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God and Country

God and Country

The Christian right these days is fond of proclaiming that here in America there is a War on Christianity. Isn’t it bizarre how the media likes to portray everything as a war – a War on Drugs, a War on Women, a War on Christmas…can we please just have a War on Media Wars? Anyway that aside, the Christian right is fighting back against what they perceive are assaults on their liberty to worship as they choose by left-leaning progressives and the Obama Administration.

Some of these have taken the form of laws meant to allow merchants or businessmen with certain religious principles (which are meant to be Christian – God help a Muslim who wants to run his business by Sharia law) to not be forced to do things against those principles by law. That’s all well and good, at least on paper, but the practice of it is more insidious.

The brouhaha in Indiana over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the surface sounds like overreaction; after all, 16 states have laws like it (including my own home state of Florida) and there is a national policy in place as well, signed into law by former President Clinton. However, the way that the RFRA was worded seemed to permit discrimination against LGBT citizens of the Hoosier state. Suddenly there was a ruckus as businesses in Indiana, concerned that they would have trouble attracting LGBT employees, began to complain and threaten to scale back their operations in Indiana as well as outright remove them.

The outcry was so loud and so deafening that governor Mike Pence hurriedly signed into law a revision of the legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens on April 2nd. However, there are similar bills similarly worded being discussed in state legislatures around the country, as well as an onerous bill in California (which to be fair is not going to receive any serious legislative attention) that would require all LGBT citizens to be put to death.

The right has been more successful in pushing through legislation that makes it harder for clinics that offer abortion to be viable. Texas has now fewer than five clinics serving an entire state of millions of women and there are states that are essentially putting restrictions on clinics that make it impossible for them to operate. The religious right is trying – and succeeding – in legislating abortion out of existence. This isn’t because there’s a glaring medical or legal need to do so; it’s because it’s against their religious principles. That brings up the question that our founding fathers wrestled with when framing our constitution; when do the rights of religious practice become more important than the rights of others whose values differ?

The answer that our founding fathers came up with was “never” and for 200 plus years our government has operated on that principle. However, the religious right now feels it necessary to force their values onto the nation as a whole. My values are that a woman’s body is her own and that decisions regarding whether she should carry a child to term is also her own, that workers have a right to organize and negotiate with the management of businesses on their own behalf and that LGBT citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections as straight people. So why are the values of Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Rick Scott more important than mine?

Well, because people continue to elect them and to elect state legislatures that believe as they do. But do the people get to trample the rights of others just because they believe it is okay to do so, or because their religion tells them that they should? Our constitution says no. Our founding fathers, many of whom were deists and not evangelical Christians, also said no.

The problem I have with the RFRA and the religious right dictating anti-abortion laws is that it emboldens wackos like the guy in Michigan whose auto repair business now gives discounts to open carriers and refuses service to the LGBT community. I don’t live in the area but I would choose not to take my car into his place of business in any case because not only do I not agree with his views, I’m pretty sure that people who do what he has done cannot be trusted to be competent at their jobs. I have a right to believe that way, after all.

But the guy certainly has a right to believe however he chooses. I would never threaten him with anything other than taking my business elsewhere; he claims he is getting death threats (which I find somewhat unlikely; the LGBT activist community has been notably non-violent) which is extreme. Nobody should die because they believe differently than you; that’s ISIS-like.

However, I do call on him to be consistent. If you’re going to deny service to those who the Bible says you should shun, then you need to deny service to those with tattoos; it’s forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 19:28). Also, he should deny service to divorcees; forbidden (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:6). Those convicted of stealing (Exodus 20:15), or adultery (Exodus 20:14); also forbidden. And I’d check your customers breath for ham; that’s forbidden too (Leviticus 11:7-8). Usury is forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), so that would exclude most in the financial industry. And actually, those who carry guns should probably not get the discount either; after all, the commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and what other use is there for a gun other than killing? And if you say “It isn’t for killing, it’s a deterrent” than you should be able to carry a replica of a gun that doesn’t actually fire. After all, it’s a deterrent, right? Not something you’re actually going to use to murder somebody?

The point is that it is unlikely that most people who are Christian believe that a pork-eating tattooed divorced bank manager is someone that should be discriminated against. So if that’s the case, if we don’t accept that everything in the Bible is (no pun intended) gospel, then maybe the LGBT and abortion things shouldn’t be either?

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Billboards

Billboards

Living in the Bible Belt, it isn’t unusual to run across billboards that proselytize the Christian faith. Ads that promise that God is listening, that things in your life will improve if you just give yourself to God.

