Tapu Misa on current affairs

Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: Religious nuts the hardest enemies to love

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

I knew I'd struggle with the injunction to love my enemies when I first became a Christian. I just didn't expect so many of them would turn out to be other Christians.

Take, for example, the charming folk from the Westboro Baptist Church in the United States who are behind GodHatesFags.com. The Kansas-based church preaches that America's war dead are God's punishment for its tolerance of homosexuality, which makes it okay for its misguided faithful to turn up at the funerals of fallen soldiers carrying signs saying, "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Fags doom nations".

(The US Supreme Court has ruled that the church's right to behave despicably is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.)

As if the Westboro Baptists weren't enough of a reminder of why I used to dislike Christians so much, there's a shameful YouTube video showing a group of Christian bigots taunting a Muslim man praying outside the gates of the White House.

According to one account, the so-called Christians surrounded the man, chanting "Jesus, Jesus" and hurling "an array of insults at him: mocking him for drinking Starbucks coffee, telling him to go back to his country and even throwing tiny crosses at his feet as he prayed".

What happened to "Jesus loves you"?

We have our share of ignorant haters here as well. In the wake of the Christchurch earthquake an equally deranged group declared that the disaster was God's punishment for hosting "the Lesbian and Poof Week" in Queenstown, among other unpardonable sins.

"The Christchurch earthquake was a warning," it said. "God has decided to clean out NZ of its wickedness, perversion, prostitution, bullying, gangs, drugs, violence, paedophilia and of its witchcraft and black magic."

When it comes to religious nutters, we have nothing on America. The most religious of Western nations excels at breeding the seriously theologically ignorant and misguided. If only they weren't so supremely confident of God's approval as well.

Wisconsin's union-busting Republican Governor Scott Walker is a case in point.

Last week, despite widespread protest in the state capital, and the decamping of 14 Democratic senators (who went into hiding in an attempt to deny the Republicans a quorum), Walker and his colleagues pushed through a bill that stripped public sector workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

Walker claimed initially that the bill was needed to address Wisconsin's debt crisis. But even after the unions offered concessions and other Christians, including Roman Catholic bishops and other mainline pastors urged him to be a good Christian and support the rights of workers, Walker wouldn't budge.

He's on a mission from God (and his billionaire backers), evidently, so why would he compromise?

After a nearly three-week impasse, during which the governor sent out state troopers in search of the missing senators while angry protesters camped out in the Capitol building, Walker and his colleagues ended the stalemate by simply separating the budget measures from the union bill, sidestepping the need for a quorum.

And thereby removing any doubt about Governor Walker's true agenda.

It was a scenario that might have come out of Naomi Klein's bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine, which argued compellingly that, from Chile in the 1970s to Iraq in the 2000s, right-wing ideologues have exploited crisis and catastrophe to push through their "triple obsessions" - privatisation, deregulation and union-busting.

Jerome Karabel, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, sees Wisconsin as a watershed moment for the American union movement. With private sector unions at their lowest ebb since the early 1930s, he writes that they have become "the last redoubt of a battered labour movement".

"The consequences of a weak labour movement - and one that is growing weaker by the year - are central to the future of American society. For the first time in American history, rapid increases in productivity have not been accompanied by corresponding gains in wages; at the same time, the minimum wage has lagged behind increases in the cost of living. Inequality, while growing in virtually all the wealthy democratic countries, has increased more sharply in the United States than elsewhere, and the US now leads the advanced world in
inequality.

"The poverty rate in the United States, which was cut in half during the 1960s, is now the highest of the wealthy democratic countries. And according to a recent Unicef study of child wellbeing, the United States ranks 20th out of 21 OECD countries."

If the attack on public sector unions triumphs, it will "have dire consequences that will go far beyond union members and their families, for it will shred America's already tattered safety net and further concentrate power in the hands of the privileged".

Walker has won the first round, but the battle has energised the union and Democratic base. Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans side with the unions and state workers. Commentators like film-maker Michael Moore are pitching it as a class war, a struggle between the elite super-rich and working class America.

Rather than dealing a decisive death blow to the union movement, Governor Walker seems to have breathed new life into it.

Maybe he's doing God's work after all.

Note: Due to the increased abusiveness of many email postings, the 'comment' feature has been disabled for this opinion piece.

- NZ Herald

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