Rick Perry: Guns not kids

This post was originally written a couple of months ago, but more immediate issues intervened. In light of recent announcements, this week seemed like the week to pull it from the closet.

You know how some people can read something and miss the meaning altogether?

Like, going into a restaurant. The sign says: “Pull to open.” Only you push and can't open the door. And neither can the people inside trying to push to exit because you're pushing it closed.

I used to work in a multimedia lab and for weeks we would post large signs saying, “The lab will be closed for maintenance on….” On the date posted people would bang on the door demanding to be let in. And then, if we were kind enough to open the door and point to the sign saying “The lab will be closed for maintenance,” they would say, “So can I use the computers?”

Then there are those people who read the Gospels time and time again, profess to believe every word, promise to do what Jesus would do, and then behave as though they read Machiavelli or a white supremacy manifesto.

Like, say, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who not only professes to listen to God and to do what Jesus would do, he even holds quasi annual rallies to bring the state back to Christ. But, even though the Gospels enjoin us to care for the poor and needy, when he had an opportunity to provide health care to poor women and children, he killed the program.

He wouldn't even have had to pay for it himself, nor would Texas taxpayers. These were federal dollars. But because they made services available to the poor he didn't think they should have access to, he refused the money and shut the programs down.

Granted, the clinics were funded by taxes Texans paid to the Federal government, but this also meant he took out tax dollars and sent them to another state, without asking. Which is stealing.

Governor Rick demonstrating his grasp of the Gospels.

He is a big believer in the second commandment, however. “Thou shalt bear arms.” He's even gone one better. This week he announced his initiative to bring gun manufacturers to Texas with an appearance at the NRA convention and a video showing him shooting semi-automatic rifles.

You can check it out on YouTube.

He even gave a speech at the convention claiming that gun control advocates outraged over the murder of children at Sandy Hook were little more than opportunists. He said that we can set our watches by the response time between mass murder and the outcry for gun control. The entire theme of the convention was that gun owners are freedom fighters.

I'm sorry, I can't picture Jesus making a public display of brandishing weapons and calling for his followers to pick up arms and fight for freedom. In fact, Jesus called for his followers to do the opposite of what was expected. If someone strikes us on the cheek, offer the other one. If someone takes our coat, offer our shoes. If someone threatens us with a weapon, surrender ours.

Except, Christians don't carry weapons. We are commanded to only carry a staff for walking and sandals. (Mark 6).

Nor are we allowed to turn away those in need. Even those in need of health care. Especially when the care is on someone else's dime.

Epilogue

Fortunately, we are now in a good news/bad news situation. The good news is Perry announced he has served his last term as Governor of Texas. He will be stepping down at the end of this term. The bad news is that there is a lot more bad news. First, retirement means nothing these days. Perry could be back to run in 2018 when God reveals that he laid his retirement on the altar, like Isaac, and his sacrifice was acceptable so now he can return. Or, second, God could reveal in 2016 that he really meant for Perry to run for President and Texas (not to mention Jesus and Christians in general) will once again be held up to ridicule internationally, at least until he washes out of the first three primaries.

Finally, for Texans the worst news is that Gregg Abbott is his heir apparent, and he makes Perry look like a cuddly Care Bear. The only question is how much of the blame will he lay off on Jesus. Perry was awfully good at it.

 

Pharisees tinkering with time stamps

It's been quite a week for Republicans, both in nationally and in our own dear state of Texas. They waved the banner for the rule of law, which is very important to Republicans. The rule of law is essential to America and to Christianity itself. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament.

This is why the Republicans have been so keen to keep those indiscriminate, wanton fraudulent voters from the polls. You know, the poor blacks without drivers licenses who can't get off work and can't afford to pay for transportation to get to the polls anyway. And in Texas they were most incensed when Democrats skirted the rules of filibuster by trying to help Ft. Worth Senator Wendy Davis adjust her back brace during an abortion bill debate. They were so incensed that they started a ruckus that caused the session to run into overtime and cause their precious abortion bill to expire.

No problem. The Texas Republicans decided to pass the abortion bill and change the time stamp to show it was passed before midnight. Not illegal at all. Just a technicality. After all, they were Republicans and they could make the rules since they were the majority. Even after the game was over and they lost. So they changed the time stamp and declared victory.

It wasn't the first time they changed the rules during the game. The abortion bill had been defeated during the regular session because the Democrats managed to get enough Republicans to vote against the bill to keep it from coming to the floor. It seems the rule required a majority vote within the Senate. So the Republicans brought it up again during the special session, which isn't supposed to happen. The special session is supposed to be limited to bills the Governor calls for consideration. But they added it to the roster anyway.

Then the Republicans changed the rules of the Senate to allow the abortion bill to come to a vote if a majority of Republicans supported it. And it still went down in flames. Only to be resurrected by the miracle of a time stamp. Proving Jesus is on their side.

Except that those sneaky Democrats took photos of the bill with the original time stamp showing that it expired. So now the Republicans are relying on the miracle of Rick Perry who has called another special session, making sure the Republicans have an entire month to pass the abortion legislation that was tacked on as an afterthought and rammed through in violation of every procedural rule of the Texas Senate. And he rubbed it in at a pro-life rally by gleefully telling Senator Davis that she should be glad that her own mother, who struggled financially, didn’t abort her.

