How a religious movement is making US liberals nervous

Followers of dominionism believe that Christians should reassert control over political institutions

In last week's New Statesman, Alice Miles examined the role of religion in the current US political scene. She pointed out that a key difference between Britain and the US is the role that religion plays in politics on the other side of the Atlantic, where US presidents have long sought to derive legitimacy from God. Despite, this, however, there are concerns:

Even in a country as religious as the US, the current line-up of Republican presidential hopefuls is causing some alarm. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are evangelical Christians and Rick Santorum is a conservative Catholic. In August, a profile of Bachmann in the New Yorker that traced her religious influences to a school of evangelical thought called dominionism sparked nervousness among liberals.

Followers of dominionism, in its soft form, believe that Christians should reassert control over political institutions. In its hardest form, it demands the replacement of secular government with Old Testament law. It is derived from Genesis 1:26: "And God said, 'Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'"

One would have thought that there were few alarming religious surprises left in a potential presidential candidate who fasted for three days, asking God whether she should run for Congress; who has advised followers to "be hot for the Lord"; and who once declared: "When we are on fire for Jesus, we can change the world in His name!" Apparently there are.

Some liberals have noted that extreme Christian religions welcome wars and destruction that signal a coming rapture and the return of Christ. When the first reports emerged about Rick Perry's dominionist supporters, Bill Keller in the New York Times demanded that candidates be asked questions about their faith, such as: "Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that the US is a 'Christian nation' or a 'Judaeo-Christian nation'? And what does that mean in practice?" Or, "Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?"

You can read the rest of the column here.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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