Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Mischief Makers

Now they’ve gone and done it. They being the Evangelical Republicans and Maureen Dowd. They’ve tossed the doodoo right directly into the fan. We’re actually looking at religious doctrine in the context of the next presidential election.

First came Perry’s man, this guy Jeffress. He runs one of these giant megachurches with thousands of members, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Church in America, formed originally when the Baptists of the South didn’t want to go along with their Northern brethern in getting rid of slavery. Right up there with Henry VIII ripping his national church away from Rome so he could kill a few of his wives in the contest for most ignominious beginnings.

Jeffress, when he's not Mormon-bashing, can actually be quite affable. But, as a visit to the Mormon Center in Salt Lake will show you, Jeffress has no trouble getting traction when he needs it among his fellow evangelicals. Mormonism is a whole lot cheaper than Disneyland, but provides the same fantasyland experience, and they too, like the Lutherans, Anglicans, Southern Baptists and a whole lot of other folk, have shady beginnings. Their scriptures tell you people of color are cursed, men should marry lots of wives, the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, Christ spent some time in North America and when you die you can become a god and have a planet of your very own.

Jeffress conveniently ignores the Mormon claim that all that stuff is history and Mormon doctrine can turn on a dime when it’s politically expedient to do so – just as he conveniently ignores the fact that his own church was founded on some pretty shitty values.

True, a lot of Mormon B.S. has not been discarded. Like their conviction that Jesus was Satan’s brother, that Anne Frank is a Mormon (because we baptized her after her death), that God appeared in the flesh once alongside Jesus in the flesh – two separate bodies, that the Hebrews came to North America on little boats – and so did Jesus – although word has it he came by air.

Anybody can see instantly that these are wiggy beliefs. Not sensible ones like God makes women suffer in childbirth because she listened to a snake instead of him – and the snake once had legs, but now crawls on the ground in punishment for his actions. Or that he, God, wanted a sacrifice to himself, but the usual lambs or camels of the day wouldn’t do, so he took human form and sacrificed his own self (how come all these centuries the church blamed the Jews, or Judas? Were they not just carrying out God’s plan? – so God sent his only-begotten Son…) before coming back to life. Mary’s conception was “immaculate” (i.e., God blames the billions of children of Adam and Eve for thousands of years for sins their mother and father, but not they themselves, committed when they couldn’t control their desire to have knowledge God didn’t want to give them, but he made an exception and allowed Mary to be born herself free from sin so that when God (who obviously plans ahead) was ready to find a pretty lady to reproduce himself with she’d be not only a virgin when she gave birth but free from sin as well. And she went bodily into heaven. How much time have you got? The list is long…

If you ever decide to learn Japanese, there is a useful phrase right up there with please and thank you and can you please point me to the bathroom, without which you will make an ass of yourself in Japan. Repeat after me, “Ah, so desu ka?”

“Ah, so desu ka?” (dwell on the “so” and slap a look of delighted surprise on your face) means “Oh, is that so?”

You use it every time you strike up a conversation with new people. You even use it with old familiar people, certainly with neighbors across the fence, and absolutely with all people in authority. Its sociolinguistic meaning is, “I hear what you are saying and you will never ever hear from me that I think you are full of crap because I am well brought up and know to smile and pretend interest and convey the impression that what you have just said has enlightened me and made my day.”

Japanese people developed social skills way before most other people. All people who live close to others in small villages learn these skills. In America, by way of contrast, we still bash about with the mistaken notion that our real opinions on things are worthy of expression.

Gay liberation couldn’t get off the ground for years in Japan, not because Japanese think they should interpret the Bible to say gays should be stoned to death, but because they perceive that the topic of what people do with their weenies is not fit for the salon. You can’t have a revolution with people who think it’s impolite.

We had a bit of that here, too, actually. We Americans, like the Japanese, had a kind of distinction between “tatemae” (the “truth” that it is socially acceptable to express” and “honne” (the “truth” that matches your actual thoughts and feelings) and until recently we pretty much stuck to it in the national discourse. We didn’t remind Catholics that their pope enabled 30,000 Nazis and Ustashis to escape to South America after the war. At least not at political conventions. We didn’t tell Lutherans we had come across the writings of Martin Luther who advocated burning Jewish synagogues and attacking the Jews with "sulphur and pitch." We spoke instead of “complexity” and “changing with the times” and spouted silly little aphorisms like, “You go to your church and I’ll go to mine,” and had a tacit understanding that “I won’t comment on your bald spot if you keep quiet about the space between my front teeth.”

The world of completely insane varieties of voodoo is manageable only when we focus on the stained glass windows and the schools and hospitals and Mozart’s Requiem and the kindness of old Sister Agnes. Only if you keep a lid on the ugly truths of how many ways there are to tell the story of an imaginary friend who lives in the sky and, as George Carlin said it,

...who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever 'til the end of time...but he loves you.

The church people I knew as a child avoided people like George Carlin as much as they could, and when they couldn’t they would pronounce he was a man “probably too angry for his own good.”

We need our drugs. Our conventions that make no sense. Our grease for the wheels that make the world go round.

We simply can’t have people discussing religion on a stage at a political convention. Much less in our newspaper of record.

It could lead to somebody actually revealing our deepest social secret, that we live at peace with religion for the most part only because even the religious among us don’t take the doctrine seriously. We all pick and choose, call Judaism the religion of justice, Christianity the religion of love, Islam the religion of peace only because we’ve whited out all the information in the sacred texts to the contrary. And because we’ve seen what happens when other cherry-pickers pick the nasty bits to dwell on.

We had a deal, in America. We didn’t bring up certain things in polite society.

Unfortunately, the fundamentalists are not highly schooled in the social graces and didn’t get the word. They once kept their handwaving and hallelujahing to themselves and didn't scare the horses. But this is the new America and they've come into the mainstream. They’re appearing at political conventions with the social equivalent of wearing bowling shirts and scratching their crotches while toasting the bride. They’re talking about the actual religious dogmas espoused by the institutions to which their political opponents swear allegiance.

That’s really dangerous. Just as the approval of interracial marriage led us to believe gays ought to be able to marry, and letting gays marry will lead us to sex with animals… (I don’t believe this – I’m just trying to get into the fundamentalist frame of mind to make an argument.) Just like doing one thing leads to another, like sex among Baptists leads to dancing and bingo leads to adultery, life is just one gigantic goddam slippery slope.

Unless we put this religious stuff back in the box, there’s no telling where the slippery slope will lead to.

A discussion, maybe, of the United States as a money-grubbing killer of people around the world who do not serve the interests of our corporate directors.

You get my drift. You see the mischief we could get into.


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