From January 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month that Changed America Forever by James Robenalt:
...even a top leader of the United Church of Christ labeled [the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade] ‘historic not only in terms of women’s individual rights but also in terms of the relationships of church and state.” The clergyman’s reasoning: “Although religious principles often form the basis of secular law, we hold that where religious beliefs vary, American law traditionally establishes the neutrality of the state. The doctrine of one religious group is not imposed by legal fiat or enforced by criminal sanction on the rest of American society.”
There’s the rub.
The Religious Right believes that that one religious group does get to impose its doctrine on the rest of society.
And they don’t believe religious beliefs vary. There are no religious beliefs. There is only belief. Belief in the one, true God. Their God. So there is belief and there is godlessness. They are the believers. Everybody else is godless. And the godless have no religious liberty because they have no religion. So the only religious liberty that needs to be respected by law, custom, tradition, and practice is their own.
Right Wing Christians do not understand the phrase “religious liberty” as meaning that individuals have the liberty to worship as their beliefs and consciences dictate, anyway. When they say the United States is a Christian country they mean it’s a country in which Christianity rules. Their brand of Christianity. They are the only true Christians. Their “religious liberty” is the liberty to tell everybody else what to believe and how to conduct their lives, and whenever they are blocked from doing that, they feel their liberty threatened.
In their mouths “religious liberty” is just a synonym for "us" or “we”. So they’re not saying “religious liberty is threatened.” They are saying “we are threatened.” It’s another Right Wing “Us versus Them”-ism. And the majority of Americans are them.
“America is a didactic country whose people always offer their personal experiences as a helpful lesson to the rest, hoping to hearten them and to do them good---an intensive sort of personal public relations project. There are times when I see this as idealism. There are other times when it looks to me like pure delirium.”---from Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow.
“This might have been a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that people need a little loving and, God, sometimes it’s sad all the shit they have to go through to find some.”---from “The Betrayed Kingdom” by Richard Brautigan.
I don’t get the point of Ashley Madison.
Isn’t half the fun of an affair that’s it’s an unplanned giant mess that ends in heartbreak, recrimination, the hiring of lawyers, the possibility of violence and bloodshed, and general humiliation for everyone involved?
Well, as it’s ending for Ashley Madison’s lovelorn clients exposed by the hack.
And as it did for those two state legislators up in Michigan.
I was saying the other day that one of the things I like about Twitter is how it sometimes surprises me with news and information I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
Not every surprise is a nice one and there are things I would have been happier not knowing about and information I’d rather not have.
The story of those two state legislators is a case in point.
As usual, it’s not the sex that’s dirty. It’s the hypocrisy.
One of them boasts on her campaign website she's for "Strong Families!" You know, like people who don't cheat on their spouses are for weak families. Her thank you letter to her constituents ends with “With Firm Reliance on Divine Providence.”
The other one, the fake gay guy who likes to be tucked in for his nap, is quoting the bible on his Facebook page to explain it all away. He wants us to know he’s still a good Christian, God is still his pal, and we shouldn’t blame either Christianity or God for this.
Both feature lovely Sears Portrait Department quality photographs of them with their spouses and children. Together they sponsored a bundled set of bills designed to get around the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, legislation that would “would prohibit clerks, judges and other government officials from performing weddings. The legislation would require all marriage certificates to be signed by a religious leader.”
Neither one plans to resign from offices they won promising to force their right wing Christian values on everybody in Michigan.
Of course they’re Republicans. Of course they’re “Christians.” Of course they’re pro-life and pro-family which means anti-sex.
Of course, of course, of course.
And it is of course.
Right Wing Christians give themselves permission to sin.
Some of the worst behaved people are those who know they are going to heaven, and cheating on their spouses is among the least of their sins and crimes.
And it’s all ok because they are good. Being good means they don’t---can’t---do anything bad.
People are no good. One of the no good things about us is how good we think we are. We're always telling ourselves we're good.
Among the worst behaved among us are the ones who can tell you just what makes them so good and how they know they're going to heaven and YOU aren't.
Conservative rhetoric is all a matter of conservatives finding ways to tell themselves how good they are, how "we" are going to heaven and “those others” aren’t.
But I'm not just talking about Right Wingers. It’s an American affliction. We love to boast. About anything and everything. One of our best tricks is bragging about how modest we are. Another favorite trick is to put the bragging and boasting in the form of advice. “Let me tell you how you can be as wonderful as I am. That way you can get to heaven too.” Heaven, of course, can take many forms. There are plenty of liberals who apparently believe there's a liberal heaven and they can tell you exactly how they know they're going there and YOU aren't. They LIKE to tell you.
Generally, it's a pretty easy path to liberal heaven. You just have to vote for the right candidates and adopt the right attitudes.
There’s a difference, though, between sanctimonious liberal hypocrites and conservative self-elected members of the elect like these state legislators. But before I continue climbing up on my high horse about them and their ilk, three names.
Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton.
Just something to keep us from getting too full of ourselves.
The disgusting thing about the Right Wing hypocrites is their determination to police the bedrooms of people whose love lives are more respectful of self and partner, more faithful, more family supportive and supported, and generally healthier and happier than their own.
It’s not simply the hypocrisy. It’s the envy, malice, and spite. It’s their determination to make life a misery.
It’s happiness they hate. Their own as much as everyone else’s.
And it goes beyond attempts to deny people fun and happiness in bed. Look at how they set out to punish the poor. The worst thing poor people do in their eyes is use aid money to bring a little joy and comfort to their lives. The poor are supposed to be abject, miserable, and ashamed. That’s a religious tenet with many conservatives. But life for everybody is not meant to be enjoyed, merely suffered through on the way to heaven.
It comes very close to believing that being born human is a sin.
Things are predictably tawdry up in Michigan. Both lovers have “apologized” in ways that make clear they’re only sorry they got caught. Their families have been dragged into it. She has done what male politicians caught cheating do and made her husband stand next to her and look supportive while she confessed to TV cameras to how she had humiliated him. It’s already becoming more than a sex scandal as they both may have used state money to cover up their affair, a possible crime that the legislature has to investigate, meaning a headache for their colleagues and fellow Republicans and a bill charged to taxpayers who were promised they would save money if they voted Republican.
And now it turns out that the staffer who exposed their affair and the details of sex games they played in the office, claiming he was too morally offended to keep quiet, is a client of…Ashley Madison.
Now I’m the hypocrite. I said I wished I didn’t know about any of this. But I want to know. I want to know more. I just don’t want to know it from Twitter. Or Facebook. Or anywhere online. Or from newspapers or TV news.
They’d all just give me the facts. The facts are boring and tawdry and don’t tell me anything. They don’t tell the story. I want the story. The whole, true story.
I want to know what was going on in these people's heads.
For that, you need fiction.
Usually when I talk about why we need fiction, I’m looking for a short story or a novel to help make my case. This time, though, I’m thinking we need a movie.
And I have an idea who I’d like to write it and direct it.
In Election and Citizen Ruth, Payne showed that he can tell the stories of people who, knowing themselves to be on the side of righteousness, that is, people who know they are going to one form of heaven or another, give themselves permission to engage in all sorts of bad behavior. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Citizen Ruth and I should watch it again soon---it’s streaming on Netflix. So is Election but I don’t feel a need to re-watch that one because I’ve never been able to forget it since I saw it when it first came out. It was one of the most cringe-inducing movie-going experiences of my life, because I identified too closely with Matthew Broderick’s character, Jim McAllister, the nice guy high school civics teacher who humiliates and then destroys himself through vanity and self-deception.
I think when they think of the movie, most people focus on the student, Tracy Flick, and not without good reason. Tracy is a vividly drawn monster of ego and ambition brilliantly brought to life by Reese Witherspoon. At the time Election came out, national political reporters and pundits amused themselves comparing Tracy to Hillary Clinton, who was then caught up in her own election, running for the United States Senate. This was unfair and mean and dirty-minded, to boot, because no one except the most dirty-minded ever really thought Hillary got ahead by seducing her mentors. It was sexist, too, in that it was based on the assumption that the only real-life versions of Tracy Flick are female. But on top of everything else, the comparison missed an important point.
Tracy isn’t the main character.
She’s not even the movie’s villain.
She’s far from admirable, of course. But she is smart and hard-working and she has reason to believe deserves to be elected class president. She has good ideas she knows how to implement. She is competent and accomplished. She is, by her lights and by the lights of most adults, an ideal student.
It is the case that because she’s smart, accomplished, has good ideas she knows she can make work, and she normally follows the rules, she’s given herself permission to break rules that get in her way. Break is the wrong word. Ignore is too. She doesn’t see them. But that doesn’t make her the movie’s villainess. That makes her very much like Broderick’s character.
McAllister knows himself to be a good guy, a good husband, and a good teacher. And knowing all this about himself, being proud of it, and constantly congratulating himself on it, which means telling himself he’s going to nice liberal guy heaven, he sets out to do things he knows are wrong---or that he would have called wrong before he was tempted to do them---and wrecks his marriage, wrecks his career, and nearly ruins the lives of other students besides Tracy, and in the end he doesn’t learn anything from it. He’s still congratulating himself on what a good guy he is and telling us---as the narrator of his own downfall---how he knows he’s still going to heaven.
From E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March:
Churches had always made Will nervous, perhaps beginning when he was just a tad and saw his mama and papa become completely different people in church from the drunk and the shrew they were in the rest of the week. He didn’t know what churchgoing was for except for people to pretend to be better than they were, and it was that pretense that frightened him. From this his idea grew along with him and now, looking around, he saw the same open mouths and glazed eyes of singer but knew they not only pretended but wanted to be better people than they were. But this was a no more comforting insight, given the war that was going on which meant no matter what people wanted, or thought they wanted, they would still go and do what they had always done, finding different ways to sin against their Lord and then going to church to buy some repentance that would clear them for a while and then building up the sin again and coming back for another installment of repentance, and so on…
Long time ago now, but I'm pretty sure it was the impressionist David Frye who introduced me to both the fact of the Reverend Billy Graham's existence and the irony of Graham's fame and success: Graham had made himself rich preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was a joke about Graham's expensive suits that clued me in that Graham was at best a hypocrite. It was probably Frye's impression that damned him as a fraud and a conman in my eyes.
Frye prepared me to not be surprised when my first encounter with the real Billy Graham was as Richard Nixon's favorite preacher and spiritual advisor.
My reaction was, "Well, of course," and from there on I saw Graham only as one among the cast of clowns, knaves, dupes, crooks, sharpers, and greater and lesser villains who surrounded Nixon, a supporting player in the beginning-to-unfold drama of Watergate.
Life is more complicated than you think when you're twelve. Billy Graham was never the demagogue, racist, and hate-monger his son Franklin Graham is. He was hardly progressive in much of his thinking. He’ll have a lot to answer for when he finally gets to heaven, starting with his helping Nixon sell the expansion of the War in Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos. But he made clear his opposition to segregation and apartheid at crucial times. He was friends with Martin Luther King. Nixon wasn’t the only President who befriended him, sought his counsel and his at least tacit endorsement or, at any rate, negotiated to head off his public disapproval. That included John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and, eventually, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But Frye's devastating caricature defined him for me, and I never took him seriously as a man of the cloth, let alone the national religious leader he was. I didn't pay any attention to anything the news reported about his preaching and tuned it out when it happened that one of his Crusades was on the television at my grandparents' when we visited. This was Pop Mannion's parents, and I never figured that out, why they apparently liked Richard Nixon’s favorite preacher. They were both good New Deal Democrats and Catholics. My other grandparents, Mom Mannion’s parents, both Republicans, preferred Bishop Sheen. Grandpa and Grandma Mannion also liked Lawrence Welk even though Grandma Mannion listened to Top 40 rock and roll on her transistor radio and had an admitted crush on Tom Jones.
Hey, it's not unusual.
Anyway, back to Billy Graham.
Like I said, I pretty much ignored him, taking his fraudulence and his hucksterism for granted, and not really aware of exactly what he was preaching. I assumed it was some version of anodyne and easy Christianity that made the faithful of every faith feel good about not being among the real sinners and all they needed to do to get to heaven was show up in church once a week and look down their noses at anyone they could identify as not among the saved.
