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Updated 31 May 2007

Religious Polarization

Neocon Politics

Whose god is God is a primary driver of the conflict between Islam and the West. Sociopaths and their authoritarian pals fan the flames of conflict and violence. Neocon over-reaching has the same result, and so, also, for Zionism in Palestine. Terror will be around until parents, monotheists, secular educators, the media, and the public at large preach, teach, and reward moderation in all things world-wide. For that to happen, perspectives must change.

Newsworthy terror events may capture our imagination and attention. But we are multiples more likely to die in auto accidents or murder by gun, not to mention AIDS, heart attacks and heart failure.

President Bush is beholden to the Religious Right for his position and to the Neocons and plutocrats for what is worse, guidance. He destroyed our image in Indonesia when the moderates of Indonesia actually had the extremists on the run. (Approval of US after Afghanistan dropped from 61% to just 15% after Iraq.)

The Nation, Dec 29, 2003 issue, inspired much of what follows. We acknowledge collectively our debts to Sasha Abramsky, Suzanne Charle, and Renana Brooks.

Abramsky illustrates the unprecedented and naked grab for power now going on by the Bush Administration. By redistricting just a few states, he could well elect a 60% majority in the House of Representatives from 40 % of the popular vote. No need for recounts, it won't even be close. Thankfully, this didn't happen. Had the war in Iraq not gone sour, it just might have.

Charle provides insights into why we are losing support among the moderate minds of Islam. These are the only people who can possibly deal with the extremist factions of their faith and bring their terrors to a halt. Indonesia was doing an excellent job of catching and dealing with terrorists -- until Iraq and Bush's lack of cooperation inhibited their best efforts.

Finally, Dr. Brooks analyzes the Character Myth that is George W Bush. In her words:

"By repeatedly insisting that only he has the tools and the determination to fend off terrorism in the post-September 11 era, Bush has cultivated feelings of crisis, pessimism, anxiety and a loss of control throughout the nation. ...He has instilled a sense of dependency in Americans--and found a place in their minds and hearts as the repository of strength, action and control. The electorate passively and often subconsciously relies on his authority and power to act on their behalf. This is why Americans consistently find ways to justify Bush and to convince themselves that he is doing a good job, even when his actions and policies are opposed to their beliefs and values."

Her conclusion parallels ours exactly. See Authoritarianism and Authoritarian Personality for the double-edged sword Mr. Bush is wielding. A consummate authoritarian, Mr. Bush knows well how to excite fear when there is no reason to fear, how to create illusions of substance in himself when in fact there is little or none. If we can learn to recognize propaganda for what it is, we will not buy into it.

Misguided Fears of The Wrong Dangers
Perspectives on dying.

Death rates in America in 2001; they are similar now.
Ratios based on population of 278,000,000

Cause of DeathNumber Ratio to 9/11
Natural -- All Kinds 5,534,000 50.2
Accidents -- All Kinds 46,100 16.5
Motor Vehicles5,6009.2
Alcohol and Vehicle16,652 6.0
Murder (All Means)8,7003.1
Murder (Guns)5,7002.0
9/11 Trade Center2,7951.0
Motorcycle Accidents2,1160.8
Scheduled Airlines*5310.2

*Includes 265 airline passengers who died during the 9/11 bombing.

Of the presumably preventable deaths, 9/11 accounted for just 0.3%! So why the huge fear factor? Propaganda from on high? Of course. Naivete? That, too. Hierarchy in the form of Authoritarianism also played a significant role. We authoritarians want to fit tightly and securely into the hierarchy, be told what to do, and to have someone to look down on. Mr Bush played on all these needs, giving examples of things to fear, demonizing the other side. When he said only he can deal with terror, he was playing the tune to and for the Authoritarians.

What is this thing called terror? Hysteria, that's what it is. What else could it be? 2001 was the worst year in history for "terror" in America since the Native Americans were displaced. Yet, from public data we can conclude that each year:

Carelessness killed more than 16 times as many Americans as bin Laden did.

More than nine times as many people die in vehicle accidents as died in the Trade Center.

Alcohol kills at least six times as many Amricans as terrorists do, the six multiples apply to 2001. Think about that the next time you ask for a refill.

More than three times as many Americans are murdered by their brethren as died in the Trade Center.

Guns in private hands kill more than twice as many people as the WTC bombers did.

We don't walk around fearing that we will die in a car wreck. Nor do we stop drinking and driving even though that combination killed nearly six times as often in 2001 as did the trade center bombers. We acquiesce to the NRA's mindless insistence that owning guns is not limited to the militia as expressly stated by the Constitution. Washington DC is among the most murderous of our nation's cities, yet we do nothing about it. We do not even study why. If the politicians know, why do they look the other way? If they don't know, why do they not find out why?