I can't help but feel a calculated heartlessness in these moves, no less calculated or cynical than the Roberts court, who cited the fact that the advances in minority access to the polls under the Voting Rights act prove it was never necessary and was unconstitutional. Even as the very states that the Civil Rights Act singled out are openly preparing to limit minority access to polls with voter i.d. challenges, redistricting, gerrymandering and probably changing polling locations, the Roberts court claims that the success of laws to stop these practices proves they will do no harm.

Clearly the Republicans believe the rule of law is for others and not for them. Should the rules prove an inconvenience for their agenda, they simply move them. Should the rules prove inadequate to stop behaviors they disapprove of, they move to make them harsher than ever.

They remind me of the Pharisees in Luke 11, who “make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but (whose) inward part is full of ravening and wickedness,” (39) and the lawyers who “lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (41). No, they don’t remind me. They are no different. This is not acceptable, and whether they wrap themselves in the rhetoric of law or Jesus they should be called for their hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the Roberts Court upheld some of the rights of same sex couples in marriage, probably because those rights involve white men. It was a 5-4 decision. You have to ask, and if you don't, I do. Is someone on the Republican side of the bench just the tiniest bit bicurious?

 

Protecting the Public One Violation at a Time

God bless Rick Perry. He loves Jesus so much that he intends to protect the public from ethics violators by shutting down the ethics investigative unit for the state to stop one drunk driver.

This is the governor who holds regular rallies to hold the state and the nation accountable to Jesus. The governor who calls for prayer and fasting. The governor who finds it intolerable that Rosemary Lehmberg, who pled guilty to and served time for drunken driving, did not resign from her position as Travis County District Attorney.

Having been raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I find his outrage surprising since Texas Politicians have been arrested for drunk driving as long as I can remember and nobody ever expected them to resign before. This includes Speakers of the House and legislators. I worked at the Capitol a few years back and remember watching legislators and governor's aides stumbling to the parking lot drunk during legislative sessions.

Of course, Lehmberg is a Democrat whose Public Integrity Unit has long raised Perry's ire, but this is irrelevent. This has to do with Jesus and morality. A drunk driver shouldn't hold elected office and it shouldn't be up to the voters to decide whether she stays.

So the day after vetoing equal pay for women and signing mandatory drug testing for the unemployed into law, not to mention a session in which he consistently cut back medical care for the poor, Perry decided that if Lehmberg didn't resign, he would veto funding for public integrity investigations altogether.

For a Christian, this is a classic example of pointing out the speck in someone's eye while ignoring the beam in his own. If we truly think the Christian agenda is served by enforcing public morality, we have to ask which is more important, forcing a district attorney to leave office or shutting down hundreds of investigations into insurance fraud, tax invasion and public corruption.

Speaking of public corruption, one of the investigations Perry's veto ended involved CPRIT and quite a few of Perry's cronies. Somehow I get the feeling that if Jesus wandered into the Governor's mansion, he might tell Perry he should be glad they weren't in His father's house or there would be a lot of furniture overturned.

 

Hallelujah Palooza is on

It’s been a busy week in Texas, what with everyone preparing for Hallelujah Palooza, Governor Perry’s call for 40 days of prayer and fasting to save the nation from Democrats. Much like the Philistines, Assyrians and Babylonians of the Old Testament, the Democrats have besieged the gates of the modern Jerusalem (Washington D.C.) and are prepared to dismantle the holy temples.

It seems nothing short of spiritual warfare will drive the Democratic hordes out of our holy land. This news totally drowned out the national news of Catholic priests openly endorsing Mitt Romney for President. Texans couldn’t see the problem because Baptists have been openly endorsing Republicans for years. It’s about time Catholics behaved like Christians.

Among the things Perry wants Christian soldiers to pray for is a new President, looser gun laws, Texas’ dead voters to stop trying to claim that they’re alive and for poor people to stop all the whining about health care. The last was prompted by a protest over Perry’s refusal to extend the Medicaid rolls, claiming that Texans don’t need health care when they have Jesus to heal them.

A large crowd gathered at the capitol to protest, but, taking his cue from the Gospels, Perry addressed the crowd and asked, “Which would you rather I give you, more health care or more guns?” Since this is Texas, guns won the day.

After the protest Governor Perry washed his hands and turned his attention back to Hallelujah Palooza. If enough Christian warriors don’t join the campaign, Perry intends to bring in carnival rides and a concert featuring Hank Williams, Jr. and KISS to draw the crowds. He quipped, “Nothing is too good for Jesus.”

That’s the news from Texas where the the guns are larger, the Bibles bigger and all the verses conservative.