I took it as a given that, whatever passages he was quoting from the gospels, he wasn't emphasizing the ones about camels and needles eyes and not storing up treasures on earth and selling everything to follow him. I figured Graham wouldn't be brazen enough to call attention to the words of Jesus he was so clearly not living out in his own life.
This was actually something I was thinking about seriously in a different context. As a Catholic, I was wondering about what the bishops thought they were up to. Why did we have "Princes of the Church" living like princes?f
So either it escaped my attention or I just filed it with my other growing concerns about religion as practiced in the United States, but I can't remember knowing that Graham hadn't gotten rich preaching the words of Jesus Christ. He'd gotten rich preaching that it was ok to ignore the words of Christ.
Graham was one of the stars of Christian Libertarianism, a perversion of Christianity that turned it into a religion for the aggrieved rich. As Kevin Kruse lays out in One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Christian Libertarianism arose and walked in the 1940s and 1950s as a counter to Franklin Roosevelt's effective use of Scripture to justify the New Deal.
Contemporary Right Wingers, including just about every Republican running for President, blather about how we should govern ourselves according to biblical principles. Well, so did FDR, although he had in mind things the bible actually said about what we now call social justice, which naturally infuriated the people Roosevelt cheerfully condemned as the malefactors of great wealth. They resented the implications.
If Jesus was on the side of the New Dealers, whose side did that put them on?
Their reaction was to reinvent a Jesus who was on their side. Their Jesus' first commandment wasn't "Love one another" it was "Every man for himself." Christianity wasn't about the practice of charity and mercy. It was a program for getting rich. One of the earliest preachers of this gospel of how to pray and grow rich, James W. Fifeld, a Congregationalist minister to the wealthy in Los Angeles who had already figured out what Graham would quickly figure out---there was more money in ministering to the rich and powerful than to the poor and humble, but not if you told the vain and greedy suckers things like their having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel did of squeezing through the eye of a needle---even preached that all those things Jesus supposedly said about camels and needles eyes, not storing up treasures on earth, casting bread upon the waters, and whatever you do for the least of his brothers and sisters were likely mistranslations and so could be ignored or at least treated as conveniently symbolic.
As Kruse told Terry Gross in an interview for NPR’s Fresh Air:
[Conservative business leaders enlisted ministers] to make the case that Christianity and capitalism were soul mates. This case had been made before, but in the context of the New Deal it takes on a sharp new political meaning. Essentially they argue that Christianity and capitalism are both systems in which individuals rise and fall according to their own merits. So in Christianity, if you're good you go to heaven, if you're bad you go to hell. In capitalism if you're good you make a profit and you succeed, if you're bad you fail.
The New Deal, they argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God's will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.
Graham signed onto the cause early and preached along the same lines. From One Nation Under God:
In 1954, Graham offered his thoughts on the relationship between Christianity and capitalism in Nation’s Business, the magazine of the US Chamber of Commerce. “We have the suggestion from Scripture itself that faith and business, properly blended, can be a happy, wholesome, and even profitable mixture,” he observed. “Wise men are finding out that the words of the Nazarene: ‘Seek ye first of the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’ were more than the mere rantings of a popular mystic; they embodied a practical, workable philosophy which actually pays off in happiness and peace of mind…Thousands of businessmen have discovered the satisfaction of having God as a working partner.”
He wasn’t just piously pro-business. He was devoutly anti-union. By Graham's lights, it would seem, Jesus, the carpenter's son, who recruited fishermen as his first and favorite apostles, must have been at least as censorious of union workers as he was of the lawyers and Pharisees, we're just missing the relevant passages from the gospel accounts of the Sermon an the Mount.
Graham’s warm embrace of business contrasted sharply with the cold shoulder he gave organized labor. The Garden of Eden, he told a rally in 1952, was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.” The minister insisted that a truly Christian worker “would not stoop to take unfair advantage” of his employer by ganging up against him in a union. Strikes, in his mind, were inherently selfish and sinful. In 1950, he worried that a “coal strike may paralyze the nation”; two years later, he warned that a looming steel stoppage would hurt American troops fighting in Korea. If workers wanted salvation, they needed to put aside such thoughts and devote themselves to their employers. “The type of revival I’m calling for,” Graham told a Pittsburgh reporter in 1952, “calls for an employee to put in a full eight hours of work.” On Labor Day that same year, he warned that “certain labor leaders would like to outlaw religion, disregard God, the church, and the Bible,” and he suggested that their rank and file were wholly composed of the unchurched. “I believe that organized labor unions are one of the greatest mission fields in America today,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great if, as we celebrate Labor Day, our labor leaders would lead the laboring man in America in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?”
Graham was on the make right from the start. Like Fifeld, he saw where the money was and he set to work right away courting the rich and powerful. One of his intended marks was the President of the United States, Harry Truman. Truman was not any more popular among Christian Libertarians than Roosevelt had been, but Graham was always a smooth operator and recognized the value of having friends on all sides. Graham finagled a White House meeting with Truman.
It didn't go well.
Although Graham was delighted to make new friends in [Congress], he had a bigger target. During the Boston crusade, he told a reporter that his real ambition was “to get President Truman’s ear for thirty minutes, to get a little help.” He peppered the President with letters and telegrams for months but had no luck winning an invitation until House majority leader John McCormack intervened. To Graham’s lasting embarrassment, their July 1950 meeting was an utter disaster. He and his three associates arrived at the Oval Office wearing brightly colored suits, hand-painted silk ties, and new white suede shoes. They looked, Graham remembered with a grimace, like a “traveling vaudeville team.” The president received them politely. A devout but reserved Baptist who was wary of public displays of piety, he held the foursome at a distance. When Graham asked if he could offer a prayer, Truman shrugged and said, “I don’t suppose it could do any harm.” The preacher wrapped his arm around the president, clutching him uncomfortably close. As he called down God’s blessing, an associate punctuated the prayer with cries of “Amen!” and “Tell it!”
After the visit, reporters pressed Graham’s group to divulge details while a row of photographers shouted at them to kneel down for a photo on the White House lawn. To their later regret, they agreed to both requests. In sharing details with the press and posing for the picture, Graham had made a significant, if innocent, mistake. The president now viewed the preacher with suspicion, dismissing him as “one of those counterfeits only interested in “getting his name in the paper.” Feeling used and furious as a result, Truman instructed his staff that Graham would never be welcome again at the White House as long as he was president…
Truman has a lot to answer for himself, but there’s a reason we’re still wild about Harry.
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse is available in hardback and for kindle at Amazon.
You can read the highlights and listen to Gross’ whole Fresh Air interview with Kruse at NPR by clicking on the link: How 'One Nation' Didn't Become 'Under God' Until The '50s Religious Revival.
One of the things Graham will have to answer for is a meeting he had with Nixon in which Graham talked about Jews in a very Nixonian way. Graham often broke with other conservative Christian leaders and his outreach to Jews and his many friendships with Jewish leaders was truly ecumenical and not just opportunistically based on the role Israel will supposedly play in bringing about the apocalypse. But there he is on tape sounding very much like Nixon, spiteful, conspiratorial, paranoid, and outright anti-Semitic. The best that can be said in his defense is that as a practiced grifter and sycophant he was reflexively telling his mark what he wanted to hear. Graham doesn’t defend himself and has apologized. Here’s a New York Times story from March of 2002, Billy Graham Responds to Lingering Anger Over 1972 Remarks on Jews.
Photo of middle-aged Billy Graham clutching a bible (top) and photo of younger Graham preaching to a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1954 (midway down) courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
I don’t mean the day he was inaugurated. And I don’t mean the day he was elected. It might have been the day he clinched the election, although if you look at the polls going back into the summer, it looks pretty clear that he was well on his way to winning before either convention, but people were temporarily fooled by McCain’s post-convention bounce. But what I mean is that this was the day when Barack Obama became President in that it was to him the country began looking for the leadership and reassurance we always look for in our Presidents in moments of trial and crisis.
From The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis:
By Thursday, September 18, 2008, however, the big picture had grown so unstable that the small picture had become nearly incoherent…On Monday, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch, having announced $55.2 billion in losses on subprime backed CDOs, had sold itself to Bank of America. The U.S. stock market had fallen by more than it had since the first day of trading after the attack on the World Trade Center. On Tuesday the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it had lent $85 billion to the insurance company AIG, to pay of the losses on the subprime credit default swaps AIG had sold to Wall Street banks---the biggest of which was the $13.9 billion AIG owed to Goldman Sachs. When you added in the $8.4 billion in cash AIG had already forked over to Goldman in collateral, you saw that Goldman had transferred more than $20 billion in subprime mortgage bond risk into the insurance company, which was in one way or another being covered by the U.S, taxpayer. That fact alone was enough to make everyone wonder at once how much of this stuff was out there, and who owned it.
The Fed and the Treasury were doing their best to calm investors, but on Wednesday no one was obviously calm. A money market fund called the Reserve Primary Fund announced that it had lost enough on short-term loans to Lehman Brothers that its investors were not likely to get all their money back, and froze redemptions. Money markets weren’t cash---they paid interest, and thus bore risk---but, until that moment, people thought of them as cash. You couldn’t even trust your own cash. All over the world corporations began to yank their money out of money market funds, and short-term interest rates spiked as they had never before spiked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 449 points, to its lowest level in four years, and most of the market-moving news was coming not from the private sector but from government officials. At 6:50 on Thursday morning when [FrontPoint hedge fund manager Danny Moses arrived at work], he learned that the chief British financial regulator was considering banning short selling---an act that, among other things, would put the hedge fund industry out of business…
…At 10:30, an hour into trading, every financial stock went into a free fall, whether it deserved to or not…
It had been four days since Lehman Brothers had been allowed to fail, but the most powerful effects of the collapse were being felt right now. The stocks of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were tanking, and it was clear that nothing short of the U.S. government could save them. “It was the equivalent of the earthquake going off,” [Danny] said, “and then, much later, the tsunami arrives.” Danny’s trading life was man versus man, but this felt more like man versus nature: They synthetic CDO had become a synthetic natural disaster…
Bush had already absented himself from the job. And McCain panicked, pretty much letting everyone know who didn’t already he didn’t have what it takes to be President. I’d have to do some rummaging through the virtual library, but I think it was about then that McCain became a supporting player in his own campaign and Sarah Palin, God help us, took over the starring role. But Obama remained what had always been his most Presidential quality, steady. If anything, he got steadier. Calmer. People looked at him and they saw their President already at work. That was the day Mitch McConnell lost too. And Mitt Romney. There would be plenty of people who didn’t like seeing him as the President. Who wouldn’t vote for him no matter what. Who would never admit he’d actually won. Who still can’t admit it.
But from that day on there were always going to be a majority of Americans who would look at him and see---not our President---the President.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation's original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.
He didn't know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that.
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
You can watch the whole eulogy here. Clear some time: It’s nearly 40 minutes.
Read the transcript.
I’ve said it before. When Republicans read Oliver Twist they think, “You know, that workhouse sounds awfully cushy.”
Now we know that at least one Republican running for President missed the point of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
You’ve probably heard that in a book he wrote in 1995 when he was running for governor of Florida the first time (He lost that one.), Jeb Bush came out in favor of publicly shaming unwed mothers and pointed to The Scarlet Letter as though it was 1. actual history, 2. a lesson in civil government, and 3. a depiction of a morally superior society we’d be well to emulate today.
This is Hawthorne’s depiction of the society so good at shaming unwed mothers Jeb Bush praised and helped try to bring back with a law he signed when he was governor (having won the office on his second try, just in time to help his brother steal the Presidential election):
The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some rioted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant Indian, whom the white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.
And this is how Hester wore the mark of her shame:
On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore, and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
The public shaming of Hester Prynne that opens The Scarlet Letter is shown to be part and parcel of an authoritarian and rigidly legalistic culture based on religious intolerance, racism and white supremacy, slavery, superstition, and legalized sadism. Oh, and did I mention the misogyny? Yes, they knew how to shame unwed mothers, and they knew how to hang witches.
