Last Baptist?

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.  It’s the core of a powerful voting bloc that gave electoral (but not popular) victory to Donald Trump.  It’s also the location of an attempted takeover by a fascist faction that wants to make Christianity the most oppressive religion in the history of the world (moreso than it has already been).  This past week the Convention narrowly avoided this by electing a moderate president for the year.  The struggle was real and the consequences very deep.  The true cost of Trump’s presidency will continue to emerge for years to come.  Permission was given for extremists to be vocal and validated and bad behavior was relabeled as “Christian.”

Roger Williams’ first Baptist church (in the country)

We, as a society, have a bad habit of ignoring things we don’t believe in.  Just because many educated people have come to see the lie behind much of what “Christians” say, they assume they don’t need to pay attention to them.  Years of ignoring the insidious actions of many conservative Christian groups has led us to a political precipice where many months after the fact some people who can’t count still believe 232 is greater than 306.  While some may wonder how we’ve come to this point the answer is obvious—there are groups of “Christians,” organized and well funded, who’ve been active in politics for many decades.  The Southern Baptist Convention wanted, in some sectors, to make that official.  They wished to be Trump’s own party.  They wanted white supremacy to be the norm, women to be chattels of men, and those whose sexuality differs to be criminals.  And they nearly won.

We ignore religion at our peril.  A recent study by the British Academy has shown that in the United Kingdom the study of religion is in decline.  I know of no similar study this side of the Atlantic, but anecdotal evidence suggests the same, if not worse here.  Those who study religion from within other disciplines such as sociology, history, or psychology, don’t really address the question of what religion truly is.  People experience religion as extremely urgent.  Misguided leaders instruct them that their version of God has endorsed the very tactics the Bible itself excoriates.  When the largest Protestant denomination is nearly taken over by political extremists, we should be paying attention.  A troubling template was, despite the majority vote, forced upon us in 2016.  So much so that it feels like it was a decade ago and we suffered from it for longer than we have.  And the kettle is still boiling, only this time those dancing about it claim to be Christian.


Celebrate Freedom

Perspective.  The most valuable thing I learned growing up was to try to see things from the perspective of others.  It’s the basis of sharing and empathy and kindness.  It’s what makes us human.  Juneteenth celebrates a Black holiday, but it applies to us all.  Today (actually tomorrow) commemorates the day when slavery was ended in Texas.  As much as southern states sometimes like to posture, all but the most frightfully unenlightened know that slavery is wrong.  The exploitation of others because we have the power to do so is the very embodiment of evil.  There’s no need for a devil if human beings can do this all by themselves.  Black lives do matter.  We need to stop countering this with “all lives matter” because until we acknowledge systemic racism such responses only serve to perpetuate the problem.

The history of the Christian (and yes, religion fueled and still fuels it) European domination of the world is a long, sad, and unethical one.  Blacks, because they’re often so easily visually identified, have borne the brunt of this domination.  In many ways this continues to be the case even today.  Red lining still exists.  Discrimination still exists.  Blacks are more likely to be imprisoned than others.  Poorly trained police are more likely to shoot and kill them.  This must change if society is to improve at all.  Congress has just passed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday.  This gives the lie to the posturing of many of our elected officials.  This shows how deep Trump’s lies went.

More socially conscious employers made today a paid holiday in support of Juneteenth, even before the senate passed the bill.  We need to admit that we’ve been wrong.  We need to admit that special interests have kept us from seeing what should’ve been as obvious as the color of our own skin.  We’ve tried to keep slavery going.  We’ve made life hard for those easily identified as not “white.”  I have to wonder if this situation would’ve ever developed had we grown the more accurate habit of calling some people pink and others brown.  “White” was chosen for its theological implications.  Make no mistake, this was a carefully constructed divide.  Those who initiated the terminology—pink men, all of them—used their Christianity to demean, debase, and degrade other human beings.  Juneteenth celebrates one small step in what is necessarily a long journey.  We need to undo systemic racism.  We need to learn to say Black Lives Matter and we need to live it.

Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

All You Sea

Speaking of large ships, in honor of World Ocean Day, which was June 8, I had planned to watch Seaspiracy.  A Netflix original documentary, this really is a must-see film.  Not to pass the buck, but I’ve long believed it will be the younger generation that will take the initiative to improve conditions on our planet.   I’ve seen my own insanely selfish and aging generation (with even more aged and selfish senators) continue to exploit this planet like there’s no tomorrow.  If you watch Seaspiracy you may see that it’s closer to true than you might think.  There may be no tomorrow if we don’t change our ways right now.  Borrowing its title from Cowspiracy, another important documentary, Seaspiracy looks at the fishing industry and its devastating effects on our oceans.

There’s a lot of sobering stuff here.  It begins with plastics.  Single use plastics, and even recyclable plastics, are everywhere.  They kill sea animals, they break down into micro-particles and infiltrate everything.  Chances are you have lots of plastic in your body just from living in an environment where it’s everywhere.  Ali and Lucy Tabrizi take you on a very disturbing journey where governments keep secrets about their roles in depleting the oceans and where large corporations kill observers at sea where there’s no chance of the truth being discovered.  They take you to the claims behind “dolphin safe” tuna and other fish.  They take you to where the market price on illegally caught blue fins can bring in three million dollars per fish.  And they’re caught in great numbers.

The oceans, according to current projections, could be empty in 27 years.  If current practices don’t change, there could be basically nothing left by 2048.  Why?  Because humans are hooked on consuming.  Some critics complain the date should be 2072, as if that isn’t just kicking the can down the road.  I became a vegetarian many years ago, after leaning that way many years before that.  It took Cowspiracy to make me go vegan. We eat without thinking about where our food comes from.  Our industrial food practices are literally destroying our planet.  Having given up fish along with other meat, I didn’t think much about fishing.  Seaspiracy shows why fishing is everyone’s concern.  It’s largely unregulated, unenforceable laws apply, and companies try to make consumers feel better in their acceptance that some fish is safe for endangered species.  This documentary shows once again how the price of eating animals, and doing so on an industrial scale, is simply not sustainable.  My generation is perhaps too lazy to change its ways.  Our only hope is that the younger generation takes the state of this mess far more seriously than we do. And perhaps thinks before putting things in their mouths.


Conflicting Kingdoms

There is reason to be afraid.  Yes, I watch horror but the reason I suggest being afraid is because of a documentary titled ’Til Kingdom Come.  Directed by Maya Zinshtein, the film examines Christian evangelical support for Israel.  Primarily set in Binghamton, Kentucky, the interviews indicate a number of frightening implications.  One, that support for Jews is based on a “convert or die” model.  These evangelicals have the end times mapped out and believe the Bible is a fortune-telling book par excellence.  This doesn’t surprise me since I grew up with some of those very same charts and timelines.  It doesn’t surprise, but it scares.  These true believers never reflect or question their beliefs and this leads them to an emotional coldness that is antithetical to the sympathy Jesus preached.

A second fear factor here is just how organized and just how good at raising money the various Israeli lobbies are.  When evangelicals are elected to congress, these groups have open doors in Washington.  Those shown in the documentary are unfailing in their flattery of Trump.  The Jewish groups are clearly using the Christians to push and anti-Palestinian agenda while the evangelicals, for their part, are using the Jews to force God’s hand in sending Jesus back to end the world.  Under the Trump administration we were nearly pushed to the brink by elected officials who fervently pray for the end of the world.  This should keep any sane person up at night.

The beliefs of these evangelical groups have evolved to the point of not being recognizable as anything Jesus taught.  The conservative social agenda has been mistaken for the Gospel and these groups despise anyone who approaches the Bible to learn what it actually says.  Again, having grown up with this viewpoint none of it comes as a surprise.  I know it’s possible for people to grow out of it.  Watching overweight televangelists stirring up massive crowds to donate to a gospel of hate is nevertheless troubling.  Early on one of the pastors admits that they indoctrinate their children.  He sees no problem with that, although he seems embarrassed to have been caught saying it on film.  One lone mainline pastor, a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem, speaks out against this distortion of the Christian message.  One of the evangelicals walks away from a conversation with him and his heartfelt sympathy for his fellow Palestinians only to say the pastor’s theology is anti-Semitic.  ’Til Kingdom Come is a disturbing documentary.  I think I’ll watch a horror film to calm down.


Bible, or Not?

