So help me

There was a story flying about the Internet about a Republican sponsored bill in the Arizona House that would require high school students to take an oath of education to graduate. Students would swear to support and defend the Constitution with “true faith and allegiance…so help me God.”

When I started tracking this story down the sources seemed to exclusively be progressive (which Republicans consider to be a code word for “liberal, left wing”) sites. For a while I was beginning to suspect the story was the same kind of unverifiable detritus that haunts Republican blogs and websites. But I did finally track down the link I shared, which was to the text of the bill itself. The bill reads:

BEGINNING IN THE 2013‑2014 SCHOOL YEAR, IN ADDITION TO FULFILLING THE COURSE OF STUDY AND ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS PRESCRIBED IN THIS CHAPTER, BEFORE A PUPIL IS ALLOWED TO GRADUATE FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN THIS STATE, THE PRINCIPAL OR HEAD TEACHER OF THE SCHOOL SHALL VERIFY IN WRITING THAT THE PUPIL HAS RECITED THE FOLLOWING OATH:I, _________, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; THAT I TAKE THIS OBLIGATION FREELY, WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION OR PURPOSE OF EVASION; AND THAT I WILL WELL AND FAITHFULLY DISCHARGE THESE DUTIES; SO HELP ME GOD.

I don't know why it's all caps. Maybe legislation in Arizona is more officious than elsewhere. It's certainly harder to read.

The notion that a high school diploma requires a test of patriotism is bizarre enough. But that would be a Constitutional question. Requiring a student to bundle their support of the Constitution with an affirmation of belief in God goes against the spirit of the Constitution and certainly against Christianity. Jesus believed that faith should be freely given. In fact, all gifts should be freely given.

It also seems to attempt an end run around the Constitution in the name of the Constitution. A pledge of allegiance should not be coerced, but to require it as a condition of receiving a diploma is nothing more than coercion. It is to demand that the sate of Arizona require an affirmation in defiance of the First Amendment.

No doubt the bill's sponsors justify this to stop the erosion of religious and family values they perceive to be endemic in our society. How ironic that their actions threaten the Constitution and Christianity more than those who deny the existence of God altogether.

Government is not the enemy of charity

Consider the following passage from Mark 10:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

We are currently in the middle of a debate about the best way to make government solvent. According to many in the Christian Right, the best way is by sacrifice. Not self-sacrifice, in which, we pay more taxes, but the sacrifice of others we don't care about who receive benefits from government.

I'm including the sacrifice of money to educate other people's children, money to take care of veterans, money to support the families of soldiers, money to insure the health care of those most in need. The message of the Republican Right, and that includes the Christian Right, is of the preservation of wealth. And those who are willing to pay more in taxes to make sure that the needs of others are more adequately met are considered to be anti-Christian and even anti-American.

I find this message ironic coming from the mouths of those who profess that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Nowhere do we hear the rich and powerful consider sacrificing their wealth. Not even offering the sacrifice in the manner of Isaac and his son. They are not even willing to put their wealth on the altar with faith that God will return it to them.

No, they insist wealth is their god given right. Which it may be, but according to Jesus that wealth was given in order to take care of the poor.

It is easy to claim that care of the poor should come at the hands of private charities, not bloated government bureaucracies. Yet private charities are also bureaucratically top heavy (I know, having worked for them) and often depend on government funding as much as private support.

I am all for a balanced budget, but I am willing to pay my fair share rather than carve it out of the backs of the poor. And I think I am following the path set out in the Gospels to suggest as much.

Jesus in the classroom

A recent Texas Freedom Network report indicated that Texas public school Bible courses frequently ignore state standards for rigor and objectivity. The classes least in compliance tend to promote the views of the Christian Right. Even instructional materials are often taken from the teacher's churches and not academic publishers.

This should hardly be surprising. In Texas, teachers answer to a higher call than the Legislature. Far be it from a few laws to stand in the way of truth. Our children could be corrupted by false ideologies. Like evolution.

Ironically for Catholics who have thrown their lot in with the Christian Right, the classes that are least in compliance promote a distinctly Protestant flavor of the Bible. Catholics aligning themselves with the Right probably don't care, but more traditional Catholics might.