I’d hate to know what Jeb thinks is the moral of The Crucible.
The Scarlet Letter is about the hypocrisy and cruelty of the society and the religion that Bush appears to have been nostalgic for. Hester is the novel’s heroine for defying that society, for refusing to be shamed. The climax of the story is the revelation and public shaming of the chief hypocrite and moral coward.
Did Bush or his ghost writer ever read the book? Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to condemn and reject what Jeb Bush is using it to justify. It’s as though he read it and said, “That Chillingworth fellow, he seems like a decent chap.”
Twenty years have gone by since Jeb wrote his book and his views may have changed and he may even have gone back and re-read The Scarlet Letter and understood it this time. It doesn’t matter, because if anything the party he wants to nominate him for President has grown even more Puritanical since then and the public shaming of women, all sexually active women, not just unwed mothers, is intrinsic to their public social policies and private religion and morality. Hawthorne would recognize them at a glance.
Shoot. As usual, I had trouble keeping up with the rest of the class. Here’s Buzzfeed doing their usual cut and paste tweet report: Twitter Had A Lot Of Fun Imagining Jeb Bush In English Class.
A gold star for Lauren: “Why is Jacob Marley being punished for his success? A Christmas Carol is class warfare on the rich!”
Rick Santorum, who, like I was saying the other day, I 'm convinced got into the Presidential race just to prove my point about what the Republicans are up to, has had a few things of his own to say to the Pope lately, mostly along the lines of the Pope doesn't know what he's talking about and should shut up.
On June 16, Pope Francis is expected to release an encyclical letter on the environment, the Catholic Church’s strongest statement to date on the moral issues associated with climate change. It’s a move that has environmentalists very excited — and one GOP presidential nominee less than thrilled.
During an interview with a Philadelphia radio station on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum — a devout Catholic — said that while he loves Pope Francis, he thinks the Pope should leave discussions about climate change to scientists.
“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” Santorum told radio host Dom Giordano. “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”
You might think that for Santorum, a supposedly devout Catholic, listening to the Pope along with the scientists, even ahead of the scientists, would be a requirement, what with the whole papal infallibility thing. There's a loophole in that. The Pope has to say he's being infallible on any given issue in order for what he says to be taken as infallible. Still, he is the Pope.
But Catholic conservatives have shown themselves to be just as self-satisfyingly selective as any other cafeteria Catholics. For instance, their pro-life stance ignores the Church's teachings on war and the death penalty. And they are positively heretical on the subject of poverty---it's not particularly pro-life to leave people to starve or freeze or swelter to death in their homes and on the streets---to the point of believing that Jesus himself preached a gospel of spite and malice toward the poor and the sick and the downtrodden and his first commandment wasn't “Love one another” but “Every man for himself.”
They've also been less than attentive to those passages in the gospels dealing with needles' eyes, not storing up treasures on earth, and selling everything to follow him.
Jesus, it turns out, intended us to pray and grow rich.
So they pick and choose as they push their trays down the line towards heaven, preferring to concentrate on the teachings that let them judge others while not having to change or restrain their own behavior.
Those would be the other people having fun having sex parts.
Of course, I'm not one to cast stones. Even when I was a devout Catholic back in my altar boying days, I hedged and fudged, and I never took any Pope's or bishop's or priest's or nun's word for things as the last word. There's a long tradition of loyal dissent within the Church and questioning and doubt have always been encouraged. Sure, we had the Inquisition, but we've had the Jesuits too, not to mention the Franciscans. (It's not been lost on sensitive and thoughtful Catholics that we have a Jesuit Pope who took the name of the Church's greatest but mildest-mannered subversive and rebel.) On top of that, I'm an American before I'm a Catholic, and I mean culturally. To the degree this is a Christian country, it's a Protestant one, and so my religious upbringing is suffused with Protestantism. That means I've inherited a tradition of consulting my own conscience and listening to it ahead of any preacher or priest.
So, I can't fault Santorum for listening to his own inner Protestant, if that's what he's doing. He's as free to disagree with the Pope as I allow myself to be. The difference between us is that I don't go around making a show of being more Catholic than thou and I'm not running for public office on the promise to turn the dictates of my conscience into laws everybody else has to obey regardless of what their consciences tell them.
But to get back to the subject, which is what Santorum said.
The Pope should leave science to the scientists.
A lot of folks have had fun pointing out that by education and training the Pope is a scientist.
Following Santorum's logic, the Pope should listen to himself and what he's saying to himself is “My training as a scientist teaches me that my fellow scientists are right and we've got to do something about climate change and save the planet.”
In effect, then, the Pope is saying what Santorum says we should do, listen to the scientists.
And, following his own logic, Santorum should listen to the Pope and listen to the scientists.
But Santorum is actually against listening to the scientists. However devout a Catholic he professes to be, he is an even more devout Republican, and the Republicans' first commandment on climate change is Thou shalt not pay any attention to the scientists because they're wrong!
That devout Republican divine, Jeb Bush, annotates this with a red-letter dismissal of people who listen to the scientists as arrogant.
Santorum has seemingly talked himself into trouble here by putting himself in the position of contradicting himself. It should be worse for him as a devout Catholic because in telling the Pope to leave science to the scientists he also told him to stick to matters of theology and morality, but as ThinkProgress’ Natasha Geiling points out:
The Catholic Church has long framed climate change as a moral issue, noting that its potential impacts — rising sea level, more frequent extreme weather events, and natural resource scarcity — disproportionately impact poor and developing nations.
The Church has always put its position on caring for the environment in explicitly moral terms.
The Church puts its positions on everything in explicitly moral terms.
That’s what makes it the Church.
Santorum knows that.
At least, he ought to know it.
Which makes what he said either nonsense or something more than a self-contradiction---an out and out attempt to deceive voters about what the Pope is doing.
In short, a lie.
And a lie for political gain.
Some Catholics would put that in moral terms and call it a sin.
But the question is, as it is with every stupid and deceitful thing any Republican says, does he know what he's saying?
I mean, does Santorum or any of them listen to themselves and think about what the words they're using mean?
My blanket answer to that is no. They don't. They don't listen to the words they use as words, only to the sounds they put into the words. Words as words long ago ceased to matter to Right Wingers. Words are only useful to them as sounds for expressing their feelings. This is how they can lie and contradict themselves without compunction or shame. The feelings the words give sound to are honest and never change. It's how they’re able to say two things within the same sentence that cancel each other out and then step back smirking smugly as if they've just made an irrefutable argument even a Vulcan couldn't poke holes in.
Usually the feelings the words are giving sound to are angry ones or hateful ones or fearful ones. But often they are vain ones. Vain not as in futile but as in self-flattering and prideful or, you know, as in the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins.
That's what Santorum is engaging in and enticing voters to engage in too. The feeling at work is the need to feel smart. That's what's behind that favorite Republican catchphrase, I'm not a scientist. It's heard by the faithful as an expression of contempt for the supposedly smart and an assurance that we regular folk are the truly smart ones.
Ultimately, it's a method for replacing thought with noise. It's a way not to have to think. And it's a tool for demagogues to deflect the mob from thinking.
I don't know if Santorum really knows what he's doing. I don't know if he's a skillful demagogue or simply an instinctive and well-practiced one. He's never struck me as particularly bright, even for a Right Winger. My suspicion is that he learned early to use words for their sounds and has picked up a larger vocabulary of useful words and phrases than the average yahoo stump speakers have at their command, enough to make him sound smart to himself and he's satisfied with that.
It doesn't matter what's going on inside his head because he's not the problem, just another walking expression of it.
The problem is that the Republican Party is a party that succeeds by elevating emotion over thought. Its leaders manipulate feelings and work to short-circuit thought in order to win over voters and gain and maintain power. The problem is that the Republican Party has become a threat to democracy by becoming a party of demagogues, charlatans, liars, hypocrites, grifters, sideshow hucksters and carnival barkers hustling the all too willing suckers into smirking, self-satisfied ignorance and self-deception, all, ultimately, with the aim of making a buck---for themselves and for the greedy rich men who run the show.
To make a moral issue of it, the Republican position on climate change weaves together the cardinal sins of the three sects of the party: corporatist greed---The hell with the planet! We demand our profits now---Right Wing Christian vanity---God made this world with ME and MY needs in mind.---and Tea Party anger and spite---No dirty hippies, uppity women, or lazy and thieving You Know Whos get to tell me what to do! It compounds them with sloth---Nothing we need to do about it, the problem will fix itself if God himself doesn't get around to it---and gluttony---So I might as well continue to guzzle gas and waste energy and not only maintain but increase my self-indulgent, fossil fuel-burning dependent lifestyle. And it tops it off with envy that expresses itself in the form of contempt for the learned, expert, intelligent, and competent---I’m no scientist, but I don’t need to be, and who says they’re so smart anyway?
I haven't figured out how, but lust must figure in it some way.
Republicans are nothing if not thorough in their hypocrisy.
For further study:
Santorum Wants The Pope To Back Off Talking About Climate Science and Santorum: I’m More Qualified Than Pope Francis To Talk About Climate Change Because I’m A Politician by Natasha Geiling and Jeb Bush Says People Who Accept Climate Science Are ‘Really Arrogant’ by Emily Atkin, all at ThinkProgress.
Wednesday night. May 27, 2015.
The knitting circle was back at Barnes & Noble tonight. One of their members specializes in little dolls and she made the barista’s Spider-Man assistant. At another table, a bible study group was meeting. Two white men, one in his thirties, the other in his late forties or early fifties, and a black woman in her late fifties. Her hair was pulled back in a loose bun and she wore a black sweater over a red top and an ankle-length blue floral print skirt and sandals. She held her purse on her thigh and kept one arm firmly on top of it as if guarding it from purse snatchers although nothing about her expression or demeanor said she was worried or fretful or suspicious or thinking about anything else but the conversation about which she looked serious but not solemn. The two men wore sport shirts, both light shades of green, though that was probably a coincidence. The older of the two men was leading the discussion. He had a bible open in front of him on the table with large squares of text highlighted in green. Now and then he would raise both hands over the pages and gesture to emphasize a point. The gestures were gentle and graceful, reassuring rather than didactic. He wore glasses with darkened lenses and sometimes took them off and held them professorially by the stems to look down through them and scan for a particular passage to help make his point. His lips were heavy and much darker than his face, more brown than pink, a contrast that didn’t look natural to me. That is it looked to me that something was not right with complexion, and it may not have been. He was completely bald, his scalp too smooth hairless in that way that says chemo not shaving.
The younger man had dark hair. His back was to me so I couldn’t make out much about him. The way he sat was suggestive. He was leaning far over to his left, his elbow on the railing of the breakwall separating the cafe from the rest of the store, as if trying to put distance between himself and the others. It was probably just him making himself comfortable but in a movie or a painting it would have been suggestive of his resistance to what was going on. The discussion was for his benefit. The other man and the woman were instructing him. Might be better to say they were giving him the benefit of their thoughts and experience. They were bringing him to church. I couldn’t hear what was being said although Jesus’ name kept coming up. In a matter of fact way, though, not as an admonition or a halleluiah. They spoke softly, without drama. They were earnest but not insistent, their voices calming, comforting, coaxing, helpful. Loving. Like I said, I couldn’t hear exactly what they said but it all sounded very…Christian.
May 19, 2015.
Just finished T.C. Boyle's short story "Bulletproof”. It’s about a school district in New York not far up the Hudson River from New York City--- that is, in my neck of the woods---fighting over "teaching the controversy" in the high school biology classes. Someone on the school board has had stickers slapped on the covers of the textbooks that say :
“The theory of evolution as put forth in this text[...]is just that, a theory, and should not be confused with fact."
The narrator has no personal stake in the debate. He has no children in school and isn't ever likely to. He's in his forties, divorced, his marriage broke up a long time ago, before he and his wife got around to starting a family, and he doesn't see himself marrying again. And he's not much of a concerned citizen. He doesn't get involved in local politics. In fact, most of his pleasure in life derives from finding ways to feel uninvolved with everything.
