Homogenized religious dogma and political ideology: A toxic blend of vows and pledges

Part 2 of a three-part series

Bob Vander Plaats was in the forefront of the right-wing campaign to unseat three Iowa state Supreme Court justices up for reelection because they voted to uphold the state’s constitution’s guarantee of civil equality in relation to the civil institution called “marriage.” (The Iowa’s Supreme Court decision was unanimous.) He ran for governor of Iowa three times, and served as the Iowa state chair of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

These days Mr. Vander Plaats is the point man for The Family Leader which, according to its website, is “is associated with Focus on the Family, an international family-strengthening ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO” and “is also in association with the Family Research Council, a pro-family, nonpartisan public policy organization based in Washington D.C. TFL works cooperatively with FRC President Tony Perkins and in coalition with numerous other state and national public-policy groups.”

These “associations” are not surprising. Focus on the Family has long espoused opposition to civil equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It was founded in 1977 by child psychologist James Dobson. Although he had no formal theological training, nor was he ever an ordained minister, Dr. Dobson became what Time magazine called him, “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader.” In his 2004 book Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, he offered “Eleven Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The first was “The legalization of homosexual marriage will quickly destroy the traditional family.” The last was “The culture war will be over, and the world may soon become ‘as it was in the days of Noah’ (Matthew 24:37).” Dr. Dobson founded the Family Research Council in 1981. Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Family Research Council as an anti-gay “hate group.”

The full text of Mr. Vander Plaats’ “The Marriage Vow—A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family” and its copious endnotes are available here. An article about the document on OutsidetheBeltway.com made a critical observation:

The Family Leader, a prominent Iowa group that promotes Christian conservative social values, said Thursday it is asking all presidential candidates to sign a pledge regarding their personal convictions on traditional marriage. . . .

The organization’s chief executive officer is Bob Vander Plaats, a conservative evangelical leader who was the state chair of Mike Huckabee’s Republican presidential campaign when he won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. Vander Plaats said the Family Leader will not support any candidate who declines to sign the pledge. [italics added]

The italicized clauses underscore the danger of homogenizing personal religious beliefs and public policies. To be sure, the two will always be involved with each other. We vote for and elect candidates who most closely mirror our views, and for many those views derive from or are shaped by religious beliefs and/or religious dogma. Religious beliefs and dogma are just that: beliefs and concocted doctrine. They’re not based on facts or evidence. They’re base on “faith” which is, by definition, not based on reason, facts or empirical evidence.

From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition:

Dogma n, [L dogmat-, dogma, fr. Gk, from dokein to seem] 1a: something held as an established opinion; esp: a definite authoritative tenet. B: a code of such tenents <pedagogical ~>. C: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. 2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.

“From dokein to seem . . . established opinion . . . a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds . . . formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church” [italics added]. Dogma is the unsubstantiated opinion of someone or some group that must remain as is despite ever-changing social, cultural and political contexts. As one definition in the Oxford English Dictionary put it, dogma is “an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion” which uses itself as its source of authority.

Public policies, on the other hand, must be based on reason, facts and empirical evidence. They must assure the civil equality of all citizens. They need to serve the needs of a diverse population, and they must be in the best interest of the country, not certain religious beliefs or dogma.

The Preamble of Bob Vander Plaats’ theopolitical loyalty oath sets the dogmatic tone. The third and fourth of the 14 “vows” are theofascist blends. The last one illustrates how good civil ideas can be perverted and used by theopoliticos to protect themselves while harming others.

The Preamble—“Therefore, in any elected or appointed capacity by which I may have the honor of serving our fellow citizens in these United States, I the undersigned do hereby solemnly vow to honor and to cherish, to defend and to uphold, the Institution of Marriage as only between one man and one woman. I vow to . . .”—clearly demands politicians actively work to deny gay and lesbian Americans equal rights to the civil institution called “marriage.” Whatever else the Vander Plaats’ document demands, civil inequality based on religious dogma is first and foremost.

When a colleague and I were team-teaching “Religion in American Thought and Life,” one of our guest speakers was a biblical literalist and fundamentalist’s fundamentalist. His views on homosexuality were more than predictable, until someone in the class asked him about same-sex marriage. As long as marriage was deemed a civil institution, with licenses issued by the state, he had no problem with same-sex marriage. I—and more than a few students—almost fell out of our seats. In the follow-up class discussion, even the most religious members of the class had to agree with the speaker’s logic and reasoning. All citizens should have—must have—access to civil institutions.

Vows three and four read:

—Official fidelity to the U.S. Constitution, supporting the elevation of none but faithful constitutionalists as judges or justices.

—Vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage—faithful monogamy between one man and one woman—through statutory-, bureaucratic-, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.

