Randy the Anti-Christ?
Religion and Politics. It's said those are the two subjects one should never discuss in polite company, because it just leads to impolite arguments.
But when you write a news commentary column about weird and stupid things, politics comes up often. And, indeed, if I rant about something stupid done by a politician from the left I'm branded a "stinking heartless Conservative", and when I zing a politician from the right I'm called a "leftist Boulder liberal". Dare I say that equates to "anti-Democrat" and "anti-Republican" both? That kind of name-calling came to a head, if you will, during the Clinton Sex Scandal, and I addressed both of those complaints with a Special Clinton Scandal Issue and its "Liberal Response".
Weekly Weird News
When it became obvious that what I do is skewer stupidity, point out hypocrisy, or simply point at silly things and laugh, people started to "get it" and laughed along with me. After all, we all laugh at the stupid crooks I feature, and the dumb drivers, the crazy cops, the restless researchers, the inane inventors, and any number of other silly people that True is about.
But religion? Of course people do dumb things in the name of religion! It's a big part of many people's lives. Yet it doesn't matter how rational, how reasonable, how obvious it is when I write about something funny or stupid committed in relation to some aspect of some religion -- someone will choose to take great offense. Even if that person admits he was wrong, such as Jerry Falwell and his outrageous comments after the September 11 atrocities, there are those who feel I attacked them and their beliefs -- "proof" that I am "anti- religion" or, more frequently, "anti-Christian".
It also doesn't matter that I have argued very forcefully in favor of religious freedom in the United States (such as here), since even when I'm discussing one Christian sect, there's another Christian sect that considers them "wrong", so I'm attacked again. Just how secure are these people in their faith that you can't even talk about issues they demand be afforded the highest priority by others?
Turn the other cheek? Judge not, lest ye be judged? Love thy neighbor? Oh, these are all fantastic ideas, but when it comes time to attack the messenger, no such pithy sentiments are put into action. No, I'm condemned to hell, and if a senior pastor of a Methodist church backs up my position, he is damned to hell too! Seriously -- that's why I came up with my "Get Out Of Hell Free" cards.
Indeed, every time this issue comes up, I get lots of letters of support from the mainstream ministry, but that doesn't matter -- they are obviously "wrong" and the ignorant indignants are obviously "right". Uh huh.
Let's get specific. The 9 December 2001 issue contained these two stories:
Religious Tolerance, American Style
The new chaplain at Wisconsin's Waupun Correctional Institution is a Wiccan. The Rev. Jamyi Witch's hiring was defended by the state Department of Corrections, which says Witch -- and that is her real name -- met the job requirements, and barring her based on her faith would be illegal. "I minister to everyone's needs. I have no interest in converting anyone," she says. "That would be wrong." Another full-time chaplain at the facility is Protestant; only about a third of the inmates are Christian. Outraged State Rep. Mike Huebsch, who represents West Salem, promises to strip funding for Witch's position, even though he previously argued for more chaplains in state prisons. Rep. Scott Walker agrees. "It might actually put inmates in a position that talking to her is contrary to what some of their own religious beliefs might be," Walker says. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)...Scott, how worried have you been about Catholics talking to the Protestant chaplain?
Religious In/Tolerance II
County Commissioners in Leavenworth, Kan., have revoked the land use permit for the interdenominational 168-acre Gaea Retreat Center over religious rituals performed there, effectively closing it down. The action was in response to a petition by residents which accused the Center of allowing witches and pagans to dance naked around bonfires at night who "may be weaving magical spells." A spokeswoman for the retreat says the county admits there has been no illegal activity at the facility, and Gaea has filed suit claiming religious discrimination. The Reuters news service noted that "Before its current incarnation, the sprawling site was a church camp." (Reuters) ...It still is.
No, I don't argue that these stories are "pro-Christian" -- that wasn't the point of these stories. This is: it is true that the USA is a very religious country -- in fact, sociologists say it's the most religious country the world has ever seen, and this is due mostly to the freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution. And it's overwhelmingly Christian. Those facts combine, however: because we are guaranteed religious freedom, and we are overwhelmingly Christian, we have a great responsibility to safeguard the very freedom which allows this to ensure that minority religions are not trampled, that the rights Christians can now take for granted are not denied to others. That's why they're coded as basic rights in our Constitution. Yet many ignore that great responsibility which comes with those rights. And that, quite simply, is wrong. It's hypocritical, and honest Christians will tell you that hypocrisy is a great evil that Jesus warned his followers about.