Keep the Chrazies out of Christmas

‘Tis no longer the season to be jolly, but to be bitter and derisive. Too many people have a stake in Christmas and that stake has nothing to do with peace on earth and goodwill toward others.1 Christmas has become a platform for political platitudes and posturing. To listen to the religious right and their secular opponents, the fate of America’s soul, and every Christian or free thinker’s soul, depends on the outcome of the war.
Two recent examples:
A post office manager raised the ire of Fox news when he allegedly evicted Christmas carolers from his branch. I say allegedly, not because they were asked to leave, but because differing accounts depict him as irate or conciliatory. He claims he simply asked them to move to the sidewalk outside; according to Fox News, he was irate.
Of course, if you managed a post office and had to answer to bureaucratic supervisors who held you responsible for running things smoothly and avoiding customer complaints, you might be irate if a group of costumed carolers started singing during the rush at Christmas without even asking your permission. To me, their would be no “might” about it. I would be pissed.
Nor does this excuse the carolers for overlooking the need to ask for permission. I understand the philosophy that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but if you practice that philosophy you should consider yourself lucky you don’t end up in jail. To protest their removal is disingenuous, if not dishonest. So I side with the post office manager on this one.
We would expect people to get upset if pro-life or pro-choice protestors tied up business in the post office. Or girl scouts selling cookies when we’re just trying to get to the counter. Or JW’s started passing out Watchtowers. Or even if a guitar player set up shop and let loose a riff from Jimi Hendrix on his Stratocaster.
In another culture clash, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), representing atheists in Pittman, New Jersey, protested the constitutionality of a sign “Keep Christ in Christmas” hung by the local Knights of Columbus. Maybe, they should have kept their mouths shut because the sign maker is now selling the sign as a bumper sticker at cost, so it should be popping up all over the country.
The constitutionality question borders on the placement of the flag. The mayor and town council claim that one side of the sign is anchored on private property and can only be removed by zoning restrictions. The FFRF says the other side is on public property and therefore impermissible.
My feeling is that members of the FFRF should just post their own banner, “Keep Christ out of Christmas,” and attach one side to their own private property. Then they could listen to the Christians howl.
To both the carolers and the FFRF, I say, get over it. We’re all Americans and we’re allowed to celebrate holidays as we choose. We’re also allowed to piss and moan about people we disagree with. In public. What we have is not a war on Christmas, but a war of words.
Speaking of wars of words, President Obama has evidently declared a war on faith itself. I didn’t know that, but Texas Governor Rick Perry says it’s true. According to the esteemed Texas Governor, Obama was responsible for banning prayer in schools, even though the Supreme Court ruled on the issue when Obama was in grade school. (Perry also thinks the Supreme Court is unelected and unaccountable and wants to stop this practice and restore the original intent of the Constitution.) Perry also believes Obama initiated “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and insists on stopping foreign aid to countries with policies of suppressing homosexuals.
Let’s be honest. Faith can not be reduced to gay rights, or even abortion. Not even the Christian faith. Even if we consider abortion to be murder, it still doesn’t make it into the top five commandments. In the Bowl Championship Series of commandments, it would never reach the title game. Being gay, or even marrying someone of the same sex doesn’t even rank until lying under oath or adultery become involved.
Nor can Christmas be reduced to the expression of personal faith or political opinion. Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church considers the modern church to be part “civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview and lifestyle match theirs.”
Christians on both sides of the political spectrum would smugly smile on reading this and know, in their hearts, it applies to those “other Christians.” It applies to all Christians, including me. But, at Christmas, we need to recognize that the holiday Christmas no longer belongs to Christians.
Christmas has become a social festival to be enjoyed by all. We are supposed to celebrate the Joy of God in the world even if we don’t believe in him. Peace on earth, good will toward everyone. If Christmas isn’t for everyone, even those who choose to celebrate differently or not at all, then we should remove it as a Federal and national holiday.
But the Christian Right would never accept that. They want us all to celebrate Christmas on their own terms. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one! As long as we celebrate the way Jesus intended.” Bah, humbug, indeed.


1 Oops, I already did it (to twist the words of that great philosopher Britney Spears). I misquoted the Bible. It should be “good will toward men.” If God wanted good will toward women, he would have said it that way.2back

2Who, to be honest was merely parroting the words of song writers Max Martin and Rami. But what a great excuse to chain a footnote off a footnote. If it seems as though I’m treating the war on Christmas with too much levity, I would say that, to the contrary, levity is all the subject deserves.back

Jobs for Jesus

Before we get to Jesus:

This week the Republicans stopped implementation of their own Bush era law, a law designed to hold three percent of payments from government contractors who are in arrears on taxes. When the bill passed through a Republican Congress with a Republican President, Republicans were outraged that businesses would take government money and not pay taxes in return.

After corporate investors looted the economy, took billions from the government and paid the money back without creating a single job or putting that money into loans to small businesses, Republicans decided they were wrong. So the law, which was supposed to go into effect in 2013 has been put on ice.

Tax-dodging government contractors are free to dodge their taxes again.

So much for render unto Caesar.

Here’s the stupid part. And I mean stupid. Obama and the Democrats were all for it. Somehow the Republicans convinced them that tax-delinquent companies would spend those revenues on jobs.

Get a clue, Democrats. If those employers were going to use the money they didn’t pay in taxes to create jobs, they would have done it already; they’re not going to create more jobs if they keep getting it.

So get back to the message:

Cutting taxes isn’t going to create jobs, at least not jobs for Americans.

Cutting taxes will only put us deeper into debt. And then we’ll lose government jobs as well. Wait a minute, that’s happening now. Because we’re cutting taxes and can’t pay their salaries anymore. Unless they move to government jobs in Texas from high paying corporate jobs.

Texas governor Rick Perry has been perfectly willing to exceed state salary caps to pay five new Department of Transportation (TxDOT) executives a quarter million apiece. As a consequence, TxDOT will have to lay off ten or twenty other employees, but these were corporate hot shots and they deserve better from our tax dollars.

Republicans aren’t really Christians, they just think they are. Maybe even believe they are. Maybe, on Sunday, when they aren’t obsessed with cutting taxes and abortion, they get close.

