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“Fanaticism and Ignorance is Forever Busy” The Scopes Monkey Trial at 94Years, and Inherit the Wind

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Tomorrow is the 84th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.

Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.

But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:

Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?

E. K. Hornbeck : What happened here has no meaning…

Henry Drummond : YOU have no meaning! You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for! I pity you.

E. K. Hornbeck : You pity me?

Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.

E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?

I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Marching Backwards Again: the Scopes Monkey Trial at 82

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty-two years ago today a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was convicted of teaching the theory of Evolution and fined $100 in defiance of The Butler Act, a state law written by Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

The text of the law stated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

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It was a show trial that pitted a prosecutorial team led by proponents of Butler’s legislation and headed by William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State and four-time Presidential Candidate against Scopes, who was defended by the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow. Though Bryant “won” the trial the result was not to his satisfaction and proved embarrassing to him and his cause. The trial judge refused to admit scientists and scholars as witnesses for the defense but Darrow, despite the “defeat” was the clear winner.

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William Jennings Bryan (above) Clarence Darrow (below)

Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of Bryan at the trial:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

I find it interesting that 82 years later the Republican Party has been hijacked by Christian Fundamentalists like Butler and Bryant. This was shown in a poll last week in which over half of the GOP respondents thought that college education was a bad thing and harmful for the country and propose bills that devastate education budgets, scientific studies, and promote an agenda that is harmful to the planet that we live on. Ignorance is forever busy.

Then of course the creationist descendants of Butler and Bryant are taking the State of Kentucky for all the money that they can with their massive Noah’s Ark Creation Museum paid for in part by taxpayer dollars. With the museum failing the group is doing its best to avoid paying taxes on the property by selling it to their non-profit entity for $10.

Such people claim to love God, but they manifestly hate his creation, including people God created who don’t believe like them. Scopes has passed into history but it lingers today.

Spencer Tracy, who played the fictional version of Darrow in the movie Inherit the Wind gave a speech in that movie which should be required reading for anyone:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Survival as What?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The events, including the executive orders and actions of President Trump on a number of subject over the past few days have given me cause for much concern. Likewise, seeing the comments of people that I know personally doing backflips to justify actions that had they been done by any other President leave me dumbfounded. I have Muslim friends, including friends who are Naval officers with distinguished careers of service to this country whose families now live in fear because of what has been unleashed. People I know are being threatened by people who don’t just want political power to enact tax cuts, repeal the ACA, or reduce regulations, but who want to crush and destroy their opposition. Some of the memes that I have seen on Facebook and Twitter are to be kind, little better than Julius Streicher and Joseph Goebbel’s Nazi murder inducing racist pornography of the Third Reich. If you have never been physically threatened by such people you have no idea, I have been threatened more times than I can count going back to 2010, well before the advent of President Trump.

In the television series Star Trek the Next Generation there is an episode called The Drumhead. In it there is a dialogue between Captain Picard and his Chief of Security, Lieutenant Worf. It sums up what I am feeling regarding the events of the last week.

Lieutenant Worf: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”


Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

I do not like what we have become.

For me this is not about political party, though I did have a number of people suggest this. My political beliefs, while liberal and progressive are founded on the premise in the proposition of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which was reiterated by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, that “all men are created equal.”

Those who have read my writings for any length of time have heard me talk about that time after time, whether it be in the words of Jefferson, Madison, Virginia Baptist leader John Leland, and of course Lincoln himself. What the Trump administration is doing today is destroying that proposition before our eyes in the name of the false god of security, flamed by fear, suspicion, hatred, and ignorance. He promises a utopia where he will “make America great again,” but to quote Spencer Tracy’s character in the film Inherit the Wind: As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.”

If followed to their logical end, it will be then end of the proposition that is the spiritual heart of the United States of America. It is the one proposition that set us apart, even when imperfectly done, that set us apart from every nation on earth. It is the one thing that most Americans ancestors came to this country to enjoy; the proposition that “we hold these truth to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”  

Charles Morgan Jr. who I have written about before, wrote these haunting words after the bombing the the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964:

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

That my friends is happening today before our very eyes. Judge Learned Hand, perhaps the best qualified man ever to not serve on the Supreme Court wrote,

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

During the climax of The Drumhead, Captain Picard tells his inquisitor, “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”

The question is: Will we sell the very proposition that sets us apart from all other nations for the false god of security? of survival? If so, we have to answer the question: “survival as what?”