The state guidelines were written to ensure the religious freedoms of all students, but the Christian Right and the Corporate Christian Complex (CCC) who backs them believe the only people who deserve religious freedom are themselves.

I will grant that the courses are elective, but I also want to stress that the courses are offered as English or Social Studies courses, not religion courses. The intent was to allow students to become familiar with or to understand the influence of the Bible on culture and society, not to convert them to the faith.

Ironically, it is the Christian Right that uses objectivity as the standard for including creationism in science classes. The truth is that the Christian Right only wants what serves their interests.

Texas colleges used to offer elective Bible courses at a college level. But these were a sop to Christian lobbyists. They were always taught by the Baptist Student Union or other campus Christian groups and promoted a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Baptist kids like me took them for free credits, even though Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Atheists weren't allowed to take courses of their own. Other kids took them because they were easy to pass even when hungover.

For Jesus, his Jewish predecessors and the apostles who followed, teaching scripture was not the function of public institutions. Children were raised with the faith in their homes and synagogues. Children were expected to encounter a hostile and foreign world outside even in Jerusalem, for it was inhabited by foreign powers.

Children of the Christian Right are still taught the Bible in their churches and homes, so they don't need Bible classes. Nor should they get them for a free credit. But if they don't really need them, why do they want them?

Only one answer comes to mind. The Christian Right wants to use public school as a forum for evangelizing, and let the rest of us pay for their efforts. Of course, they would scream if the Legislature forced them to finance Episcopal, Catholic or even Koran study classes in their Sunday Schools.

Wasn't it Jesus who said the second commandment requires of the rest of us to do for them what they refuse to do for anyone else?

The Gospel according to the NRA

For my 2013 return I thought it would be appropriate to include some passages from the newly discovered Gospel of the NRA. I was tempted to comment, but since the Bible is literal, it should need no explication:

From the Sermon on the Mount

And ye did Jesus say unto them, “Blessed are the owners of guns for they can take matters into their own hands.” And he spoke unto them a parable: “A poor man had a home, a wife, a small measure of land and a semi-automatic rifle. One day a black man came to his house and said, 'Give aid to the homeless.'

And that poor man, having nothing but his house and semi-automatic did shoot that black man immediately because of threat of the homeless overtaking his home. The next day, therein, the law came to his house and said 'Thou arest justified in this righteous shooting because the homeless could have made thy home their home and what right does a man have in this world but his right to worship as he chooses and to bear arms.'

Later that day the banker came to foreclose on his home because he was one day late on his mortgage for the first time in the twenty-nine years of his thirty year mortgage. The poor man shot the banker in the defense of his home. The law came the next day and imprisoned him. Wherein do you think it is just that the poor man could defend his home from the black man and not from the banker?

And his disciples said, “How can it not be just that he defend his home against one and not the other, for it is his second amendment right to bear arms?”

And Jesus said, “See you not the difference? He shot the black man in defense of his home, but the banker was truly the homeowner until the mortgage was paid. Wherefore the banker, being the true owner of the home, should have taken his concealed weapon and killed the man and his entire family but for the laws of his district which forbid concealed weapons even though it was his second amendment right.

Had the banker chosen to exercise his right he would have been forgiven for defending his home as true owner and the courts would have been allowed to overturn the concealed weapons ban. But because the true owner failed to exercise his rights, the poor man was convicted of murder only and the courts were never given the opportunity to repeal the true injustice, the infringement upon the banker's second amendment rights, and, verily the poor man's as well. So the poor man was condemned to die justly, but with an infringement upon his legal rights intact.”

And the disciples were amazed by the wisdom of his words.

The Last Supper:

While the disciples were arguing who among them was the greatest marksman, Jesus took up Peter's AR-17 and said. “This is my semi-automatic. Take, share and use responsibly for my sake. For unless thou art prepared for the great day with training and target practice you may be found wanting.

Then he said, “These are my bullets. Take load and use them in defense of your homes. For the meek are takers and you create rights for all.” And the disciples did finish their dinner in silence and awe.

The Garden of Gethsemane

And Jesus prayed, “Lord pass the cup and the gun to me for I fear no man when I am armed with thy righteousness and my second amendment rights. And my HK sp89.” And when he was finished praying the temple guards came to arrest him.

