Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

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Back in 2005, various political and religious leaders suggested that Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,836 people, was sent as a divine retribution for the sins of New Orleans, or of the South, or of the United States as a whole for that matter. Ray Nagin, who was New Orleans Mayor at the time is said to have asserted in a speech addressing the effects of Hurricane Katrina, “Surely God is mad at America.” Various different reasons were given for God’s wrath. Some victims of the disaster also made attributions to supernatural causes: that they were being punished for their sins, or that God was testing them, or even that the event was “the work of Satan.”

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my old whipping boy, Pat Robertson, implied on a broadcast of The 700 Club that the hurricane was God’s punishment in response to America’s abortion policy. He suggested that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the disaster in New Orleans “could… be connected in some way.”

Pro-Life activist Steve Lefemine expressed a similar view, stating that “In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion…. Providence punishes national sins by national calamities…. Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion.”

Gerhard Maria Wagner, briefly an auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria attributed Hurricane Katrina to God’s ire caused by the town’s reputation for lax sexual behavior, claiming that the hurricane destroyed brothels, nightclubs and abortion clinics: “It’s no coincidence that in New Orleans all five abortion clinics as well as night clubs were destroyed.”

Evangelist John Charles Hagee linked the hurricane to a gay pride event known as “Southern Decadence Day,” which was to have been held in the town’s French Quarter a few days after the hurricane hit. He said, “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are – were – recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area, that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.” In rebuttal, About.com’s Urban Legends and Folklore article entitled “Hurricane Katrina: God’s Punishment for a ‘Wicked’ City?” points out that the hurricane occurred before the parade and that the French Quarter was one of the least devastated parts of the city.

All of the above voices were giving expression to a major tenet in a pre-Copernican God theology that finds ample space in the pages of the Bible. Why do you think there was a flood in the time of Noah? According to the Bible, the flood was sent by God to punish people for their sins. Consistent with this biblical lesson, natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, Tsunami waves and droughts have throughout history been interpreted as a divine response to a real or imagined human failure. People prayed for weather changes and accompanied those prayers with promises of repentance and a pledge to future actions more pleasing to God.

“We must ask God to stop these rains,” said General George Smith Patton Jr. just before the famous Battle of the Bulge during World War Two. He continued, “These rains are that margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray…it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.” The result of this statement was a card with a prayer written by the Head Chaplain of Patton’s Third Army and a Christmas Greeting printed on the reverse side that was distributed to all troops under Patton’s command. It read: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

General Patton believed God favored the Allies and hated the Nazis. For Patton, since God was assumed to live just above the sky, divine direction of the weather was easy to imagine.

This religious rhetoric permeates our culture on many levels. It is reflected by the fact that many people still view sickness as punishment. “Why did this happen to me?” is a familiar refrain falling from the lips of the ill. When I was chaplain in a major hospital in Baltimore, my usual response to such a question was: “Why not you? Are you somehow unlike the rest of us and immune from suffering?” Now I was not trying to be insensitive or callous, but simply to remind the person that no one is exempt from some form of suffering in this life, not even Jesus. “Why me” is the wrong question because rain falls on the just and the unjust alike and bad things do happen to good people.

We see this same mentality being employed today by television evangelists, among athletes, and in the words of many people in public life. For example, modern athletes seem to believe the God above the sky directs their fortunes. I see an athlete making the sign of the cross before stepping into the batter’s box, or up to the free throw line. I see others point to the sky in gratitude to the God who helped them strike out an opponent, hit a home run, or kick a winning field goal. (I did not know that God was such a sports fan!)

This similar theology also penetrates the way tragedies are interpreted. Survivors, who climb out of an airliner crash or escape a subway bombing, or walk away from a horrific traffic accident, seem almost invariably to assume that God has spared their lives. The unspoken implication, of course, is that those who died either deserved it or that God had no special plan for them beyond premature death.

What is it that gives such power to these primitive ideas that athletes or presumably well-educated people in public life, or just average people still think and talk this way? Is some basic human need met by this theology? Does pious rhetoric blunt our thinking processes? Or does this tenacious idea simply reflect an ever-present but seldom faced part of our humanity?