Corporations aren’t about the love of Jesus, they’re about the love of money.

Christians might let employees go if they had no money to pay them, but they wouldn’t lay people off to boost the bottom line. And they certainly wouldn’t lay employees off or force them into early retirement to lavish salaries on someone new.

One of the tenets of the charismatic movement’s prosperity wing (a movement which evolved into the moral majority and the modern Republican Right) was that if you give 10 percent to God, God would give back a hundred fold. So why aren’t more of these Christian corporations giving ten percent to God so they can hire more people?

How about this? Why don’t Christian conservatives hire ten percent more employees to increase their profits a hundred fold? Jesus said that which you do to the least of these, you do for him. Hiring a few of the unemployed would be the equivalent of hiring Jesus, and he would return profits a hundred fold.

They could even call the movement “Jobs for Jesus.”

It would be nice if they actually hired Americans for these new jobs, but that may be a lot to ask. Not ask of God, of course, but of American corporate management.

The more cynically minded thinkers—the ones who think the new Corporate Christian complex that is rapidly replacing the military industrial complex is little more than a ploy to exploit more gullible members of the faith—could even cash in with an ad campaign: “Buy Christian and create jobs for Jesus.”

Then the Corporate Christian complex could profit when God pays them back for giving jobs and profit from the increased business as well. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll do the Christian thing and actually hire somebody in America.

Before you can stay on message you must find one

Except for Anita Perry’s. That needs to go.

Okay Democrats, listen up (and you too Anderson Cooper).

Anderson Cooper, thinking he was acting in a spirit of fairness, claimed President Obama was fudging the truth when he said the Republicans had no plan to create jobs.

He then showed a clip of John McCain saying, “We submitted a bill with a detailed plan.”

Wow, Anderson and John, I feel so much better. Only nothing I saw said what those details were. So I looked it up and the details of the bill are this: Cut taxes, cut spending and cut regulation.

So Obama misspoke. The Republicans do have a plan, they just haven’t offered us a plan that differs from the same plan they’ve been offering since the Bush administration.

In the meantime, the house passed a bill allowing hospitals to refuse abortions even when there’s a medical need, and crippling the EPA’s ability to enforce their own regulations. In other words, the Republican plan to create new jobs also involves cutting back on environmental health (driving up health care costs) and stopping abortion to make sure more kids are unemployed in twenty years.

So here’s the message Democrats can stay on:

Businessmen will only create jobs if they think they will make more money, not because they pay fewer taxes. And those jobs will only be in America if businesses can’t get away with hiring somebody for less money in India, China or Indonesia.

How do we know this? Because in 2000 Bush launched reforms that were identical to McCain’s Senate Bill: Cut taxes, cut regulation, cut (domestic) spending (and cut back on environmental safety and abortions as well). We lost jobs in the recession that followed and never really gained them back.

Why not? Because the new jobs created under the Republican plan were created overseas. Just like they will be under the new Republican plan.

So let’s think back to the one time in modern American history when people had good jobs and good salaries and ask ourselves, “what was the country like?” America was a country with strong unions, executive salaries more closely aligned to starting salaries, and lots of regulation.

Companies did pretty good too. They just didn’t try to earn their profits on the stock market and pay the CEO two hundred times what they paid employees.

Oh, yes, and one last thing: Christians didn’t believe faith and free enterprise were the same thing.

Nor would Coke Stevens’, Allan Shivers’, Price Daniels’ or John Connally’s wives say their husbands were being brutalized for their faith. And trust me, the few Republicans in Texas during their administrations hated those Governors as much as, well, the few more Democrats and even Republicans hate Perry.

Sure, Perry has taken some (well-deserved) heat in the press, but brutalized? Rape victims are brutalized, abused spouses and children are brutalized, third-world journalists are brutalized, politicians who tackle terrorists and drug dealers are brutalized.

They are beaten, burned, violated sexually, tortured and even dismembered.

How has Rick been brutalized? Republicans (not evil, God-hating, devil worshipping Democrats, mind you) have challenged his conservative credentials and reminded people that he approved the use of the HpV vaccine (which evil, God-hating, devil worshipping Democrats and even I have no problem with), wanted Texas to secede from the Union and called Social Security a Ponzi scheme.

Wow. To hear Anita, you would think they nailed him to a cross. Upside down like the apostle Peter. (I didn’t want to carry the analogy too far).

But accusing her opponents of brutality wasn’t enough. She went on to say that she knew other Republicans thought they heard the call from God to run for President, but they were wrong. She knows because she heard the call herself. If she heard the call then—clearly—they didn’t.

In fact, even her husband Rick didn’t hear the call. Seriously. He didn’t know anything about it until she delivered the message for God.

Double wow. Dare we take a moment to thank the Lord that God didn’t tell her Rick should run for Messiah?

Now, I’m going to step away from my firm belief that God can speak to women, and address readers as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK). Being raised BPK, I can tell you that God appointed men as head of the house and would never speak to wives because that would bestow on women the leadership role in the family.

Here’s the best part. God doesn’t just want Rick to be President, he wants Anita to be Co-President (that’s what “God called us” and “we’re running” means). So now Anita isn’t just the spiritual guide in the Perry house, she’s supposed to be co-head of the country.

This would be quite a promotion considering that a few years ago many Texans thought she was merely Perry’s beard.

