Here in Los Angeles, Sepulveda Boulevard serves as a main traffic artery for over 42 miles, from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Hermosa Beach in the south—the longest road in Los Angeles County.
Few Angelinos probably know what history lurks in the name, even if the name of the road was intended for some other historical person. Sepulveda, a militant racist, a fascist? A study of Mexico’s history reveals that Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1494 – 1573) wrote that the natives are “as children to parents, as women are to men, as cruel people are from mild people.” A Second Democritus: on the just causes of the war with the Indians was his most important book, shaping the course of Mexican history.
In his book, Mexico, Biography of Power, Enrique Krauze tells us: “The imperialist interpretation of the Conquest (stridently represented by Juan Gines de Sepulveda) justified the war against the Indians on the grounds of their allegedly natural vices and defects: they were subhuman, sodomites, barbarians, cannibals, cowards, idolaters, liars and depraved idlers. Their backwardness prevented them from freely submitting to the law; they were ‘slaves by nature.’”
Religious Doctrine–Political Policy
This fervent, Catholic, political ideology represented in Sepulveda’s writings resembles much of the North American Protestant justifications to decimate most of the American Indians. Sepulveda’s view sounds like a line straight from one of today’s Republican propaganda writers and talking heads–Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, etc. These talkers brutally attack anyone of a dissenting opinion about torture, preemptive invasions, or any of their other policies.
We might excuse Sepulveda at least a little if we consider his own historical context during the end of the Dark Ages, a period of cultural decline and societal collapse, even though several of Sepulveda’s contemporaries advocated respect and tolerance for human rights. The Jesuit humanist Francisco Javier Clavijero “ascribed to the civilization of the Mexicas a classical rank equal to that of Greece and Rome.”
Despite Sepulveda’s disadvantage of being born into the Dark Ages, the neocons and other Republicans cannot use any such excuse for their medieval views. When reading Sepulveda’s theocratic ideology, we find the same twisted logic and bellicose policies, supported by claiming it’s God’s will. Referring to God as support for a political policy was a hallmark of the Dark Ages, when reason was left twisting in the wind. The use of trumped-up religious authority as a justification for a political doctrine reveals the weakness of that doctrine. Instead of using rational thought and logic, theocrats lean on so-called sacred text, dictated by God, as the basis of policy.
Religion as a Political Platform
It’s as though the Republicans ripped their policies out of Sepulveda’s pages and used them as their playbook. Sepulveda’s words contain the sounds of the same strand of blind theology that the W Administration used to manipulate the general public into a frenzy after the 9/11 attack, calling for a “crusade” and using it to justify the implementation of their long-planned, extreme, right-wing policies.
Bush often used religious terms in grandiose statements. “This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take awhile.” “We will rid the world of the evil-doers.” His use of religious expressions gained him popularity among gullible groups of born-again Christians throughout his career. W’s born-again Christian fundamentalism helped him to become governor of Texas. “But I feel God wants me to do this, and I must do it.” It was the right-wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court who made him president.
Once in the White House, W’s unreasoned policies fell straight into the greatest wishes of the likes of Osama bin Laden whose goal was to cause confusion and terror. What fundamentalist plans Osama bin Laden instigated, W unwittingly fulfilled. Leaders like these rely on traditionalism, meaning that they claim their authority derived from a religious text. In his essay, Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, Umberto Eco explains how this style of leadership is an early form of fascism.
Religious Doctrine–Traditionalism–Dangerous Policies
In its recent eight-year reign, the Republican Party took the U.S. from peace and prosperity to a historic deficit, unbridled financial disaster, preemptive war justified by lies to the public, and corporate corruption, especially among the oil titans which only expedites the looming environmental breakdown. Most born-again Christians believe that environmentalism is futile since the End Days are soon approaching for the Rapture and Christ’s second coming. Why bother trying to save the planet if God is going to snatch up the righteous to heaven and leave the rest of us sinners here to face the apocalypse?
Such painful incompetence, irrational policies, and corruption once were the mark of third world countries like Mexico—until now. Given another Republican administration, the U.S. would have become a failed state, like Mexico today. Driven by a religious ideology that influenced every aspect of policy from economics to the judicial system, W’s presidency is an example of how religious fervor can bring a peaceful and prosperous nation into war and financial collapse.