That is the question my friends that I leave you with to start this week. Survival as what?

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Lure of Trump’s Cross of Gold

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In the post-election euphoria of the prosperity preachers who very Donald Trump as a political savior, and the President Elect’s stacking of his cabinet with billionaires of the first order, most of whom have no experience in the cabinet positions or are opposed to the missions of the departments they are to head one wonders what the 80% plus of self-identified Evangelical of Conservative Christians were thinking. But then, the answer is not that hard to find. For decades many of these people have been taught by their leaders that government policies that actually protect and benefit them are evil, and that God himself is basically a survival of the fittest Social Darwinist, that is basically the Gospel that they have been taught for decades. I used to be a clergyman in a denomination where many people believed and practiced such a faith.

So let me ask if you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political leader, especially the President Elect doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

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I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

Despite his rigid anti-science beliefs, as well as his often pro-Jim Crow positions, one almost wishes for the day that a man like William Jennings Bryant spoke for Christians rather than seeing Christians throw themselves at the feet of a man who has pulled the wool over their eyes, emasculated them, and will doom them and their churches to irrelevancy as more and more people abandon the the Christian faith.

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Today that unholy trinity is poised to take over every branch of the Federal Government because of the fact that Evangelical and Conservative Christians abandoned all principle to elect a man who despite his words during the campaign has a history of standing against everything that they believe. And after all, it is people that matter and sadly that doesn’t seem to matter to the sycophants who cheer every word of the President Elect even as he and his billionaire cabinet members enact policy after policy that will destroy them.

That is something to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Reflecting on “Inherit the Wind”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Today has been a very busy day at work but I have been doing some reflection and instead of watching the Olympics tonight I decided to again watch the classic film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by promising that if he is elected he will make Christianity great again. Of course the Christianity that he refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryan had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

 

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryan of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

I just know when I watched it again this week that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film is so important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Voice of God?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I was ruminating last week I watched the classic film Inherit the Wind, a film that I think should be required viewing for anyone seeking to impose their religious views on others through force of the law.

In the movie there is a climatic exchange between Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow (Henry Drummond) and Frederick March who played the fictionalized version of William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady), the opponents at the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.

Drummond: How do you know that God didn’t spake to Charles Darwin
Brady: I know, because God tells me to oppose the evil teachings of that man.
Drummond: Oh, God speaks to you
Brady: Yes!
Drummond: He tells you what is right and wrong,
Brady: Yes
Drummond: And you act accordingly?
Brady: Yes.
Drummond: So you, Matthew Harrison Brady, through oratory or legislature or whatever, you pass on god’s orders to the rest of the world! Well, meet the prophet from Nebraska! Is that the way of things? is that the way of things, God tells Brady what is good, to be against Brady is to be against God.?
Brady: No! Each man is a free agent!
Drummond: Then what is Bertram Cates doing in a Hillsboro jail, supposing Mr. Cates had the influence and the lung power to railroad through the state legislature a law saying that only Darwin could be taught in the schools
Brady: Ridiculous! Ridiculous! There is only one great truth in the world. The gospel…
Drummond: The gospel according to Brady. God speaks to Brady, and Brady tells the world!
Brady, Brady, Brady almighty!
Brady: The lord… the lord is my strength!
Drummond: Suppose that a lesser human being… suppose a Cates or a Darwin had the audacity to think that God might whisper to him, that an un-Brady thought might still be holy? Must a man go to prison because he differs with the self-appointed prophet? Extend the testaments. Let us have a book of Brady. We shall hex the Pentateuch and slip you in neatly between Numbers and Deuteronomy!”

The film reminds us of how easily faith can take on an evil character, and how even well-meaning people who honestly believe that they are doing God’s will often presume, and sometimes can act as if they were the voice of God.

So when I hear Ted Cruz, or any of the hundreds of men and women running for office at every level of government proclaiming that they are speaking for God I get worried. I really do, especially when other well-meaning people, followers of the politicians, pundits, and preachers that claim to be speaking for God, take action to punish their enemies, believing that those enemies are also the enemies of God.