I began thinking about these billboards. What is the actual purpose of these ads? I mean, does anyone really think that a non-believer is going to undergo some sort of epiphany because of a sign they saw while driving home from work? How many conversions have come via billboard messages?

The people posting these billboards are not fools; I’m sure they realize that the odds are that those billboards will not bring many (if any) converts to the flock. Neither are they apt to throw away money for no reason. So why are they up there? What do they hope to achieve?

I began to turn this over in my head, trying to come up with an answer. Not being privy to the decisions to spend a portion of a faith’s annual budget on billboards on Florida SR 434, I tried to understand the thought process involved. What goal could these billboards achieve, if not the salvation of the souls of would-be sinners?

This is where my cynicism began to kick in big time. Maybe there’s a deep-seated need to proclaim one’s faith in letters taller than a human being by the side of a heavily-travelled road? OR perhaps they are marking their territory. Stay out of here left wing nutjobs, gays, perverts, abortionists, sluts and communists; this is Christian territory and we don’t cotton to the ungodly here.

And that’s where my paranoia began to kick in big time. I was reminded then of the propaganda campaigns of Nazi Germany and of the Soviet Union. If you keep telling people that they are happy and secure long enough, they’ll start to believe you even evidence to the contrary. Sometimes I think they might be preaching to the converted in a subtle way – the signs in other words aren’t meant for the non-believers but meant to remind believers of what awaits them should they stray from the fold.

Proselytizing has always been a big part of the Christian faith, particularly here in the South. Part of the definition of being a good Christian round these parts is the responsibility to testify, to report the good news to all who will listen and to express that the only way to Salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ and in particular the way their particular faith operates. No Protestant thinks that a Roman Catholic has a chance in Hell of getting to heaven, and vice versa. There is also an awful lot of “my faith is better than yours” one-upmanship among the Protestants. Of course, that hasn’t escalated into tribal warfare like the Sunni and the Shi’a have among the Muslims. At least not yet, anyway.

Still, it makes me wonder. I always got the sense that Christ taught that having faith shouldn’t be a source of pride or a means of feeling superior to others and there’s an awful lot of that among the religious these days. I can understand why atheists, agnostics and those of other faiths sometimes characterize evangelical Christians as arrogant and insensitive. I see that aspect in them every day.

I have always believed that if you’re going to be evangelical you first need to be humble. You are not better than anyone else. That’s not what your faith does for you. If you go by the teachings of Christ, you should consider yourself the least of men. You are there not because you’re better than those you are trying to convert, but because you are serving them. Christ looked at his followers as men of service, and he himself in service to them. If the son of God saw himself that way, so should you.

I am not a religious man but I am not anti-religious either. I have issues with religions being more about the agendas of men instead of the agenda of God. They should be less concerned with how they appear to the press and more concerned as to how they appear to God and his children – all of them. In that regard, they shouldn’t be looking for ways to exclude and marginalize but ways to be more inclusive and accepting.

And charity shouldn’t come at a price. The hungry should be able to go to a soup kitchen and get nourishment without having to be preached to. The sick should be able to go to a hospital without hearing a sermon. There should be no conditions to help others. And, to be fair, there are soup kitchens and hospitals that don’t do any of that. They accept anybody regardless of who they are and they don’t push their faith in anybody’s face – in fact, those that take advantage of the services they offer are surprised to find out that they are run by a religious organization.

And yet there is a fervor about being a Christian these days that’s disturbing to me. This feeling that there’s a war on Christianity in this country, that Christians are being persecuted for their faith. I think that the reason that perception might exist is because a group of fairly loud Christians are trying to push their agenda and their faith on the rest of us; creating laws that are in line with THEIR faith rather than what is in line with law.

Our country exists because people fled Europe so that they could worship the way they wished in peace. That means that people who chose to worship as a Unitarian, a Sufi, a Hindu, an Orthodox Jew, a Roman Catholic or not worship at all should have the same ability to do so without having someone tell them how to live their lives according to THEIR beliefs. That means you don’t get to impose your beliefs on gay marriage or abortion on others.

That doesn’t mean you can’t express your viewpoints. It just means that your religious beliefs don’t supersede a woman’s right to choose or a gay couple’s right to marry. Beliefs don’t trump rights according to our constitution.

So at the end of the day, Christian billboards are ok by me. If you want to promote your faith at the side of the road, you are free to do so. However, that means that if someone who is disturbed by your anti-abortion billboard decides they want to post a pro-choice billboard of their own at the next available place, that’s their right as well. While I do find that religion by road sign a little weird, it isn’t the strangest thing about religion in the Bible belt. Still, I do wonder what the thought process is behind them.