Even Hillary never went that far. One could even go so far as to suggest Anita Perry is the Anti-Hillary (and we shall know her by her number 333, which would be her dress size, shoe size and number of things she said in a single day that would embarrass any other husband).

Which just goes to show that what many people believe to be faith is little more than hubris. And possibly, in some cases at least, delusional.

Literal love

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve droned on about literalists, but I want to stress that I’m a literalist myself. At least when it’s clear the literal interpretation makes more sense than twisting the meaning and redefining words with meanings that can’t be found in standard dictionaries.

I first got in trouble for this in my high school freshman English class when I told my teacher that the rose in a poem could simply be a rose. (And this was before I read Gertrude Stein). Even in college poetry workshops, I felt that a poem that couldn’t be read literally first probably couldn’t support a meaningful symbolic structure.

So when I question the belief that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally, it’s not because I don’t feel literal interpretations aren’t important. In fact, I think it could be dangerous to ignore the literal meaning of passages. I simply believe that snipping verses and passing them off as “God’s literal word” can lead to as many problems as refusing to accept any basis of truth in the scripture.

Take the phrase “it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” There is a metaphor involved but the metaphor isn’t the point. It doesn’t really matter what the eye of the needle is or how hard it is for the camel to get through it. The point is the literal meaning, which is that rich people will have a hard time getting into heaven.

Even if we don’t understand the metaphor of “eye of the needle” at all, the context of the saying makes it clear. It follows a literal declaration making the exact same point with no metaphor whatever. “…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It doesn’t get more literal than that.

The syntax of the sentence (It is easier for A than B) makes the meaning clear as well. Take other examples: “It would be easier to split a rock with your head than separate something glued with epoxy,” or “It would be easier to survive water torture and electrocution than to sit through another Republican primary debate with Rick Perry involved.” When anyone encounters that structure in ordinary language, we don’t stop to reinterpret it to mean “this will be easy” (or in the case of Christian Republican theology, essential).

And yet I have sat through any number of sermons explaining why Jesus didn’t really mean it was hard for rich people to get into heaven. I’m not just pointing my finger at Baptists here (although most of the sermons I heard came during Baptist revival when giving was at its highest), but Episcopalians and Presbyterians as well.

I write this because I remember a long night spent arguing with a family member about Matthew 22. This family member, whom I won’t name, argued that homosexuals couldn’t be Christians because they didn’t obey God. In fact, she argued, no one could really be Christian if they weren’t in complete obedience. People who weren’t in complete obedience didn’t deserve God’s love or forgiveness.

So I quoted (or paraphrased) Matthew 22: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (This is the NIV version, but it isn’t too much different than the others).

She claimed that verse wasn’t talking about agape love, so we looked it up on the Internet and it was. Then she said, “but love means ‘obey.’ So the commandment is really saying that if we love god we will obey every commandment.”

Sadly, this kind of tunnel vision drives too much of Christian thinking. When the time comes to read a verse literally, we can’t accept it.

I’ve looked up every definition of love and agape on the web (and that includes a number of cranky sites) and couldn’t find one that defined agape as obedience. I’m sure, however, that this meaning has popped up in more than one discussion. It’s easier to redefine words when the dictionary isn’t in front of us.

Here’s my thinking. If the definition of love is to obey, then Jesus was really saying the the most important way in which we can obey God is to obey God. I don’t think Jesus was given to that kind of circularity. If anything, he was too much of an out of the box thinker for most Christians.

But if this is what he really meant, then we are left interpreting the second commandment to mean, “Obey your neighbor as you obey yourself.” I don’t want to discuss the linguistic twists that follow from this thinking.

More accurately, this is a case where we need to think literally. If we really want to obey God we will love him and love each other. Love, in essence, is a commandment, and that doesn’t mean tough love or doing what’s best for someone in spite of their desires, or denying them the love of God because we think they’re disobeying God themselves.

It’s tempting to walk away from such clear injunctions because they seem so trite and obvious. The Beatles said, “All you need is love,” so it must be more difficult than that. Who wants their most important imperative to be reduced to a jingle?

But in the case of Jesus’ followers, it’s an order. If you want to obey God, you will love him and everyone else. Homosexual or not. Unwed parent or not. Had an abortion and still believing it was the right thing to do or not. Planning on having an abortion or not. Or, in my case (and that’s what makes it so hard to love them) whether or not they believe in creationism (as opposed to creation), support the Tea Party, and think Obama is the antiChrist.

WWS&RD?

The recent decision by the State of Texas to make rape victims pay for their own rape kits is one of the most cynical and the least Christian moves I can think of. The decision was prompted by the State’s refusal to accept Federal funding in areas such as education, health and law enforcement, leaving the state without money to aid victims of rape. Or at least that’s the Attorney General’s spin.

Basically, the decision means that taxes Texans pay to the federal government get spent on other states instead. In essence, they’re giving our taxes to someone else to make a political point. But the rape kits have to be the kicker.

What’s next? Making homicide victims pay for the crime lab work and clean up? Making burglary victims pay for the finger print kits? Wealthier families will have no problem paying for the lab work, but this leaves the poor with no real recourse to justice since they won’t be able to pay for the investigations.

Screen shot of Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign poster. He has offered it to the Republican party for their other campaigns and they may adopt it.

screen shot of Perry's campaign poster

This callous and cynical, and decidedly unChristian kind of thinking made me realize we need a second ethical guideline as a yardstick for decision making. We have the positive example, WWJD (or, more specifically, What Would Jesus Really Do), but we need a negative yardstick as well: WWS&RD.