I suspect that part of the answer to those questions is that to be human is to yearn for some assurance that we are not alone in this vast and impersonal world. As human beings, we are the only creatures whose minds are sufficiently developed to embrace the vastness of the universe. As humans, we alone understand the meaning of time. As humans, we can both anticipate impending disasters and embrace the fact that we will die. Such ability is one of the consequences of being human and as a result humans will always be chronically anxious. Anxiety is one of the byproducts of self-consciousness. Add fear to this anxiety and you have the conditions that seem to compel we humans to create a divine supernatural God figure powerful enough to be our protector. This deity must not be limited as we are, since such restrictions would not give us security. Human beings never seem to escape that childhood memory of having an apparently all-powerful parent figure taking care of them. Finding ourselves alone as adults, we place a divine parent figure called God in the sky where, unseen but ever watchful, this being can and will look after us. We even call this parent figure, “Father.” Then we ascribe to this Father-God the qualities that we humans lack. Since we are mortal, God must be immortal. Because we are powerless, God must be all-powerful. And so on. Once we have defined God this way, we begin to relate to this God exactly the way children relate to their parents. We bargain with God, make our requests known to God, manipulate God, flatter God into getting our way, seek to win God’s favor by keeping God’s rules, confess to God when we fail and – and as our parents rightly taught us – always remember to say “thank you” so that God will reward us for being good and grateful children.

Not surprisingly, this supernatural theistic religion is still very much alive in our churches because claiming the ability to interpret how God will act and what will please the Holy One is both the source of ecclesiastical authority and control and the cause of our own spiritual immaturity. From this perspective, we view sickness and tragedy as signs of divine anger, reflecting the world we have created, with ourselves living at the center of it and God understood as the one who keeps things fair as a good parent should.

The result of this religious mentality might well be temporarily comforting, but ultimately it is destructive. For instance, when the infamous Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, swept through Europe and the Middle East in the fourteenth century, many thought that the reason for such a disaster was the wrath of God. What was the cause of God’s wrath? At the time, the most obvious answer was the culprit was that the sinfulness of the people, so a movement arose known as the “Flagellants” – religious zealots who demonstrated their religious fervor and sought atonement for their sins by vigorously whipping themselves in public displays of penance. Their hope was that if they punished themselves sufficiently, God would withdraw the punishing “black death.” The second answer put forth was that God was angry because Europe’s Christians had tolerated infidels. Responding to that premise, Christians proceeded to persecute Jews in a frenzy of murderous anti-Semitism. Jews were reviled and accused in all lands of having caused the Black Death through the poison that they were said to have put into the water and the wells. For this reason, Jews were burned all the way from the Mediterranean to Germany.

So, too, when unexplained mysteries baffled the citizens of Salem, Massachusetts in the late seventeenth century, citizenries responded by executing women they deemed to be witches and the agents of Satan, who, they concluded, had caused their distress. And, to come full circle, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, it was God’s punishment for the wickedness of the people of that great city that unleashed the devastating hurricane.

Do we find this idea of a wrathful God comforting?

Ironically enough, there does appear to be a far deeper connection between human behavior and natural disaster than our popular rhetoric imagines. Some natural disasters, such as the collision of tectonic plates that create Tsunami waves are just that, natural disasters. They are not a response to anyone’s behavior. Other disasters, however, are connected with our human behavior, but not in the old moralistic sense of “God’s going to get you for this.”

We are, for example, experiencing today changing weather patterns that reflect impending environmental disasters. They result not from an angry deity, but from such things as irresponsible human breeding habits that have led to overpopulation and the resulting exhaustion of many of the earth’s resources. We have cut down the rain forests, polluted the air we breathe and the water we drink. Our behavior has led to global warming, acid rain, the melting of the polar icecaps and the resulting dramatic changes in the weather patterns of our world. These present and pending disasters are nature’s way of saying that our rape of the earth has dire consequences. These disasters are the result of a humanity that has not yet embraced the fact that the world is not an enemy that we must conquer and subdue as if we are not a part of it. We are all on this spaceship called Earth.

These calamities are the result of our conceptualizing God as separated from this world, isolated in the sky, and then endowing this God with symbols of parenthood that allow us to remain irresponsible children who cannot see beyond the level of our own self-centered need for comfort and security.

