Rise of Radical Religiosity in Representative Democracies

We are living in dark times as radical religiosity the world over rises to punish ordinary, innocent, citizens in representative democracies where government-legislated values of faith are made to reform the law of the land in the name of a niche morality that presumes the best interest of the majority.

Religious censorship of sexual freedom by pressuring government is not new, but to understand this current phenomenon in the United States, we need to travel back in time to 1873 and the hyper-religious sin punisher Anthony Comstock:

The infamous Comstock Act, passed in 1873 at the urging of Anthony Comstock, secretary of the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, made it a crime to send material on birth control and abortion through the mails.As a special unpaid agent of the Post Office Department, Comstock went after people like Margaret Sanger and her husband, William, because they campaigned for accurate birth control information. Margaret Sanger was arraigned on eight counts of violating the Comstock Act in 1914 for publishing newspaper articles on birth control; William Sanger was convicted in 1915 for selling a single copy of “Family Limitation,” a pamphlet on birth control.

As a result of Comstock’s crusade, publishers were forced to censor their scientific and physiological works, druggists were punished for giving out information about contraception, and average Americans had to live with censorship of their mail, and without access to reliable information about contraception. Two years before his death in 1915, Comstock bragged that he had been responsible for the criminal conviction of enough people to fill a 61-coach passenger train.

In 1996 we dealt with religious ferocity in our government again with a provision in the Telecommunications Act criminalizing speech on abortion on the Internet with fines and imprisonment Then Janet Jackson’s boob caused religious outrage and governmental fines in 2004. Later that year when some pharmacists refused to dispense birth-control pills because birth-control was against the pharmacist’s belief system, the moderate nation sighed, and then held its breath, for the next religious thumping.

Today, in the USA and in the UK, religious radicals are once again munching at the panties of porn, and then punishing the tastes they discover while also hoping for a wafting salaciousness from your private WiFi network.

If you weren’t offended by the religiously-inspired federal fines against Janet Jackson’s boob, and then by the fact that pharmacists are no longer chemists — but rather enforcers of religious morality — then you should be insulted by the religious threat to your home WiFi network done in the name of keeping children safe:

[On December 5, 2007] The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000. That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi.

It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

In the UK, the Home Office is cracking down hard on — we hope without a hard-on — “Violent Pornography” with a religious fervor that is both foreign and confusing:

Under new laws announced by Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker, it will be illegal to possess pornographic images depicting scenes of extreme sexual violence. This would include, for example, material featuring violence that appears to be life threatening. The proposals are part of the government’s response to its consultation on the possession of violent and extreme pornographic material launched a year ago.It is already illegal in the UK to publish or distribute the material covered by the ban, but violent pornography has become increasingly accessible from abroad via the internet. The new law will ensure possession of violent and extreme pornography is illegal both on and offline. Mr Coaker pointed out that the vast majority of people find xtreme pornography deeply abhorrent. He added, ‘Such material has no place in our society, but the advent of the internet has meant that this material is more easily available and means existing controls are being bypassed – we must move to tackle this.’

He pointed out that the government was supported on this issue by women’s and children’s groups, as well as police forces. In addition, a petition signed by around 50,000 people objecting to the extreme websites that promote violence against women as sexual gratification, has been presented to Parliament.

The administrative vagueness of this faux UK porno war — isn’t one war front in Iraq enough? — is being waged with wiggle words like “appears” and “vast majority” and one can only wonder about the real reasons behind governmental desire to punish all sexual satisfaction by linking the expression of passion to the abuse of children, just as one in the USA is linked as un-American by the current religious regime because you do not “support the troops” by protesting the war with the Middle East.

Few are able to stand against the majority to claim sexual exploitation must not be vague or that a politically-motivated, jingoistic, war stance must not be tolerated by free minds — even if they are in the shouted-down minority. Where will this religious/political obsession need to publicly punish private lives lead us? Are we bored with our own lives and we want to prevent others from enjoying their personal joys?

Are we running from corrupt government and its ongoing need to colonize the world beyond our national borders? Why is this happening now and why is this happening with such intense animus and vitriol?

I believe, as Foucault, Chomsky and Pinker before me, that the power majority reserves, wrongly, the right to name and label. You demonize your opponent by labeling their good intentions with negative connotations. “Freedom of expression” becomes “publisher of pornography” and “war protesters” become “Nazi/Communist/Terrorist sympathizers.” It’s all a name of gaming and while the words change, the definitions do not.

As Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in his new book — “The Stuff of Thought” — the democrats lost the war of words with the republicans and they gave up the White House. Pinker suggests the only way to beat the conservatives at their own game is by actively re-naming current labels. “Activist Judges” need to become “Freedom Judges” — spinning “freedom” for political gain just as the conservative congress re-named “French Fries” as “Freedom Fries” and “French Toast” as “Freedom Toast” in the House of Representatives cafeteria in the most ridiculous mock-protest against the French for being against the 2003 Iraq invasion.

That’s how you win an argument in politics to get elected: You spin labels, change names, accuse and misdirect and invoke the name of God and supporting the troops as you stab your opponent in the back with the cross in one hand while bandaging your self-inflicted wounds with the flag with the other. You lose in America by being rational and thoughtful and not being knee-jerk.

I fear the continued rise of religious zealotry in American and UK politics will only continue on with a harsher tone and a more immediate mandate because, as Noam Chomsky suggests — “politics is the shadow big business casts across the people of the land” — and to suggest there is any goodness or honorable intention in government is to ignore the greater bottom line that God and War are good for lining private business pockets in the name of national security; and we, the citizenry, are mollycoddled into religious conformity and lullabied into the acquiescence of our real human core values by feigning outrage over the loss of childhood innocence while clasping our hands in determined prayer as we try to sniff the WiFi panties of our nearest neighbor to see if their porn is better than our porn.