Bahá’u’lláh, Mother Ann, Lamar Smith, the violent South, FFRF, and the power of the Religous Right

If Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahai, hadn't disrespected homosexuals, his followers wouldn't hold them in contempt. If Mother Ann, founder of the Shakers (for whom we are indebted for the song in the video), had decreed that her followers have ten children, they would have borne ten children; but she instead prescribed celibacy, so her followers renounced their marriages and gave up their children. Religion is premised upon the belief that God speaks to few people, and that He expects the rest of us to take those people's word for what he said. The fact that this has resulted in unimaginable misery for millennia in no way makes the faithful question that it's all according to God's plan. Credo quia absurdum.

If your savior of choice makes moderate demands, and you're not personally fanatical, you might leave the world better for having lived; but if your savior is wicked or psychotic, only luck, and less often, clear thinking, will keep you from murdering nonbelievers; committing suicide in Guyana; mutilating the genitals of little girls; castrating homosexuals; and blowing up the ancient city of Palmya after beheading its 82-year-old defender. Despite such things, most of the world's population holds that religion is good, but that it can be twisted into something bad. But consider the Inquisition. Consider all the wars that religion has endorsed if not declared. You might argue that these things were an aberration, and that today's problems with religion are more of the same, but when was there a time that persecution in the name of God was not the norm? 

I receive a monthly newspaper called Freethought Today that exposes religious oppression and lists hundreds of verifiable accounts of the latest felonies committed by America's clergy. Rape and its conspiratorial cover-ups are the most common, but every other crime you can name also appears. Vulgar and threatening letters directed at the publishers are printed along with essays and news regarding the organization's latest lawsuits on behalf of people who have the guts to speak-out against religion's tax-supported intrusion into their lives. While physical assaults against those who object to the all-out effort by the Religious Right to create an American theocracy are relatively rare, losing friends, losing jobs, receiving death threats, having one's children harassed, finding one's property vandalized, and even having one's pets killed, are not. While most Christians don't take an active part in such things, they don't oppose them either, just as they didn't opposed the murders, bombings, and lynchings of 50-150 years ago.

I was six years old when a black World War II veteran and Civil Rights worker named Lamar Smith was lynched in broad daylight near the main entrance to my Mississippi courthouse. When questioned by police, the scores of bystanders presaged the oft repeated words of Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes: "I saw nothING! I heard nothING! I know nothING! nothING!" It was as though all of those "good Christians" (a term with which Christians like to favor themselves despite their Savior's insistence that only God is good) of my childhood took the position that, "Christ died for us, so we don't have to risk a goddamn thing for nobody." 

The oppression continues today in yearly outrages against all manner of Americans, including those who dare to complain when their local teachers, coaches, principals, mayors, policemen, aldermen, and postal workers, use their offices to promote the Christian religion. It might be a $75,000 taxpayer funded mural inside a church in Asheville, North Carolina; $1.4-million to remodel a Presbyterian church in Morristown, New Jersey; Latin crosses on Alpine, Texas, police cruisers; or the many places in which school principals allow clergy to approach individual students while they're eating to ask if they're "saved." All of these things violate the law; all of these things are skyrocketing under Donald Trump's hamstrung Department of Justice; and all of these things are done by people who claim that they alone can live with integrity because they alone have the Holy Spirit to guide them.

For the whole of the Civil Rights era, I attended church three times a week without hearing a single preacher in a single sermon criticize the burnings, beatings, bombings, and murders that were happening in my state. "How can you be so sure?" one might ask, "Maybe you just forgot." I can be sure because to hear any white person, much less a preacher from a pulpit, criticize the criminals or express sympathy for the victims would have been as memorable as a train wreck. 

While it's true that a prominent area insurance agent named Albert Heffner Jr. (whose daughter was Miss Mississippi) tried to reign in the violence; he was forced out of his community within days and out of the entire state of Mississippi within weeks, without a single local preacher taking his side. Yet, it was the Christian South that saw itself as leading the nation in fealty to Christ. As the preachers put it, we Southerners loved our Lord Jesus "without any variance or shadow of turning."

Another reason I know whereof I speak, is that I took my religion far more seriously than I wish I had, and this enabled me to remember other sermons. One common topic concerned the claim that Noah's son, Ham, became the father of "the negro race" when God cursed him and his progeny with black skin and servitude because he didn't look away when he saw his naked father passed-out drunk. Then there was the egregious rationalization that was preached from pulpits and printed in Jimmy Ward's front page editorials of the Jackson Daily News: Our niggers were happy until Communist inspired outside agitators like Dr. Martin Luther Coon, Jr. came in and stirred 'em up. The fact that Dr. Martin Luther Coon, Jr. was also a Southerner was ignored.

But I speak of olden times, olden as in fifty years. So what say you? 1,950 years of cruelty and oppression followed by fifty years of relative pacificity, and I should trust that Christians won't "gird up their loins" (another popular sermon phrase) for continued mayhem? Before Trump, I tried to do just that because life is more pleasant when I think well of others. I even continued trying to do it after the Christian vote put Trump into office, my assumption being that once America's Christians had ample opportunity to see Trump in action, they would realize their mistake. There was no mistake. They knew exactly what kind of man they were electing. You might say that popular Christianity isn't really the force for evil that I make it out to be, but if this should prove to be true, it won't be for a lack of trying...

Although legal (mostly extralegal) religion-based oppression has increased under Trump, the American public as a whole has been becoming less religious for decades, and the trend is accelerating. So what gives? What gives is that the religious right is composed of voters who wouldn't vote for the Holy Trinity if the Holy Trinity favored gun control, gay rights, abortion, and various other "hot button" issues. But let a candidate oppose such things, and America's preachers will demand that their flocks vote for that candidate or be sent to hell for all eternity by a thoroughly pissed-off Republican deity. This narrow focus combined with gerrymandering and, of late, help from Russia gives the religious right a strength disproportionate to its numbers, yet as day follows night, as their numbers decrease, their political strength will necessarily. 

Other factors that work against the religious right are its advancing age, the growth of minorities, and the absolute fury that millions of Americans feel based upon their perception that our Republican-led Christianized government isn't only failing to solve problems; it is the cause of many problems and the exacebator of others. A few examples: school shootings; unwinnable wars; global warming; the elimination of consumer protections; the approaching insolvency of Social Security; looming national bankruptcy; the unwillingness to stand up a president who is doing his utmost to deconstruct our democracy; and even something so obvious and so simple as paying the bills and approving a budget. 

Saint Ronald Reagan (for he is a saint to conservatives) is best known for saying, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." But if the government can't help, who can? Big Oil; Big Pharma; Big Banking? The people whom capitalism rewards the most appear to care the least about what happens tomorrow as long as there's money to be made today, and besides, the government has shown that it will bail them out when their greed pushes the entire country to the brink of bankruptcy. Big Religion (i.e. the religion of the status quo)? One lesson of Roy Moore is that if a candidate will do its bidding and echo its bigotry, the Religious Right will vote for him no matter how many little girls he has twiddled. This leaves us with the NRA whose members keep building bigger, and bigger, and bigger military style arsenals. Why? So they can wage war against the government if it should ever attempt to take away their arsenals or anger them in some other way.

So yes, I think people will wake-up, but I seriously question that they will wake up in time, or if there will ever be the political will to solve many problems, global warming being the most pressing, before it's too late. Ours is simply not a species that takes the long view.