Such is a recipe for tyranny, a tyranny that the founders of the United States sought to avoid.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Will We Crucify Humanity on a Cross of Gold?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Do you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

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I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

And after all, it is people that matter…

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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With Bible in Hand: Anti-Gay Christians & Religious Tyranny

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Protesters outside Judge Bunning’s Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I write this I can almost hear people echoing these words of Reverend Brown in the movie Inherit the Wind being uttered by some of my less than happy readers against me:  “Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

But then, what’s new? Since I have stopped the hijacking of the site by such commentators that is all they can do. I tolerated their crap for too long, my generosity was treated with contempt, so screw them. I totally agree with the words of Frederick Douglass who wrote:

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels…He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. “

According to some readers I represent and stand alongside a vocal minority that is intent on destroying America, minority that is despised and hated by many people in the name of their God. The group I speak of are homosexuals, and their supporters which include me, as well as those people who actually support the rule of law in this country. The 14th Amendment, which was the basis of the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges, the ruling which legalized Marriage Equality in all 50 States says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Sadly, the opponents of Marriage Equality, or for that matter of any kind of civil rights for Gays use the same arguments against the rights of Gays that their Christian ancestors, in both the North and the South did to defend the institution of Southern Slavery. In His book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath observes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” Then he asks a dangerous question, a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position using the Bible to deny the rights of others for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?”

When I see the rabid politicians, preachers and pundits supporting the right of a public official to violate the civil liberties of others in the name of their interpretation of scripture, it is troubling. In this case they support Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky. Mrs. Davis violated the oaths of office that she took, defied the Governor of Kentucky, as well the rulings of multiple courts including the Supreme Court of the United States and was jailed on contempt of court charges.

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It wasn’t that long ago that people used the Bible for this

Sadly I see disturbing parallels in their arguments to the arguments of Christians in the North and the South before the Civil War regarding slavery, and the disenfranchisement of newly emancipated African Americans following the Civil War, during Reconstruction and during the Jim Crow era.

The supporters of Mrs. Davis view the world through the lens of Manichean dualism. Those who agree with them, agree with God and those who do not, are evil, and deserving of no liberty, nor life. Before the Civil War, Southern theologian James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He and many others believed that by arguing for abolition that Christian abolitionists attacked religion itself. It was not just an attack on their belief in validity of the institution of slavery, it was an attack on their faith. Thornwell wrote:

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.”

Thornwell was joined by Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a strident defender of slavery, and opponent of civil rights for blacks long after the war was over. Dabney’s words remind me very much of the words of the militants speaking up for Mrs. Davis and condemning all who support the rights of Gays. Dabney wrote:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.”

But I think one of the most reveling are the words spoken by the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1860:

“Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.”

The very personal nature of Leacock’s complaint in his sermon about abolitionists following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 is startling when you compare it to the words of so many anti-LBGT politicians, pundits and preachers, some of who even urge civil war and secession if they do not get their way. Mike Huckabee says that Davis being jailed on contempt of court charges “removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

The invective against Judge Bunning, a Republican who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, and all who support the law is reaching the level where frustrated supporters will resort to violence. It has happened before. In fact, one of the leaders, of the protest outside Judge Bunning’s home yesterday on charges of “violating the law of God” was the Reverend Flip Benham. Benham is no stranger to precipitating violence against those he deems violators of God’s law by stoking the fear and anger of his followers. In 2009 one of those followers, murdered a doctor who performed late term abortions in the man’s church. Likewise, Benham has stalked others and he has defended the murderer of others. If he can motivate people to kill abortion providers, why not gays and their supporters? Thus I have legitimate concerns for the safety of Judge Bunning and anyone who gets in the way of Benham and his followers.

Mrs. Davis was released jail yesterday, and ordered her not to interfere with the issuing of gay marriage licenses. Judge Bunning released her because he was satisfied  that her office is “fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” Her supporters will claim this as a victory, but it will not change the law, and I imagine that if she interferes with her subordinates, Judge Bunning says that she will end up back in jail. She and her lawyers and Mike Huckabee exited the jail to the cheers of their supporters. Their words and actions showed a arrogance and defiance of law that only American Christians of our era, as well as the ante-Bellum South, and the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras seem capable. We will see what happens, I am not optimistic so long there is a dollar and political point to be gained. 

With this “victory” the lawyers who led her down the primrose path to jail will move on and leave Mrs. Davis behind if she complies with Judge Bunning’s order. Their “success” will encourage others to do the same. These politicians, preachers and pundits who led this charge want a conflict, and they need a conflict to legitimize themselves. They also need it to make lots of money donated by their followers without accomplishing anything. They hate Gays, and liberals and make their money playing the victim, when it is they who seek to deny the rights of others. One of their most influential writers, an adviser to Rand and Ron Paul expressly said so:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

North’s words apply to everyone who stands against his interpretation of Christian Dominionism.

