Written 21 September 2001 And see the 2005 Update
It was rather difficult to sit down and write an issue of what's generally supposed to be a funny column after the events of 11 September, even though I didn't have to write another column until Sunday, 16 September. But that date rushed right up and the work was slow going, keeping me up until about 1:30 a.m. Monday so I could meet my 8:00 a.m. deadline.
Weekly Weird News
Two things made me want to get started:
First, I felt that things must return to normal as quickly as possible. Besides the simple fact that people need something to smile about, I wanted to be part of the effort to show that we will not be bowed by the terrorists' actions. Americans will refuse to collapse in sobbing ruins, refuse to let anyone destroy our hard-won freedoms, and will bring the perpetrators to justice on our own schedule and terms, without violating the laws of the land where this barbarism took place. Quite simply, such terrorism does not work here. (I expanded quite a bit more on this theme on Tuesday 11 September in a special issue of my other online publication, HeroicStories.)
And second, the whole event made me quite angry, but something made me seethe in disbelief: self-appointed American "religious leaders" (read: TV evangelists) dared to put the blame for the terrorism -- an attack on innocent men, women, and children -- on Americans! It was my lead story in that 16 September 2001 issue:
Casting the First Stone
Who is to blame for the jet plane terrorist attacks on America? TV evangelist Jerry Falwell says Americans are. "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," he said on The Rev. Pat Robertson's TV show The 700 Club just two days after the attacks, which killed thousands. "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'," he said. Robertson said "I totally concur" when Falwell made his remarks. (Washington Post) ...America's Taliban, struggling to grab power.
While True is generally meant to be funny, I don't always want every story to bring a laugh. I often want to provoke thought, action and/or anger (such as when I write stories about my main pet peeve, "zero tolerance"). To be sure, I definitely do not consider that story to be funny. I consider those two men's comments downright treasonous.
When I write things meant to provoke anger, I do know that some anger is often turned toward me -- it's a professional hazard. So I indeed expected to get some flack for comparing Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the Taliban. Indeed I've had a tremendous number of comments -- probably more than on any other story -- yet, as of this writing, that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I truly consider these two men's comments to be disgusting, reprehensible, divisive, hurtful, and as fundamentally wrong in a religious sense as the thinking behind the terrorists' actions -- that somehow the Bible (or Koran) provides justification for their positions. The majority of my readers seem to agree.
Please resist the urge to write me more on this -- I'm completely swamped lately, not only falling behind while trying to keep up with the news, and putting out special issues of HeroicStories, but I also took several days off to work in the shelters the Red Cross set up in Denver, where hundreds of airline passengers were stranded when all flights were grounded. The letters included below fairly represent the mix of pro and con -- actually over-representing the cons since, as of this writing, there has been very few, so I've included the first at the very bottom as representative. I've omitted dozens of the "pros" that repeated what's already included here. Thanks.
Indeed, what makes the USA such a great and strong country is its recognition of freedom -- especially freedom for the individual. Our Declaration of Independence speaks to how all are endowed with "certain inalienable Rights" -- which are then spelled out in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. We cannot protect those rights, those very things which makes America great, by taking away some of them!
Hiding our eyes won't make evil go away. I think it's much more important for the people who are "undecided" to learn what these radical fundamentalists actually think! It's too late for those who agree and won't change their minds, no matter what evidence they see.
Falwell did issue an apology on Monday, September 17 (after I wrote my story): "In the midst of the shock and mourning of a dark week for America, I made a statement that I should not have made and which I sincerely regret. I want to apologize to every American, including those I named. The only label any of us needs in such a terrible time of crisis is 'American'." He also said he had "misspoken". He made these comments while he was "in shock and mourning"? He "mispoke"? Hardly likely -- he was under no stress on that show, where he is a frequent guest. Read the transcript and see if you think he was incoherent in making his remarks.
And did Robertson apologize for agreeing with everything Falwell said? No. But his Christian Broadcasting Network issued a statement calling Falwell's remarks "severe and harsh in tone and, frankly, not fully understood" by Robertson! He didn't understand them?! Then why did he agree so readily with such harsh words? (See the transcript!) Is that the sort of religious leader we should be paying attention to?
I certainly did think about using the phrase "downright treasonous" before I published -- those are very strong words. I even consulted the dictionary: "treason: 1. Violation of allegiance toward one's country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one's country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies. 2. A betrayal of trust or confidence."
"Betrayal of trust, especially the betrayal of one's country by consciously aiding its enemies" says it pretty darn well, doesn't it? (After reading this reply, Brian sent: "I appreciate your reply and see your point.")
The one "anti" letter:
Oh, you want "WWII vintage"? We've been going straight toward hell since the 1950s, have we? Then you must insist we throw out "In God We Trust"! That slogan was adopted as the motto of the United States on July 30, 1956. Similarly, even though the Pledge of Allegiance (the "Flag Pledge") was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (a socialist! Surely your ideal man for the job!), it originally did not mention God at all. The phrase "under God" ("...One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.") was added by Congress in 1954 -- surely, since you're "WWII vintage", you remember when the country moved toward more religion. And surely you remember the "Bellamy Salute" that was supposed to be used during the pledge:
Yes, those are American kids, in 1941. That's during your lifetime, Anthony!
So if you really want to argue a return to the 50s, Anthony, consider that what you're actually arguing is that we've been going downhill ever since the U.S. embraced the Christian God, contrary to our Constitution. (Not that I think we have gone downhill: we have managed since then, for instance, to move away from the horrible injustices of that time, such as the bigotry whose echoes are still being felt in the "land of the free".) If you truly want to stay with your argument and feel there's a cause and effect problem here, then surely we need to rethink the government's forcing Christianity's God onto the population a country that has a Constitution prohibiting the establishment of a state religion. Is that what you meant? Probably not.
The folly in your argument is plain: this isn't about "In God We Trust", it's about radical fundamentalism -- and the attempts by many different types of fundamentalists to try to force their way of thinking on others. That's what's behind the terrorists' murderous attacks, and it's exactly the same thing that's behind Falwell's verbal attacks. One friend, when I told him about the letters I got from the pagans (above) noted, "I made the comment yesterday to a friend that you never hear about 'pagan terrorists', 'pagan fundamentalists' or 'pagan extremists'. I'm no pagan, but I've gotta respect that." And isn't that what everyone is asking for? A little respect. You don't have to believe in paganism, so don't you dare insist that others must accept the fundamentalist rantings Falwell and Robertson spewed on a grieving nation. I reject that as strongly as I reject the actions of the other religious fundamentalist radicals -- the ones who turned our own airplanes, and innocent civilians, into guided missiles to attack our way of life.