REAL wellness is a philosophy and lifestyle designed for consciously pursuing and sustaining mental and physical wellbeing. It is focused on four primary dimensions:
- Reason (critical thinking);
- Exuberance (meaning and purpose, joy, etc.);
- Athleticism (exercise and science-based nutrition); and
- Liberty (personal freedoms).
These four dimensions constitute the acronym “R-E-A-L” in REAL wellness, and constitute the focus of skills and practices associated with this way of thinking and acting.
Radical Islam and Christian Nationalism are destructive branches of two religions. Both are incompatible with REAL wellness. Radical Islam is universally understood as an existential threat to all non-believers (infidels);
less recognized is the danger of Christian Nationalism to our secular Republic in America.
Each of these two extremes are discussed in turn.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote two influential (and controversial) books on the subject of Radical Islam–“Infidel” in 2007, and “Heretic” in 2015.
I interviewed Ayaan in 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin during her appearance (accompanied by a police escort charged with her safety) at the annual Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) convention. This was four years after she was forced to flee Holland, as she had fled her native Somalia, for refuge in the West (NYC). It was an honor to engage this remarkable woman on a personal level. I recommend both books if interested in an appreciation of the toxic threats of radical Islam. The books reveal what life was like for Ayaan, and largely remain so, for women in theocratic Islamic nations. Both reflect the fact that many of the basic liberties we take for granted, including speech and worship (or not!), freedom from want and from fear) are forbidden (especially for women) in Islamic countries. The life story Ayaan describes in Somalia mirrors the norms and traditions in Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states. In such countries, dissent is hazardous and controls are both physical and mental, the latter amounting to what Christopher Hitchens called, “mind-forged manacles.”
The tenets of Islam are enforced by male power elites (imams, ayatollahs and theocratic officials). However, the imprinting is all-pervasive owing to beliefs and rituals inculcated from birth to adulthood, and reinforced daily by families, clans and communities. (Note the similarity of such indoctrination to the experiences of children raised in fundamentalist Christian cults, and to a lesser but still powerful degree by nearly all religions, particularly the Roman Catholicism of my early years.)
The outlook for women in Islamic countries is grim, and even in the West, the REAL wellness prospects for orthodox Muslim women are dark, at best. REAL wellness can be enjoyed only when there are options and choices, as well as alternative sources of information about the nature of reality. At present, Islam is the only reality in Islamic theocracies, as Christianity is for most evangelicals, and as Christianity would be for all of us under the rule of Christian nationalists. (More on that shortly.)
It seems improbable that Western (or other) women accustomed to freedom of choice regarding belief, dress, profession, behavior, marital partner and the like would tolerate conditions women endure in Islamic states. Most men and women find it almost incomprehensible that many females in such societies have their sexual organs cut away to reduce temptations to enjoy sexuality. Such barbarisms and other grotesque practices and traditions are vividly described in “Infidel.”
Ayaan writes that those who claim Islam is peaceful and compatible with Western values are engaged in wishful thinking. She suggests that to accommodate Muslims and expect we can all just somehow get along is a consolation doomed to fail, as it betrays an insufficient understanding of the nature of religion. Ayaan recommends that people become familiar with the tenets of the Islamic faith. A closer look at the Islamic holy book (the Qur’an) and the written traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Hadith) demonstrate that conflict in general, and violence against non-believers (infidels) in particular, are inevitable. Sadly, Islam gives uneducated, marginal true believers an idealized sense of meaning and purpose that is injurious to their own best interests and a peril to ours.
Ayaan suggests that our mission should be to undermine, by education, a destructive, ruinous ideology, beginning with efforts to discredit the misogyny and sexual repression endemic to the Islamic religion. She seeks nothing less than a rebellion by Muslim women. Liberation will not come quickly, but the slow haul to freedom and a better quality of life should be of interest to all wellness seekers who desire such values for themselves. Initiatives that mitigate the abuses and reeducate the faithful, however modest, might facilitate an Islamic emergence from the Dark Ages that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has described.
The conditions and concerns described by Ayaan about radical Islam foreshadowed what we now observe about Christian Nationalism in America.
Christian nationalism is a political theology that joins an extreme form of patriotism with an ultra-conservative strain of Christianity. It fosters a claim that this country was founded as a Christian nation. According to the Freedom From Religion’s Andrew Seidel,
“Christian nationalism is based on lies and myths. It’s a permission structure that uses the language of return, of getting back to our godly roots, to justify all manner of hateful public policy-and even attacks on our democracy… The January 6 insurrectionists believed were fighting for God’s chosen one. And if God was on their side, who could be against them?”
Long before the rise of this extremist sect, George Santayana warned about the history of Christianity in one of his essays:
“Christianity persecuted, tortured, and burned. Like a hound it tracked the very scent of heresy. It kindled wars, and nursed furious hatreds and ambitions. It sanctified, quite like Mohammedanism, extermination and tyranny.”
Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry trace the influence and document the political power of Christian nationalists in “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States. Among the most prominent politician Christian nationalists are Mike Pompeo, Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, Tate Reeves, Kristi Noem, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Josh Hawley, and Marjorie Taylor Green. Please excuse if I overlooked so many other deserving candidates for this dishonor; I could as well have referenced the near-entirety of elected Republican Party officials at state and federal levels.