“Faithful constitutionalists.” An interesting designation. A basic dictionary definition of “constitutionalist” is adherence to or government according to constitutional principles; also : a constitutional system of government.” Sounds good, but given the author of the these vows—and his theopolitical motives and social agenda—the “faithful” adjective defines what Harvard Divinity School graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges called “logocide” in his 2007 book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America:

The old definitions of words are replaced by new ones. . . . Words such as “truth,” “wisdom,” “death,” “liberty,” “life,” and “love” no longer mean what they mean in the secular world. “Life” and “death” mean life in Christ or death to Christ, and are used to signal belief or unbelief in the risen lord. “Wisdom” has little to do with human wisdom but refers to the level of commitment and obedience to the system of belief. “Liberty” is not about freedom, but the “liberty” found when one accepts Jesus Christ and is liberated from the world to obey Him.

The endnote (#11) for the third vow exposes the logocidal definition of “faithful constitutionalists”:

It is no secret that a handful of state and federal judges, some of whom have personally rejected heterosexuality and faithful monogamy, have also abandoned bona fide constitutional interpretation in accord with the discernible intent of the framers. In November, 2010, Iowa voters overwhelmingly rejected three such justices from the state Supreme Court in retention elections. Yet, certain federal jurists with lifetime appointments stand poised, even now, to “discover” a right of so-called same-sex marriage or polygamous marriage in the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Vander Plaats’ extensive endnotes would seem to suggest sophisticated “research,” but what they really do is offer examples of logocide while exposing his sophistry and linguistic chicanery, as will be clearly seen in Part III. But for now, the definition of “faithful constitutionalists” . . .

“Faithful,” full of faith in the Bible, as written, as literal truth, akin to the views of Jim Fletcher, Director of Prophecy Matters, a somewhat confusing and confused organization that celebrates Israel and gleefully awaits the “end times.” According to their website, Mr. Fletcher “writes for a variety of publications, including the Jerusalem Post, WorldNetDaily, and OneNewsNow.”

Jerusalem Post is an English-language Israeli paper that was left-leaning, then right-leaning, now currently trying to become centrist by offering pieces by all extremes, in addition to “the news.”

WorldNetDaily (aka WingNutDaily) is run by Joseph Farah:

Farah: United States Should “Break Up” Over Marriage Equality
Submitted by Brian Tashman on July 28, 2011

WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah says that he would rather see the “break-up of the nation” than allow marriage equality for gays and lesbians anywhere in the United States. While criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for saying that he believes New York has a right to decide its own marriage laws (although he supports the Federal Marriage Amendment), Farah contends that the country should dissolve itself to stop marriage equality . . .

OneNewsNow is a propaganda organ of the American Family Association, a rabidly anti-gay organization that features Bryan Fischer’s nonsensical rants. AFA is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay “hate group.”

One of Mr. Fletcher’s recent articles was titled “The World as It Really Is.” His latest book was titled It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), with the subtitle “How to stop worrying and learn to love these END TIMES.”

After listing some human miseries he saw while strolling around Austin, Texas, Mr. Fletcher stated:

But even in all this misery, I thought about how it confirms the Bible. If the Bible is true, we would expect to see a diseased and dying world. A physically dying world. Pollution. Corruption. Illness. . . .

The Bible’s early books contain the history of Earth’s beginnings. Genesis contains the historical account of man’s spiritual and physical fall. In those brief verses, we can know enough to figure out our world. . . .

If the Bible is literally true, then human misery is “God’s will.” That’s a strange sort of “loving God” who takes pleasure in torturing His creations. But it’s the opening of the second paragraph that speaks to the essence of fundamentalism’s glorification of irrationality and mind-numbing simplicity. Genesis contains “the history of Earth’s beginnings.” That would mean the earth is a flat disk supported by pillars and covered by a dome to keep out all those celestial waters. According to Mr. Fletcher, that’s all we need to know “to figure out our world.” And there in lies the definition of “faithful constitutionalist.”

Faith is foremost. Common sense and reason are not necessary or even welcome. The Bible is a “closed” text, written in stone one might say, after having been cobbled together from sundry Bronze Age “sacred texts,” “gospels” written at least seventy years after the “facts” they report, and the writings of one man, Paul, whose words constitute about a third of The Bible.

No interpretation or understanding of the texts in relation to the historical-cultural realities that produced them, and no exploration of how those b.c.e. and early c.e. realities might not be compatible with realities in the 21st century is allowed. Doing so is damnable. The same perspective is held by “faithful constitutionalists,” such as originalist Antonio Scalia, whose basic view is that if “a right” is not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, it doesn’t exist. From that perspective, the Constitution and the Bible are not a living document, but deads one trapped in their own time period.

Mr. Vander Plaats also used the phrase “discernible intent of the framers.” The “discernible intent of the framers” was that women should not be able to vote and that African slaves were property. Is that what Mr. Vander Plaats advocates?

Part 3 considers the “intent of the framer” of “The Marriage Vow—A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family.”

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