When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he grabbed his sp89 and shot the high priest in the forehead as was his right to self defense spelled out in the second amendment. Seeing that all the disciples were armed, the temple guard fled in dismay.

And Jesus was not crucified on the passover for yea the second amendment implies that with an armed militia there need be no other redemption. The liberals did flee the temple and peace was restored to Israel. Nor did they fear the Palestinians because they were able to stockpile weapons for two millennia before the United Nations sold the Israelites down the river.

Guns R Us

I had planned on signing off until after the New Year with a message about the season of peace, but a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut put an end to that. Even then, I didn't see the need to post about it until the American Family Association and Mike Huckabee decided to drag God into it.

There could be a reasonable debate about the shootings, but that isn't going to happen. Nonetheless, the discussion should be centered around the nation's gun policy (or lack of it). But, as always happens after this kind of disaster, someone claiming to speak for God wants us to know that God had a hand in the events.

I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise. The idea that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and present every where in the world pervades Christian thought, even though it isn't a Christian idea. The idea originated with Aristotle as a description of an impersonal prime mover. The God of Jesus is powerful, but, more importantly, he is all loving.

In the Jewish and Christian scripture we do see the belief that God's hand is at work in nature. But the view that God controls every event is a reach. Furthermore, the notion that God punishes those who turn their back on him is a common theme, but in the Tanakh he punished nations for their sins. He doesn't single out innocents.

Nonetheless, the Christian Right is back again with two different theories about God's role in the massacre. Bryan Fisher, of the American Family Association, offers the “gentleman's theory,” which claims that God doesn't intrude where he isn't welcome. Since God isn't welcome in public schools, he simply watched from the sideline like any gentleman.

We can thank Mike Huckabee for the more traditional interpretation. God punished those kids because prayer is banned in schools.

Of course, those kids had nothing to do with the decision to ban prayer in schools. Sending a crazed assassin to punish them for the actions of the Supreme Court seems to imply that God has a sick sense of justice or he isn't very competent. Nor is prayer banned from schools, only mandatory public prayer. Nor is God banned, for that matter. Christians believe in a personal God who walks beside every believer at every moment of their day. There is nothing in the Supreme Court decision that forbids that.

In fact, if Jesus walks beside believers, there is nothing the Supreme Court can do to stop him.

I forgot the third theory. Westboro Baptist Church contends the children were murdered because Connecticut embraced gay marriage. In the words of one tweet, the members of Westboro will “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” Another tweet claims, “God sent the shooter in small first taste of coming wrath for fag marriage.”

There is this theory: The gunman is responsible. The people who allowed him access to guns facilitated. Instead of trying to hold God or liberals accountable, hold him accountable first.

If there is any war on Christmas, Christians are conducting it.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Recently a Minnesota teen was told he couldn't finish his confirmation class at Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minnesota. Not just that, his family has been denied communion as well.

Their priest insists they were not denied communion, but the Cihak family didn't get that message. They have since decided to move on to another church.

What was the sin that was so heinous, the church wouldn't let him be confirmed? Was he having sex with the bishop's niece? Selling weed from the confessional? Use condoms? Is he marrying his same sex boyfriend? No, even worse. He posted a photo on Facebook mocking Minnesota's ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage.

I suppose the church has added an eighth cardinal sin. We now have lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride and dissent. In today's world, dissent is the worst sin of all. I assume this, because I haven't heard of anyone being denied communion for any of the other seven lately.

At church camp we used to sing a song that went, “They'll know we are Christians by our love.” Of course we would then try to short sheet the kid we didn't like, put burrs between their sheets or throw water on them while they were sleeping. But we understood that love was the single most important sign of our faith.

Today, I think, it is fair to say they'll know we are Christians by our posturing, bickering, contentiousness, rigidity, obstinance and ability to yell louder than anyone else. In fact, if you were to ask someone who wasn't Christian to describe Christians, “love” is probably the last word they would use.

In fact, when I think of the Christian persona today, I can only think of Tina Turner. “What does love have to do with it?”