Chosenness comes with a price.  Everyone, it seems, wants to feel special.  One way to ensure that feeling is to believe that you were specially chosen by God to fill a pre-ordained mission on earth.  Since such views are always human views there will be inevitable conflict when another group thinks itself the truly chosen one.  The process goes on and on with history laying waste one claim after another, but belief continues on just the same.  America is a young country, at least compared to much of the world.  Those who “govern” it (originally invaders) felt they were on a mission from God.  Believing themselves the “new Israel” they felt a Calvinistic faith was the only true one.  The people who put the government together were largely deists who’d left that thinking behind.

A recent story in the Washington Post cites such concerns with the God Bless the USA Bible, on sale in September.  This particular Bible is bound together with the US Constitution.  The reason people are concerned is a valid one—whenever something is bound with the Bible a significant number of people can’t tell the Bible from the other content.  Believing the Bible to be magically revealed by God, the entire content between the covers becomes sacred revelation.  Putting a secular document like the Constitution in there suggests to some (perhaps many) that said Constitution belongs to the canon of Scripture.  It’s a real enough concern, as easily attested by any who teach the Bible.  Even college-level students don’t know what’s Bible and what’s commentary.

Photo credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons

Both the Good Book and the Constitution are documents in the public domain.  You can do with them what you please.  You could bind the King James Bible together with Moby-Dick if you wanted to, and if you wanted to make a long book even longer.  The price is confusion among those who can’t really tell the difference.  Many of the more evangelical stripe say “I don’t interpret the Bible, I just read it.”   Putting aside that reading is interpretation, the problem becomes clear.  That which is bound together in one book is one book.  After all, The Book of Mormon mentions Jesus in America.  The hazy view that many readers have of what’s actually in the Bible makes it dangerous to put other documents together with it.  The problem becomes clear when a nation believes itself chosen.  Chosen for dominion, it look to a specific book in support of that idea.  Even if it doesn’t know much about what that book actually says.


Ocean Day

Yesterday was World Oceans Day.  It’s probably a measure of how busy I’ve been that I missed it until well into the work day.  Environmental care is one of my major concerns—something that the majority of Americans share but which Republicans block at every chance they get.  The oceans are the largest part of our planet .  Viewed from certain angles, the globe has barely any land on it at all.  And yet, since we live on the dry part, we use the wet part as our dumping ground.  There is an entire island in the Pacific made of plastic refuse.  Big petroleum doesn’t want any alternatives offered even though plastic is one of the most toxic products we produce for other life on this planet.  Shouldn’t governments share the values of their people?

Born in the landlocked western part of Pennsylvania, I first saw the ocean when I moved to Boston.  It was almost so distracting that I couldn’t study.  Here was this seemingly endless expanse of water that we so poorly understand, the symbol of eternity and life itself, right before me.  It was while living on the coast that I came to read Moby-Dick.  I could spend hours on the rocky shoreline, gazing out toward the seas in wonder.  I’m not a sea-farer myself.  I have inner-ear problems and being on a ship for any length of time would likely lead to extreme discomfort.  I can imagine, however.  Eventually I would read Coleridge and Hemingway and understand that I was not the only one who felt this way about the seemingly endless water.

Some of my earliest literary memories involve Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us.  It’s another book that opened young, landlocked eyes to what our world really is.  The image of water eternally crashing onto the shore is a comforting one.  As Carson knew, we came from the water and we yearn for it still.  Life as we know it isn’t possible without our oceans.  Yet, having petty human needs for extreme wealth and a sense of power over others, we pollute these seas with oil and plastics and chemicals and figure it’ll be somebody else’s problem.  In reality, the problem belongs to all of us.  Plastic Island, as it’s now being called, is nearly three times the size of France.  It’s composed of 100 percent pollution.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is being considered by some the eighth continent.  World Oceans Day should never slip away unnoticed.


Pagan Perspective

“I would live in a world of Christ-like humans, but not one full of Christians.”  So Kate Horsley’s protagonist Gwynneve writes in Confessions of a Pagan Nun.  This novel is an attempt to envision what life would’ve been like for a woman in medieval Ireland when Christianity came to the land.  Gwynneve is a spiritual seeker who comes to be a nun when it’s clear that this new religion has taken over the old ways.  Learning to write, she transcribes her story after hours in her clochan, or cell.  She recognizes that Christianity has brought good things to Ireland, but at a high cost.  The disparity between rich and poor increases, women are denigrated so that men can run things, and the land is ravaged for the benefit of their new way of living.