But with Bible in hand they will go forward, and I am reminded of the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

These people are a scary bunch. Their right to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs matters more than the Constitution, and matters more than bearing a true witness of God’s love to the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Strike Down the Sinners: The Politics of the Christian Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is a topic that sadly I am again forced to return to in light of the incredibly vocal and strident calls of leaders of the Christian Right in response to the Supreme Court ruling on Marriage Equality. The tragic thing is that these men and women seem not to care about the long term damage they are doing not only to the political system, but the witness of Christians and the continued viability of the Christian church in the United States.

Nineteen years ago today, when I was ordained as a priest I was a part of a church that was heavily invested in the political machinations of the Christian Right so I do understand from experience the mindset of some of these leaders. This is not to say that everyone in leadership of that church were like this, but some were, and they held important positions.

I write this on the anniversary of my ordination because I do care about the witness of Christians and the long term viability of the church. Since I am a historian I do understand what happens when church leaders allow their insistence on maintaining or gaining political power and influence to override the words of Jesus and the mission of the church. I want to point out, that while I certainly fall on the progressive to liberal side of the Christian faith that I know many wonderful conservative Evangelicals who while maintaining the their beliefs, still do all they can to be gracious and loving to all, and in their actions show that love and respect to people that they disagree with on doctrinal, social and political issues. Sadly, the actions of the leaders of the Christian Right are obliterating the efforts of these really good and caring Christians to maintain a witness of love, and that offends me. I was talking to one of these pastors today, an old friend from the Navy Chaplain Corps who is now retired and serving as pastor of a Baptist church here in Virginia, and we commiserated about what the actions of these leaders are doing.

Barry Goldwater, the man who was one of the most responsible for the resurgence of American Conservatism, had a keen sense of the danger faced by the conservative movement if the Christian Right ever took control of the Republican Party. Goldwater whether you liked him or not or disagreed with his political thought was no fool. In 1981 after the Christian Right had risen to power and helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency, Goldwater realized that the Christian Right was not content with being part of a conservative coalition but wanted control of the Republican Party. On the floor of the Senate Goldwater spoke these words:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Goldwater was right and the takeover of the Republican Party by the Christian Right is an accomplished fact. The Republican Party is now the party of the Christian Right and the party of religious conservative culture warriors. It is unbending, uncompromising and many of its leaders, including most of the announced presidential candidates believe that they are acting in the name of God.

It is an incredibly dangerous situation, not just for the nation and our political system, but for the Church itself.

Our current political climate reminds me of the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictional portrayal of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the movie one of the most stalwart critics of evolution, the former presidential candidate and preacher Matthew Brady played by Frederic March, led the city where the trial is being held into an anti-secular fervor.  At the beginning of the trial he encourages the townspeople to attend a “prayer meeting.” The meeting becomes quite heated as the town’s preacher, Reverend Brown, played by Claude Akins launches into a full assault on all that oppose Brady, and therefore God.

The preacher works himself into a frenzy, condemning the accused and all that would defend him, including his very own daughter:

“Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

His daughter, who is engaged to the accused cries out: “No! No, Pa! Don’t pray to destroy Bert!”

Then the reverend utters words which remind me so much of what I heard in Iowa this weekend:

“Lord, we call down the same curse on those who ask grace for this sinner—though they be blood of my blood, and flesh of my flesh!”

At this point, Brady, realizing that the situation is getting out of control stops the preacher and says:

“it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness.” He then quotes from the book of Proverbs: “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

To me this seems to be analogous to the current dilemma faced by the Republican Party. For decades has helped to create, sustain and institutionalize monster of the Christian Right. Old leaders see the danger but cannot admit their culpability in its rise and takeover of that party. As such they continue to enable it. Goldwater was one of the very few Republicans to see this coming and now, as he feared, the preachers have taken control of the party. Like Reverend Brown they will damn all who do not agree with them, even those of their own party.

The leaders of this political-religious movement have been overzealous, and will continue to be so because like Matthew Brady and Reverend Brown and their supporters, they cannot acknowledge that their zeal may be misdirected and malevolent.