Politics as usual

When I wrote my one sentence blog last week, I wanted to wait to see what might develop in the wake of the recent election. The answer seems to be, absolutely nothing.

Republican leadership has been demanding that Obama step up and be a leader. By the end of this week they made it clear they intended to refuse to cooperate with the President on the key element of a plan on which he campaigned—raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In short, they expect Obama to lead but he can't expect them to follow.

Once again Republicans remind me how far we have strayed from the Christian ideal.

I am not claiming that Democrats are any more Christian than Republicans. In fact, we should never forget that faith and politics have little to do with each other. Jesus repeatedly stressed to the world and his followers that his kingdom was not earthly and was never intended to be,

The idea of a “Christian nation” is about as far from Christianity as the idea that a secular leader will save the world. Any secular leader.

Democrats, however, lay no claim to Christianity. I don't mean Democrats aren't Christians, I mean that Democrats refuse to wrap themselves in the pages of the Bible even though I find their policies more closely align with the teachings of Jesus (even expressed literally) than Republicans.

Republicans do claim to be Christ's authorities on earth. Not all of them, of course, but by embracing the Christian Right most are proclaiming themselves as the party of Jesus (de facto). Nor do they distance themselves from the most extreme Christian elements.

As a consequence, I find the Republican leadership's in-your-face politics even more ironic. Jesus was first and foremost about accepting responsibility. Republicans (the Christian Right Republicans, anyway) accept responsibility for nothing, as the most recent election has proved.

More moderate Republicans have admitted they misjudged voters and practiced an exclusionary brand of politics that is bound to fail. The Christian Right Republicans and their Tea Party adjuncts blame the failure of the election on everything from hurricanes to voter fraud to bribery.

(The hurricane excuse I find not just ironic, but funny. After all, if hurricanes struck Florida during the convention and New York during the election, they must have been sent by God. That would mean, of course, that either God wanted Obama to win, or the Republicans couldn't win in spite of God's disapproval of Obama—depending on how you spin the hurricanes.)

Now they are back to their same combative strategies, even though Jesus preached non-combat. If we are to listen to Jesus, Republicans should respond by turning the other cheek and submitting on tax breaks for the wealthy (Matt. 5: “If your neighbor asks for your coat…”).

Jesus believed in meekness and humility. The Republican resistance to the electoral will is bombastic and arrogant. The fact that they lost the election does not seem to them to be a sign of the people's will, but a sign that they should dig in until the people give in.

Listening to the last two weeks of Republican rhetoric, it is clear they want this country to return to the days before the Civil War, indeed the days before Jackson, when women and minorities had no say nor did white men who didn't hold property. In short, they long for the country before the original Republicans made it the inclusive nation is has become.

Vote conscience

In spite of the campaign rhetoric, this election is about everything but the economy. The economy has been little more than a smokescreen for a chance to press the same social agenda that Republicans have pressed for decades, an agenda that rewrites both Christianity and the Constitution.

A small sign of this, but telling nonetheless, was the uproar created when Kay Hill of Round Rock, Texas, was asked to cover up her shirt at her early voting polling station. The shirt said, “Vote the Bible.” While wearing such shirts isn't explicitly illegal in Texas, there are legal restrictions on campaigning in polling places.

She claimed her free speech rights were violated, as did the group Texas Values which now represents her. In her words, “Vote the Bible” doesn't endorse a political party or candidate, just her belief in the bible. Thirty years ago this might seem reasonable. In 2012, however, the position seems a little disingenuous.

The Republican Party has wrapped themselves not just in the flag, but between the pages of the Bible as well. For all her protestations to the contrary, no one doubts that “Vote the Bible” is an endorsement of Mitt Romney and his Party. In fact, the Christian Right has made it clear that the Democratic Party is not the party of the Bible.

In September, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki wrote in Catholic Times:

I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

This is the same disingenuous language, since Paprocki spells out why the Republicans espouse Christian values and Democrats don't.

What are these Christian values? They all involve compelling others to conform to our beliefs:

  • We want the right to make others join us in public prayer to the Judeo-Christian god.
  • We want pledges to support the nation to be tied to an invocation of our God, forcing those who don't accept his existence to validate our belief.
  • We want to force women to practice our life values. It is not enough to to preserve life in our own bodies, we compel other women to do so as well even when they were raped or their health is in jeopardy.
  • We don't even want women to have the option to prevent pregnancy.
  • We want children to be indoctrinated into the tenets of our faith under the guise of science.
  • We want to deny health care to the most needy.

