Saturday, January 4, 2014

Trestin Meacham, the American Gandhi

photo from the "I Stand With Trestin
Meacham Against Gay Marriage"
Facebook page
Evidence of the destructive power of organized religion is ever present.  Atheists, once considered the lowest form of life, are coming out of the closet right and left.  The reason is not some newfound appreciation for reason – at least, that’s my guess ­– but the bashing about in recent years by religionists.  People are not being attracted to atheism so much as they are being pushed out of their religions by the misdirected folk who claim to be able to speak for God.

People listening quietly for the voice of God are not likely to do harm to themselves and others.  It’s the authoritarian religions where this religious nonsense is at home.  In this country, that means in particular the hierarchical Catholics, the bible-thumping evangelicals and the Mormons, those wacky folks who without any apparent sense of irony call their young “elders” and their leaders “prophets.”

When you are threatened with eternal damnation for practicing birth control – to say nothing of abortion – or for loving a person of your own sex – and you let yourselves be labeled a sinner, as many of us have done over the years because we were too young when first exposed to this rot, you understand the harm organized religion can do.  Ask an AIDS worker in Africa how many lives are lost because some Catholic organization has waltzed through and poisoned the wells.  Buck up, girls.  Use the rhythm method, if you must.  I know your men will beat you if you don’t yield, but cross your legs and think of Jesus.  Don’t open that condom, whatever you do.

Another example of toxic religion is in the news today.  Some poor Mormon shlemiel is on a fast.  Trestin Meacham will drink only water, he says, until Utah stops issuing same-sex marriage licenses.  Check out the story at the New York Daily News, for example.

The commentary at the end of the article is ugly, as commentary often is.  “Hold your breath while your at it,” says one reader.  “Good riddance,” says another. 

To be fair to the church, I should mention that this guy’s understanding of Mormonism may not be most Mormons’.  As yet another commenter explains,
In Mormonism this is actually a bit of a sacrilege to the LDS principal of reasonable and purposeful fasting. He's abusing his 'temple' which is an offense to his god. Perhaps he's trying to beat the previous record holder in the Garden of Gethsemane. 
Well yes, but if you go to Facebook and type in Friends of Trestin Meacham you’ll find a list of “friends” that goes on for days.  He’s getting no small amount of support for his cause.  One of his supporters runs the website Mormonism Unveiled.  Yesterday’s entry begins:
LDS Member Trestin Meacham Emulates Mahatma Gandhi, Launches Fast To Stop Gay Marriage In Utah A devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has torn a page out of Mahatma Gandhi's book in an effort to stop the onset of same-sex marriage in Utah.  
No kidding.  Mahatma Gandhi.

I can’t get inside his head, but my guess would be it’s maybe four parts Mormon homophobia at work and six parts messed up sexuality.  People with healthy sexualities don’t mess with other people’s sexualities.  But that doesn’t mean the church should get a free pass.  I don’t hear any of the church prophets (or twenty-year-old elders, for that matter) speaking out and telling this young man to straighten up and fly right.  They are more likely to see him as simply carrying a good thing too far.  What I do hear is a long list of folk citing religious reasons for supporting this foolish man, without any indication they are aware they’re helping him commit suicide.

I just finished reading Christopher Hayes’ book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.  An impressive read.   “Brilliant chronicler of the central crisis of our time,” says Hayes’ boss, Kartina vanden Heuvel at The Nation.  I mention this in passing not with the intention of doing a book review but because I just happened upon this news item about the Mormon boy with the sexual hangup just before finishing up Hayes’ book and the two came together in my mind. 

Reading Chris Hayes’s informative book, I took note of the many times Hayes said positive things about gay people and the progress of gay liberation.   He recognizes the injustices done during the early days of the AIDS crisis, for example, and never fails to mention sexual orientation along with “gender and race” when discussing the need for greater equality or rights.  And then, in the acknowledgments, at the very end of the book, he writes:
At the age of eighteen, I met a girl who I thought was the most beautiful, fascinating, electrifying, and brilliant person I’d ever met.  For the past fourteen years I’ve been lucky enough to spend my life with her, and each day reveals just how much I underestimated her.  I think the way I do, write the way I do, and am the person I am because of my wife, Kate. 
Lovely.  A happy man who invites those who know him to celebrate his life and his accomplishments. 

Hayes will be 35 in February.  Trestin Meacham is 35 as well.  Both are Americans.  Both are interested in politics.  One is from Chicago, one from Utah.  One had a good  education, one has a religious passion.  One is a heterosexual who loves and respects his wife and writes elegantly about the rights of gay people at the same time.  One is a mixed-up Mormon of indeterminate sexuality, obsessed with the sexuality of others, and a figure of pity.

It’s easy to make fun of Trestin (another comment: “You’re even more gorgeous now that you’ve trimmed down.”) or wish him ill.  I think the more compassionate approach is to recognize him for the victim he is.  What we should take from this news story is how easy it is to fall prey to religious idiocy.   He’s way over the line in expressing his opinion.  He’s using intimidation (never mind how ineffectually) to try to impose his religion on others inside and outside his religious community in Utah.

I rarely find myself among religious people.  I have no reason to seek them out.  But I attended a Bar Mitzvah recently.  If you’re familiar with Jewish ritual, you know they read the Torah from start to finish throughout the year.  The congregation had just started into the Book of Exodus and the rabbi gave a reflection, as his sermon, on Moses and the Burning Bush.  Most people run right past the information that the bush “burned but was not consumed,” the rabbi said.  “Consider what that means.  A fire has two properties.  It can be used to burn and destroy.  It can also be used for light.  If the bush burned but did not destroy, the image we have is of an instrument of light.”

“Religion,” the rabbi continued, “can so often be destructive.  It can burn and destroy and cause no end of pain.  It can also bring light….   In Utah and New Mexico civil rights were just extended to LGBT people.  But at the same time, in Uganda, gay people are now in danger of losing their lives or spending their lives in prison, simply for being gay.” 

He didn’t need to point out that these rights were being extended to Utah citizens despite religious objections and the threat of life imprisonment in Uganda was being imposed because of religion.

“I think the burning bush,” the rabbi went on, “is a metaphor for religion, and for the passion we feel for our religion.  It’s up to us to make sure our passion brings light.  And not destruction.”

It’s not hard to separate religion that enlightens from religion that destroys.  It’s like beauty.  Or pornography.  You know it when you see it.

Trestin, I know you’re convinced you’re doing God’s work on earth, and there are lots of folks egging you on in this.

But Jeez, Louise, Trestin.  Gandhi was willing to die to give a nation of millions their freedom and independence.  You’re willing to die to stop a few people who love each other from getting married?

When people say there ought to be a law against religion, Trestin, they’re thinking of people like you.

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