"Bible-thumpers," I said without conviction. I was in a bar. It had been a long day. I wanted to talk about nothing, sports, women, the subtle manipulations of the commercials for beer, cars, Palm Pilots. I didn't want to delve beneath the surface. It was too cold down there, too dark and claustrophobic.
He takes it for granted that evolution is a fact proven by science and science should be the only subject taught in science classes. He's not hostile towards religion but he's not religious himself but he takes a cynical, skeptical, detached, uninvolved view towards belief of any kind that gets people riled up or distracts them from taking care of the practical realities of the moment. He's loyal to his friends Dave and Katie who are infuriated by the intrusion of what they regard as stupidity and superstition into their daughter's education and and he agrees to go to a school board meeting to protest the stickers for their sake. But he's not about to let it upset him and the routines of his life. He thinks politics and religion don't really matter to who you are. If two people have enough other things in common, they can ignore their differences of opinion on those matters. This is true. It happens in real life all the time.
Still, he's surprised when he finds himself attracted to one of the creationists he encounters at the meeting. Actually, he's surprised that a woman he's attracted to turns out to be a creationist. It didn't cross his mind during their initial moment of mild flirtation that she might have been there to support the board's decision. When he realizes his mistake, he's put off, at first. But his male vanity takes over. He wants her to be attracted to him as if that would require her to admit he's right. They have a couple of dates. They have a good time. And he begins to think it really doesn't matter what she believes about science and religion. And it seems that it doesn't matter to her what he believes.
What happens, though, is that he discovers that what he believes matters to him.
Good story. Bit of a caricature of Right Wing Christians and secular liberals but Boyle captures the types involved. The meeting is where most of the caricaturing takes place.
"Bulletproof" was published in 2008, but the meeting Boyle describes seems inspired by the town hall meetings that filled the news in the months leading up to the 2010 mid-term elections at which Tea Party Types, organized and following instructions, shouted down Democratic politicians and anyone in the room they disagreed with, shutting down anything like real debate. They weren't meetings that got out of hand. They were protest rallies held by people who knew what they were doing.
Based on what I've seen of public meetings going back to Pop Mannion's first days as our town supervisor, I'd say people attending them tend to do the opposite of self-caricaturizing. If a caricature is an exaggeration that captures an essential quality of the subject, people at public meetings make an effort to de-emphasize their personalities. They try to sound like good citizens. They become stiff, their speech gets stilted. They work at being reasonable or at least reasonable-sounding. When someone gets emotional it's usually someone who's overly emotional in any situation and the crowd is embarrassed for them or by them. Sometimes meetings get out of hand and people let their real feelings show. Most of the time, though, instead of making themselves caricatures, they make themselves into clichés and bore each other.
So the meeting in "Bulletproof " strikes me as too dramatic and interesting. It's Boyle allowing himself a little poetic license. Which is fine. Boyle works in caricature anyway, subtle caricatures. His characters tend to be a little too much themselves and life itself a little too much itself, if you know what I mean. But one of the things I admire about Boyle as a writer is he's one of the few writers of literary fiction who takes as his subject life in these United States today and he seems to have set himself the job of portraying every conceivable type of American nut, loon, eccentric, and wildman and wildwoman. His school board meeting doesn't match my experience so I don't see it as realistic but it works for his purposes.
It's also not realistic to me that this could happen in this part of New York State. Other more northern or western parts of the state, maybe, but not this part. Because it hasn't in the eleven and a half years I've lived here. I wish it had or would. I'd like it to happen in our school district so I could go to a school board meeting to ask some questions.
Well, of course I don't really wish it. I'm glad I live in a place where it's not likely to happen that Right Wing Christians could take over the school board and try to introduce creationism into the curriculum. I lived in one of those places once upon a time. Fort Wayne, Indiana has its charms and intellectual enlightment is actually one of them, but the city is an island of rationality in a sea of yahooism and the yahoos invaded frequently. But I really would like to ask the questions and one of the things that is realistic in "Bulletproof" is the possibility that yahoos---we have them here, too, just not a critical mass of them---could sneak a majority onto the school board because few people pay attention to school board elections. We had one here today and while I voted in favor of the budget, I didn't vote for a single candidate for school board because I didn't know a single one of them. And unlike the narrator of Bulletproof I am a concerned and involved citizen. If any of them campaigned at all, I wasn't home when they knocked on the door. For all I know they're all Fundamentalist Christians or Communists or Rastafarians. Stickers challenging evolution could appear on the biology textbooks this fall but so could stickers declaiming capitalism on the covers of the history books.
I've never taken part in this debate in real life but the response to the Christians who object to evolution is that Christians aren't obliged to reject evolution. You can have a fish and a fish with legs on the back of your car without self-contradiction.
Plenty of Christians accept evolution as the way God did it, starting with the Catholics. So creationists can't claim God's on their side here.
Do they know that?
I'd like to get their answer to that. I'd like to see at least one of them trying to get their head around it.
I suspect I know their answer.
The Catholics and Episcopalians and Lutherans and other Denominational Protestants who accept evolution as a fact aren't just wrong, what they think and believe on the subject doesn't matter because they aren't really Christians.
They are the only real Christians and because this is a Christian nation their beliefs are the only ones that count and the ones that should be the beliefs that dominate the public square and carry all debate.
I'd like to hear one of them tell a roomful of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other non-Christians that they aren't real Americans.
They say it all the time when they think it's just them paying attention.
I'd like to hear them say it to our faces.
Back to reading.
And here’s Boyle’s website.
Reminded myself, back in February I wrote about a Montana state legislator who introduced a bill that might have banned the wearing of yoga pants in public. I wondered about what kind of person would even think there needed to be such a law and said I thought the only way to get close to an answer on that would be through fiction and I mulled over what famous fiction writers would have taken on such a character in their fiction. It didn’t occur to me although it should have that Boyle was doing that in his fiction as a matter of course.
Has God spoken to John Kasich yet to tell him whether or not he should run for President?
When God does get back to Kasich, I wonder how he’ll do it?
Handwriting on a wall? In a still, small voice? Will the skies open up? Will a burning bush be involved? He could speak to Kasich in a dream. Ample precedent for that. Angelic messengers are another favorite mode of divine communication.
Maybe he’ll text.
God is on Twitter, you know.
Jesus H. Christ on a cracker! There’s a politician living in America in the 21st Century who believes or thinks he has to pretend to believe that God likes to play fantasy football with American democracy. Kasich was born after World War II so he grew up with the problem of a God who let the Nazis murder ten million people and yet he still thinks God cares who runs for President of the United States?
Over the weekend more than eight hundred migrants and refugees from Africa died in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean. Eight hundred people gone in the blink of an eye and because the smugglers they paid to carry them away from wars and poverty and famine locked the doors. Where was God? Busy trying to decide if he wants John Kasich to form an exploratory committee?
Over the centuries God has watched as multitudes of his children have been wiped from existence by wars, famines, plagues, genocides, earthquakes, floods, erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, plane crashes, car crashes, train wrecks and shipwrecks, and other calamities and catastrophes, natural and man-made. If he actively involves himself in our lives to the point of picking and choosing which vain and ambitious mediocrity runs for political office, then the logical conclusion is that he lets all this happen and it means that either we don’t matter to him or he hates us.
Kasich is hardly alone among politicians who assume God has nothing better to do but advance their careers. George W. Bush assumed it. I wonder if when he and God speak---if they’re still on speaking terms---Bush asks God why he called on him to lose a war, let a city drown, and dither helplessly as the economy fell apart.
Considering God’s voting record, it should be a given that if God chooses a politician to lead us, he’s doing it to punish us.
Or fuck us over just for fun.
Either way, politicians who announce God told them to run are warning us not to vote for them if we know what’s good for us.
Right now there are thousands---Thousands? Millions!---of parents praying to God not to let their children die of illnesses and injuries and John Kasich is interrupting to ask him to focus his attention on him and his ambitions which, by the way, if realized, would result in President Kasich signing into law the repeal of Obamacare, taking away insurance from the families of many of these sick and broken children and in effect condemning them to death.
Kasich thinks God might want him to be President so more children will die?
That’s not faith. It’s blasphemy.
Not all Christians worship a God who commands them to be homophobic bigots. The Presbyterians just discovered that their God not only doesn’t object to same-sex marriages, he wants to attend them. Actually, given the “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder” idea that’s a feature of most Christian weddings, this means in effect that he doesn’t just plan to attend, he plans to officiate.
NEW YORK -- The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved redefining marriage in the church constitution Tuesday to include a "commitment between two people," becoming the largest Protestant group to formally recognize gay marriage as Christian and allow same-sex weddings in every congregation.
The new definition was endorsed last year by the church General Assembly, or top legislative body, but required approval from a majority of the denomination's 171 regional districts, or presbyteries. The critical 86th "yes" vote came Tuesday night from the Palisades Presbytery in New Jersey.
After all regional bodies vote and top Presbyterian leaders officially accept the results, the change will take effect June 21.
You can read the whole story, Presbyterian Church recognizes same-sex marriage, at CBS News.
Sadly, the old angry, violent, and malicious sky demon is still out there. Not all the Christians who worship him believe he commands them to blow up churches, but that’s the problem with letting people decide they know what God wants.
I don’t believe in God but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe he exists. He’s just not a felt presence for me.
He’s gone for me and I can’t get him back.
I can’t even as an intellectual exercise think my way to considering him as a plausibility.
But in no way do I think you’re wrong if you believe he does exist. I just wonder what you believe he is and what you think he’s up to.
Looking around for signs that he’s there and clues to who he is and what he’s up to, I don’t like what I see.
When asked what he deduced about the character of the Creator based on his studies of God’s creations, the British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane liked to say that from what he could tell God, if he exists, seems to have “an inordinate fondness for beetles” since he made so many of them.
Sometimes he added “and stars.” God made a lot of stars too.
I’m apparently of a less cheerful and good-humored disposition than Haldane. From what I can tell, God, if he exists, seems to have a fondness for letting people suffer and die because he allows so much of both to happen.
That’s not a God I want to exist.
As a Catholic growing up, I wasn’t taught that that God exists. I was taught God was an all-loving God who made the world good and for our good but, because he gave us free will, either out of weakness or foolishness or to serve our own selfish ends, we choose to make a mess of it for ourselves and everyone else. That would mean we’re the ones with the fondness for letting people suffer and die.
Haldane was being witty anyway. “An inordinate fondness for beetles” was his sly way of pointing out that whatever any God who might exist is up to, human beings and their needs and interests don’t appear to be his primary focus or concern.
That’s something I suspected about God even back when I was a kid and a devout young believer.
There’s an episode of M*A*S*H in which a bombardier whose B-52 was shot down is brought in to the 4077th with a severe case of what Hawkeye and B.J. think is combat fatigue but is actually a crisis of conscience. He’s decided he’s not who he was. He’s Jesus Christ. As Army psychiatrist Sidney Freedman explains, “some men lose an arm, or a hand or a leg. Chandler lost himself. He's not playing a game. He spent two years dropping bombs on people who never did anything to him, until finally something inside this kid from Idaho said, 'Enough! You're Christ, you're not a killer. The next bomb you drop, you drop on yourself.”
Trying to get a handle on what’s going on inside the bombardier’s head, Sidney questions him as if he is Jesus.
“Is it true,” Sidney asks, “that God answers all prayers?”
“Yes,” says the bombadier, with a heartbroken look in eyes and tears beginning to run down his cheeks, perhaps thinking of the people he killed who must have prayed to be spared when they saw his plane overhead, “Sometimes the answer is no.”
That the answer can be no is something that even the slowest grade school believer comes to terms with the first time he prays for a Tom Seaver to turn up in his next pack of baseball cards and finds five utility infielders in there instead. But it becomes a problem to wrestle with when an entire schoolroom full of good Catholic boys and girls led by a nun pray for the starving children in Biafra and those children still starve by the thousands.
For a while I was able to console myself with the thought that the answer wasn’t actually a flat out no. It was, “It’s up to you to make sure they don’t starve.”
But over time it became clear that the answer is so often no that when somebody gets what looks like a yes you have to wonder if God made a mistake…or if it was simply coincidence and God had nothing to do with it.