In every case, Christians would scream bloody murder were the tables turned. If we were asked to join in public prayers to Allah, or to public chants to Buddha, we would consider ourselves martyrs (although I can't imagine many American Christians actually willing to die over it). If the pledge contained the phrase “a nation that needs no God for sanction,” we would call it persecution. If women were forced to practice birth control, we would call it injustice. If children were taught “evolution proves there is no God” in social studies textbooks we would scream political indoctrination. If circumcision were made mandatory, we would proclaim ourselves victims of a war on faith.

Jesus never asked us to be the moral arbiters of those who don't follow him. In fact, when I read the Bible, the only one who answers to God for my sins is me, and I do not answer for the sins of others. If we pursue the agenda of the Christian Right, we risk becoming part of the evil ourselves.

I see a darker possibility on the horizon. There may well be a culture war, but it is not a war on Christians so much as a declaration of war by a a few Christian sects on people outside the faith, and even Christians whose faith they feel diverges from theirs. There seems to be a desire to impose their orthodoxy on the rest of us, and, as recent events have proved, the Christian Right feels they are above the law in ways the rest of us aren't.

As to the economy, let's face it. The Republicans' true constituency will do well with a good or bad economy. But if we look at the record of the Republican Congress, it becomes clear they blocked every measure proposed by the administration to create more jobs and improve the economy because those measures wouldn't do it their way.

Jesus is about choice. Your choice. Your choice to follow him. We can only lead the way for others. Faith is not compulsory and to believe otherwise is to be both unChristian and unAmerican.

The supreme irony is that twenty years ago the Christian Right would not have accepted Mitt Romney as one of them. At least they have become more tolerant of someone.

Yoga is “a goy” spelled backwards

Once again Christian parents are up in arms, this time in California. It seems their innocent children are being subjected to yoga classes, which is tantamount to forced Hinduism. Needless to say, the Christians want to sue.

I did the math, and it does seem that yoga is a perniciously anti-Christian practice. If you spell yoga backwards, you get “a goy.” Any one who knows Yiddish knows that “a goy” is the term for someone who is not one of God's chosen people. It doesn't get more insidious than that. We might as well be forcing our children to pray to Ganesh.

CNN asked a spokesman for the Christian Right why parents would object to yoga and he said exactly the same thing. Well, not the backward spelling thing, but that making kids practice yoga was forcing them to “take poses that honor Hindu Gods.”

Up until that moment I didn't know that “downward facing dog,” and “salute to the sun,” were Hindu gods, not to mention “corpse,” “tree,” and “mountain.” But, it seems, they are.

Oh, wait. Using the backward spelling trick, “downward facing dog” is really “downward facing God.” It all makes sense to me now.

Carol is Cherokee, and we made medicine bags at the Cherokee Township meeting this afternoon to appreciate the artifacts of their passing culture. It reminded me of school, when we made headdresses and other native artifacts. I realized that if we were to make medicine bags in school these days, the Christian Right would claim we were honoring Native American Gods and sue the school district.

As I recall, with school funding being slashed right and left because of No Child Left Behind, schools had to give up arts and PE just to keep their budgets afloat. Yoga seems to me to be a pretty cost effective way to provide physical fitness. The districts could even stiff the parents for the cost of the mat as a “school expense.”

If the suit is filed, and upheld, a small minority of Christians will have denied school children across the country another opportunity for fitness.

So I will conclude with a thought I have shared before:

Stop whining, Christians. You sound like babies who lost their pacifiers. You're supposed to be persecuted. It's in your Bible. People are supposed to hate you, revile you and even kill you. How can you bear the cross when you can't even bear to be in the same room with people who disagree with you?Listening to you, I would think the US Constitution is supposed to spin a comfy womb where you can suckle the milk of faith and never be exposed to doubt.

When you stand before God at judgement and he asks what you did for him, you should hope you have something more to offer than you voted Republican and stopped a yoga class.