I’m still thinking about Ruby Ridge. It’s not unusual for me to be a bit late catching up on yesteryear’s news, but being alive during Trumpocalypse has made me think of the 1990s as the good old days. Jess Walter’s book on the topic, on which I posted a few days ago (just scroll down), ends with a kind of optimism that seemed possible even when George W. Bush was president—the number of white supremacist groups was shrinking radically. Americans didn’t put up with that kind of backward thinking any more. The future was ahead. Now, just about a decade-and-a-half after the book was reissued, we’ve got not only a racist commandant-in-chief, but a Republican congress who goes along with everything he says. Strangely enough, I just read a newspaper article with a Jewish Republican saying “diversity is crap” (his words). No question we’re going backwards.
It’s easy enough to dismiss extremists unless you know some. I attended a conservative Christian college in the early 1980s. There were survivalists on the faculty. These are evangelical Christians who hoard guns and supplies, generally because they believe the end of the world is coming. Ironically, their belief in the rapture doesn’t seem to assure them that they’ll be “taken up” before the trouble starts. Or maybe they just want to hang around for a piece of the action—shooting infidels must earn points with the big white guy upstairs. Most of my classmates were as appalled as I was. We agreed that if these were the kind of people who were going to be around after the smoke cleared, we didn’t want to be.
The most disturbing development since November 2016 is the move of the GOP to follow a blind leader. History will bear me out on this. It doesn’t take a prophet to see it. 45 had no plan for winning the race. Once he did, however, he knew that sheep will follow any shepherd, no matter how incompetent. All you need to do is spout racist rhetoric and the fringe will become the center. But the GOP? They are among the most sheepish of all ungulates. A “leader of the free world” who has nothing but praise for dictators and autocrats around the world? The Republican has proven to be the perfect unquestioning follower. The wool is in their heads rather than on their backs. Less than two decades ago Timothy McVeigh was executed. Today there’s no doubt he’d be under consideration for a cabinet post. I think my watch just stopped.
A news story over the weekend—when oddball stories of religion are welcomed by the media—revealed that a judge in Muskogee County, Oklahoma sentenced a youth to a decade of church for a serious DUI crime. An underage drinker, the defendant committed the unforgivable sin of killing another youth while driving under the influence. It is a sad and tragic case. Law makers in Oklahoma are challenging the church decision, according to the video blurb on Newsy, but there is a much deeper flaw in the logic of Judge Mike Norman here. Had the lack of compassion and common sense so blatantly on display during the recent presidential campaign come from other than committed “Christians” it would have been considered downright shocking. We tend to excuse misanthropy when it comes wrapped in doctrinal packaging, a Twinkie in a Cliff Bar wrapper. The judge himself maybe needs a little churching.
There was a time when the moral values of a good, Protestant upbringing were unquestioned. The problem is, we live in a much more diverse world now. What is particularly telling has been the evangelical response to this growing siblinghood of humankind. It is seen as a great evil, perhaps the reverse of Babel itself. We are bringing people of different religions together in what is comprehended as an unholy mix. Thing is, many of these people participate in religions far older than Christianity that have no Babel story to put themselves in proper context. How can they know they’re inferior unless we can get them to read our Bible, attend our churches, learn our religion?
Timothy McVeigh went to church during his youth. Reverend Jim Jones started his own church. Would time in Westboro Baptist Church in nearby Kansas count? There is a reason that church and state should be kept separate. As an institution the church is nearly as diverse as the human race that invented it. Religion has seldom been the solution to crime. Law enforcement officials used to wear a pentagram for a badge, not a cross. But that was back in the days when Oklahoma was the wild west and white-steepled churches didn’t exist to inveigh against the evils of a satanic symbol worn by the representatives of the territory. And since Oklahoma doesn’t believe in evolution, we’ve got to wonder if some things will ever change.