This isn’t how I lost my faith. I didn’t reason my way to disbelief any more than I could reason my way back into believing.
But as I was saying above, even when I believed I didn’t believe he involved himself much in our affairs. He had other and larger things on his mind. We literally weren’t at the center of his universe. We were a late addition to his Creation and will in all likelihood have been long gone by the time he’s through with it.
And when I concluded that this detached, disinterested, and largely absent God was the God I believed in, it wasn’t any sort of a leap to realize that this wasn’t exactly the same God the nuns and the priests and the Pope and my parents believed in. Thinking more about it, I realized that they didn’t believe in the exact same God as Protestants believed in. (The Catholic and Protestant Gods are at odds over questions of transubstantiation, good works, and predestination, to list just a few examples.) Still later, when I learned that there are Christians and there are Christians! it became abundantly clear that, although they had points of similarities, the God of one sort of Christian wasn’t the God of all the other sorts.
Now, leaving aside the many Americans who don’t believe in any God, there are millions of Americans who believe in a God who is not the same God as any of the different Christian Gods.
This poses a problem for a self-governing people supposedly living in one nation under God and putting their trust in him.
One irksome trait these different Gods have in common is they’re constantly meddling.
God’s supposed meddlesomeness has always been a sticking point for me.
God has a plan.
He does, does he?
Yours? Mine? His? Hers? Theirs?
Let’s say yours. What’s his plan? How do you know what it is?
And why should I or any of the millions of other Americans who don’t believe in your version of God consent to being governed according to your interpretation of his plan? Why should we take your word for it? Why should you take ours, for that matter?
The fairest, least complicated, least troublesome, and most effective way to avoid having this debate every time we set out to pass a law is to govern ourselves as if God has nothing to do with it.
We work this out as something between ourselves trying to do what’s best for the most number of people while doing the least harm to everyone and anyone. We reason our way together to self-government without resorting to appeals to a divine arbitrator, whose character and even existence is debatable, to over-rule each other’s arguments.
This doesn’t mean individual lawmakers can’t or shouldn’t consult their consciences, pray for guidance, and make decisions about what’s right and what’s wrong according to the teachings of their faith. Nor does it mean they shouldn’t talk about how their faith figured in their thinking, although it would be polite of them to keep it to themselves. It means that when they sit down to write and pass laws they expect the rest of us to accept and abide by they better present other and more persuasive arguments than “Because God told me so.”
The problem is that there are an awful lot of people who think “Because God told me so” is all the argument they need or the rest of us need to hear. And they know the answer to Whose God? Their God! Because they know he’s the only God. And they know what his plan is. How do they know? Well, they know because they know, and they know because they know.
They feel his existence to same degree that I don’t.
They, of course, are the Christian Right and the Republicans who represent them in Congress and the state legislatures. And they are perfectly fine with the idea of governing the rest of us according to the dictates of their God.
Who is a demon.
The God of the Christian Right is capricious, cruel, vindictive, and violent. He hates the poor and wants them punished. He wants us to burn up the planet, poison its waters, foul its air, slaughter every beast of the earth and every bird of the heavens and every thing that creeps upon the earth in order to make ourselves rich. He likes war. He demands it. He crashes airplanes into buildings and wipes out 3000 people in a flash, sends tornadoes and floods to flatten and drown whole towns and cities killing and destroying the lives of many innocents as a warning to millions of sinners who are allowed to go on sinning as long as they acknowledge they’re sinners and God could punish them for it if he chooses to. For over twenty years he wanted thousands and thousands of young men to die slowly and horribly for the sin of loving other men. Apparently he’s either changed his mind on that one or medical science is the devil’s work. These days he doesn’t seem to go out of his way to punish homosexuals with agonizing deaths but he doesn’t want them to be happy and expects believers to do what they can to deny them happiness. He flat out doesn’t like women, doesn’t care about their health, wants men to make decisions about their health and well-being for them, has put them here only to be babymakers and wives, and has arranged things so that their only route to happiness in this life is through marriage and motherhood. And he really, really hates education or at least any education that undermines his authority as exercised through tyrannical parents and self-serving preachers.
And this is the God the Christian Right wants us to swear allegiance to. This is the God they want us all to believe in. This is the God they think every Christian who believes in God believes in.
On top of all this, he’s meddlesome. He’s constantly busy working his will, using individuals and whole nations as his tools and pawns. Everything that happens happens according to his plan. We have no say and no control. We’re here to do what he wants us to do. And how do we know what he wants us to do? It’s in the bible, of course.
Which is a very strange God for people who purport to believe in self-government to put their faith in.
The God of the Christian Right is inimical to democracy. You don’t have a democracy if everybody must conform to laws and traditions dictated by an unquestionable tyrant in the sky whose will is interpreted and imposed by a select few basing decisions on their reading of a two-thousand year old collection of fables, fairy tales, legends, and just-so stories.
There is some nice poetry in the bible and there’s that little section devoted to the doings of an itinerant preacher who wandered around the Imperial Roman province of Judea for a few years trying to convince people that, as Douglas Adams put it, the world would be a better place if we’d all be a bit nicer to one another and got nailed to a tree for it, but nothing he said is meant to figure in the governing of the Christian Right’s idea of a “Christian” nation.
Right Wing Christians would probably object to my characterization of their God. They’d say, “We don’t recognize the God you’re describing or ourselves through him. That’s not what we believe at all!”
Know what? It doesn’t matter what you tell yourselves you believe. It doesn’t matter what pieties you exchange with each other at the church picnic. It doesn’t matter how nice you sound to yourself. I’m going by how you put your religion into practice in the public sphere. I’m going by how you vote. I’m going by what your preachers and leaders say that have you giving your enthusiastic Amen with your votes and campaign donations. I’m going by the politicians you elect and the laws they pass and try to pass with your approval.
Here’s something else. I’m sure you don’t recognize your own God, because I don’t believe you think about him very deeply. If you did, you might realize that he’s really two Gods. The loving, merciful, protective God you hope is looking out for you and the cruel and punishing tyrannical God you propitiate, obey, and try to sic on the rest of us through your politics.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it was the first God’s plan the Right wanted us to govern ourselves by. But it’s the second God who’s the more important to them and whom they want us to worship and obey.
Obviously this post was inspired by what’s been going on in Indiana but it’s important to note that that hateful law is part and parcel with just about everything else Republicans in every state where they control the legislatures have been doing. The law privileges believers in that second God over the rights of everyone and anyone else, and it does it because the people who wrote it and passed it and the governor who signed it believe that second God is the only God and the rest of us are obliged to live according to his plan.
You can look to just about every state capital where they’re in charge and find examples of their attempts to punish gay people, punish women, punish the poor, punish immigrants, punish the sick and disabled, punish working people just asking to make a decent living, punish anybody who isn’t white like them all in the name of their demon God. There are too many to get into here, but I’ll finish with this.
Out in Colorado an expectant mother was stabbed by another woman who cut the fetus out of her womb. A state legislator who is also a minister went on TV to blame the attack on, well, ostensibly, abortion, but when you get right down to it, on God. His God anyway.
"This is the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb, and part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open."
Like I said, a demon.
Kevin M. Kruse’s op-ed in the New York Times---A Christian Nation? Since When?---is interesting but I’m not sure I buy it. I think the idea this is a Christian nation was introduced a little before the end of World War II. Somewhere around 1620, in fact.
And it wasn’t the brainstorm of desperate capitalists. The Pilgrims weren’t capitalists, at least not at the start.
The Founding Fathers did not found the United States. The United States wasn’t founded in 1776. It existed long before that, people just didn’t know exactly what to call it. But Benjamin Franklin, among many others, made the case for Independence based on the idea that we were already a nation unto ourselves, separated from England by our character and our culture and by traditions and ideals that grew out of those and by political practicalities made necessary by the physical facts of the country itself---the distance between here and England, the distances between one locality and another. It was a big place and a faraway land and the people living here developed a habit of self-government that taught them to think of themselves as if they inhabited their own country. And they took it for granted that they were living in a Christian nation basically because almost all of them were Christians. The legal arguments of a group of lawyers and intellectuals trying to put together a government that most of these people would accept carry weight but they don’t by themselves define us as a nation.
Constitutionally we’re not a Christian nation. Culturally, historically, and traditionally we are.
The question from the start wasn’t whether or not we were a Christian nation but what did it mean to be a Christian nation? What did that entail?
The argument began when the Puritans about to set sail for the New World decided to let non-Puritans join their company.
We’ve been arguing over it ever since.
Slavery was both condemned and defended on Christian principles.
Prohibition grew out of a temperance movement that was dominated by Christians and Christian ideals.
The Civil Rights movement was based to a great degree on the idea that we are a Christian nation and it was time we started acting like one.
It’s only lately that the argument has changed from what kind of Christian nation are we to are we a Christian nation at all.
Right Wing Christians and other conservatives and Republicans pushing their belief that the United States is or ought to be a Christian nation want to impose a very specific sort of Christianity on the rest of us: authoritarian, patriarchal, joyless, unforgiving, without charity or mercy. apocalyptic, and exclusionary---if you aren’t their idea of Christian, you aren’t a Christian, and if you aren’t a Christian, you aren’t American.
If they wanted this to be a Christian nation based on what Christ actually said and taught, I might have no objection to that. Or I might if even that didn’t exclude the growing number of Americans who aren’t Christian.
But to get back to Kruse’s op-ed, which seems to have been adapted from his forthcoming book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America and so it’s necessarily reductive and probably doesn’t do justice to the whole of his argument: the desperate capitalists who started making the case that Christianity and Capitalism went hand in hand and therefore good Christians were opposed to the New Deal weren’t inventing the idea that the United States is a Christian nation, they were exploiting it. And perverting it.
Still, you should read the whole thing.
Another hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.
There’s not much to be gained by lumping the Founders together on this or any question, something the Right and the Left need to keep in mind. Jefferson wasn’t exactly Christian, John Adams and George Washington were. But it doesn’t matter what they believed as individuals. It matters how they thought the country was to be governed, and they deliberately left explicit references to Christianity out of the document establishing that. That didn’t mean they didn’t still think of this as a Christian nation. Washington defended the rights and liberties of non-Christians but not on the grounds that this wasn’t a Christian nation but that it was meant to be an inclusive one.
As for Franklin, he wrote this in a letter near the end of his life:
Here is my creed. I believe in one God, creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do…in whatever sect I meet with them.
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the Dissenters of England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needles to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displease.
---Quoted in The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands.
Pass this church just about every day as I run various errands and every time I go by I feel a little tug. Some part of me wants to stop in and say hi.
I’m not sure who to.
I don’t know anyone who belongs to this congregation. I don’t know anything about the church. It appears to be non-denominationally Protestant, but whether it has any broader affiliations I can’t tell. Their website is as spare and unadorned as the church building itself with barely more information on it than is in this photo. Doesn’t even give the pastor’s name. Sunday services are at 10:30. The office is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings and part of the afternoon and on Friday morning. They have a food pantry. On the second Friday evening of each month they hold a “Prayer for Israel.” I wonder about that. Are they praying for Israel’s continued survival and well-being or for its conversion? Do they think they’re living in the End Times? No clue on the website. In tiny script way up in the top left corner there’s a citation. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verses 1-5. It’s one of those convoluted and ambiguous passages of Paul’s that have always given exegetes fits and put altar boys to sleep. This one is as Jesus-centric as you might expect from a church that feels it has to identify itself as “Christian,” but the gist of it is that we should strive to be as humble as Jesus was. Paul’s riff on the first shall be last. So there’s a hint here that at this church you’re expected to do a little more than praise Jays-us and boast of your personal friendship with him to get into heaven. Still, prejudice and experience make me suspicious of these little, out of the way, unaffiliated “Christian” churches. Odds are there’s nobody in the congregation I want to get to know more than to say hi to.
On the other hand, the messages on the marquee change regularly and are always cheerful and welcoming, often amusing, sometimes genuinely witty, although usually they include a bad pun. But the pastor is clearly trying. I’d like to think he or she is being self-expressive and is like the messages, cheerful and welcoming and possessed of a sense of humor. Maybe the pastor’s somebody I’d enjoy saying more than hi to.
