Friday, November 6, 2009

On that Peculiar American Religion

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Maine, on Tuesday, became the 31st state to deny their neighbors civil rights. The No on One Campaign was excellent, as I followed it. They had commercials with families. They had an education program. They were everything the Prop 8 people in California were not. We should have won. But we didn't. There's a common thread here in Maine and in 30 other states where votes to deny or remove civil rights have occured. It's the only thread between states as culturally disparte as California and Alabama. That thread is "American-style" Christianity, the kind you see on TV. They may be a minority within their religion, but they've taken over. They're the public face, and they're a poison on our nation.

It is obvious to me now that the short-to-medium term trend is obviously not in the favor of equality. The other side, whose only commonality is Christianity, a faith they've perverted, is only a handful of states shy from being able to possibly get their Federal Constitutional Amendment (should they retake the House in '10, another reason why its imperative they do not). This angers me; a dull, burning sullen anger. Like a red dwarf star. See, they burn almost forever, a dull, red, sullen fire. On occasion they flare angrily and that's what I did on Wednesday morning. I made some pretty cruel comments on Twitter and quite frankly I think I earned the right to them. I don't apologize. I stand by them, even though they were made in extreme anger and hurt.

In state after state churches have raised funds to deny civil rights to their neighbors. I recall in 2004 after the election, a particulary ugly and vicious year for civil rights, reading an article in the New York Times about an Oklahoma man whose neighbors did just that. Oh, they knew he was gay. They even supported his "lifestyle." But they, in large numbers repeated across the many states that year that had such votes, chose to say "you're not good enough to have basic human dignity." And yes, I'm aware that sentence has my particular spin on the situation.

See, at this stage of the game I find it nearly impossible to believe that every person in this country doesn't know at least one gay man or woman. Has at least one person in their family who isn't straight. I just find that this has to be a statistical impossibility. I have a friend here in the Harrisburg area who is a hairdresser in the small conservative town where he's lived his entire life. He's quite open (and given his age in his mid-40s, you'd have to be pretty oblivious to not figure it out), but if a referendum on his civil rights ever came up, his neighbors would vote in masse to deny them to him because their churches would tell them to do so. I know this because I've read articles from the people at Townhall who love their gay hairdressers and interior designers but don't want them to have civil rights. Or, I hear the ladies on the bus who love HGTV but don't want those men and women to have any civil rights either. I feel the same about my own neighbors in the small conservative town that I live in now. I'm sure they think my boyfriend and I are lovely people; in fact I know they do, but they'd vote against us if such a vote (and it keeps threatening to pop up) comes to Pennsylvania. And they'd do so because their churches would tell them to do so.

I saw this coming at 17 and made most of my breaks with Christianity then. We were Baptist, of the African-American branch. There were some liberal Baptists there; in fact our church's pastors were one of many who ministered to President Clinton. But we still had the things we Kossacks excoriate the Fundamentalists for. Indeed, it was many years into adulthood before I stopped feeling guilty about that thing Jocelyn Elders got fired for. 17 happens to be when I admitted what I had known since I was 12 and there was no squaring that circle with what I was forcefed in Sunday School. How my boyfriend does it is totally beyond me. Plus, since the age of 10 or so God never made much sense given the vastness of the universe. The break was natural but I still enjoyed some of the rituals. Then, the cultural conservatives started with their Culture Wars (or maybe I just became more aware of them) and I made more breaks. I ceased coming home for Easter Dinner (that was the first.) I stopped saying "under God" during the Pledge (the second.) I reject Christmas (both secular and religious, and that's the third). And now I'm totally done and I'm not sad about it at all. But others are and I deeply feel for their pain.

But what makes me the most sad is what happened? Christianity is supposed to help the least of those. It's not supposed to go out and deny the rights and dignity of its neighbors (and yes, I'm aware of Christian history. Well aware.) Perhaps I'm looking at it through the wrong lens.

Christian Europe seems to have moved beyond this. Obiviously there are nations in Europe who also won't extend equality to all their citizens but I was heartened to learn of the Church of Sweeden's decision to perform and 'sanctify' same-sex marriages after that nation legalized it. Of course Europeans, despite the fact that some of them actually do live in nations that can be classified as Christian nations because they have state churches, are generally somewhat more secular then we are in the United States. I can't help but wonder if the several hundred years of bloodletting in Europe, a tradition largely unknown on that scale here in North America, is why they seem so open to fairness and equality.

But I have to still wonder. The church my grandmother grew up in is not the same now. She once told me she told off her pastor for his loud and obnoxious attacks on the Da Vinci Code. For my grandmother to do this was amazing to me because she's quite shy. See her faith is more of the teachings of Jesus and not trying to one-up another in the culture war, which will be loudly underway as the holiday season approaches. I think it all went wrong 30 years ago, when the Christian Right rose to power. They don't care about the things like being a good samaritan, or just being damn nice, or whatever. Their idea of faith is faithiness. It's fake. Indeed, in the paper here this morning there's an article about our Catholic Church (so instrumental at hating equality in Maine) getting autistic children to connect with their "faith." link. Not help them survive in the world. Just connect with "faith."

Like a friend of mine who waited tables. Sundays, she hated. The after-church crowd was more into their "faith" then helping the least among them. Tipping just didn't happen with that group. I hear this is not an uncommon thing.

Or how it's more important to say Merry Christmas and demand the poor clerk on the other side of the register say it too then taking a bunch of gifts to Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army.

Or how getting saved is awesome and anyone who isn't, no matter how good a person they are, is evil incarnate.

Or how it's more important to deny the civil rights of your neighbors then it is to feed our growing homeless population.

Or find any and every issue they can and fracture the American population into deep polarization at others and themselves. I see that polarization here every day on this site. Blaming Obama for the loss in Maine, or blaming California's black portion of the electorate for that loss gives them exactly what they want. And that's Christian? I don't recall that during the Sunday School forcefeedings.

This is the public face of Christianity in the United States in 2010; a deeply shallow, venal, vapid faith. I know fully there are many, many people in the US who do not feel this way and who fully exercise a great use of their faith. Who volunteer at soup kitchens and give to the poor. But they are screamed down on television, in the newspapers, and elsewhere. That needs to change.

People will probably get defensive at this diary because I fully have become an atheist and that's their right and opinion. But it's also my opinion that it's about time for Christianity in this nation to be retaken from those who have poisoned it. I certainly would love for all religion to simply vanish but we'd find some new thing to hate on, I suspect. If it's going to be around, it should be used for good.

Let's call it the Third Reformation, where Christianity finally decides it's going to respect humanity despite whatever reservations it may have regarding things it finds repugnant. It's time for America's liberal Christians to retake the faith. I'll never come back, but I'll support the efforts.