This is not aimed at all Republicans, I admire many of them. Unfortunately they cower in the shadow of the religious right and the Tea Party every bit as much as Democrats.

Republicans and Tea Party members will no doubt be upset that I pair them with Satan, but they’ve pointed the Satan finger so unjustly and so successfully for so long that I’ve decided it’s time to call them on it. After all, the Inquisition may well have been one of the most powerful tools in Satan’s arsenal. Why shouldn’t he continue the tactic?

Let me segue for a few paragraphs to explain where I’m coming from.

You don’t have to be an idiot to have idiotic ideas

Liberal Christians (LCs) make the same mistake about Fundamentalist beliefs that secular liberals make about theirs. They assume that because fundamentalists and evangelicals (FECs) cling to a few ideas they perceive to be idiotic, then the entire fundamentalist belief structure must be wrong. As a consequence, many LCs reject wholeheartedly any notion that Jesus was more divine than any other man or that there might be a resurrection of the dead.

Both sides ignore the fact that all of these issues were heavily debated in the early Christian community1 and, it could be argued, orthodoxy only became standardized with the enforcement of empire.

But we may also have to acknowledge that many fundamentalist ideas are held to be idiotic because in some ways they border on the idiotic.

Of course, the problem is that to true believers idiotic never seems idiotic. It makes perfect sense because, by God, that’s what someone important told them. This is why Bill Maher’s Donner Party is doomed from the outset, as much as I pitch my hat to them. Most Donner Party followers will join only with a sense of irony, and idiots have no irony. In the end, faux idiots like those of us in the Donner Party, will always cave to the force of sheer idiocy.

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I was taught that the Bible was literally true. Every word of it. In fact, when I discussed the Bible with family members, they seemed to believe that God literally seized the writing hands of the Prophets and Apostles and everything in the Bible was merely a matter of automatic writing (or, since that has overtones of magic, taking dictation).2

Even casual observation and reading made it clear this couldn’t possibly be true. For one thing, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he isn’t writing from God but as a fool. But since it appears in the Bible we are left with something even worse than the “this sentence is false” dilemma. Paul says the passage isn’t the literal word of God, but merely the words of a fool.

But if the entire Bible is the literal word of God, it is the literal word of God (and Paul should have known it) and, even worse, the literal words of God are the words of a fool.

Of course, even Fundamentalists balked at scriptures that completely challenge their faith. For instance, the Bible says the eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. And that when a couple are married they become one flesh. Catholics, God bless them, don’t back down on these beliefs.

According to the Baptists, however, marriage and communion were symbolic sacraments (as opposed to baptism which was a bona fide sacrament). Now in my book, “symbolic” means “not literal.” In fact, in the Baptist book it means not literal too unless we’re talking about scripture. In the context of scripture, symbolic means literal, just not literally literal.

The Song of Songs presents a similar problem. If we interpret it literally, the Song of Songs celebrates the joys of physical sex. Let’s be honest. It’s about the joy of fucking.3 If we want to talk literal, I don’t see how we can get more literal than that.

The Song of Song even says it’s okay for a man to want to enjoy a woman’s breasts while they get it on (and, we can infer, for a woman to enjoy a man dawdling around her breasts as well). I learned more about sex from the Song of Songs than I did from National Geographic (the only other publication with breasts I was allowed to see).

But here’s the thing. If you’re FEC, The Song of Songs isn’t really about sex, it’s about Jesus. (In fact, even many LCs blush over that one and prefer the “spiritual interpretation.”) This means that—not only is there an entire book of the Tanakh that we can’t discuss literally—all those good people who read the Song of Songs before the birth of Christ were left totally clueless. It’s amazing they were smart enough to put it in the Bible.

Here are some other bizarre problems with literalism. The parables couldn’t be stories, they must have actually happened. Paul really experienced childbirth as did the other apostles. Jesus is not only a person, he’s a lamb and the holy spirit is a real dove. And the Bible never claims to be the literal word of God (except for the Ten Commandments and the Laws, many of which fundamentalists ignore—for instance, the verses about making women stay outside of town during their monthly periods).

This leads me to the most perplexing problem. In this literalist interpretation of the Bible, God is incapable of using metaphors, simile and allegory. People can do it, but God can’t because every word he utters (in English) is literal. But even if God can use metaphors, once his words are written down in the Bible, every one of those metaphors ceases to be a metaphor and becomes literally true.

And God doesn’t really get to speak to us with any authority any more because everything important he said was already written.

All of this just to preserve Mary’s virginity, keep the world seven thousand years old and make the dinosaurs go away.

Sure, I get it. If every word of the Bible isn’t literally true, we have to justify our faith in the resurrection with more than “the Bible.” The problem is, nobody believes the Bible but us, so it isn’t very useful for proof anyway.

I understand the impulse to defend the literalism of the scriptures. We don’t want to reduce them to fables and fairy tales either. But I’m hard pressed to find either position particularly intelligible. Or scriptural.

This qualifies as an idiotic belief no matter how profoundly we cling to it. I didn’t used to feel so strongly but I finally had to face the facts. Nobody, and I mean nobody, interprets every sentence of the Bible as a literal expression of truth. Everyone I’ve ever discussed the Bible with has found some reason to explain away the literal meaning of passages they don’t like, even when the example under discussion is really intended to be taken literally (e.g., love your neighbor as yourself).

