Thursday, November 15, 2007

the religious left scares me, maybe as much as the religious right.

What is the religious right? I don’t know. but I guess it could be described as people who generally are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-prayer in schools, anti–government programs that help the poor, etc.

What is the religious left? I don’t know, but I feel like I’m somewhat immersed in it when it comes to my local city politics. I’d attempt to define it as people who are very much for government programs that help the poor, and everything that is done and said is laced with religiosity. It’s scary. It really is.

Tuesday afternoon, I attended the inauguration for the new mayor of birmingham (a new mayor who promptly spent his next day – his first full morning in office – in court). the inauguration opened and closed with prayer (the closing prayer was actually called “the benediction”). there were two gospel songs in the middle of the program. after taking the oath of office, the mayor was presented a bible, which is fairly ceremonial, but when he was given the bible, for about 15 minutes, a local pastor machine gunned catchy bible verses, the cadence of his voice becoming more powerful and inspiring with each passing minute; his timing and delivery more perfect and calculating than a satellite guided missile. he repeatedly highlighted the idea that god promises to reward and care for those who are faithful to him, and all the while the crowd was climbing to their feet, reaching their arms into the air, singing a chorus of amens. the mayor, during his speech where he said that he would build a dome stadium, rebuild our communities, fix mass transit, and empower the police officers, mentioned that “when god is for you, who can be against you?” and also said that he teaches a bible study every tuesday morning, and that “anyone is welcome to attend, but you are not allowed to tell me what you think, because the word of god interprets itself.” again, wild applause. another strong chorus of amens as people raised their hands to the heavens.

Apparently the new mayor has a direct link to the god of the universe, and is able to perfectly interpret one of the more difficult-to-interpret books of all time.

The only thing that was missing from the inauguration was a baptism. Or more accurately, a mass baptism, of, oh I don’t know, several hundred people. I had visions of heavenly water opening up from the ceiling and all of us getting soaked as we recommitted our lives to jesus. and I thought at any moment that snakes might appear for me to handle. In my mind I was slicing open the snake bellies with my teeth and drinking the venom right out of the still-quivering snake body and trusting jesus to not let me die as the venom quickly entered into my bloodstream. I was actually pretty surprised this didn’t happen.

Here’s the deal. it is okay for people to believe in jesus. I think it’s great to live in america and have freedom of religion – to not be persecuted for my faith – all that. but I am very uncomfortable with how clearly my city’s local government is married to christianity – it doesn’t feel like freedom of religion – it feels like government sanctioned christianity. I’m actually a little willing to give my new mayor, and my city government, the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe they just haven’t thought through how damaging their message can be – how hurtful it can be to people who have been badly burned by the church – or how much what they do and say can actually push people away from the gospel.

I want to believe that they don’t just say these things for political reasons – because it helps keep them in office – or that they are using this warped gospel presentation for sheer political gain – but man – they sure do make that a hard thing to believe.

The religious left. It’s terrifying.


bruce said...

did you read the expose in the bham news on the state of our public schools?


e* said...

i'm not sure you can extrapolate anything about the religious right or the southern baptist african-american left based on local birmingham politics. they are so intractably, irrevocably fucked up that there's no comparison to broader national trends -- they're just their own thing.

do they rely on religious jingoism to appeal to their base?
do they dance their little jig without respect to the socio-political reality of the city they purport to govern?
do they have no f'ing clue what they're really doing?

george said...

Great post, Brian.

BrentR said...

"freedom of religion – to not be persecuted for my faith"

Maybe that's part of the problem. How many amens-for-popularity would we see without such freedom? And that Paul guy -- he was a bit of a gosple masochist. I think he'd be a bit dumbfounded by America's religious openness, like he was at the Athenians'.

Brian T. Murphy said...

e - I agree - but I would say that to an extent - every local city is going to bring it's particular local flavor and culture to the left and the right- it just seems particularly theatrical, hopeless, and profound here in the magic city.

george - thanks.

brentr - I'm not following you.

BrentR said...

I didn't mean to be cryptic. What I was trying to say was that religious persecution against Christianity could actually help the Church. It could "free" the Church to be a people of worship, as opposed to being a country-club.

Rae said...

I think that I kinda get what Brent's saying.

It's a lot "harder" for me to be a Christian -- a Christian who actually believes that the Bible is true (even when I don't get it) -- living in Columbus, OH than it was when I lived in Birmingham, AL and Jackson, TN. Down in the Bible Belt, everyone's a "Christian". If you're not, you're often looked at as if you have three heads or as if they expect Hell to open beneath your feet as you stand before them. Being a "Christian" and "believing in Jesus" are such easy pills to swallow in the South that they're almost devoid of meaning.

On the other hand, it's "easier" to be a Christian up here in another sense. There's contrast here. An actual visible difference between the way Jesus' people should and should not live. Christianity isn't something that folks here are born into or sign up for because everybody's doing it.

Obviously these are generalities . . . there's some Bible Belt mentality up here and there's certainly genuine, self-giving Christianity down there. But a little persecution, even if in the form of mockery, might help that contrast become a little more clear.

Robert said...

And then he said: " submit yourselves as lambs to the slaugher!" (not)

Right fundies and liberal fundies generally read Rms 8 the same way... that the elect are those that will eventually, through their unbiased observation, figure out that they should "do the right thing" and accept Jesus into their hearts.

Clint Wells said...

both extremes ultimately marginalize Jesus and the gospel. They just do it different ways and with varying degrees of subtlety.

I'm of the opinion lately that God has left the building....america at least. so i'm just holding on to jesus and waiting for him to take me home. everything leading up to that is a great big painful confusing redmeptive mysterious fucking blessing that i have no hope of figuring out trapped in this body.

heres to the end of the world!

McCool said...

that stuff makes me wanna vomit in my mouth.
it reminds me of a movie i saw recently, "jesus camp."
it's a disturbing documentary about religious extremists and their children in the context of national politics.
anyone interested in this web blog should put it on their short list of movies to see tomorrow.

Liz said...

all i can say is that i've had enough of bullshit macho/christian/americanism. the fact that religion and government are so intertwined makes me very afraid.

and angry.

good post.

leslie said...

“anyone is welcome to attend, but you are not allowed to tell me what you think, because the word of god interprets itself.”

What the hell? How nice that is for him and for christians like him. They dont have to explain anything and cannot question anything. That quote would have been my exit point because before that was just pure entertainment.