Do you suppose we, the American people, enjoy not only our violent image but the reality? We know a psychologist who believes just that from her practice that included victims of violence, their families and not a few perpetrators.

Do we bet our future that peace only comes after all scores have been settled--when they can never be?

We certainly bought into the Bush drumbeat to war in Iraq, the net effect being to increase terrorism globally by multiples. Is this burlesque or what?

Do we really believe that it is responsible to blanket our government in secrecy when history teaches repeatedly that under those conditions, people lie, cheat, steal, abuse others (a la Abu Ghraib!), and worse?

We fear the rare newsworthy events that kill large numbers in one brief moment and ignore the far more real daily dangers to our personal longevity.

The perspective

We ignore real significant dangers, and panic over the rare events simply because they are newsworthy.

The above is not to say that terrorism can be ignored. It certainly cannot. But does it not make more sense to remove its roots, one of which is our fears? To be sure that will be difficult--organized, chronicled terror is now over two millennia old. There is no reason to think that war, the antidote to terror for 20 centuries, will apply now when it never has before. It may well take a few decades to make the many cultural changes necessary world-wide to damp down terrorism. But make them we must.

The United States is still in a position to lead the way, barely. Barely because we have lost the international sympathy through Bush bullying and Neocon arrogance; former allies wisely refused to join in our Iraq misadventure. We are sliding downhill economically.

There are those who still blame France in particular for not joining with us. But guess what? French Muslims, marched arm in arm with Christians and Jews through the streets of Paris. They were protesting the jihadi kidnapper's (of French journalists) demand that France repeal its law forbidding wearing religious symbols in public schools. Frenchmen now look on their Muslim neighbors with new respect. See Olivier Picard, Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, week of Sept 10, 2004. Even so, France has ominous clouds of potential terror hanging over its immigration and assimilation policies.

Nevertheless, French Muslims, marching arm in arm with Christians and Jews is real progress. And it was spontaneous; the very best kind! The second, and related, message is that France now goes us one better in governance and diplomacy. How to keep Church and State separate is a grass-roots affair that, unlike us, France is beginning to address.

On 2004 anniversary of 9/11, 1003 service personnel had died in Iraq. This update has the death toll more than three times that. And for what? The replay of Vietnam is now all too obvious. One man fought courageously in Vietnam, and lost an election. Another, who went astray by dodging active service, is still going astray, leading us ever deeper into quagmire. But just listen to him talk: "I am a war President!" as if this were all there were to it. Does he expect to settle old scores by more war (a la Palestine), or is he just protecting his oil-company sponsors? Both we think. Possible also, he just doesn't know any better, or doesn't care.

We think the French have found a much better way. We owe them an equivalent of the Statue of Liberty in return if it works out for them. Will it ever happen? Don't bet on it.

See Activism for more on this issue.

Neocon Politics

Of course, Mr. Bush is beholden to the Religious Right for his position and to the Neocons and plutocrats for what is worse, guidance. Together, these people make up a small minority of Americans. Their influence is multiples larger than their numbers. Ronald Reagan demonstrated how imagery passes for politics. George W. Bush is making it happen in spades.

To be sure there is real world conflict between cultures. Mr. Bush does not mention the US role in generating that clash. He behaves as if he is evangelizing a showdown between tyranny and democracy. But his world view (Neocon in origin) is one where America rules the world, the only arbiter in all things. Maybe he doesn't think that would be tyranny, just the oppressed would, but they won't count. He sells these ideas to us differently, of course.

Again in the words of Dr. Renana Brooks.

"Psychologists have long understood that people who hold views that are mutually inconsistent, or who perform actions that depart from their values or that threaten their positive self-image, will experience discomfort. This is known as cognitive dissonance. People naturally choose to remove the discomfort through rationalization, thus repairing their self-image as people who are reasonable and moral and act in ways consistent with their values. Bush's leadership style and use of language essentially have created cognitive dissonance in the electorate. The more that Americans observe the Bush presidency pushing policies they do not support, and would normally question, the more they confront the choice of whether to oppose him actively or rationalize away their discomfort. Many Americans have chosen the latter because the President has convinced them that the situation is desperate and that only he can handle the continuing crisis. The more they depend upon Bush, the more they rationalize away any objections they may have to his specific ideas and policies. In this manner, Bush has forged an emotional, visceral relationship with the nation, successfully bypassing conscious resistance and stripping away any sense that he needs to answer to a higher legal or constitutional authority beyond his personal moral force."