But probably not much more.
After all, the pastor and I wouldn’t have much business to conduct together, me being an unbeliever and not just uninterested in conversion but actively hostile to the notion and anyone who’d think to try.
But you know what? It may be that the person I feel like saying hi to isn’t the pastor but the pastor’s boss.
And HIS son.
I don’t believe in God but I remember believing in Him intensely enough that sometimes I forget I don’t believe. The memory of my former belief fools me into thinking it’s the actual and present thing. So I routinely backslide. The moment of doubt in the form of reflexive, remembered belief never lasts more than a moment. I quickly catch myself and drag myself to the Mourner’s Bench to testify to my lack of faith. But the fact is that I still believe in Jesus and Mary and in many of the saints as real people who used to walk the earth and whose teachings and examples are still inspiring, encouraging, and worth following and now and again I forget in their case too and catch myself thinking of them as still alive---up there, out there, in here, somewhere---and paying attention. And when I shake myself out of it, I feel their loss. I miss them. I still miss God like that sometimes too. I miss the company.
Even when I was a good little Catholic schoolkid and an altar boy---one of the world’s top altar boys, as a matter of fact---I didn’t believe God was involved very much in His children’s daily lives. He obviously didn’t answer all prayers. I couldn’t decide if it was because He wasn’t actually omnipotent, that in creating the universe He’d made a rock too big for even Him to lift, or if it was the Free Will thing at work, or if He just had other things to take care of, or if it was simply that His plan for the universe didn’t hinge on any of our individual happiness. Whichever it was, it didn’t stop me from thinking of Him as benign and, if not involved and constantly interfering, always sympathetic and ready to listen.
I was skeptical of the catechism on the point of God’s having made me because he loved me. I got into trouble in first grade for asking Sister Mary Francis about that one. “How could he love me if I wasn’t born yet?” I wondered. She made me kneel down in front of the crucifix at the front of the room and pray for forgiveness for I was never sure what. I prayed, all right, for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to save me from this crazy nun. I never doubted, though, that God cared that I had been made.
I believed it mattered to Him when I was feeling hurt or scared or alone.
I believed this more strongly about Jesus and even more strongly about Mary.
That’s what I went to church for. Their company.
Over time I came to believe that that’s what everybody who went to church regularly went to church for. The company. But not the company of God or Jesus or Mary or the saints.
For each other’s company.
I still believe that. I believe that’s true of everybody who goes regularly to a temple, synagogue, mosque, shrine, or a circle in the woods.
And this is why I’m not an enemy of religion.
Yeah, right, Lance, say some of you who’ve noticed I don’t have much good to say about Christians.
I don’t have much good to say about the Catholic Church either or, at any rate, about its supposed princes.
But I’m not completely in agreement with those online atheists who seem to believe that all the world’s problems would go away if people would just get it through their heads that there is no God.
There are moments when I think the only hymn any of should know and sing is John Lennon’s “Imagine”, but those moments pass like the moments when I think I still believe in God. People don’t kill each other because of religion. They kill each other for self-interested reasons and then justify it by invoking their gods. Take away the gods and they’d find other justifications or they wouldn’t bother justifying it at all.
There are forms of religion that are dangerous and destructive. It’s long past time to do away with the Abrahamic sky-god who has done nothing but cause 3500 years of trouble in the Mideast while he’s had fun inciting the believers of three versions of the same religion devoted to him to kill each other a over a patch of sand. People are adept at perverting the most benign of beliefs. There are militant killer Buddhists. And the Religious Right here has turned Christianity into a cult of enforced joylessness, ignorance, paranoia, and self-sabotage.
Still I don’t believe religion itself---the human habit of organizing around a common belief in a deity---is bad in itself. I actually see it as providing some good things.
One of the goods that religion provides is an argument against getting caught up in the mundane cares and concerns of our daily lives.
But nothing’s good that’s not also bad. The idea that this world and this life don’t matter as much as we think they do gets dumbed down into the idea that this world and this life don’t matter at all, which is very useful to the mountebanks, charlatans, and con artists passing themselves off as preachers and to the corporatists who run the Republican Party. There’s money to be made and power to be gained in convincing the suckers there’s no point trying to fix problems in this world because it’s all part of God’s plan, the point is to get to the next world, and whoever says otherwise---liberals and intellectual types mainly---that the problems of the here and now need to be fixed and can be fixed by us without God’s performing miracles and that we can and should be happy, is doing the devil’s work.
On the whole, I think the best way to show faith in God, if there is a God, and do His work is to pay attention to what’s happening in this world and not think too much about the next.
But I see another important good religion---really going to church or schul or temple or mosque---provides, what I said above, company, as a good it’s not my place or my wish to disparage, downplay, or discourage.
It’s not God believers are putting their faith in as much as it is each other. They are putting their faith in a community, not experienced as an abstraction, but physically. They need that. We all need that. We all need to feel we belong, that we’re involved, that we matter. We want to know others notice we’re there and notice when we’re not and care.
This isn’t something we can only get from going to church or should only get from going to church. We get it first and foremost from our families---or should get it from them and do if we’re lucky. We get it from our neighbors. We get from the places where we shop regularly. We get it at the barber’s and the stylist’s. At the doctor’s and dentist’s. We get it from the local post office and library. We get it at our favorite bar, restaurant, diner, and coffee shop. We get it down at the garage, at the bank, at the town hall when we stop in to renew the sticker that lets us use the town dump. We get it at the town dump. Some of us still get it at the lodge or at the union hall. That’s one of the chief goods unions provide, in fact. We don’t matter to the bosses. We do matter to each other. Most of us though get it primarily from work, from being at work and from doing work.
And these days we seem hell-bent on depriving ourselves of each other’s company.
In the online Utopia we’re in a hurry to create the library is always open, the bank, the bookstore, the video store, and school and office too and isn’t that wonderful? As if the whole point of anything and everything is an immediate material benefit.
We don’t go to the library just to look something up. We don’t go to the bank just to cash a check and go to the post office just to buy a stamp. We don’t go to work just to earn a paycheck. And we don’t go to church just to worship whatever version of God gets worshiped there.
We go, I say again, for the company.
And this is what I’m reminded I miss when I pass by the Mid-Hudson Christian Church. It’s not anyone at that church I feel the urge to stop in and say hi to. It’s people at my church, my old church, my old churches, the one I grew up in, the ones we raised our sons in. And I shouldn’t say I miss the church. I miss the parish. I miss belonging to those communities.
I could remedy this easily enough. It would be no problem to start going to our old church up in New Paltz again. It would take some pretending. I’d have to go through motions I now think of as dumbshow and nodding along in put on agreement with things that now strike me as childish nonsense. But I could do it. And I could sing along with the hymns or at least mouth along---I can’t carry a tune and I’d be embarrassed to offend the ears of people in the pews around me. I could stay for coffee and donuts after mass. I could attend the pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners and take part in the parish festivals. And maybe I’ll start doing that.
Someday when I’m feeling hurt and scared and alone and need the company.
In truth, Oklahoma’s Senator Jim Inhofe speaks only for the oil industry that pays him to obstruct any attempts to address global climate change until every last dollar is made off of burning every last drop of oil on the planet.
But he likes to pretend he speaks for God. I doubt he believes in God or cares if He exists. I think he’s just a cynical demagogue. But unlike most Christians he apparently reads the Bible and can quote chapter and verse. But it doesn’t matter what he believes himself. Inhofe knows the rubes and suckers he believes his voters to be believe and he’s willing to risk a divine smiting to rile them up with his holy roller routine.
God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains...The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.
Let’s put aside the fact that no one’s prosing that we change what HE is doing “in” the climate. The imperative is to change what we’ve done to the climate.
God didn’t fill the air with greenhouse gases and God isn’t tooling around town in a Hummer and God isn’t refusing to admit what’s happening because that would mean having to make relatively easy changes in the way we live and cost the oil industry a little money.
Think about what Inhofe says God is saying.
“Go ahead. Be as selfish, self-indulgent, irresponsible, profligate, and greedy and destructive as you want. Burn the whole planet up. I’ll clean up your mess later. And if I don’t get around to it in time, no worries. You’re going to like what I’ve got waiting for you in heaven.”
And Christians have no problem worshipping this feckless idiot of a God.
Inhofe, by the way, thinks he disproved global warming by demonstrating on the floor of the United States Senate that it snowed enough in Washington D.C. in February that he was able to make a snowball.
And people in Oklahoma have no problem voting for this idiot of a Senator.
By David Biello at Scientific American, How to Win Friends and Bamboozle People about Climate Change, a review of the documentary Merchants of Doubt.
Having lived most of my life in New York State with a couple of short stints in Boston and Iowa City and one other place I’m going to talk a little more about, I don’t know many Christians.
Of course I don’t mean Christians. I mean Christians.
Evangelicals. Pentecostals. Born-Agains.
Most people I know are Catholics and Jews and members of the higher-churchier Protestant denominations---Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists. Growing up I knew more Unitarians and Mormons than Christians. In fact, I’m just assuming I knew any Christians at all. Going over the first twenty-odd years of my life, before I ventured out to the Midwest, I can’t think of a single neighbor, friend, schoolmate, coworker, or casual acquaintance who was a Christian. It’s probable that all I really knew of Christians is what I learned from television and the movies, where they were usually depicted as caricatures or where, in the form of televangelists, they caricatured themselves.
The first two Christians who made a serious impression on my understanding of who and what Christians are were the contradictory figures of Jimmy Carter and Anita Bryant, and I quickly concluded that of the two, Bryant was the more representative, which means that I quickly concluded that most Christians weren’t very Christian at all.
There’s lots to be said about this. about Christians’ bigotry and hypocrisy and about my own prejudices and cultural snobbery, but the point I’m dealing with here is that until I got to Indiana I did not know personally anyone for whom their bible was the centerpiece of their faith.
Of course people I knew read it. Everybody read it. I read it. I had to study it for two years in grade school. The New Testament in fifth grade and the Old Testament in sixth. I posted about my sixth grade religious education back in December. It did not make me a biblical literalist. One of my best friends was an Orthodox Jew and he studied the Torah, but that’s hardly the same thing as what Christians mean when they say, “Read your bible!” But for my less orthodox Jewish friends, us Catholics, and the Protestants I knew, the bible got read mainly on the Sabbath, during services. And for us non-Christian Christians, the Bible might as well have been just the gospels, some key passages from Isaiah and the letters of Paul, and the Book of Psalms. Other than Isaiah and the Psalms, the Old Testament figured mainly as background. It was the history into which Jesus was born. And as history we were taught it was suspect.
At any rate, I grew up thinking of the Old Testament as a collection of stories, some true, some true-ish in being allegories and fables, and some just plain fiction.
To the degree the Bible was the Word of God, it was because God inspired the people who wrote it. He did not give dictation.
If He had, he would have been more strict with the thousand of translators who have garbled it over the millennia.
It wasn’t until I lived in Indiana that I got to know people who could be called honest to God bible-thumpers.
I arrived in the Hoosier State at the time Christians there were trying to drive Ryan White out.
This reinforced my opinion that most Christians are not very Christian. But by that time I had come to accept that most people, of every faith and of no faith, stink and are stupid---a belief, as I’ve said many times here, that has made me more tolerant, open-minded, and forgiving in my dealings with my fellow man and woman---so I was willing to give the Christians I immediately began to meet and get to know the benefit of the doubt. Some them quickly proved they didn’t deserve it. I lived in Boston for four years, but believe me you haven’t heard a racist joke in all it’s pure ugliness until you’ve heard one told by a sunny, smiling Midwestern Christian who’s just assumed you are eager to add to your own repertoire.
I hadn’t encountered as virulent and blatant homophobia before either.
It was also cheerfully assumed I shared the hatred and would approve of its expression.
But many Christians I got to know were decent people, quite nice, actually.
Most of the Christians I got to know, though, were my students at Ball State.
Generally, they seemed fairly typical college kids. The main difference between them and all my other students then and since and the people I went to college and grad school with was how open they were about their faith and how it didn’t take much to get them to talk about it or write about it.