Martin Gardener must have been something of a inerrant futurist when he spoke these words in 1998:
Bad science contributes to the steady dumbing down of our nation. Crude beliefs get transmitted to political leaders and the result is considerable damage to society. We see this happening now in the rapid rise of the Religious Right and how it has taken over large segments of the Republican Party.
Christian nationalism bears little resemblance to mind-your-own-business
Christians, the nationalist fanatics embrace a flood of anti-democratic goals. Their agenda includes restrictions on voting that render casting a ballot more difficult for low income and minority populations. In addition, Christian nationalists are anti-government, anti-vaccine and opposed to women’s reproductive rights, gay marriage, birth control, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. Adherents of this movement demand inclusion of their unique god ideas at every opportunity, especially Christian symbols and expressions of faith in schools and government functions. Thus, Christian nationalism is a serious threat to secular society, equality, fairness, and the rights of non-Christians.
The threat was dramatized by the Christian nationalist assault on the Nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. On this infamous occasion, Christian flags, clothing, songs, chants, crosses, speeches, “Jesus Saves” signs, and “prayers for victory in Jesus’ name” were grotesquely on display.
If Christian nationalists succeed in making America a theocracy, January 6 will become a national holiday.
How extensive is this pernicious movement? “Taking America Back for God” authors Whitehead and Perry found out when they conducted a large-scale national survey that showed approximately 20 percent of Americans “strongly embrace Christian nationalism.”
While so far lacking enthusiasm for martyrdom, suicide bombings, political assassinations and flying airplanes into buildings, Christian nationalism resembles radical Islam in many respects. For example, while silent on expectations of virgins in Paradise, 65 percent of today’s evangelicals believe in the Rapture!
American women already have some sense of how things could be in this country, if Christian nationalists usher in an American theocracy, that is, before their apocalyptic Rapture sets things right. There are many biblically-based and novel-based accounts of what the Rapture might look like–think, “The Republic of Gilead” as described in the dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
Why is religious extremism a wellness issue? It’s because REAL wellness thrives on reason and science, choices, free speech, equality, tolerance for differences, and all manner of personal liberties and Enlightenment values we take for granted in the West. These freedoms are not associated or compatible with political Islam or Christian nationalism. Republican controlled state legislations provide a vivid lesson of what to expect if Christian nationalists gain control of government. Abortion restrictions in the US are entirely driven by a religious minority which seeks to impose its extremist worldview. The year 2021 has been record-setting in the adoption of abortion restrictions -106 such laws have been passed this year alone.
Self-righteousness, self-loathing and self-pity all breed the intolerant, violent ways of Muslim and Christian extremism, different one from the other only in degrees.
“Infidel” and “Heretic,” and the much anticipated Report of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, are excellent primers for REAL wellness seekers. All will enable Americans, secular and otherwise, with well justified concerns about malevolent aberrations in these religions, to understand and support reforms to safeguard our democracy and cherished freedoms.
Let us remain alert and work to do what we can to support and safeguard a secular society where, as John F. Kennedy pledged in 1960, support for the separation of church and state will be absolute.
Reason, exuberance and liberty would, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be lost if the American people really believed and wanted a country that was “one nation, under God.” This meaningless, mindless and false slogan is bad enough (very bad); the reality would be catastrophic.
About the Author
Donald B. Ardell wrote the landmark book, “High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease” in 1977 and has produced the REAL Wellness Report since 1984 (900 plus issues). He created the concept of REAL wellness® based upon reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. He’s a life member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and a Robert Green Ingersoll enthusiast who lectures on both REAL wellness and “The Great Agnostic.” Don’s a world champion triathlete, having won more than a dozen national and seven world titles. His website is donardell.com. His latest book is entitled, “Not Dead Yet: World Triathlon Champions 75+ Offer Tips for Thriving & Flourishing in Later Life,” available on Amazon.
- Ali, Ayaan Hirsi, “Infidel: My Life,” Free Press, 2007; “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now,” Free Press, 2015.
- Hitchens, Christopher, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Twelve Books, 2007.
- Seidel, Andrew, “The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American,” Sterling, 2021.
- Santayana, George, “Christian Morality,” Little Essays, No. 107.
- Whitehead, Andrew and Perry, Samuel, “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2021.
- Martin Gardner Interview, Skeptical Inquirer (March/April 1998).
- Whitehead and Perry, op.cit.Ibid.
- Stewart, Dan, “What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture.” Time Magazine, June 29, 2014.
- 10.Atwood, Margaret, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” McClelland & Stewart, 2019.
- 11.Burton, Tara Isabella, “Ideas About The “Rapture” Are Rooted In A Quintessentially American Form Of Evangelical Christianity.” Vox, December 12, 2017.
- 12.Alvarez, Barbara, “Guide: Fight for Abortion Rights.” Freedom From Religion Foundation, October 22, 2021.
- 13.An excerpt from a debate at the Oxford Union at Oxford University, England in 2005 amplifies this point: “In the melting pot called America, we are one nation under the godless Constitution (or maybe under Canada), but we are not one nation under God. In fact, given how the religious right opposes the teaching of evolution, or any scientific or social view that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible, we are really becoming one nation under-educated.” Herb Silverman, “A Walk Down the Thames Path and Memory Lane.”