"...Bush's team knows how to exploit the Great Person myth. Bush's deliberately constructed image as a moral leader who knows what is right for America takes the place of rational analysis, and his insistence that we are in an ongoing state of crisis in our war against terror helps to perpetuate this dynamic and rob us of our freedom and liberty. Bush and his supporters often silence opposition and dissent by encoding in their arguments a world view that implies that even to challenge Bush's ideas is immoral and damaging to the social order, and even to the survival of the nation and of Western civilization. Linguists call this device the lost performative. The speaker purposely leaves out the authority behind far-reaching statements in order to pass off controversial viewpoints as the absolute truth. When Bush says "Our cause is just," he purposely leaves out the "according to whom?" Saying "I think the war is just" or "Donald Rumsfeld thinks the war is just" is much different from asserting "Our cause is just." The underlying message from the authoritarian leader is, Do exactly as I say, or catastrophe follows. Over generalization and false generalization are powerful vehicles for such a leader."

In this dangerous way, Neoconism becomes a neoreligion in itself. Propaganda becomes fact, then law.

Joan Didion captured the Great Person myth well in her book Fixed Ideas: America Since 9/11. She writes:

"We had seen the general acquiescence in whatever was presented as imperative by the administration. We had seen the persistent suggestions that anyone who expressed reservations about detentions, say, or military tribunals, was at some level 'against' America. (As in the presidential formulation 'you're either with us or you're with the terrorists.') We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of September 11 to justify the preconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."

As Didion suggests, absolutist language does overload people with information, leaves them confused and unable to judge for themselves. And many are too authoritarian anyway to even want to question the ship of state.

President Bush is the man who destroyed our image in Indonesia when the moderates of Indonesia actually had the extremists on the run. Whatever Indonesia accomplishes against terror henceforth will be in spite of Mr. Bush, not because of him.

As for the war on terror, since September 11, 2001, there has been a determined effort by the administration to promote an imperial America - a "New Unilateralism" - and how, in many parts of America, there is now a "disconnect" between the government and citizens. Review: Joan Didion, "Fixed Ideas, America Since 9/11."

Religious Polarization

This section is for the moderates everywhere. Religion in and of itself is a good thing for many people. It is the extremist sons and daughters of Abraham that are associated with Violence. And that is what this page is about.

When we look at the association between Monotheism and Violence we find frequency of violence in monotheisms (the children of Abraham, who offered up his son for sacrifice, {some man--some god!}) to be multiples higher than for any other religious or philosophical alternative.

Mr. Bush and his staff begin each working day with prayers. What is wrong with that? Nothing maybe, but more likely everything, at least in its practice. We say practice to illustrate a point. Hindus pray, but their association of violence related to Hinduism is multiples less than the violence associated with Christians, Jews, or Muslims. There must be a difference in how Hindus practice prayer, the core of most religions. Prayer is itself a bonding event, independent of politics or religion.

Prayer according to Swami Shivananda:

"The kitten mews and the mother cat runs and carries it away. [In the same way], the devotee cries and the Lord comes to his rescue."

"Prayer is depending on God for help in distress. Prayer is giving an opportunity to God to comfort the devotee. Prayer lightens the heaviness of your heart by opening it to God. Prayer is expecting God to decide what is best for you when you are in a dilemma. Man learns to pray through despair."

"... There are no problems that cannot be solved by prayer, no suffering that cannot be allayed by prayer, no difficulties that cannot be surmounted by prayer, and no evil that cannot be overcome by prayer. Prayer is common with God, the miracle by which Gods power flows into human veins. Therefore kneel down and pray."

"When the storms of lust and anger, vanity and viciousness rage within your bosom, kneel down and pray. For the Lord, and He alone, has the power over the elements. In thy supplication is thy strength, shielded by His mercy, and spurred on the path of righteousness by His Divine Will."

"Kneel down and pray. Pray not for earthly goods or for heavenly pleasures, but pray for His grace. "Thy will be done, my Lord! I want nothing for myself." This shall be thy prayer. For you know not what is good for you; you may be asking for trouble, and praying for perdition. Pray for Grace and that His righteousness might descend on the soul."

"Greet the dawn of the day and bid adieu to the setting sun with a prayer of thankfulness- firstly for a fresh day granted, and lastly for His Grace received. Thus shall your life be blessed and thus will you radiate His blessings to all around you."

Moderate religionists doubtless hold tenets at least roughly similar to these. Psychologists agree that in times of distress, talking out the problems and issues gives them a new perspectives. These observations are not at all mutually exclusive. Indeed, they may rely on the same wells of practical wisdom deep within our psyches.

Obviously, Swami Shivananda prays to a different God than do Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, Ariel Sharon, and George W Bush. The Greeks prayed to Ares, the Romans prayed to Mars, the Gods of War. Both also prayed to Apollo and Saturn, the Gods of Peace. Swami Shivananda captures the essential difference.

Pray not for earthly goods or for heavenly pleasures,
but pray for His grace.

