The other day at work I virtually “met” someone else from western Pennsylvania. It came about in an odd way. We were both in an online author talk and my colleague put something in the chat about a particular social issue being purely religious for some parts of the country, like his native western Pennsylvania. I immediately knew what he meant. For those who think religion is irrelevant, look at the make-up of our government. Those preachers in rural places wield incredible power. Their word is law and because of the shortsightedness of our founders, the rural few have amazing sway over the vast majority of the urbanites. We need each other, of course, but not all have educated themselves on the issues. When they want to vote they turn to their preachers for the answers.
Interestingly enough, churches lose their tax-exempt status (and thus many can’t afford to survive) if they openly back a political party. They are required by the law they game to remain party neutral. Of course, depending on who appointed a federal judge, they are often willing to overlook that particular law. You get the sense that God favors some commandments over the others anyway. But back to the homeland—western Pennsylvania is a preacher-dominated part of the country. That may well have been what set me off on this strange track I follow instead of a career. We were a church-going family in a church-dominated part of the state. If you took what you heard on Sunday seriously, we should all be studying religion, down on our knees.
My colleague brought something into focus for me. The religiously convinced will accept no other evidence. They’ll refuse vaccines that could save their lives. They’ll say women and blacks are lesser humans. They’ll even—since I pay taxes this is okay—vote Republican. Clergy have been sidelined by much of what’s going on in society. They are hardly irrelevant, however. I recently had a minister tell me that if I were to make a formal “questing” status with a denomination I could pick up some preaching cash on weekends. Without that status, this clergy asked me, “why should anyone listen to you?” Ah, there’s the rub, you see. Although I’ve studied religion more than many clergy, and taught those who are now clergy, I’m not qualified to make it official. Perhaps it would be different if I were from somewhere else.