If Republicans had remained in power, they would have gleefully transformed the U.S. into a born-again Christian theocratic government, run by and for the wealthy and justified by God’s will. Certain traits create the third-world conditions of Mexico, and they reflect closely the fundamentalist policies of the Republican Party in the U.S. today.
Like most Central and South American countries, Mexico has been under the yoke of the Catholic Church since before Cortés. For most Mexicans the Church still is the main source of culture and education. Krauze writes, “It was in other areas, like education, where the influence of the Church was clearly harmful.” He notes that the Church was responsible “above all, [for] the intolerant strain in Mexican thought, evident in 1910….”
Church + State = Third World
One church, one god, one dogma, one catechism, one way of thinking—this narrow mindedness is what fuels theocratic regimes. This holds true for Mexico today as it does for many other third-world countries like Israel, Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, where reason flutters in the wind like a battle-torn flag, and where people view the world in terms of what God wills. They do this without realizing that God can be quite different from one tribe, gang, or congregation to the next. They result is endless wars in the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or on the streets of Juarez.
Theocracies most often resemble fascist regimes, with their dogmatic control over every life. At different times and places, the degree of tyranny varies but the underlying characteristic of centralized command remains, just as it does in right-wing regimes, like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Panama under Noriega, or Saudi Arabia under the Saud Monarchy, or Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu.
Or Profirio Diaz, like many other Mexican presidents all the way to recent ex-President Vincente Fox, who “ran an ‘integral’ or ‘total’ government…by integrating into the person of the President the real powers—national and local politico-military leaders and army generals…and by neutralizing dissident voices.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, W’s administration muzzled dissident voices for several years by calling them unpatriotic, a claim that could ruin the career of a journalist like Dan Rather and former Ambassador Joe Wilson who published an opinion piece in the The New York Times, revealing how W twisted intelligence reports to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Like most third-world countries, Mexico escaped the influence of the century of the Enlightenment. For Europe and the United States, the Enlightenment meant that facts, scientific method, and reason reemerge from antiquity as the measure of truth and sound ideas. It was a time when revolution tore down the arbitrary and whimsical “divine rights” of kings and other nutcase right-wing manipulators. As in France, the “Founding Fathers” of the U.S. fortunately had embraced the Age of Reason with its ideals of human rights, rational justice, and democracy.
Age of Enlightenment Revisited
Contrary to claims by members of the Republican Party, most of the Founders were Deists, hardly interested in any religion. They thought the universe had a creator, but one not concerned with the daily lives of humans and not in direct contact with them, either by revelation or by sacred texts. No, the Republicans are horribly wrong in their claims that America was founded as a Christian nation. As usual, when they make statements in the mainstream media, they revise history according to their own mythologies. Jefferson, on the contrary, believed that America’s strength arises from free thinking, critical citizens, unfettered from the chains of religious nonsense.
Eco writes that right-wing traditionalists see “the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason…as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”Krauze points out that the values of the Enlightenment “affected only the topmost level of society, and despite the historic breakthroughs of that period, Mexico held tight to the culture of the Baroque with centralized power in a monarchal-type president or a despot and religious superstitions in the place of science. Mexico remained resistant to the political and intellectual currents of the European Enlightenment.” The Republican Party ignores any type of rational system of justice and instead attempts to transform the U.S. justice system into an extension of its own arbitrary policies. Like Islam and Judaism, Christianity has been used as a propaganda channel for unified political power ever since it was accepted by political authorities, such as Constantine.
Today, the Republicans use religion to legitimize their own goals, such as to ignoring the habeas corpus and due process of the law in order to imprison and torture people without trial. Motivated by personal gain and fueled by favoritism for members of their own religious tribe, they appoint religious extremists to the Supreme Court and make deals with lobbyists of large corporations against the best interests of the people and the greater welfare of the country. As Octavio Paz describes Mexico in his book, The Labyrinth of Solitude, “ours is the Counter-reformation, Monopoly and Feudalism….”
By shifting power to a centralized executive branch, by favoring corporations that become monopolistic, by legislating religious superstitions like creationism as part of the educational curriculum in public schools, and so encouraging citizens to lose their grasp on clear thinking, not to mention science and reason, the Republican Party sought the dumbing-down of the general public. The dumber citizens are, the easier it is to beguile them. The right wing is continuing its quest to bring the U.S. closer to the Dark Ages of feudalism, monopoly, and ignorance—and shared status, with Mexico, as a failed state.