I will pause to say that most Christians understand all of this very well, and probably agree with all or most of what I've said so far. But if you have 1000 quiet, peaceful people all silently nodding their heads and one lunatic is jumping up and down screaming, it's that tiny minority which stands out. Protesters throughout history have known this. What we need is someone who objectively points out the absurdities to counter the screamer. For better or worse, I have taken on that job.
Am I a religious scholar? I've studied religion (which most of the screamers haven't done) but no, I'm not. And I don't need to be: we're talking about observing the human condition, not making religious judgments.
On the one hand, there are a few screaming people, and none of them are ordained ministers; on the other, I have the majority -- not silent, indeed, as my mail runs about 50-to-1 in favor of my positions, and that group includes many ordained ministers. Which side is "right"? That doesn't really matter. I know what I feel, what I believe, and what I stand for, so being called names means nothing to me. When I have something to say, I'll continue to say it, even though I know I'll be attacked. If some wish to argue from their own feelings that I am somehow wrong, without having any real idea about what I think, I'll just do what I've always done: look for any reasonable suggestions or criticisms -- and ignore the rest. But I know saying that won't stop it from coming.
Reader Mail on the Subject
Please resist the urge to add more mail to what is included below unless you have a very specific point that is not already represented. The following letters are not representative of the mix of pro and con letters I received -- the "cons" are over-represented because they were such a small percentage of the total.
It is often a waste of time, which is why I try not to answer morons directly. I do try to choose interesting letters, or particularly outrageous or relevant ones, to answer when I do one of these pages. But there's a wider reason. Part of it is a matter of principle, but that's not enough of a reason. Part of it is that when a contentious debate comes up, I get a lot of people passing the issues and page URLs around, which helps increase the subscription numbers. That's nice, but that's not really enough of a reason either. The main reason is readers love it. True is successful because I point at people doing dumb things -- so we can all laugh at their silliness. It's rather basic, but good, entertainment. So when my own readers do dumb things, why not just shine the light of reason on them and be entertained by them, too? Some readers think I get upset at such "attacks". Nope. Some think I'm "defensive". Nope. Some think I ought to just ignore idiotic ranting. Well, that I do -- you should see the letters I don't publish! But when people insist on acting stupid and sending their stupidity in as a letter to the editor, then heck yeah I'm going to use it as part of the entertainment offerings of True!
To be sure, I do know this, and have said so many times. Most Christians are pretty cool people.
I can't provide an exhaustive list of things I'm not commenting about. Indeed I'm not making comments on the "essential truth" of any beliefs -- or, when I do, it will be so explicit as to not be open to interpretation by even the most objective observer. And even if I were to do that, it would be my opinion, not a statement that my ideas are more valid than everyone else's.
Some wonder in letters to me if it's possible for Christians to debate this topic without me thinking they were ranting idiots. I find that a very defensive question, since I assume that most of the people who write me are Christians, and most have very intelligent and thoughtful things to say. Sometimes when I get letters from people it turns into an extended dialogue. Such was the case with Brad in Arizona. The following is fairly long, but I think interesting and illustrative. It has been edited for length and flow, but the essence remains the same as the original. If you're pressed for time, skip this section -- down to the next horizontal line.
Brad: I am about as strong a Christian as you will run across. I am very active in my church, even working to perhaps move a bit more into ministry (not necessarily from the pulpit, mind you). One of the most important tenets of the Christian faith is to love your neighbor as yourself. So many Christians forget this whenever someone says or does something they disagree with. As for the Wiccans or others, the best thing I can do, as a Christian, is pray for them and work to have them hear the truth, as I as a Christian believe it to be (BTW, this does not mean forcing them to hear it). Essentially it becomes a case of, the better example I set, as a Christian, the more likely anyone is to want to know what I know or want to follow what I follow. Berating people, insulting them, etc. really only accomplishes the opposite of that, which is to drive people away from the Christian faith and make them not want to know what that Christian is following. All of that being said, our society is fairly rampant with persecution of Christians and Christian beliefs, so it can become fairly easy to feel very defensive. This country was founded so people could be free to worship as they pleased, yet we are told where we can or can't pray, what we can or can't say, etc. The ACLU is now attacking even the display of phrases like God Bless America on signs.