Like Reverend Brown, they are consumed by their hatred for non-believers, that they are even willing to destroy the people closest to them to do so. I know this is true, because when I expressed doubt and did not tow the party line of my former church I was thrown out. Sadly, most of the men that I had previously counted as my closest friends abandoned or even condemned me.

I find the similarities amazing. But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia the leaders of the Christian Right display all too reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  Those leaders, Protestants and Catholics alike supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated; Jews, Socialists, Communists, homosexuals, immigrants, and of course atheists, agnostics and other non-believers.

Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Niemöller, later regretted that support and wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

German Christians, like Niemöller, felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, and Jews and yes, even homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. After the Nazis took power, the only spoke up against the Nazi abuses it to defend their own ecclesiastical power and place in society, and seldom to speak up for the victims of the Nazis. When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Ron and Rand Paul’s adviser Gary North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

The actions of the leaders of the Christian Right are blatantly short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America, but they don’t seem to care. These leaders have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must take and hold political power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social dominance, even at the expense of the Gospel. Instead of the message of reconciliation they preach pre-packaged, focus group tested selections of “Biblical Values” which they and their political allies know are useful as wedge issues to win political power.

The leaders of the Christian Right rail against things they consider “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control. At the same time they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, support efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, even Christians that tend to vote for Democrats. They advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

The effects of this politicization are more and more apparent and the statistics don’t lie. The United States is not Christian nation and any sense of the definition, and this is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy is demonstrated time and time again. In 2013 these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to and even cheered the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. Just over a week ago the same leaders were apoplectic when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Marriage Equality and Gay Marriage, and upheld the Affordable Health Care Law.

The histrionics exhibited by them would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents, and some have suggested killing gays and their Christian supporters to root out evil. This isn’t just political theater for them, they really mean it. The real tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi said it so well “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The leaders of the Christian Right continue to wage the culture war, but what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, and even Supreme Court decisions. Even many progressives criticize the President and the Supreme Court on a wide number of issues, so that is not the point.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

In 2014 leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to the polls hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. But it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. But in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics do not favor them and get worse in every year. The leaders of the Christian Right know this and still continue on and wage their culture war with greater zeal further alienating millions of people not just from their political position, but the message of Jesus himself.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

It is a question that Christians need to ask. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wryly noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Sadly, that train has left the station and the leaders of the Christian Right are not only on it, but they are driving it into oblivion.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Duggared: The Moral Implosion of the Christian Right

There was a time when child molestation was considered a sin by conservative Christians and there was a time when multiple criminal acts of a sexual nature committed against children would have been condemned by anyone even claiming to be a Christian. Of course that that didn’t mean that such acts did not happen, but at least in public Christian leaders condemned the criminal acts that we used to call mortal sin, even if they offered the offender a chance at repentance and reconciliation.

But that was before the days of “culture war” proclaimed by Pat Buchanan and the Christian “jihad” to use the terms of Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, a convert from Evangelical Protestant Calvinism to the Catholic faith in his book Ecumenical Jihad. For Buchanan, Kreeft and others like them defending the indefensible is the norm if it supports the dominance of Christians over their non-Christian neighbors. Kreeft’s whole thesis follows the premise that the “liberal elites” are attacking the very basis of Christian civilization, as such the “culture war” and “fanaticism” perfectly acceptable. While Kreeft does not openly endorse violence as a response, his thesis does not necessarily condemn it. The reason for this is that  Kreeft promotes the idea of a militant Church that is linked to the state and has the power to punish and persecute its enemies.  Of course this is a page that Kreeft borrows from radical Islam and by doing so he does’t seem to mind throwing out the teachings of Jesus. Instead Kreeft, Buchannan and many others, especially Christians who follow “Dominionist” theology return to the model of the imperial church in which believers have all right to rule over unbelievers because God wants it that way.

Interestingly enough the Duggars have been out there preaching the same message, which is why I had to mention it.

As a person who cut his teeth during the heady early days of the Christian Right’s march to power I am astounded to see the moral implosion of what properties to call itself “conservative Christianity” in the United States. This implosion has been on full display in the situation involving the Duggar family, a fundamentalist Christian family who due to their ability to breed like rabbits have enjoyed a near cult like status with the Christian Right, complete with reality television show, book deals and political influence with many of the 2016 Republican Presidential contenders.