But as hard as it is for some to fathom, there is no deity in the sky who will send out a divine Electrolux to gobble up the human waste that now warms our atmosphere. There is no heavenly filtering system through which we can recycle the water of our rivers, lakes and oceans. As much as many politicians may deny this fact, in today’s world there is no scapegoat other than ourselves upon whom we can heap the blame for our rapid environmental degradation. Global warming is real whether we like it or not. That is why globally, the mercury is already up more than one degree Fahrenheit, and even more in sensitive Polar Regions. And the effects of rising temperatures are not waiting for some far-flung future. They are happening right now. Signs are appearing all over, and some of them are surprising. The heat is not only melting glaciers and sea ice; it is also shifting precipitation patterns and setting animals on the move. Current changes and future predictions include:

  • Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. This condition includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland, and Arctic sea ice. The Adélie penguins on Antarctica have seen their numbers dwindle from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in thirty years.
  • Sea level rise became faster over the last century. Precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased across the globe, on average. Sea levels are expected to rise between seven and twenty-three inches by the end of the century and continued melting at the poles could add between four and eight inches. Floods and droughts will become more common. Rainfall in Ethiopia, where droughts are already common, could decline by ten percent over the next fifty years. Hurricanes and other storms are likely to become stronger.
  • Less fresh water will be available. If the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru continues to melt at its current rate, it will be gone by 2100, leaving thousands of people who rely on it for drinking water and electricity without a source of either.
  • Some butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have moved farther north or to higher, cooler areas. Spruce bark beetles have boomed in Alaska thanks to twenty years of warm summers. The insects have chewed up four million acres of spruce trees.
  • Species that depend on one another may become out of sync. For example, plants could bloom earlier than their pollinating insects can
  • become active. Some diseases will spread such as malaria carried by mosquitoes.
  • Ecosystems will change – some species will move farther north or become more successful; others will not be able to move and could become extinct. Perhaps you have not noticed, but with less ice on which to live and fish for food, polar bears have become considerably skinnier.  If sea ice disappears, the polar bears will disappear as well.

These calamities are not the result of a wrathful God punishing humankind for some supposed misdeeds; they are the direct result of we humans continuing to act with childlike irresponsibility because we have not yet embraced the idea that there is no supernatural God in the sky who will protect us even from ourselves.

Sinners in the hands of an angry God? Eighteenth century Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards may have thought so, but I believe the time has come for our understanding of God to mature. Our “heavenly father” definition of God acts to relieve us of responsibility. Our greatest religious fear is that if God is not this Supernatural Being in the sky, then there is no God. Atheism is, we think, the only alternative to theism. But it is not. That is the boundary over which religious people fear to walk. But walk they must.

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong helps us here when he writes: “Suppose we define God as the Source of Life, so that our worship demands that we cooperate with all of nature rather than trying to conquer it for our own benefit. Suppose God is defined as the Source of Love, so that our worship enables us to journey beyond the limits of our fear to embrace all that is. Suppose God is defined as the Ground of Being so that our worship relates us to a holiness that permeates all that is. That is what we need to understand before we human beings can grow up and accept responsibility for our world.”

So the next time you hear or see a political figure, or a televangelist, or an athlete, or a pope, or any other person act as if God is responsible for the weather, or for sickness, or for our victories and defeats, or for whether we kick a field goal or not, recognize it for what it is: the action of a human being who above all else needs to mature spiritually. As Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth: “When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.” – I Corinthians 13:11 (Contemporary English Version)

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Bad Cop?

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My last post was titled, “Good Cop,” so it is only fitting that this post is dubbed “Bad Cop.” It is a nice juxtaposition – good cop/bad cop – don’t you think? Perhaps “Bad” is too strong a word or too judgmental. Over-zealous might be a better term, but it does not have the cadence of “good cop/bad cop.” You be the judge. Here is the story.

Ellen Bogan was buzzing down U.S. Route 27 in Union County, Indiana when Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton pulled her over for an alleged illegal pass while speeding.  During the traffic stop, Trooper Hamilton issued a warning ticket.  (A warning ticket for speeding and an illegal pass?  They are so nice in Indiana!). As it is customary in a situation such as this, Trooper Hamilton asked for her license and registration – and then asked a question that is not customary at all. In fact, the question is rather bizarre. He asked her whether she accepted Jesus as her personal savior.