Randy: I greatly appreciate your understanding that forcing people to hear your message is counter-productive. For if you expect them to hear you out, they would have a perfect right to expect you to hear them out. And why should anyone be "forced" to listen to things that are against what they believe?! Especially in a country based on religious freedom! I don't understand your mention of "rampant persecution of Christians" in the U.S., however. Despite our Constitutional prohibitions, our President can -- and does -- call for citizens to pray and calls upon God, and without criticism from any but the very few on the fringe, who few listen to anyway. So why would you feel any persecution? This country is overwhelmingly Christian, and is in fact the most religious country the world has ever seen. I see no persecution. Further, you're not "told where we can or can't pray, what we can or can't say, etc." You can pray all you want, even in public schools. What you can't do is force others -- for instance a captive audience of attendees, as you would have in a public school -- to hear it! This is exactly what you argue above. Last, the ACLU indeed works to prohibit religious messages on signs -- that are paid for by tax dollars. They would strongly defend your right to put that message on a sign that you (or your business) owns. This is very consistent with what you argue above. If you insist on being able to lead public prayers in a public school before a captive audience, then you must insist on the right for (say) Wiccans to also say prayers in the same place at the same time. Not to mention Satanists and others. Because if you have the right to press your religion on others, why shouldn't they? Because if they don't, then you are dictating which religions have freedom, which is not religious freedom at all. Since I would not want to hear the prayers of Satanists, I would have to argue that no religion should be allowed to use my tax dollars to preach to me. Can you honestly argue otherwise?
Brad:I agree 100%. If I have the right, so do others. Why do I feel persecution? There are soooo many examples, some certainly fall into your pet peeve of 'zero tolerance' problems. I can list item after item of students in school not being allowed to wear a cross on a chain around their neck (nothing obnoxious either, just a small, normal sized cross as so many wear), students not being allowed to show artwork that would have a Christian image of any kind. One example which goes beyond belief of a student being asked to read his favorite story and he read a Bible story. Mind you, the story itself never had the terms God, Jesus, or any other identifying term (I can't recall which story it was, unfortunately). Essentially, if you never had heard any Bible stories, you would not even have known it was religious, as read it was just a story about people. His teacher would not allow him to read it.
Randy: I agree these are outrageous examples. Certainly children should be allowed to wear crosses in school -- and pentagrams, should that be their desire. And I did hear about the school teacher and the story, but was not able to find newspaper stories about it in time for use in True, or you certainly would have read about it there!
Brad: You said "You can pray all you want, even in public schools." What you can't do is force others ...to hear it!" To a point. It is deemed force if someone wants to pray openly with a group and someone else doesn't want to. I fail to see why it isn't okay for someone to remain quiet or not participate if others choose to.
Randy: Would you "remain quiet" if you discovered your child, who is forced to attend school, was subjected to a daily prayer of devil worship? You shouldn't. I wouldn't.
Brad: Of course I wouldn't remain quiet. I wouldn't keep my child in a school or a situation where that occurred.
Randy: Not everyone agrees with Christianity -- or, more to the point, the brand practiced by whomever is in control at the school. To many, a "whatever brand" Christian prayer is just as offensive as a devil worship prayer would be to me; I imagine it would be even more offensive to you. Thus the situation has to be looked at without regard to the religion involved. Else where do you draw the line? Our Founding Fathers were very wise about this: they talked about freedom of "religion", not "Christianity", or "Islam", or whatever. All religions get equal protection under the law. To argue against this argues against the freedom you have.
Brad: Things are so extreme that something like a moment of silence has been challenged by the ACLU because they feel it is forcing people to participate in a religious practice.
Randy: Yes, because it has been made very clear to the courts that such "moments" are subterfuge for getting the prayers of particular religions accepted in schools. If religions refuse to play fair, the rules must be made very tough.