The novelty of the idea caught my attention when a friend pointed the book out to me.  I was a bit surprised to see that Shambhala, generally a nonfiction Buddhist press, had published the novel.  Since this is a story designed to make the reader think—it is contemplative, as a story from the point of view of a nun would likely be—the choice of publisher makes sense.  While it’s not likely that a book published there would make the New York Times bestseller list, as an erstwhile writer myself I can attest that novels outside the usual pale have great difficulty in getting mainstream publishers interested.  This too is a matter for contemplation.

One of the main themes of the story seems to be how a worshipper of the goddess Brigit has to become a devotee of St. Brigit when the church made the gods into saints.  This is something that happened historically as well as in novels.  Aware that it was easier to persuade individuals to convert to a new religion if they didn’t have to give up their gods, this seemed a small accommodation to make.  Horsley is not wrong, however, in pointing out that Christianity was not a free ride.  More than a religion, it was (and is) a powerful means for social control.  The vision it offers tends to benefit men over women, the wealthy over the poor, the powerful over the weak.  Despite what the Bible emphasizes, religion has its own conversion experience when it tastes power.  Confessions of a Pagan Nun is a story intended to shift perspectives.  The open reader will learn from contemplating its message.


The Heart of Memorial Day

The Memorial Day will be a somber one for the many people who’ve lost someone due to Covid-19.  Even as those who know that science can help to bring a pandemic under control have been vaccinated,  it is too late for millions who didn’t make it.  Memorial Day weekend, for many of us in northern climes, has been unseasonably cold.  Around here it’s been rainy too.  The official kick-off to summer seems to be a memorial to the long winter of 2020 and ’21.  It’s also hopeful, because things are starting to get better.  Having an organized national response helps, even as the Fascist Party is gaining strength.  “Memorial” means looking back.  Remembering the past.  I’m saddened, shocked, and distraught that one political party has refused to look at how insidious fascism is, and how it always starts under the guise of righteousness.  Remember this.

We tend to think of Memorial Day as a play day.  Indeed, the number of boats being towed as I’ve been out driving attests to the plans of many.  We’re ready for life to return to normal, but even that involves memory.  Remembering what was normal.  We have never been a fascist nation.  That’s not a memory but a sick future dream.  Those who attempt insurrection and then block any investigation into it can’t have the good of the nation at heart.  It should be a play day.  It should be frolicking in the sun.  Instead I’m wondering how we’ll ever stop this apparently inevitable evil that has taken over a country formed as a democracy.  Has it stopped raining yet?

Although I wasn’t close to him, my father was a veteran.  He fought for the cause of liberty, at least as it was understood before Trump’s America.  He was, according to his family, never the same after seeing war.  Bureaucrats, fat from the monies they pocket from special interest groups and lobbies, seem to have forgotten.  They’ve forgotten the frighteningly large national cemetery at Arlington.  They’ve forgotten that we fought to stop the very thing they are now promoting in their own country.  I’m sorry, Mr. Lincoln, these dead may have died in vain after all.  I had hopes of warm days and leisurely outdoor activities as the end of May rolled along.  Either that, or at least being able to get out and take care of all the yard work that’s been piling up over the past several weeks.  I wonder, will it stop raining today?


Fragility

Who doesn’t like a play?  Since I’ve been reading many lengthy novels this year I like to intersperse them with some shorter pieces of literature.  Many of us are assigned plays in high school English class.  For those of us from non-literary families, these may be the only plays we’ll encounter in our youth.  Shakespeare and Arthur Miller ran the entire gambit for my high school career, but I’ve done some exploring on my own since then.  I’d heard quite a bit about Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie over the years, but I’d never read it.  I found a used copy at a book sale and so my excuse for not reading it was at an end.  Unlike when I read A Streetcar Named Desire, I really had no idea what to expect.  Dysfunction, it seems, spurs creativity.

I suspect the play is well enough known that my musings about its symbolism and impact wouldn’t add much to the discussion.  (Besides, I suspect few English teachers read this blog.)  My particular edition, however, comes with the essay “The Catastrophe of Success,” written by Williams after he found fame.  It reminded me a bit of a speech Ursula K. Le Guin gave late in her career, after receiving an award.  Both writers note that money drives far too much of what we consider creativity.  Williams notes in his essay that success leads to pampering and pampering is good for no one.  His description of staying in a hotel is a familiar one—poorly paid employees treat paying guests as if they were wealthy, cleaning up after them and tidying other people’s messes.

