earth, not his servants taking up the sword to make it so.
[30] Mark A. Gabriel, PhD, Journey Into the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist, (Lake Mary: Frontline 2006), 131.

Membership Has Its Privileges: Cults and Closed Systems of Faith

She was upset and clearly nervous. “I think my daughter is being brainwashed,” she said, “and I am concerned about some of the beliefs she is expressing.” This would be an alarming confession for any minister to hear. What was one to do to allay this mother’s fears? I found myself particularly challenged for several reasons. For starters, I was a young “minister” not much older than sixteen. A grown woman more than twice my age was talking to me about her teenage daughter. Further complicating the matter was the small detail of me being the “cult leader” she was worried about. That’s right, yours truly was the brainwasher.

Cult fever in the populist mind tends to infect in direct proportion with mass suicide or celebrity participation. All it takes is a cybersect ingesting cyanide[1] or Tom Cruise stumping on the Today Show and cults move out of the shadows and into the line-up of water cooler conversations and television news magazine profiles.  In my case, I became involved in 1979 in what many classified simply as a cult and some more gently as a Christian cult.[2] The Jonestown tragedy[3] was barely a year old, the Unification Church was in ascendancy and all God-fearing Christians were on guard against the seduction of these insidious groups. Becoming a militant proselytizer for a fringe religious group in such an era wasn’t for the faint of heart; especially when it meant being confronted by your friends’ parents.

What is a cult? In simple terms, I would define it as another man’s religion. But such definitions won’t do. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a cult as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.”[4] The problem with the term is that it has been stretched too thin. When the same word is used to brand Heaven’s Gate and the Roman Catholic Church, it ceases to be useful. Instead of a noun that consistently describes a thing, “cult” has become the pejorative of the established mainstream against the counter-culture. It is the n-word of religious and social discourse.

Consider three well known American religions: Christian Science (400,000 members worldwide), Jehovah’s Witnesses (7.96 million worldwide), and Mormonism (15 million worldwide).[5] All three of these organizations have been consistently classified as cults by evangelical Protestant denominations. With one word, over twenty-three million people are placed on a level playing field with The People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate. How are we to seriously discuss beliefs with such loose use of semantics?

The case of Mormonism is particularly revealing. The evangelical community has spilled much ink in its fight against Joseph Smith’s creation. Books, pamphlets, and classes are dedicated to explaining his errors from orthodoxy and how one is to witness to a Mormon. Yet, in the final weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign, prominent evangelicals seemed to run over their convictions and theology in their rush to endorse Mitt Romney, a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). People who had held sophisticated arguments and theological positions seemed to capitulate to a truncated caveman logic, “Romney politics good, religion bad. Me vote politics.”[6]

LDS history illustrates some of the hilarity of the American Christian tapestry. A good argument can be made that the LDS Church owes more to Brigham Young for its shape and success than it does to Joseph Smith’s revelations. But what brought Brigham Young to Joseph Smith’s attention? It was his reputation for speaking in tongues in an impressive and commanding fashion.[7] That Brigham Young spoke in tongues would signify to unprejudiced Charismatics that he was born again and had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But since he was a Mormon, they would most likely conclude that he had evidenced a false gift. I suppose this is preferable to believing in a born again, Spirit-filled Mormon! Evangelical cessationists would say it proved that Brigham Young was no less a charlatan than Joseph Smith as the gift of tongues ceased with the passing of the Apostles. Jehovah’s Witnesses would simply find this fact as evidence that Young was demonized. At least they can all agree that he was in a cult.

And what of brainwashing? Brainwashing, or mind control, is the power tool of cultic organizations. Trained, malevolent operatives capture the unsuspecting and implant aberrant world views to enslave them for the enrichment of the Founder. As a small group leader in The Way International (TWI), I believed much of the bad press Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church was receiving. Though people accused us of brainwashing, I knew we weren’t doing the sorts of things the Moonies were to enslave their followers. It was eye opening to me when as a TWI missionary[8] I invited a group of Moonies over to give us their schpeal. There were four of them. There were four of us. They had a video. We had videos. Their founder had a deeper revelation of God. Our founder had a deeper revelation of God. They had volunteered to serve as proselytizers. We had volunteered to serve as proselytizers. They were sober and rational. We were rational and sober (most of the time). For the first time, I realized that they were no more brainwashed than I was. But we had all been indoctrinated.

Brainwashing, like cult, is a term that gets thrown around a lot. I myself have used it (or a form of it) in this article no less than seven times and I’m not finished yet. If a group of people hold to a belief system in spite of social pressure, contravening facts, or majority opinion; they must have been “brainwashed.” Personally, I think it is easier to convince people that they have been victims of brainwashing than it is to actually brainwash someone.