I tried to discourage them from writing about it. I told them I didn’t want to be in the position of grading their relationship with God. It could attract the wrong sort of attention from the Almighty. Didn’t stop them. They didn’t seem able to help themselves. It just crept in. It crept into class discussions and office meetings too. It was a feature of their casual conversation. Bringing it up and talking about it was as unselfconscious and routine as talking about basketball. Well, almost. This was Indiana. So, one way or another, I got to know about their brand of Christianity. And I learned two things.
They all claimed to put great store in the Bible.
And none of them read it.
At least not since they were young children attending summer bible camps. And whatever they’d learned form reading it there, they’d forgotten.
The didn’t know the stories.
They didn’t know the story of Job. Or Lot’s wife. Or Samson at the gates. Or Judith, Jezebel, or Esther.
The names of the prophets meant nothing to them.
Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, The Song of Solomon were just familiar words like the names of albums by bands they’d heard of but never listened to.
In one class, I drew blank stares when I mentioned Jonah and the Whale.
They knew Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark. Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors---but I think that was because of the musical not their bible reading---Moses, David and Goliath and David and Bathsheba but not David and Jonathan, and Daniel in the lions den.
That was about it for their knowledge of the Old Testament.
As for the New Testament, they knew the major plot points. They knew who Judas and Pilate were. But they couldn’t name all twelve apostles or say who was the one Jesus loved. They didn’t know about the two thieves crucified with Jesus. They knew about the woman taken in adultery although I’m not sure how many learned the lesson from that one. Some of them seemed to know or at least recognize the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Characters from other parables, not so much. Despite their professed personal relationships with Jesus, the only words of his they could quote---paraphrase actually---were key passages from the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. They certainly couldn’t cite chapter and verse. Some of them only knew John 3:16 as words and numbers on signs held up at football games on TV, and that one is supposedly the key to their faith.
I know this about them because they regularly demonstrated their lack of biblical knowledge in class. Our readings were full of biblical references and allusions that they didn’t get and I had to explain to them. I had tell them the stories. This was fun, tell you the truth. I love telling stories. But it seemed odd to have to tell Christians the stories of Salome, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Temptation in the Desert, Peter’s three denials, and Saul on the Road to Damascus. And I wasn’t assigning lots of religious tracts. Biblical references run throughout American, English, and all of Western literature. We couldn’t get through a week without my having to take on the role of exegete. This was especially the case when I was teaching poetry. So, along with saving a marriage, the other good I might have done as a teacher was teach some bible-reading Christians what was in their bibles.
I don’t regard this as a religious or even spiritual good, although I like to imagine that some of them were inspired to go look the stories up and not just take my word for it and that they were surprised to read what Jesus actually said, especially about whatever you do to the least of his brothers and sisters and not storing up treasures on earth. Maybe a few of them even took a good look into the Old Testament and began to wonder what they were doing worshiping a bronze age sky demon with a fondness for genocide and mass murder. But the good I hope to have done is cultural.
In their ignorance of the bible they weren’t much different from the great majority of college students, then or now. I had to do the explaining and storytelling when I moved on to teaching at a prestigious liberal arts college back here in New York and I sometimes have to do it for my honors students at Syracuse. Few if any of them are Christians claiming to practice a bible-centric religion. Doesn’t matter. I don’t think I should have to tell any American college students the stories of the Judgment of Solomon or Susanna and the Elders, or the parable of the talents, or why Jesus wept.
If I do, I want it to be because it’ll be on the test.
It wasn’t back in Indiana that I began developing my idea that the bible needed to be taught in school. It came to me during a discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood in a seminar in grad school in Iowa when I was one of only three people in the classroom who saw that in what was happening to Hazel Motes O’Connor was retelling the story of Saul on the Road to Damascus and one of the three wasn’t the award-winning fiction writer teaching the seminar.
Like I said, all of Western literature is informed by the Bible as much or more than it’s informed by Greek and Roman myths and the fairy tales and folk tales of Europe. American literature in particular is infused with matters, tropes, symbols, metaphors, morals, lessons, and language that is biblical. The Bible---the Geneva and even more the King James---is a source, maybe the source, of the American language. We speak and write as we do thanks to people who taught themselves and their children to read from the Bible and who bequeathed us the idea of universal public schooling in which their version of standard English would be taught to everybody’s children. And there I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the company of people I thought aspired to follow in the footsteps of O’Connor and Melville and Faulkner and they didn’t recognize one of the most important stories from the New Testament? Hadn’t any of them read the Bible? How could they understand Wise Blood then? How could they know why Ishmael wants to be called Ishmael or appreciate the cadences of Faulkner’s prose?
Turned out most of them hadn’t read Melville or Faulkner either, so that was another problem. But that’s when I started thinking the Bible should be required reading along with the Iliad and the Odyssey, the tales of King Arthur, and the plays of William Shakespeare. Not to mention Moby-Dick, Absalom, Absalom!, and Wise Blood. If it can’t be taught in high school, then it should be required in college.
This has been proposed many times by many people before me and even implemented in places. It’s been opposed by people worried that it’s a way of sneaking religion into the public school curriculum and by people who worry that teaching the bible as literature will teach kids to think that’s all it is, literature, a collection of stories, folk tales, fairy tales, and myths no different from the stories, folk tales, fairy tales, and myths of any other culture. Exactly! That’s the point. Stories, folk tales, fairy tales, and myths matter because they tell the people within a culture what that culture is. They tell us who we are.
Bible literacy---not biblical literalism---should be the norm. And so I’m in favor of anything that spreads the Word or, rather, the words.
Well. Almost anything.
I’m not sure a Museum of the Bible funded by the folks at Hobby Lobby is a good way to go about this.
In Washington, D.C., construction is underway on the Museum of the Bible, an eight-story, $400 million enterprise funded by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.
Green is a Pentecostal known for donating to conservative evangelical universities and developing a public school curriculum based on the Bible. After the craft store's controversial victory in this summer's Supreme Court ruling over contraception, some people worry the new museum will come across as evangelical propaganda. But organizers behind Green's latest venture say it won't be a memorial to evangelism.
The museum’s president, Cary Summers explained to a reporter for NPR’s Morning Edition, “"We want this to be highly engaging for people of all ages, all cultural backgrounds, all faiths, no faiths”. Martyn Oliver, who teaches religious studies at American University, is impressed by with what he’s seen of the museum’s collection of artifacts and texts and thinks visitors to the museum will get to view the bible as a text that like other texts is subject to rethinking and revising and reinterpretation, that is, as a work of literature and not “the literal word of God”. And Tim Krepp, a lapsed Catholic who apparently hasn’t lapsed into any other religion and who works as a D.C. tour guide and already has plans to make the museum a stop on his itinerary even though it won’t open for two more years, seems prepared to give visitors to Washington he’ll be showing around town a purely informational tour of the museum.
Based on all that, I can imagine the museum evolving over time into a real museum, a place for study and actual scholarship. I can even imagine it being taken over someday by the nearby Smithsonian.
I can imagine it but I don’t believe it will happen, even over the long haul, and I’m very skeptical that when it opens it will be as ecumenical as Summers is talking it up to be.
You could call me a Doubting Thomas.
Well, you could if you aren’t a Christian.
You can read and listen to Rebecca Sheir’s whole story, D.C. Bible Museum Will Be Immersive Experience, Organizers Say, at NPR.
Images: (Top) Giovanni Domenico Tielpo: Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. (Second down, left) Bartolemeo Cavorazzi: St. Jerome in His Study. (Third down, right) Vincent Van Gogh: The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix. (Bottom, right) Caravaggio: The Conversion of Saint Paul.
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Sean Penn’s green card dig at his friend Alejandro González Iñárritu was boorish, insensitive, inappropriate, unfunny, kind of mean, and a real cheap shot. It was the kind of “joke” that only gets a laugh between friends who are in the habit of teasing each other. It’s not the kind of joke you should make in public especially when your friend's big night when he's just won his third Academy Award of the evening. Penn should have saved it for the party afterwards. Better yet, he shouldn’t have said it all and let his friend have his night. The fact that Iñárritu responded by giving Penn a big hug shows that Iñárritu is a gracious and forgiving friend and Penn is lucky to count him as one of his. So it was a rude and stupid thing to say.
But it wasn’t xenophobic or racist unless you believe that A.) only Mexicans get green cards and B.) Penn doesn’t want Mexicans to get green cards or anybody from anywhere to get them.
After Penn made his little not-funny, the scolds came out in force in my Twitter feed. Instead of listening to Iñárritu’s third great acceptance speech of the night, they tweeted their outrage at Penn, making sure all the world know that they knew better than Sean Penn, as if knowing better is the same as being better.
This is one of the things I dislike about Twitter. People use it as the opposite of a mourner’s bench. They stand up to testify about other people’s sins. Everybody does it. I do it. It’s typically human. It feels so good to be morally superior, especially when we’re feeling morally superior to someone who is in many other ways our moral, intellectual, or professional superior.
And sometimes we are morally superior.
Not enough times, probably, though.
After the Oscars were over I thought about this and tweeted:
Sean Penn raised $6 million for Haiti. I gave $10 to the Red Cross. I think I should keep my mouth shut.— Lance Mannion (@LanceMannion) February 23, 2015
This got a vanity-satisfying number of I assume approving retweets, although I must keep in mind “RTs =/= endorsement”. Which, by the way, is foolish. Why are you RTing then? You can “ endorse” a tweet without agreeing with it. If you feel you need the disclaimer why not put it this way: “RTs =/= agreement” or, more directly and honestly, “sometimes I RT stuff just for the sake of discussion” or “Sometimes I just like to troll my followers” or “If I RT one of your tweets, it might be because I want the world to see what an idiot you are”?
Anyway, I got RTed. I also got scolded.
The theme of most of the scoldings was that Sean Penn shouldn’t be awarded a Get Away With Being a Jerk Free card just because he's a rich do-gooder. Doing some good in Haiti doesn't give him permission to behave badly at the Oscars.
And I was reminded that my being comparatively poor and decidedly not famous doesn’t mean I have no right to criticize the rich and famous.
Thank you. That’s good to know. Now I can start a blog.
I also had it pointed out that Penn didn’t raise that money for Haiti. He raised it for his NGO to spend in Haiti, and NGOs are a suspect way to deliver aid to stricken nations. They go through too many middlemen, they put too much money and power in the hands of outsiders, they don’t make enough of an effort to involve local governments and local businesses and locals, that is, the people who are trying to rebuild their lives. They tend to spend their money on showcase projects that yield immediate and relatively easy success but don’t do any longterm good or do good in the places that need it the most. They misspend the money or don’t spend it at all. I don’t know how much of this is true of Penn’s NGO. Likely some of it, possibly much of it, I hope not all of it. But I don’t see that that matters to my point.
The question is, what was my point?
I made a half-hearted attempt to make it clear.
The tweet wasn’t about Penn.
It was about me.
It really doesn’t matter how much good Penn is doing with his NGO. It matters that I am not doing enough good with the limited resources I have.
I’m not talking about money.
I know about the widow’s mite.
There are ways of making the world better besides giving lots of money to charity or any money.
At the very least I can try harder to follow the the latest iteration of Do unto others:
“Try not make anyone’s day worse than it probably already is.”
I wish I could remember where I heard that so I could give whoever said it proper credit.
I’m not doing anything to make the world better by scolding Sean Penn for a bad joke in a tweet he will almost certainly never see.
I’m sure not doing it by parading my own virtue in front of other self-righteous paraders of their virtue.
What I’m getting at is that before I congratulate myself on being morally superior to the likes of Sean Penn I ought to work on becoming morally superior to me. I’m no saint and I'm not going to come close to becoming a candidate for canonization no matter how much I shape up before I hand in the lunchpail. But I can shave some time off my deserved long stint in Purgatory. Indignant tweeting about boorish movie stars who’d probably gotten a head start on the after-Oscars celebrating isn't going to do it for me, though.
At any rate, I hope that while they were furiously tweeting their indignation the scolds weren’t missing Iñárritu say this:
I want to dedicate this award to my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico, I pray we can find and build the government we deserve, and the ones who live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.