As many critics have noted, Williams grew up in a dysfunctional family and drew heavily on that for his fiction.  Another aspect, perhaps related to that, was the sense of pressure on his writing.  In his essay he mentions that writing grew more difficult when life was easy.  I often think about this myself.  My fiction suffered a bit when the pressure of the daily commute to New York ceased.  I had to catch an early bus and I was determined to get some writing done every day.  That was the origin of what now seems to be my permanent early wakefulness.  That pressure of knowing I had a very limited amount of time before I had to be showered, dressed, and at the bus stop, led to a tremendously creative output.  I see from my limited experience of reading Williams that I still have much to learn from those whose experience has become a lesson.


Come Together

When’s the last time a commercial made you cry?  Well, made you cry for joy?   A colleague sent me this commercial for chewing gum that left me nearly blubbering.  Go ahead and give it a watch, I’ll wait.  You see, I’m in the waiting period after my second vaccination (even scheduling that, it turned out, was difficult) and we’re waiting for everyone we know to reach that state where being together with strangers, unmasked, will become safe and normal again.  We’ve all been under enormous pressure for the past 14 months.  The absolutely directionless response of the Trump administration prolonged the agony in this particular country, and some places in the world are still having a difficult time of it, but there is a light.  There is a light.

Even we introverts are social creatures.  Like cats, we suffer in prolonged, enforced isolation.  We’ve been through difficult times.  It’s been the deepest hope of mine that we would come out of this pandemic better than we went into it.  The commercial, although clearly shot with humor, shows a more inclusive, completely accepting society.  As the couples separated for months reunite the only concern is that they have fresh breath.  It’s not what some other couple is doing.  It’s not who makes up that couple.  It’s simply that we are all ready to be back together instead of divided.  It’s about love, not hate.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The most deadly poison of the Trump years was the normalization and acceptance of hatred.  We are already, and we have been from the beginning, a diverse people.  Like some mythological tower, we were divided because of fear.  There was nothing really to be afraid of down here.  Those at the top of the power structures (many of them sociopaths) want to protect their privilege.  It’s far easier to do that when the rest of the people are at one another’s throats.  Is English God’s own language?   Can people not be taught to pound swords into plowshares?  Perhaps when the time comes we’ll burst from these doors ready to accept those who are different as fully human.  Perhaps we’ll not judge them for who they love or how.  I don’t know why this commercial hit me so hard.  Perhaps it’s the Jim Steinman power ballad, perhaps it’s the quality of the acting, perhaps it’s the welling emotion that’s been suppressed alone in shadowy corners for over a year, but this particular commercial hit a chord.  And I don’t even chew gum, if that’s what it’s advertising.


Perhaps You’d Like…

Back in the early days of the internet I recall wondering how it could be used for research.  I was teaching at Nashotah House at the time and knew of no online resources that couldn’t be had in print.  All of that has changed, of course, with the web becoming the collective brain of humanity.  I tend to use it for research for my fictional tales.  Need to remember a detail about some obscure location you once visited in Scotland?  Check—either Ecosia or Google will take you right there.  Memory problem solved.  For some kinds of facts, however, it’s still a struggle.  There’s the infamous paywall, for example.  Your search brings you right to the info, but you have to pay for the privilege of reading it.  Commercial sites require a subscription that, although it has a cancellation policy, you know you’ll end up paying for forever.  University library websites are even more jealous of guarding their secret knowledge.

Fiction research often involves trying to find general information.  What some specific object is called, for example, or whether there was actually a Burger King in the location about which you’re writing, at the time your story is set.  Fiction writing is an exercise of the imagination, but verisimilitude can make all the difference.  Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be factual.  Here’s where another limitation arises.  If your query can be commodified, it will.  You’ll find yourself wading through pages and pages of vendors trying to sell you stuff, as if knowledge for knowledge’s sake is moribund.  Even WordPress gets into the act.  If your Premium plan fills up, you’re only option is to  “upgrade” to Business or E-Commerce, where you make money on your account.  (This blog remains free.)