So to claim that you do is to lie to yourself so loudly and so well that you literally believe the lie you live no matter how thoroughly you fail to actually practice isn’t even simple ignorance. It’s shortsighted, and possibly even dangerous.

But let’s take the example of a man often held up as an example for his defense of fundamentalism and the literal truth of the Bible, William Jennings Bryan. A man I consider one of my personal heroes even though he could be shortsighted. Bryan was a two-time candidate for President who would have been horrified at modern fundamentalism’s right wing politics. Ridiculed for his belief in creation, people forget that his concern was as much about the consequences of evolutionary theory on political and social engineering as he was about the veracity of scripture.

At the time, evolution was frequently tied into a social and political theory called eugenics. Its proponents believed in another idiotic idea—that evolution justified engineering a superior race and citizen (with the implication that the poor and non-white peoples were genetically inferior to wealthy white people).

Bryan was a defender of famers’ and labor movements, and wanted to detach US currency from the gold standard to create more money and improve the lives of the poor and the middle class. He rejected evolution because he didn’t like its use in justifying a war on the poor and less fortunate.

The phrase “eugenics” has passed from the lexicon (except for Star Trek fans) but the social engineering Bryan feared remains firmly entrenched in the hands of Republicans like Rick Perry. Based on his Presidential announcement and his decisions in the past week, this is Perry’s platform:

  • Tax the poor.4
  • Deny justice to poor people when the wealthy rob them of their lives and livelihood.5
  • Make rape victims pay for their own investigation.
  • Take insurance away from the poorest Americans.6

As with eugenics, this is an all out assault on the poor and underprivileged to funnel what little wealth and dignity they have to the deserving rich. Perry and the Republican vanguard (and make no mistake about it, this new virulent strain of the religious right now controls the party) want to make sure that not only can we never dine at the table, the rich don’t even have to throw us their scraps.

And if that doesn’t remind you of one of Jesus’ parables, it doesn’t matter if the Bible is the literal word of God or not. You haven’t been reading it.

So, yes, I propose a new measure, the anti-WWJD. What Would Satan & Republicans Do (WWS&RD)? For far too long Perry and his ilk have accused those who would follow the example of Christ of being enemies of Christ. And this is definitely a move we would expect from the angel of light.


1Readers who believe the early Christians held a monolithic interpretation of the faith haven’t really been reading their Bibles. Early Christians argued like Baptists over who had the “true” message. They argued about whether gentiles could be converted, and once they let the gentiles in the argued about whether they needed to be circumcised. They argued about whether one church should support the work of another church. They argued about the spiritual status of sacrificial meat. They argued whether or not Christians could also serve the Roman empire.
They even argued over the resurrection of the dead. If you doubt it, check out Paul’s defense of the resurrection, which is addressed to believers. (1 Corinth 15) If the resurrection of the dead was a universally accepted belief among early Christians, we have to question why he would feel the need to argue so passionately that none of the faith is meaningful without the hope of resurrection.back

2Ironically this is an Islamic and not a Christian belief. The idea that God literally dictated his precepts to the writers of scripture appears nowhere in scripture. He inspires prophets, he speaks to them, but they remain free agents in the transmission process. Mohammed, however, did describe the Koran as a literal message from God which he wrote down word for word.
So it could be argued that people who believe God took control of the people who wrote the Bible and forced the words through their hands are actually Islamists.back

3Before you go getting all weird about my saying “fucking” in a Christian column, let me assure you I debated whether or not to use the word for fifteen minutes (which is a long time for me to debate myself; in fact it shows exceptional restraint and reflection on my part, as Carol and the rest of my family will attest). But I finally decided that if we’re going to talk about the consequences of literal interpretations, there’s nothing more literal than that.
When I was in Nashville as a teenager I ran across a protestor outside the publisher of the Living Bible. Now I’m not a fan of paraphrased Bibles because they aren’t even translations so much as “the Bible as I would say it” (which should cause even more problems for Baptists who believe the Bible is the literal word of God and who also read the Living Bible). He was upset because the paraphraser used the words “crap,” “piss” and “bitch.” I asked him if those weren’t the real words in Hebrew and Greek. He admitted that, yes, they were but the writer still could have used words that were better suited to Christians. Sometimes you just have to call something what it is.back

4What else are we to make of his pronouncement, “half of Americans” don’t pay taxes? Let’s put aside the fact that the number seems highly exaggerated. The Americans he refers to don’t make enough to pay taxes. And most of them do give the money to the government only to have it returned at the end of the tax year. This allows the government to at least earn interest on the money in the meantime, helping generate the revenue to build roads and pay for bullets for our soldiers in Afghanistan. back

5Aka “tort reform”back

6Aka “repeal the Health Care Act.”back


First stop President, next stop Messiah

Not more than a day after the Republican Presidential debate improved Rick Perry’s chances without him having uttered a word, he fell to the occasion by claiming he was Jesus.

Perry’s exact words? “I say that a prophet is generally not loved in their hometown. That’s both Biblical and practical.” Not to mention completely ungrammatical. But what can you expect of someone who graduated from one of the nation’s poorest performing states in education?

You can find the statement just about anywhere on the web. I’m citing 1
Rick Connelly in the Houston Press.

