Tag Archives: to kill a mockingbird

“To Gain Exclusive Control over the Franchise…” The Goal of the Christian Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Atticus Finch, the hero of the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said: 

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky 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.”

I think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, and some are less violent than the others, but their overall thoughts and philosophy are quite similar: they desire to impose their religious authority on others using the means of the state or if they cannot gain control of government, through terror.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority. Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

That distinction is on display all over the world and in our own country when conservative Christians write laws that allow them the right to discriminate against other people based solely on their religious beliefs and to secure themselves the preeminent position in society. Gary North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Christian Dominionist movement and a long time adviser to Ron and Rand Paul and other conservative Christian politicians 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.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned both in this life and the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. Sadly it seems that conservative American Christians will get their chance to do their worst under the Presidency of Donald Trump unless they are fought at every turn and people of all faiths protest so strongly that President Trump is forced to disown them and their tactics.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Only Thing that Doesn’t Abide by Majority Rule is a Person’s Conscience” Standing Up to the Empowered Christian Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

One of my favorite films is To Kill a Mockingbird. I am a convinced that many people that call themselves “conservative Christians,” are so busy protecting their place and power in society that they despise anyone not like them. For decades before and now after the election of Donald Trump the same collection of conservative Christian Supremacists have played fast and loose with the truth, scammed billions of dollars from desperate followers, and drove almost every moderate there ever was out of the Republican Party with their ideology of Christian Dominionism.

I have written about this before. In light of my experience with them I imagine that some of these folks will, now that they have help a man that they belief will fully support their agenda, “kill the Mockingbird” in order to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. Traditionally the Mockingbirds are those people that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment simply because they are different. To today’s theocrats, the most frequent targets of their wrath are gays and the LGBT community, as well as Muslims, other non-white immigrants, women, and the disabled. The fact that just because someone else gets equal rights doesn’t mean that they lose any rights equality before the law, except to persecute them, seems to be beyond their capability to understand.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians. This makes me fear them more far more than I fear Donald Trump. They represent a majority of the Republican House caucus and there quite a few in the Senate including, Attorney General nominee Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whose racist sentiments were so reprehensible that kept him from appointment as a Federal Judge during the Reagan administration.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“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.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Over the years I have written articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Before the Obergfell v. Hodges decision, Matt Staver that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have heard in a while, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of non-slave states. These men are now pushing to ensure that President-Elect Trump does there will, and some have pledged to turn against him if he doesn’t fully support their every demand. I hope that they become so onerous that Trump turns on them like he has on so many other past supporters. They would deserve it and this is a distinct possibility. If we look at history, every authoritarian leader of the past century has turned on supporters who think that they are more entitled than other followers, often with a vengeance.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, and at one time I was as whipped into a frenzy of hate by those preachers, and their colleagues in right wing talk radio. Thus I fully understand them.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. In 2010 that caused me to be thrown out of a church I had served faithfully from over 14 years as a priest and chaplain. These people are viscous and need to be opposed at all costs.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis and I wonder how it can happen again and again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Atticus v. Antonin: Farewell Harper Lee

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last week we lost a number of people who made a real difference. One of them never held elective office, and she remained a part and parcel of the town that she was born and raised in, that was Harper Lee, the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

In that book she wrote these words:

“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.”

A few days before she died, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, alone, while at an exclusive hunting lodge in Texas. In a way he too was a prophet, but not of equality before the law, his judicial opinions almost always favored the rich, the elites, those of white European ancestry, as well as those who shared his religious views on the limited rights of women and gays. In fact, Scalia believed in the inherent inequity of people, and his opinions for the most part echoed that idea, for Scalia, law remained fixed in time and could not change, except when he wanted to change it.

I do not read a lot of novels, but this is one that I did, of course after I saw the film by the same name. Harper Lee was an amazing writer as well as a gifted prophet, if you will. She was able to see through the cultural, religious, and racial prejudices of her times and write a novel that echoes though the decades, and will probably remain a classic of literature for centuries to come.

Harper Lee demonstrated something that Scalia, a legal giant by all measure never understood. She actually believed that all people should be equal before the law. Scalia, for all of his brilliance, never really understood that. He held to an interpretation of law and the Constitution that existed before the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

Scalia called himself an “Originalist” in his understanding of the Constitution. He viewed the Constitution in the same way as Roger Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision, and the Court members who wrote the majority opinion in Plessy v. Fergusson that enshrined Jim Crow as law. Scalia, for all of his oratory, and legal brilliance, honestly believed that not everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, and it showed in opinion after opinion that he wrote from the bench. He never understood the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

Admittedly there are a lot of people who share the opinions of the late Justice Scalia, but I am not one of them. To use the idea of Jefferson that we cannot “as a civilized society remain under the regimen of our barbarous ancestors.” That is the essence of Scalia’s “Originalism,” it is an argument that assumes, much like Fundamentalist religion that there is a point when law is fixed in time and thus immutable, even when the proponents of such views have no problem changing law or religious doctrine to suit their needs, so long as it is done in the name of some kind of faux conservatism.