On the other hand, there are the ranters -- people with such far-out ideas that I know rational debate will not just roll off them with no effect, they won't even realize you're talking to them. I'm going to run one such letter in its entirety, without any changes, because his words and style illustrate exactly the problem I'm trying to reveal with stories like the above: ignorant bigotry and a total lack of understanding of the very freedoms the writer benefits from.
Mitch in Kentucky:
When I was in college, (having been raised by hard core leftists) I burned my draft card and gave anti-nuke talks etc. I was immersed in and convinced of the 'moral equivalence' of communism and capitalism. On a whim I went to Europe and went behind the iron curtain. (Yes I am that old) Within a few hours I knew that I had been terribly deceived and that there was no legitimate comparison whatever, on any level, between the 2 systems. I then vowed to read books against everything I thought I knew. I have always been more interested in the truth than in being right.
There, dear readers, is the stench of bigotry in its full glory. The ignorance displayed is stunning. What can you learn about people by selectively taking passages from their writings and putting a strange spin on them? Not much, but let's try it: according to one religion:
Did you guess the religion? You probably did -- it's Mitch in Kentucky's religion: Christianity, and all of these things are from the Bible. (Remember, I said this is what someone who selectively takes passages and puts a "strange spin on them" could conclude. Clear?) The references:
Let me add that I'm not interested in your telling me that I've drawn an incorrect conclusion from any or all of these Biblical passages -- that's precisely the point. You can selectively choose and interpret from any holy book to "prove" how wrong/disgusting/uncivilized/murderous that religion is, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Paganism, or any other faith. I lifted these examples from a quick skim of several anti-Bible web sites, which I found within 10 seconds by using a search engine.
What Mitch didn't do is study his opponent's religion before coming to his conclusions. And that's exactly what many Christians do when they condemn others. They judge, and boy do they leave themselves open to be judged, and very harshly indeed.
So my conclusion to the question? Of course I'm not "anti-religion" or "anti-Christian". I know what's in my heart and mind, and it's not a disrespect for Christianity. I do have feelings of disrespect for liars, for hypocrites, for those like Falwell who twist events for their own gain, and for those who would take the right of freedom to practice religion the way they see fit and simultaneously deny that right same to others -- whether or not they are Christian. Outside my own judgement, there are hundreds of readers (who are mostly Christian) who have taken the time and effort to tell me they agree.
Dozens of ministers and pastors (again, mostly Christian) also have written to agree. All this is against a small minority who hurl vile accusations without any objective basis to do so. Those who continue to insist that I am are not acting according to their Christian principles are judging me with a closed mind. I believe such people are insecure in their faith, hypocrites, or both, and such people are not worthy of judging others.
As I noted once before when this topic came up, I've found that I can smile at the foibles of politicians, criminals, school officials, landlords, cops, military officers, students, bus drivers, athletes, farmers, animals, royalty, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else but Christians, because if I dare suggest that they are human too, a few crybabies will stamp their feet and shake their Bibles at me, sputtering with quivering, anonymous voices that I'm going to hell. What a sad example of Christianity indeed.
To be sure, in the grand scheme of things complaints from just a few people now and then is not a big deal; what gets me is that they're mostly not a thoughtful "I disagree with you, and here's why" (with some terrific exceptions, like Brad in Arizona above), but rather "our merciful God is going to condemn you to suffer in hell for eternity because you do not believe the exact same way that I do."
Luckily, most Christians use their beliefs to enhance their own lives, rather than use them as a weapon to try to condemn or control others. Most people who believe in God also believe that He has a sense of humor, and know their personal beliefs are not the only way to think. So when I see some self-proclaimed "Christian" like Jerry Falwell using his religion to batter others in an outrageous way, or if I see a story of anyone doing something silly and stupid for us all to be entertained by -- and I have something I'd like to say about it -- I have a choice: I can whimper and back off because some small-minded hypocrite will consider that "proof" that I'm attacking him personally, or I can speak my peace to the delight of the vast majority of my readers. Guess which path I'll take? And that, I hope, is the end of this stupid subject! Yeah, right.
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