I don’t make any money off this blog.  I use it to share the little I’ve figured out by looking deeply at the world—quite often involving observations about religion or books—over half-a-century.  Like many academics I believe knowledge should be free (ah, but they get paid for keeping it within the walls of the university with the occasional free cookie outside.  Or better yet, a paying engagement).  I don’t go to websites to be sold anything.  I maybe want to remember what a Quisp box looked like in 1969 without wanting to special order a box.  For sure, the web is a great place to buy the things you need.  At times, however, all you’re looking for is information.  At that point your price will be the time it takes to scroll through countless pages that assume you’re here to buy, not just to browse.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Nihil Obstat

Intolerance within religions has been on my mind lately.  Every religion has a history and the study of that history demonstrates that religious leadership reflects the rise of dominant personalities to the top.  Once that dominant personality reaches the zenith of leadership, he (and it usually is a he) decides what it is proper, or orthodox, for others to believe.  I was thinking about this while seeing a book with an imprimatur.  There is a wide range of belief within Catholicism.  Books which teach official doctrine, or which are used for educational purposes, require an imprimatur for widespread use.  An imprimatur requires a review process and includes a designated bishop to declare the work “without error.”  In the context of scholarship, this practice makes certain assumptions—that humans of a certain rank can declare a statement an error or fact.  A theological fact.

Theological facts don’t really exist.  If a fact is something that has empirical measures to determine its truth or falsity, theology falls outside the pale.  Ultimately it will come down to the word of one person outweighing that of another.  And as doctrine changes over time it would seem that old imprimaturs might expire.  The idea is that when something is declared without error, it is without error at that time.  As centuries progress, new empirical facts are discovered that impinge on theological “facts.”  The idea that any one word is final seems hopelessly time-bound.  I’m not picking on Catholicism here, because many religions have official teachings that rank as non-Catholic nihil obstats. It’s merely a convenient example.

The fact hidden in plain sight in cases of religions not permitting diverse views is that censorship stands behind it.  It’s no wonder that in a world increasingly supportive of diversity that “one size fits all” theology has come to be questioned.  Religions, however, lose their authority if they can’t declare the truth or falsity behind a proposition.  Bishops come from priests.  And priests come from seminarians.  I used to teach seminarians—I don’t know if any of my former students have become Episcopalian bishops or not—opportunities are about as rare as teaching posts.  The point is, those who make such doctrinal decisions had to learn them partially from the academic community that grants degrees.  As the academy opens up to new ways of looking at things, future imprimaturs will reflect the realities of their times.  Religions—all religions—evolve and change.  What may be an error today might look quite different in a future light.  Perhaps tolerance now will anticipate where we’ll eventually be, in the truth of the time.

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

Shunned

Belonging is important for our species.  As much as some of us may be introverts, we still need other people.  Given the wide divisions of human interests and activities, one way people have traditionally come to know one another is through religious organizations.  Let’s face it, getting to know your neighbors can be dicey.  People from work may not be those you want to spend off-hours with.  Joining an organization is a great way to get to know people and, if you’re seeking like-minded friends a religion has been a time-honored way to find them.  Of course, many religions are now becoming as polarized as our society, but even despite that one religious practice seems especially insidious—shunning.

Shunning has been used in Christianity from the beginning.  One of the real issues, verging on torture, is when someone is raised in a tradition and has made all their friends in it.  Many sects encourage this, some overtly, other less so.  Those within the fold will not, it is emphasized, lead you astray.  If you are shunned, then, you lose not only your welcome at social gatherings or worship, you also lose your friends.  For separatist sects—consider the Amish, for one example—integrating into another society is extremely difficult.  You were raised to live one way and how would the shunned even begin to know how to live like other people?  This applies not only to small sects; being part of the group is a major draw for everyone from Catholics to members of an evangelical mega-church.  It’s a means of having a community.

Moving accounts exist of Mormons or other believers being excommunicated or disfellowshiped.  The world they knew is gone.  Religions create community and the lost of that community is a cruel punishment to invoke.  Particularly since the offenses that lead to such exclusion are often doctrinal—matters of personal belief.  People are naturally curious, and the desire to learn more frequently leads into uncharted territory.  Some traditions will then invoke sacred texts—more specifically a certain interpretation of sacred texts—to justify the exclusion of the curious.  Those texts, however, are interpreted by other fallible human beings.  Still, the fact that religions continue to use shunning (call it excommunication or any other name) is an indication of the inherent cruelty that religions can express.  What could be more hurtful, especially among those who separate themselves from the world, than to throw them out of the only enclave that they know?