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I would agree with the words spoke by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird in regard to the opinions of others like the late Justice Scalia and his disciples, “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

I am glad that I encountered the work of Harper Lee, and I mourn her passing. I do hope that many others, inspired by her writing will be the prophets of a new era.

Have a great Monday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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When Faith is Destroyed by Hate

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Atticus Finch, the hero of the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said: 

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky 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.”

I think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

One of my heroes of religious liberty is John Leland, a Baptist whose passionate defense of religious freedom prevented Virginia from re-establishing a state church after the American Revolution and whose influence was key in the decision of Madison and Jefferson to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. In fact, late in life, well after his success in working with Madison and Jefferson Leland wrote:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Like Leland, I contend for more than tolerance and I contend for acceptance. But that acceptance ends when any person or group is willing to use their religion to enslave, murder, or otherwise dominate other people in the name of their God, not just in this life, but in the next. This is especially true of those who use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs and hatred on others.  I will do whatever I can to expose them for what they are, regardless of the “faith” they supposedly represent.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

That is why they are so dangerous for their hatred is unbounded by time, or space, it lasts for eternity.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Bible in the Hand of One Man…

kim davis pastor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

One of my favorite films is To Kill a Mockingbird. I am a convinced that many people that call themselves “conservative Christians,” are so busy protecting their place and power in society that they despise anyone not like them. I wrote some about this yesterday, and this is kind of a follow up to that article. In light of that I imagine that some of these folks would “kill the Mockingbird” in order to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. The Mockingbirds are those that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment, especially gays and the LGBT community, but others as well, and the fact that someone else gets equal rights doesn’t really end their equality before the law seems lost to them.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“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.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Last week I wrote five articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Matt Staver commented this week that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have heard in a while, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of non-slave states.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, I have been whipped up by those preachers. I fully understand them.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

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.

integration is a sin

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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Filed under civil rights, faith, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary

Faith, Power & Politics: The Death of Good Religion

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I just want to share a few subversive thoughts on American Christianity and established religion. I am not talking about organized religion, because we Americans have little in the way of organization to our religion except when it comes to wanting to be in charge of the country, as many on the Christian Right advocate today.

Mark Twain wrote in his classic novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

“Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition.”

On a more individual level, Atticus Finch, the hero of the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky 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.” In fact I’ll bet most of us know someone just like Atticus described; I know that I do, plenty of them.

I, and probably you, like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

It seems to me that most fanatical individuals and groups on earth, of course not all are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists, as well as militant Christians. Who can forget that the Holocaust, the African Slave Trade, and even the Rwandan Genocide were predominantly the work of Christians, but I digress… Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote: “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” Heinlein, author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translate those words into action, which it does against Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Moslems, Jews, and every religious group’s favorite enemies, Gays and women.

Many American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government, and a day where they can sit at the side of the rich and oppress the poor, the alien and the outcast. The amount of public support given to Vlad Putin by conservative Christian leaders in this country is amazing, and some publically state that they would want someone like Vlad the topless male magazine model for a leader.

But this is nothing new. Many American Christians have practiced that type of Christianity for close to two hundred years. In fact American Christianity is little changed since the day Frederick Douglass wrote, “The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, ‘They bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers… “The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class- leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. 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 hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls! … The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.””

The remarks of Douglass are as pertinent today as he first penned them in relationship to American white acceptance and support of slavery, and while much of his writing was directed against slaveholders and others who profited off of that system, he directed much of his writing against Northern Christians who offered support to that system.

Many American Christians are no different than other religious people, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, and in some cases Buddhists as well as countless other religions history. Religions which have more often sworn alliance to governments, rulers, military and economic power to increase their power than to embody the essence of their founders’ teachings. Most of the time this is due to the need of people for an identity that is bigger and more powerful than what they believe they are on their own and sadly this often results in a sometimes unconscious but more often very conscious belief that they are part of an elect that in this life and the next should rule over unbelievers and others.

This is very important to understand, and Samuel Huntington wrote about it in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self bred pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

One of my heroes of religious liberty is John Leland, a Baptist whose passionate defense of religious freedom prevented Virginia from re-establishing a state church after the American Revolution and whose influence was key in the decision of Madison and Jefferson to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. In fact, late in life, well after his success in working with Madison and Jefferson Leland wrote:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Like Leland, I contend for more than tolerance and I contend for acceptance. But that acceptance ends when any person or group is willing to use their religion to enslave, murder, or otherwise dominate other people in the name of their God, not just in this life, but in the next. This is especially true of those who use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs and hatred on others.  I will do whatever I can to expose them for what they are, regardless of the “faith” they supposedly represent.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; his enemies must be damned and punished not only in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

That is why I believe that such people are so dangerous; for their hatred is unbounded by time, or space, it lasts for eternity; which I think is a very, very, long time.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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