Technically, brainwashing is the forcible indoctrination of someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and accept contrasting regimented ideas.[9] Brainwashing, also known as thought reform, is a severe form of social influence that combines compliance, persuasion, and education while isolating the target and making them completely dependent on the brainwasher, or agent. The target’s basic human needs (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, toilet, sleep) are under the direct control of the agent. Through his manipulation of the needs and use of torture, the agent begins to twist the target and mold his mind to the desired shape.[10] This isn’t what happens in most of what people call cults today. And it wasn’t what I had done to the girl at the start of this story.

After ten years in TWI, I began to make forays back into mainstream Christianity. It wasn’t easy. I joked with one of my pastors in those early days that if I had confessed to being a delivered Satanist, they would have had me in front of the church sharing my testimony and teaching seminars on the occult the day after I walked in the door. But mention that you had been involved with The Way International and you were quarantined. “Watch out for that guy, he’s been in a cult!” As my wife and I reintegrated into the greater body of Christ, I discovered some of the reasons that had made TWI and groups like it so attractive to so many people.

Before I continue, I would like to exchange words. Instead of cult, I prefer “closed system of faith.” In a closed system of faith, all the complexities and variables of life are simplified through a standardized grid of dogma. Knowledge of and adherence to the grid is empowerment, superiority, success, and acceptance. All closed systems of faith that I have encountered share this phenomenon. Its adherents express it differently. Some feel sorry for those outside who are called unbelievers, lost, fools, ignorant or Gentiles. Others are antagonistic to the “them” that always seem to be out to get “us”. Many exhibit the arrogance of those in the know amongst the ignorant masses. But those on the inside share an intimacy that those on the outside struggle daily to achieve.

The first note of the siren’s song is the invitation to the Secret Seminar. We have knowledge that you need. To get it, you have to take our class. And thus the indoctrination begins. These training outreaches are generally designed in a way that they deliver more information than can be processed in the time of presentation. And the presentation time can be long, hours a night for weeks or intensive weekends where the audience absorbs (or is bombarded by) the rapid-fire delivery of the instructor. No time is given for questions. Hold those to the end because more than likely, your questions will be answered as we move through the course. By the finish line, most have forgotten what the questions were.

Having been stuffed with new information, the proselyte is now encouraged to master the material. Not through questioning and discourse, however, but through follow-up homework and workshops. Thus the ideas are hammered in and the new perspective grows. Due to the time commitment involved, deep bonds are formed with fellow students who all share a gratitude for the privilege of special knowledge.

The song has hit its bridge. No longer do we ponder what should be done. We have standard formulas for conduct that guarantee results. The daunting confusion of the world has been tamed. We have the answers and this gives us confidence. People on the outside wonder why people on the inside stay in the face of leadership failures, manipulation, and spiritual abuse. People on the inside wonder why people on the outside would ever expect them to leave a place that assures them that they are right and cannot fail; where friends can be had at a glance and people are trusted because we believe the same things.

As we approach the coda, accomplishment chimes in with accolades few on the outside will know. Small victories figure large in our fish bowl. The world may not notice, but our colleagues reward us with recognition. We are important. We matter.

I’ve seen this cycle played out in the dojo, in The Way International, in multilevel marketing schemes, in corporate America, and in major para-church ministries like Bill Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles. Acceptance is a basic need of the human heart. Closed systems of faith can provide it in spades. It’s what makes them dangerous. Having provided it, they can take it away. Membership, after all, has its privileges.

[1] On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate sect were found dead in a mansion in the San Diego area. They were trying to catch a ride on the Mother Ship.

[2] The organization was The Way International. I was involved with them from 1979-1989.

[3] Jim Jones led his People’s Temple to mass suicide on November 18, 1978. 918 people died drinking poisoned Flavor Aid. But in the popular mind, it was Kool Aid everyone had. The event turned into a proverb. To this day, when we advise people against following organizations or ideas blindly we tell them “Don’t drink the Kool Aid!”

[5] Figures cited are from Wikipedia, accessed 3/16/2014. Figure for Mormonism is actually the figure for the LDS Church, the largest group of Mormonism.

[6] For those tempted to make it a white/black thing, a higher percentage of white Protestants voted for Obama than black Protestants voted for Romney.

[7] The Mormonizing of America, Stephen Mansfield, © 2012 by Stephen Mansfield, Worthy Publishing, Brentwood, TN, p. 171.

[8] We were called Word Over the World Ambassadors or WOWs. The commitment was for a year of service in an assigned community. We were obligated to proselytize 40 hours a week and work a job no less than 20 hours a week. We were self-supported. The dedication level was high, though only half as long as the Mormons’.