Just Justice

Like many people raised to believe in democracy, I’m distressed to see that the right wing, worldwide, has taken to a full-on attack against it in an effort to keep power.  In the United States Republicans that stood up against the cult of Trump (who was no architect, but a figurehead only) are now being run out of Dodge by their own party.  Meanwhile a friend in Britain sent me an article about the open and obvious corruption of Boris Johnson and how the Tories are completely overlooking it in an effort to keep “democratic authority.”  It wouldn’t be so bad if the right wing came right out and said “we want to run things, no matter what it takes,” but instead they appeal to religious ideas and try to make it seem like their side alone appeals to “justice” while doing the exact opposite.  Paging Mr. Orwell…

The best test case is Jesus.  Have you noticed how Jesus has fallen out of right-wing Christianity?  Apart from occasionally taking his name in vain, the principles they stand for generally go against the core teachings of the Gospels.  The fascism of the right wing has taken what good there was in Christianity and jettisoned the kernel to keep the shell.  It’s like a bag of pistachios where all the nuts have been discarded, leaving only the hard casings behind.  The really sad thing is that both in the US and in Britain, these power-mongers are in the minority.  They use political loop-holes to make their strong-arm tactics look like the will of the people.  Things like restricting voting access, made possible by courtroom politics.  Isn’t Justice supposed to be blindfolded?

We know for a fact that many of these same people are fully cognizant that fascism led to World War II.  They know Hitler used the same tactics to gain power.  They know that millions and millions of people died.  And now they trumpet the one thing that brought this nation together—the recognition that fascism was evil—as the way of true Christianity.  I’m sometimes asked if I believe in demons, having written a book on the subject.  Demons are, if you look closely, are considered the source of evil in the world.  Quite often stories about them have them possessing good people by pretending to be something that they’re not.  Can demons take over entire political causes?  Did we not see naked evil in the Nazi regime?  How do we not recognize it now that it has taken root in one political party that has claimed the name of “Christian” while simultaneously discarding the teachings of Christ?


Women and Mothers

This is our first Mother’s Day with a female Vice President.  After four years of a female-groping administration, it feels like we’ve made a turn in the right direction.  Ironically, it’s often religions that keep women oppressed, even while women are often more faithful to them.  Religions like to claim to have the answers, and for the monotheistic traditions an origin myth with Eve—the first mother—as the first picker of forbidden fruit, has suggested one answer that has held women down for centuries.  Taking origin stories too literally can cause so much suffering in the world that we’re confronted with the question of their morality.  Religions are for people.  If they exclude half the human race we need to pause to ask if we got something wrong.  It’s Mother’s Day, always on a Sunday.  It’s a chance to think about such things.

Many churches will have sermons honoring mothers today.  Will they work for the wellbeing of women for the remaining 364 days of the year?  Our society, purely on the basis of biology, routinely puts women at risk and underplays the need to help them when that happens.  I’ve seen this firsthand.  We’re finally starting to get some female representation in Congress, yet less than a quarter of the seats are held by women.  Isn’t government supposed to represent its constituents?  Why has half of humanity had to struggle for so long to be treated as equal?  Mother’s Day cannot be a salve to ease our consciences about mistreating women for the rest of the year.  Equity should not be a goal, it should be reality.

We’ll be thinking about our mothers today.  Still under a pandemic, we’ll be Zooming them or calling them.  Those fortunate enough to live close may even get to see them in person.  These mothers sacrificed a lot to take on that role.  Our society could not continue without them.  We’re starting to come to the realization, I hope, that it is male-devised forms of government and business that are the problem.  They protect the wealth and power of a few.  They jealously guard against letting men offer the true justice of equity.  Some religions have begun to address the obvious injustice they have largely originated.  The story of the Garden of Eden was meant to teach a lesson.  That lesson has been abused for centuries as a way of making women seem somehow less than men.  It’s Mother’s Day.  Let’s see if we can’t learn to read more deeply and apply what we have learned.