Now Bogan, who says that she is not a churchgoer, states that Hamilton continued in this vein by pressing her on whether she had a “home church” and handed her a brochure imploring her to “realize you’re a sinner,” all while his flashing lights were still on.

“It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me aback,” Bogan said of the encounter. She continued, “The whole time, his lights were on. I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my warning.”

Bogan said that she felt “compelled” to tell Hamilton that she attended church regularly, even though she does not, as he loomed over her passenger-side window. “I’m not affiliated with any church. I don’t go to church,” Bogan said. “I felt compelled to say I did, just because I had a state trooper standing at the passenger-side window. It was just weird.” One can only imagine what the trooper would have done if she had answered “no.”

Bogan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Hamilton. The lawsuit alleges that he violated Bogan’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when he probed into her religious background and handed her a church pamphlet from First Baptist Church in Cambridge, Indiana.

Bogan spoke with the Indiana State Police and was told that Hamilton would receive “supervisory action,” but there were no more specifics, which is why she is filing the lawsuit. Bogan is asking for attorney’s fees and “damages after a trial by jury,” which seems rather excessive to me but that is for a judge and/or jury to decide.

State Police spokesman Capt. David Bursten confirmed that State Police received notice about the lawsuit but said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Bursten also said that there is no specific policy in the State Police code that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.

The lawsuit raises questions about when it is appropriate for a police officer to speak about his faith. If the allegations in this case are true, legal experts said, a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause appears to be clear.

While to some this lawsuit may not seem like an issue, but imagine if the officer began preaching about Allah. The outrage would be deafening.

The lawsuit gives the details of the traffic stop.

“Trooper Hamilton prolonged the stop by asking Ms. Bogan, among other things, if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her savior and then presented her with a pamphlet from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge that informed the reader that he or she is a sinner; listed God’s Plan of Salvation, noting that the person must realize that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins,’ and advertised a radio broadcast entitled ‘Policing for Jesus Ministries.’”

The lawsuit alleges that Hamilton’s “proselytizing and coercive questions” about her belief in Jesus violated Bogan’s freedom of religion under the Constitution’s First Amendment, while the fact that Hamilton detained her to preach about Jesus Christ after he had already ticketed her was a Fourth Amendment violation.

So, you ask, what is so wrong about a police officer talking about Jesus Christ to people he could potentially arrest — or worse?

Well, according to conservative activist Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, nothing is wrong with a police officer doing that. In fact, Clark says, the lawsuit may be a violation of Hamilton’s First Amendment rights.

Clark stated, “I have people pass out religious material all the time. Mormons come to my door all the time, and it doesn’t offend me. I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.”

Sure. Someone knocking at your door and a police officer pulling you over are exactly the same things. Give me a break!

Of course, Mormons knocking on his door does not “offend” Clark, as they are not armed with a pistol, baton, and a Taser (conducted electrical weapon) and in a position to legally use deadly force against him.

Clark’s example of Mormons coming to his door is absurd, unquestionably. Mormons are agents of their church, not government employees. Why he would think his argument establishes any sort of equivalence defies rational understanding. It points out what appears to be the basis of his argument, which seems to be that Christians can do what they want when they want to do it – the Constitution (and rational arguments) be damned.

Yes, there is a place for religion, perhaps even for proselytizing, but it is not during a traffic stop and not by a state trooper. If Trooper Hamilton has a problem with that, he is certainly free to find another line of work that will accommodate his desire to share his faith.

Constitutional scholar Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor, says that the problem is that police officers represent the government, and the constitution says that the government cannot stick its fingers into anyone’s religion or lack thereof.

Says Drobac, “The most important thing for people to understand is that the First Amendment specifies that the government shall not prefer one religion over another religion, or religious adherence over anything else. The police officer is representing the government, so that means, as a representative, this person, while on duty, while engaged in official action, is basically overstepping and is trying to establish religion.”

Drobac said that although the officer has his own First Amendment rights, constitutional requirements that church and state be kept separate prevent him from sharing those beliefs on the job.

You know, I have no real problem with the idea that religious faith can play an important role in the lives of people. After all, this is still (nominally, at least) a free country, and freedom of religion is still guaranteed by the Constitution.

