I wonder how many of you interpreted Khomeini calling America the Great Satan as I did; as an indictment of past support for the Shah and for representing other social/political ills. There’s some truth in that. Indeed, the West and US can be reasonably criticized for past meddling with the free self-determination of others, that is if we redefine “free” as being bound by strict dogma. In other words what we saw as political struggle in Iran was in more ways a contest of religious dogma to take precedence over and set tight controls on what politics could say or allow. There is deviling irony in a “freedom fight” done by those seeking to reduce freedom in their society. We could ask is it a fight for freedom if the change is from absolute Shah to absolute Ayatollah? Is it a struggle for freedom when the result will be systematic repression and persecutions of all freedoms and beliefs not in accord with the dogma of one group? If so, then that type of freedom is best called a tyranny, isn’t it?

You’d not be alone wondering why I so often return to the theme of church/state separation. Why don’t I write about pretty, happy things like seagulls wheeling above sparkling ice floes? Up the north shore remote from worldly cares, why do I bother with such matters? Well actually, there is a long standing American tradition of viewing from the sidelines. Cooper did so with his Leather Stocking character existing on the margin between wilderness and civilization. Huck Finn is similar with freedom of person and conscience on the river while the civilized banks of the river are home to feuds, frauds, and cruelty. A view from a distance sees a different picture than the pressing vision of a close-up. I am also quite personally convinced that the fundamental clash of a free secular society with dogmatic orthodoxy is not going away because we wish it to or we employ pretty thoughts to ignore it. A danger of freedom is the size of its compass and the way in which that can be used against it.

A version of what I mean took place in old South Africa where freedom allowed a minority to impose segregation and lesser status on the majority. Among the justification for doing so was biblical authority. Some of us will recall it took the devil’s own work to undo the unjust system. I say devil’s work because the side of things that pushes to erode secular values sees (as did the Ayatollah) anything in opposition to its dogma as being sponsored by Satan. In that view (which is much more common that you might think) Freedom and especially Free Speech are strongly objectionable for rejecting the authority of their dogma and therefore being against the will of their bogeyman. From those terms America IS the Great Satan because it does not submit to a specific dogma. Our friend the Saudi kingdom is much involved (directly and in disguise) in promoting and funding the spread of that view. It was no accident that so many of the actors on 9/11 were from the kingdom that defines human rights according to religious affiliation followed closely by gender discrimination. The western world, having gone through centuries of conflict and of reform, thinks naively a system that censures/forbids free expression as a prime means of preventing discussion of reform is going to miraculously reverse. Do you think the nation that forbade religious symbols on US Military Chaplains in the force come to their aid is open to reform or set in cement with the same dogma that said female soldiers could not drive or expose their hair?

At one time I felt our dependence on oil was so great and the US administration at the time oil minded that economics ruled, leaving Saudi aircraft nearly alone when others sat grounded. There is some truth in that, but it is as likely we are too naïve or complacent in our freedom to see the action as that of a divinely sanctioned kingdom demanding its god-given right of absolute power. They demanded and we caved, just as we did on Chaplains and women in the military. In terms as those holding a religious supremacist dogma might see it; we surrendered lesser values to give precedence to higher ones. In the US Saudi money goes to influence text book makers to give students a “better” and “fuller” view of what most benefits the Saudis. I’m glad freedom is open here, but I think we ought to know where some of it is being aimed. Seeing itself at the center of the most important thing to happen to human beings in the past 1,500 years, Saudi Arabia would like to be the core of a new world order built around theological submission to its authority. To that end they use freedom to promote their cause here while allowing no such thing at home.

From WW I through the end of the Cold War not so many decades ago the conflict was that of nation states and conflicting politics. Communism, aggressively expanding and often doing more harm than good, was challenging capitalism. These economic systems along with political forms such as republics and representative democracies can (and were) over time be modified and reformed. Believers in a theological system, however, see all that such man-made forms as both inferior and insulting to whatever divine being they follow. For those who follow dogmatic or theological supremacy everything else is of no matter and anything done to destroy debased manmade rule is absolutely to the good. To believers free will (along with other “unnecessary” freedoms) is a thing to be done away with in favor of correct rule given by unelected religious leaders. In that scheme “human rights” depend on how closely one conforms to the practices and strictures of religion. If being free puts me on the side of Satan I will fight like Hell to stay there.