His remark came in answer to a question about his unpopularity in Texas. And he is unpopular. I don’t know anyone who likes him. But that doesn’t matter because the only person Texans hate more than Rick Perry is any Democrat who opposes him. Especially now that Obama has tainted the purity of the Democratic bloodlines.

Rick Perry’s new official self-portrait, commissioned after his “prophet without honor” press conference.

All Perry had to say was, “If I’m that unpopular, why have they reelected me so damn many times?” Admittedly, this is a question that puzzles me as well. But he didn’t provide it. He chose to imply that he’s unpopular because he’s a prophet.

Not just any prophet, mind you. He took the words right out of Jesus’ mouth. So even though he didn’t technically refer to himself as Jesus, it’s hard to avoid drawing the conclusion. Either way, if you believe Hal Lindsay and Rapture theologians, this claim would qualify him as the AntiChrist, or the prophet of the AntiChrist.

If he actually becomes President.

If he loses, he would just become another delusional heretic like David Koresh or Jim Jones, leading his Texas flock to metaphorical suicide (which is pretty much the way things are going down here).

But here’s the thing, Rick. A prophet is without honor in his own country, but so are fools, liars and panderers. Jesus was held in contempt because his friends and family members remembered him before he began his mission. This was their first encounter with him after he felt the call.

People hold you in contempt after you’ve actually completed several turns as governor. Nobody remembers you before your election; we know the man in office. Texans might argue that you are without honor in your own country because you’ve proved time and time again that you have no honor personally.

Ironically, Perry won’t suffer from his comment at all. Why? Because Republicans will forgive him just about anything since you can’t be Republican and not also be an Ambassador of Christ. Democrats already think he’s little more than George Bush’s Mini Me.

I find this ironic because Republicans howled at Obama’s use of messianic language (e.g., “bringing people together,” and, even worse, “I’m asking you to believe.”) The World Net Daily went so far as to suggest Democrats would coronate him Messiah based on reports of an Obama painting.2

To me, Perry’s statement is little more than another indication of how easily people use their faith to put blinders on their politics (and vice versa).

When I turned 18, a member of the first class of 18-year-olds to vote, I supported George McGovern. The pastor of my church and most of the elders told me I shouldn’t support McGovern, not just because he was against Jesus but because Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics. Never mind the fact that McGovern was a devout Methodist and former president of Wesleyan University.

Eight years later, those same Christians would join the religious right and vote born again Christian Jimmy Carter out of office, to replace him with a man who would never profess Christianity personally, but only admit that he “believed in a higher power” and didn’t attend church because he didn’t want people to be endangered by assassins trying to kill him. 3

I didn’t understand why so many evangelicals hated McGovern, because at the time I thought Methodists were partners in the Alliance of Light (Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists—maybe Presbyterians) against the spiritual Axis of Evil (Catholics, Communists and Counter Culturalists). In retrospect, I can see the handwriting was on the wall. Methodists were so close to the center they would inevitably be lumped in with Episcopalians.

The Christian Right doesn’t want to separate faith from politics because it allows them to divert the faithful from the truth. There is big money in corporate politics, Republican campaigns and mega-church evangelism. Not all mega-churches are evil, but sooner or later growth becomes the bottom line in faith as well as business. More souls saved means bigger churches, more influence politically and more money raised.

The early church was about the nurturing and care of Christians as much as it was about evangelism. If the church didn’t continue to serve the physical and social needs of new believers (most of them poor), they would drift way.

In the book of Acts, the twelve Apostles in Jerusalem did not evangelize, they spent their time in prayer. They appointed deacons to physically serve the needs of the fellowship. Unfortunately, as always, the evangelists got the glory.

Even Paul’s work as a tent maker, while he spent months supporting himself to build churches and make sure the money went to the poorer members (and to support the church in Jerusalem), gets lost in the tales of adventure and evangelism.

The Christian Right is a profitable enterprise, and you can bet Rick Perry will capitalize on the brand to promote a political ideology that has impoverished Texans, Christian and non-Christian alike.

When Carol first read about Perry’s claim, she posted on Facebook: “I know Jesus, and Rick Perry isn’t Jesus.”

None of these guys are, so maybe we should put aside the filter of faith when listening to politicians. We want to elect politicians whose policies show care and concern for the least of us, as did Jesus. We don’t want politicians who turn faith into another corporate brand.


1If you’re not sure why the passage isn’t grammatical, you probably graduated from a Texas school just like Rick Perry’s. So move to a state with good schools while you can, because Perry and his cronies in the Legislature are determined to even reduce universities to football powers and academic wastelands.
Pro analysts complained that UT national champion and quarterback Vince Young could barely read the playbook. By the time the current cuts are finished, he would qualify for Texas MENSA (which handicaps applicants from Texas by adding 80 points to their IQs).

2 If you read the article, it’s clear that the painting that provokes the messianic coronation article was never intended to deify Obama. The article includes the obligatory artist’s comment without actually stopping to think what he’s actually saying.

“More than a presidential portrait,” writes D’Antuono on a website touting the painting, “‘The Truth’ is a politically, religiously and socially-charged statement on our nation’s current political climate and deep partisan divide that is sure to create a dialogue.”back

It reminds me of the “Jesus (heart) George and Osama” bumper sticker I wanted to make before Carol convinced me some asshole would trash our car in a fit of Christian charity.

3He made the statement in a Presidential debate against Mondale.back