If the camera noticed him at all while Iñárritu was talking I didn’t catch it, so I don’t know what Penn’s reaction was. Probably somewhere between enthusiastic applause and jumping up and down, fist-pumping hooting, whistling, and loudly cheering.
Unless he was already backstage, buying drinks and waiting for his friend to join him so he could toast him with another round of bad, teasing jokes, in the goofy way guys do to avoid telling a pal we love him and are so happy for him our hearts are ready to burst.
Here’s the speech. Watch for the hug.
Iñárritu’s immediate response was the hug. Later he said he thought Penn’s dig was “hilarious” and he added, “Sean and I have that kind of brutal (relationship) where only true friendship can survive."
I’d call that pretty gracious of him.
I’d also call it a dig.
The fact about Penn and his NGO was pointed out to me by author and journalist Jonathan M. Katz whose book about the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, is gripping, infuriating, heartbreaking, and edifying. Penn figures prominently in a not unflattering light.
Penn started giving the extend answer the secretary-general hadn't, and his delivery was everything Ban's wasn't: demonstrative, vivid, intense. You cold forgive all the swooning he had elicted: He was handsome, if weathered by forty-nine years on earth and seven weeks in Haiti, with tanned skin wrapped tight around hollow cheeks, blue-ink tattoos running over veiny, muscular arms, and a pair of aviator sunglasses dangling from his neckline. As Penn explained the details of camp life, he seemed to draw from his recent portrayal of Willie Stark, the charismatic but vindictive governor of Louisiana in Steven Zaillian's remake of All the King's Men---though where that doomed character seethed with 1930s southern populism, Penn in Haiti went for the argot of the modern NGO. "Another thing that I think has to be very clear is that a tarp is not a tent," he said, squinting in the midday light. "A tarp structure is not a tent. A tarp structure sits on dirt. This is toxic dirt. This is dirt which carries backteria. This is dirt which could carry in high numbers of life-threatening bacteria, very shortly." Finally he nailed his point: "This is a camp that should be relocated, as many of them should be, flood zones and so on---and frankly in my view, we have to work to understand how to address the relative unliveability, currently, of this city, if only for children. You know, every good deed today is another cancer patient tomorrow, from what they are breathing on these streets."
The actor set out parameters for relocation with confidence of a hardened field manager: outside Port-au-Prince (the old dream of decentralization). Not in a flood zone. "Large-scale urban camps with manufacturing, deeded lands for agriculture, the ability to build communities." It was an impassioned plea, unfraid to contradict U.S. policy---tarps were a measly solution---and impressively informed on squatters' needs, especially considering it came from a newly minted, recently arrived aid worker. But perhaps it wasn't so hypothetical after all? When the Population Fund spokesman asked if Penn was helping to choose the resettlement sites himself---and odd question for an aid worker, let alone a celebrity, when you think about it---Penn surprised me again by saying that he "had a meeting with President Preval the other day in Washington and he's extended the members of his government to us who can advise us on this. We're going to be shown some of these sites."
I was confused. Sean Penn had a meeting with Preval? In Washington?...Penn, who had been involved in politics for years as an advocate, seemed to be taking the next step: contributing directly to policy making...
I'm no theologian, but I suspect that Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper [Chris Kyle], “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.”
That’s Starne’s gloss on American Sniper.
I looked through my bible and couldn’t find the passage where Jesus said, “Shoot all your enemies dead,” but I’m guessing it’s from the Sermon on the Mount, right around where he said “Love your neighbor”.
Tell you the truth, I didn’t know who Todd Starnes was, didn’t even know he existed, in fact, until I read he said this, and now I’m sorry I do. If you didn’t know either you’re probably sorry to have found out and I apologize for being the one delivering the news.
As Atrios and plenty of others like to remind us, a lot of what Right Wingers say they say just to piss liberals off. But there’s something else at work, as well. They’re trying to piss each other off too. They like being angry. More to the point, however, their pundits, their talking heads, many of their politicians, their halfway intelligent bloggers, all following Rush Limbaugh’s lead, are trying to piss off the conservative base. It’s a strategy. Make the yokels boiling mad and keep them mad at those Others and they’ll be too worked up to think about who’s really been screwing them over.
This is an inherent evil of the American Right, an evil it perpetrates upon itself as much as upon the rest of us: its divisiveness.
And this is not an effect of its rhetoric or its politics. It is the intent.
The object is to divide ordinary people from their fellow Americans, keep them from making common cause, and gull them into seeing people as enemies who are in fact their neighbors. Conservative “thinkers”---pseudo-intellectual apologists for the economic rapacity of the owner class---like to talk about rational self-interest. We don’t need the government to regulate the marketplace, they say; the people will naturally choose to act in ways that are orderly, civil, generous or at least moderate, because that is the best way to protect their own interests. But the object is to short-circuit rationality, replace thoughtfulness with gut feeling, convince the people they’re being cheated and robbed by THEM, the same THEM who are cheating and robbing the owner class so that they will mix up their interests with the interests of the owners. The intent is to divide them from their own self-interests and want not what’s best for them but what’s best for the owner class that’s exploiting them. The intent is to bamboozle them into thinking they belong to the owner class by giving them group after group of Others to look down upon the way the owners look down on them. Take them up on a mountaintop to show them the world spread out before them and say “All this is yours to despise.”
In short, the object’s to make suckers of the rubes and enlist them in their own fleecing.
Todd Starnes is one of the sideshow barkers in this carnival of thieves.
Starnes’ moment of exegesis reads like it was scripted not like something said off the cuff in a moment of inspired stupidity and rage while on the air. Which means he took time to think about it, about what to say, how to say it, and what effect he wanted it to have. I don’t know if he thought about whether it was true, that Jesus up in heaven is as bloody-minded and vindictive as his father’s portrayed in the Old Testament. Maybe he believes it. But I doubt he does or cares if it’s true.
In fact, I doubt he believes in Jesus or God at all. Not really. Not to any extent beyond a shrug of acceptance. If he did, he’d know that that’s the kind of vicious and hateful thinking that could get you dispatched to the lake of fire yourself. There’s at least of four of the Seven Deadly Sins finding expression there. Maybe he puts too much faith in God as all merciful and forgiving and he expects that when the time comes to explain himself to St Peter a sincere-sounding apology will save him. More likely, though, when the time comes, he’ll have forgotten he said it. When reminded, he’ll deny it---three times, of course---then plead innocence on the grounds that an all-knowing God must know he didn’t mean it. He was just doing his job. Maybe. But, like I said, I doubt he believes God, or in anything.
If he was a truly thoughtful Christian, he’d know Jesus would never have taught anything like that. In fact, Jesus said something the very opposite. Here it is, chapter and verse. Matthew 5:43-44.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…
And If Starnes was a truly intelligent Christian and not a half-educated bigot, he’d know that Jesus was a good Jew and probably didn’t believe in a lake of fire or hell of any kind or even much of an afterlife at all and the little the gospels quote him as saying on the subject was probably put in his mouth by whoever were the actual evangelists we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I know. Too much to ask. Doesn’t matter, because, again, like I said, I doubt he believes anything, let alone his slander of Jesus.
But you’d think there’d be plenty of Christians tuning in who’d be bothered by his characterization of Jesus, at least momentarily, that they’d know it didn’t square with what they learned in Sunday School.
But for all their God-bothering, Right Wingers don’t really think about their professed religion and what it means to be a Christian. They certainly don’t read the Bible. They don’t need to. They know what it says. They know because they did read it, some of it, anyway, back when they were kids. It’s the same with everything they “know.” They learned it when they were kids and see no need to re-learn it. Which is why they were better educated when they were twenty-two than they are at forty-two and fifty-two. They’ve spent the years in between forgetting what they once knew while filling their heads with alternative history, alternative science, alternative economics, and alternative religion, all of it geared towards teaching the same lesson: that they’re right to be selfish, and greedy, angry, hard-hearted, and spiteful. They learn an alternative English too in which those words have as their synonyms self-reliant, practical, clear-eyed, tough-minded, and, judging by the way Starnes interprets the gospels, Christian.
If they want to think something’s true, then they know, they just know, history or science or the bible backs them up.
There probably are some real Christians among Starnes’ listeners who, even though they whole-heartedly support the shooting of terrorists on the grounds of better them than me and mine and might be anti-Islamic bigots, know that, necessary as they believe it is, killing isn’t really doing Jesus’ work, and are offended by Starnes’ insulting the Savior like this. But Starnes very likely meant to piss them off too. He doesn’t care whom he makes mad or if they get mad at him as long as they keep tuning in. He’s happy to stir up any sort of trouble because trouble boosts ratings.
I’d like to be able to end things there, with what’s evil about Starnes and the rest of the Right Wing demagogues in the media. But the sad fact is their sins aren’t original. Like all the rest of us sinners, they sin unorginally but to their own particular purpose. The inherent vice of the Right Wing media is an inherent vice of all media: the stirring up of trouble just to boost ratings, bait clicks, attract eyeballs, sell the sponsors’ products.
I keep hoping against hope that the rest of the mainstream media will notice what the Right Wing media has been up to and make it a mission to expose it for the propaganda machine it is.
But they know what’s going on and their reaction has been: We want us some of that!
They don’t see what the Right Wing Media does as a corruption of journalism or a threat to democracy. They see it as a successful business model.
They want those ratings, those eyeballs, those clicks, that audience share. They want that money.
Before it’s anything else, before it can be anything else, journalism is a business. It has to make money to stay in business. And like any business it’s prone to the temptations that arise from the need to make money. The inherent evil of the business of journalism is that the easiest way to make money is by successfully appealing to the worst in people or, at any rate, to the basest in them.
You don’t want your target audience to think. You want them to feel. You want them to react from the gut and the heart and not use their heads. You want their response to be emotional, the more visceral the better, because emotions are the addictive. Addict them to their own feelings and they’ll do your work for you. They’ll keep coming back for more of the jolt they get from feeling angry and afraid and jealous and full of desire and want.
Rile them up, stir up trouble, make people mad, make them afraid, make them want that, make them want more, feed them a steady diet of spectacle and scandal. This is what puts the paying customers in their seats. This is what keeps them planted in front of their screens, checking their smart phones, turning on their radios, even, because it still happens, buying the paper and subscribing to the magazine.
This is what sells, and selling is the lesson of the gospel Todd Starnes and his colleagues in the Right Wing and mainstream media truly believe in.
Read the whole story by David Edward, Fox radio host: Jesus would thank ‘American sniper’ for sending ‘godless’ Muslims to ‘the lake of fire’, at RawStory.
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God as seen from the ground in Nebraska:
It was farther into the local countryside than Lara had ever been. On the way back he drove a country road, partly unpaved, that ran through Harrison County’s scrubby hills and sunken meadows. The days was sunny, snowy and bright.
“My God,” she said. “It’s so desolate. Desolate, desolate. So far from anywhere.”
“You’re in Flyoverland, my dear.”
“You’ve never heard the middle of the country called that? Flyoverland. That’s what they call our little corner of nothing much. On the coasts.” He shifted down as they approached dirt. It was a shame to muddy the car. “At least,” he said, “that’s what they tell me. No one ever called it that to me.”
She laughed. “Flyoverland. And what would you have done if someone had called it that to you?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said…. “Nothing much.” It’s how we think of ourselves. We don’t expect much.”
“But all Americans have the right to happiness, isn’t that right?”
“How long have you been out here?” Michael asked her.
She shrugged. “A year.”
“Do you have the impression that you’re among people who think they have a right to happiness?”
“But yes,” she said. “They do think it. It’s why they’re so unhappy.”
“You’re mistaken. You need a good history of the settlement.”
“Secrets,” Michael said. “Deep melancholy. Sudden death. Those are what we have the right to.”
“But no longer.”
“But they have God.”
He glanced at her, to judge how contemptuously she spoke. It was hard to tell.
“We don’t presume on God. Now we see Him, now we don’t. Mostly we don’t.”
“Sometimes He flies over.”
---from Bay of Souls by Robert Stone.