Now let me be clear. I have nothing against large families, people sharing their faith, or even endorsing political candidates.  As for the Duggars as I do not know them. I only know them by their carefully crafted media image which is in the process of coming apart. That being said, what is going on here is a disaster for people who actually value the Christian faith and do9 what they can to share the love of Jesus in word and in deed with their neighbors. It is a disaster for the Christian culture that the Duggars supposedly defend.

The story has all of the elements, except murder, that make a great crime novel: admitted sexual crimes of the family’s oldest son Josh, who admits to molesting, not one, not two, not three, but four of his sisters and, at least one other girl, some of them while they were asleep. The story features a father and mother who covered up the crime and refused to get their son any real mental health treatment, and a police Department that did nothing about the situation even after they were notified. To add some spice it features a host of politicians, pundits and preachers, which remind one of the townspeople in he classic film Inherit the Wind.  Interestingly enough almost all of these people boast of their Christian moral superiority and routinely condemn other people’s supposed sexual sins, especially Gays.  Not only do they do this, they throw all of their political and moral capital into ensuring that Gays and Lesbians do not have the same rights as they have.

Since the story broke the political hacks of the Christian Right have been working overtime to spin the story as “Christian persecution” by the supposedly “Left Wing media.” Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher was among the first to defend the Duggars and make this claim. But he has to do this, the Duggars are among his most influential supporters.  The pictures Huckabee smiling with Josh Duggar all over the internet in the wake of Huckabee’s candidacy announcement make for great copy if the scandal goes away. If not they are a liability. But the Huckster isn’t alone in defending the Duggars. Supposedly conservative “Christian” pundits, politicians and preachers have been coming out of the woodwork, not to condemn the crimes which are admitted to and documented, but to attack those who throw the bullshit flag on the Duggars.

This my friends is an important distinction, because if the Duggars were some poor family with no money or influence the Christian Right would never defend them. However, the Duggars are not some poor family that is just out there minding its own business, who had a child commit sexual crimes. They are a family that has used its fame and fortune to mercilessly attack anyone who disagrees with their cultish view of the Christian faith. Of course this is almost always on display at political rallies and meetings where they incessantly condemn the Gays and fight against marriage equity, where quite often it was the perpetrator of the crimes in the Duggar family, Josh, who was leading the charge. After their sins and crimes came to light the parents had the nerve to trot out two of their daughters to defend Josh and say that it was minor molestation. When I saw that I realized that this family has no regard for real Christian morality or faith. Sadly they will stoop to anything to protect their franchise and keep the money coming in. But why should we be surprised at any of this. Eric Hoffer wrote, “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.” 

Though their television show has been cancelled they are getting a lot of air time as the Fox News Network does all that it can to defend them. Likewise the Duggar family’s “image crisis” is being managed by Mike Huckabee’s long time adviser Chad Gallagher of Legacy Consulting.

But even then, a few Fox commentators, Greg Gutfield and Geraldo Rivera took the time to go off the reservation and condemned the Duggars. Gutfeld dared to ask what the Duggars defenders would be saying if the Duggars were not Christians, while Rivera asked viewers to take religion out of the equation and ask what they would think of any family that allowed such crimes to happen and then to cover them up. Note that Gutfeld and Rivera are not Christians. Rivera is Jewish, and and Gutfeld, a former Catholic altar boy is an “Agnostic Atheist,” thus, unlike many of the Fox hosts, neither has a need to defend “Christianity” by defending criminals.  I think that this gives them a bit more objectivity in the matter, despite the fact that they work for Fox.

While the fight the Christian Right is waging involves the Duggars, who they are desperately trying to rehabilitate, it is bigger than that. The the political leaders of the Christian Right are waging an ideological war on all comers, something that Pope Francis recently condemned. The Pope said:

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Pope Francis nails the issue. The more that these supposedly Christian leaders do to defend the indefensible behaviors of their own people and the more that they do to attempt to use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs on others, the more people they will drive away from the faith. Most people tend to like what they see in Jesus, even non-believers often admire his teachings, but they do not like the leaders of the Christian Right and are fleeing the churches in astronomical numbers.

So, these leaders can keep Duggering around with their Jihad, making a mockery of faith, of friendship and inciting hatred in the name of God while defending actions for which there is no defense. I have to wonder where it will stop.

The Duggars and their supporters are sowing the wind, and in doing so they will reap the whirlwind and they are blind to what they are doing.

So that is all for today,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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