Good News! No, not THAT good news. I’m about to climb off of my religion hobby horse. ( to which my dear wife says, “Praise Jesus.”) But first, I’d like to offer an important clarification of the last blog. Then I’ll show you how I got into commenting on religion.
It’s understandable that some readers may interpret my point of view as anti-Christian prejudice. I often don’t stress enough that my criticism is not directed at mainstream Christians. It’s directed specifically at evangelicals. Not all of them either. Mostly the ones wearing red caps. It’s based on a liberal political stance, not religious prejudice. I don’t embrace, but do respect, mainstream Christianity. It’s a comfort to many and, mostly, a positive force in the world. All stripes of hard core fundamentalism, and not only religious fundamentalism, get my hackles up. But American Christian fundamentalists drive me up the wall.
Why them? Because they comprise a potent, ultra-conservative, domestic political force. One whose proponents wield a terrifying degree of negative influence on present day politics and politicians and, in turn, on society as a whole.
Blind allegiance to the “authority” of the Bible and the demand to be acknowledged as the supreme authority on truth and morality, encourages many evangelicals to behave in an authoritarian manner. This spills over into other forms of authoritarianism. Their movement dovetails with other reactionary groups such as white nationalists, LBGTQ haters and those who oppose women’s rights. They are determined to turn our government and laws into their personal army, enlisted to launch a crusade that would force their system of belief on everyone. As they merrily march along, they pillage and burn our democratic form of government.
Proselytization is baked into their creed. Through it they assert that theirs is the only “truth.” All other faiths are false. If this is not the very soul of prejudice, what is? This they justify by claiming they are graciously illuminating everyone with the “Good News.” Sorry. To to my mind, and even in the minds of many progressive Christians, their news is fake news.
How can reasonable people of all persuasions not be insulted by this unreflecting and remorseless expression of prejudice? Still, it wouldn’t trouble me so much but for the fact that, in their zeal to redeem us heathens, they have succeeded in installing a reactionary government led by a dangerous dictatorial president. There could not have been a better illustration of their hypocrisy than when Trump had peaceful protesters cleared from his path by force in order to get a photo op. In his hand the book he hoisted in the air, one I doubt he has ever read, wasn’t a Bible. It was a weapon.
My op-ed titled “Silence a Form of Reverence,” ran in the Albany Times Union in 2014. It helped me to define the source of a feeling that had been niggling at me for most of my life. It eventually led me to write my novels. The essay was in response to a New York State Supreme Court decision on a suit that challenged religious invocations at public government meetings. Incredibly, the Court found no violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Citing “tradition,” it upheld the right of the Greece, NY city council to conduct pre-meeting religious invocations and, even worse, to do so exclusively with Christian prayers. Here’s the essay:
“I was pleased to read in the Times Union that despite the Supreme Court decision in May upholding religious invocations at government meetings, the Albany Common Council intends to continue to open its meetings with a moment of silence. I have no objection to people looking for guidance from above, but i would prefer they do it privately. Personally, I feel no need to ask for blessings and guidance. We have already been blessed by the gift of life and should be guided by our knowledge of what is right and wrong.
Growing up in the 50s, I received religious training. Even then I was skeptical of the faith based aspect of Judaism and more interested in its history, philosophy, and ethics. Ritual and prayers always left me cold, but I maintain a spiritual reverence when I ponder our place in the universe. Our very existence is a miracle. I believe civilized behavior stems from laws we should live by whether or not we believe they come from god. It’s disappointing to see how often ritual, which is really just form, takes priority over substance, which is the ethics our religions remind us to embrace.
As a child, I learned that throughout history the Jews were repeatedly conquered by the empire du jour. The conquering nations all demanded that the vanquished bow down to their deity. Many Jews chose to be put to death rather than bow to any but their one God. Frankly, I’d have chosen to live. But I’d have done so in a state of smoldering resentment—not out of piety. Submission to the invaders’ religion would have been a symbolic agreement with their assumption that I was inferior to them.
We have seen throughout history how zealots with prayers on their lips and swords in their hands have forced their faiths on others. Believing theirs to be the only true faith, they conquer by ungodly processes of plunder, pillage and rape. This is not about God, religion or faith. It’s about politics. Politics and religion are a bad mix that can lead to theocracy, not democracy. The New world was conquered by Christians and, to this day, believing firmly in their faith, they can sometimes be insensitive to the fact that it is not, especially in such a diverse land, universally embraced.
When I hear the words “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in a public setting, something inside connects with my ancestors, their faces pushed into the dust before what they considered a false god. In our country we are free to practice our own faiths or no faith at all without being compelled to participate in the faiths of others. To be coerced is a painful and humiliating experience. A moment of silence is an act of reverence we can all comfortably share.”