Monday, November 7, 2016

The Polytheist case for Donald Trump

Four years ago, I penned a piece entitled The Pagan Case for Mitt Romney which caught a lot of people off-guard at the time. As if they couldn’t conceive of someone occupying the Venn diagram intersection of pagan and Romney supporter. Well, this year I present something in a similar vein; the Polytheist case for Donald Trump.

At the outset, it should be remembered that Polytheists are a very diverse bunch; much more so than neopagans, who are about 90% on the liberal/progressive end of the spectrum. In such a diverse environment, it might be difficult to imagine what sort of issues they might all have in common, from Asatruar to Hindus, from Wiccans to Devotional Eclectics. Indeed, there is only one.

Religious liberty.

Especially in a nation like America, which not only boasts a legal tradition of religious tolerance that has not been scrupulously applied in practice over the years, the issue of religious liberty becomes paramount for a practitioner of a religion that is not only a minority, but a minority that is completely outside the mainstream. By comparison, Judaism is entirely mainstream, even though it is by far in the minority.

In today’s political environment, two threats to religious liberty are obvious, and a third is rising.

The first, and oldest, threat is Christianity. Christianity in America has long held a position of hegemony in the religious sphere, and even in the face of First Amendment protections, has often enjoyed a de facto status as the official religion of the country, with overt expressions of Christian belief commonplace. Over the last fifty years or so, that has gradually declined overall, even though there are holdouts in many regions, particularly in the southeast. One of the great dangers of this trend is that Christian leaders often see themselves as victims, even as they enjoy access to resources and power (dare I say “privilege”?) than members of minority religions can only dream of. But on the whole, this threat is more benign than others, for all the pearl-clutching about the vastly exaggerated threat of Christian Dominionism.

The second, more recent threat to religious freedom comes from secular progressivism, which has largely been responsible for the decline of institutional Christianity’s influence noted above. While it may be tempting for minority religions to cheer when the ACLU or FFRF scores a victory over a large Christian denomination, it must be remembered that in the eyes of the law, we play by exactly the same rules as the larger religions. When legal precedents are set, or laws pass, which limit the expression or practice of any religion, it limits all religions, even if we might agree on the narrow case that is being tested. Legal precedent all too often applies beyond the bounds of the particular case which establishes it, and radical secularists are more than happy to shut down behavior with which they disagree, even if it should otherwise fall under the protections of the First Amendment, and they’re more than happy to use the power of government force to get their way, destroying the lives and livelihoods of people whose faith leads them to make the “wrong” choices.

The third, and growing, threat comes from radical Islam. Never forget that Islamic terrorism is ultimately religious in origin, no matter how much modern progressives might want to desperately search for more prosaic issues of poverty or geopolitics to explain it. There’s no doubt that Islamists want to impose their vision of their religion on the entire world; just look at the religiously-derived outrages against civilization by Daesh, Iran, Al Qaida, and Saudi Arabia in recent years. And make no mistake; Islam has two sets of rules for its enemies. For Jews and Christians, who it recognizes as fellow “people of the Book,” there is dhimmi; ritual humiliation, subjugation, and of course the paying of the jizya tax. But for polytheists? There is only conversion or death; just look at what India’s Hindu community has recently endured. That represents an existential threat that no polytheist, no matter his or her specific faith, can ignore.

Which brings us to where the candidates stand on the subject of religious liberty.

It should be taken as a given that all candidates, no matter their own faith, are going to suck up to Christianity, professing their faith in Jesus and going out of their way to be seen going to church. Christianity’s impact may be declining, but Christians still make up an overwhelming majority of the population, and no sane candidate is going to deliberately thumb his nose at such a voting bloc. So rather than fretting about a given candidate’s pandering to Christian audiences, I’m going to see what we know about their commitment to religious liberty as a general principle.

Interestingly, the subject doesn't come up as an issue on either candidate's campaign website. It does come up repeatedly in both the Democrat and Republican party platforms (18 and 56 times, respectively).

The Democrats oppose "religiously based discrimination" when it comes to law enforcement and immigration, which is code for Islam. Later on, they don't resort to code words, and outright say they "...reject Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative." So they're on Team Islam, which bodes ill for those of us who aren't People of the Book. They also say that secular concerns for the rights of LGBTQ people should trump (no pun intended) religious rights to believe and practice one's religion. So their respect for religious liberty seems to be confined to those instances where such respect doesn't conflict with their ideals for Social Justice.

To their credit, they specifically call out the treatment of Amerindian tribes, specifically historical government programs designed to expunge Amerindian religion and replace it with Christianity. They also call out Daesh specifically: "We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion." (Notably, this statement is very narrowly tailored to refer to IS/ISIS/Daesh specifically, and ignores the provocations and actions of Wahabist Sunni and Iranian Sufi Islam, which are no more friendly to religious liberty, even if they do have better PR.)

The Republicans specifically "denounce bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, and religious intolerance," which as a Folkish Asatruar is something I can completely get behind. They similarly specifically condemn Daesh's efforts to religiously cleanse the areas within their clutches, although they are more expansive in their stated support for religious minorities (even if the Wahabists aren't specifically mentioned, they are obliquely):
The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. 
They also share the Democrats' support of religious minorities in general. In terms of religious liberty in the U.S., they are unequivocal:
We pledge to defend the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard religious institutions against government control. 
I personally find that compelling. Remember, the government that can ban someone else from doing something you don't like because of their religion, can one day turn around and ban you from doing something that your religion requires.

Trump is on record supporting Senator Mike Lee's (R-Utah) bill on religious liberty, the First Amendment Defense Act, which essentially says that the Federal government cannot punish someone (or businesses) for acting in accordance with their religious beliefs, whether in church, in their business, or anywhere. Clinton is on record saying she supports the idea that "everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit."

That very selective phrasing raises red flags with me. There's much more to religion than "worship". A religion is not something that is done merely within the confines of a church or a temple, merely on certain holy days. A religion is a world-view that is lived day-in and day-out, and which informs our behavior throughout our lives. To parse one's words to merely support "worship" seems a sign that Mrs. Clinton wants to limit the protections of the First Amendment accordingly.

Of course, Hillary Clinton infamously bragged about having two positions on every issue; a private one, and a public one, and it seems that the issue of religious liberty is no different. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that her team thinks religious ideas that disagree with their socio-political goals should be sublimated to those goals.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't other issues to vote on. Far from it. Polytheists are a diverse bunch, and they'll have all sorts of ideas about economics, foreign policy, and on and on and on. But purely from the only issue that polytheists can universally agree on, religious liberty, there's only one possible choice.

Donald Trump.

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