"Thy will be done, my Lord! I want nothing for myself."

This is not the Bush approach to terror, at least not since early 2002.

Gopal Saraswat captures the essence of religious strife:

The root cause of religious strife is this notion that there is but one god - and mine is the one.

This is the ultimate anthropomorphic projection of God. Whose God is God just may be the primary problem of our times. Extremists take their religious writings literally--as moral directives. Yet most modern people do not.

The connection between Abraham and violence was certified by the scribes of the day and perpetuated by his radical descendants.

The Old Testament goes on to say that God told Abraham not to sacrifice his son, the point picked up on by moderates. But it was Abraham who had the DNA potential for an authoritarian personality; just as we do.

We live in an age of religious polarization between extremists of Judeo-Christian and Muslim faiths. More globally, extremists in several sectors of society are polarized according to:
  • Judeo-Christians vs. Muslim vs. Jew (Religion; monotheism)
  • Conservatives vs. Liberals (Governance; dictatorship vs. democracy)
  • Rich vs. Poor (Economics; Plutocracy in US)
  • Education vs. Ignorance (Knowledge)
  • Values vs. Values (Philosophy; A Matter Of Perspective)
  • Mythos vs. Logos (Belief System; Fundamentalism vs. science)
  • Modernity vs. Stassis (Progress; technology impact mostly)


We at this web site pay a lot of attention to terror, not because of the direct danger from terror itself, but because of the polarization it is causing in the world; in equal measure we study the indirect danger that we Americans will give up our freedoms and liberty out of panic born of naivete and lack of perspective. Converting the world's greatest democracy into a police state would be a crowning achievement indeed for bin Laden and al Qa'ida.

American freedoms and liberties have long provided inspiration and aspiration for oppressed peoples. Both are now fading, and fading fast.

In early 2002, after Afghanistan, 61% of Indonesians viewed America favorably. Today, after Iraq, coupled with our continued support for Israel's perceived Zionism, only 15% view America favorably. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any nation on Earth. A great opportunity here slipped beyond the reach of Mr. Bush. He failed to realize people respond to diplomacy with diplomacy, to guns with guns.

But, don't underestimate this president. He is a genius at inducing panic in the Authoritarian Personalities among us, which, unfortunately includes most of us. Most of us are all too ready to let others think for us, to believe empty rhetoric is wisdom, and to confuse photo-ops with guarantees of righteousness.

Renana Brooks on Thinking Peace illustrates how he does it.

George W. Bush is generally regarded as a mangler of the English language. What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language--especially negatively charged emotional language--as a political tool. Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others. President Bush, like many dominant personality types, uses dependency-creating language. He employs language of contempt and intimidation to shame others into submission and desperate admiration.

See Authoritarianism and Authoritarian Personality for more background on how Authoritarianism works and what it could mean. See Altemeyer and Dean for what it does in fact mean. Review Martha Stout for the damage sociopaths leave in their wakes. Sociopaths lie at the extreme ends of any distribution of people.

To win the "war" on terror, we must win the confidence of moderate Muslims for without their help there will be no end to terror, ever! Hussein lay under our noses for eight long months. He was despised by Iraqis at large. Maj. Stan Murphy, Intelligence officer, the Fourth Infantry Division's First Brigade, and his team pieced together Hussein's tribal and family connections until he was close enough to smell out the "rat" among Hussein's trusted supporters who would betray him. This is essentially the procedure the British used to run down the Thugs of India; it only took the British a decade. These events provide a perspective; with Muslim support we can find the top dogs, without their support, terrorists thrive under out very noses.

This procedure requires that Muslims trust us. But Mr. Bush seems not to understand that trust can only be earned. He deliberately lost critical friends the world over, Indonesia especially, while energizing his extremist enemies. Even al Qai'da's financing still flows essentially unimpeded according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

With a straight face, Mr. Bush will swear to you that this is progress and that only he can conduct the consummate antiwar and anti-terror campaigns. Huh? This is an arch-authoritarian talk--pure propaganda.

Each of the monotheisms is associated with violence multiples more times than are the Eastern religions, atheists, and Eastern philosophies. Along with their Muslim brethren, Jews and Christians must also contain their own extremists who are ever ready to impose their interpretations of God and governance upon all humanity.

Our times are not just times of terror, but times of extremism. In America, the danger to our institutions is most acute. See Eroding Liberty for more.

Will the moderates on earth rise to counter extremism?
Only time and history will tell.


It is high time that the psychology of political science entered elementary and high school school secular curricula. It is also high time that the monotheisms began purging radical thoughts from their ranks by preaching moderation in all things. Finally, parents need to teach and reward moderation in all things.

America's vaunted freedom may be doomed without these or equivalents to enable future electorates to deal wisely with events and options affecting their own futures.


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