I believe that I am a pretty tolerant guy, but here is a point where my tolerance runs smack dab into the reality of modern Christianity and here it is: America was not founded as a Christian nation. I hate to be the bearer of what is bad news for some, but if you know our Constitution, you know that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbids Congress from passing any laws that would formally establish any sort of state religion. Not that this fact has stopped some of those on the Religious Right from promoting the mistaken notion that this is a Christian nation, with a Constitution ordained by Almighty God that places Christianity at the top of the theological food chain. Perhaps the most damning evidence of a non-Christian past is the little-known Treaty of Tripoli between the United States of America and Tripolania in 1797. President John Adams sought to stem unremitting Muslim raids against Mediterranean shipping and protect American sailors from African slavery. This obscure treaty states in clear, concise language: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” And, of course, through ratification of the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson observed that the American people built a “wall of separation between church and state.” James Madison also wrote that “Strongly guarded. . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States.” It seems to me that there existed little controversy about this interpretation from our Founding Fathers.

What public servants such as Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton fail to grasp is that their role is to serve ALL Americans, regardless of race, creed, faith, color, or any other qualifier. While they are certainly free to hold such religious beliefs as they see fit, it cannot and must not have any bearing on the performance of their duties. Hamilton’s position is secular: to protect and to serve all, NOT to proselytize those to whom he believes are in need of salvation. Trooper Hamilton represents the government, which according to the Constitution is a secular entity. As such, Hamilton has no standing to probe the religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs) of those citizens with whom he comes into contact. At least not while he is collecting a paycheck from the government.

Trooper Hamilton’s heart may have been in the right place. He may have even thought he was doing a good thing. In his civilian, off-duty life that may well be true. However, in the scope of his duties as an Indiana State Trooper there is no place – absolutely none, zero, zip, nada, zilch – for proselytizing.

As for the lawsuit, I think that we are a little too “sue-happy” in this country. An old adage states that the first words that an infant learns are not “Mommy” or “Daddy.” But “sue, sue.”

I do not think suing is necessarily appropriate in this case.

However, I do believe that Trooper Hamilton should have been reported and strong actions against him should have been taken – up to termination. A suspension would seem to me to be appropriate action and if he should do this again, then termination would be in order. I worry about an officer of the law who is willing to use his position of power to force people to pull over and then to be so inappropriate with such people – so inappropriate in this instance that I have to question his decision-making skills.

License and registration, please. And, oh, by-the-way, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” just does not sound right to me. Bad cop? Nah, but he is grossly uninformed and much too zealous for his own good.

Good Cop

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Recently, my dear wife said to me that she was becoming increasingly depressed by all the negative news these days – the Ebola outbreak, the war with ISIS, the political gridlock in congress, the situation in Ukraine, and even the disappointing reality that the Baltimore Orioles will not be in the World Series this year. Oh, yes, she was becoming really depressed. Couldn’t I find something “happy” to write about? I have lived with this woman long enough to know that this was not merely a gentle request. It had more of the force of “don’t just stand there; do something!” to it. I knew that I had better respond in a positive manner. So I did the only thing that a man can do at such a moment: I told her that I would look into it and see what I could do.

Luckily, I found the following story that I believe fills the bill. So, honey, this one’s for you. (The rest of you are invited in as well.)

I would be surprised if you ever heard of Ben Hall, so let me tell you his story. Ben Hall is an Emmett Township, Michigan public safety officer with a big heart and a lot of compassion.

In the course of his duties, Hall pulled over a vehicle because a five-year-old girl was not secured in a booster seat. Not having a child secured in a booster seat is a violation of the law, but Ben Hall decided rather than write a ticket, he would do something else.

Do you know what Ben Hall did? He bought the five-year-old a car seat.

Hall was later reported as saying, “A ticket doesn’t solve the situation. What solves it is the child being in the booster seat like she should be. It was the easiest fifty bucks I ever spent. I did nothing that police officers don’t do on a daily basis a thousand times across the country. I am happy to be able to shed some good positive light on law enforcement and the township. I in no way, shape or form expect to be paid back. It is a ‘pay it forward’ situation completely.” (“Pay it forward” is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor.)

It seems that Hall was on patrol in Emmett Township when he pulled over a vehicle after someone reported that it had an unsecured young child inside. Inside the vehicle was Alexis DeLorenzo and her five-year-old daughter. When questioned about the absence of a booster seat, Hall said DeLorenzo told him that she had fallen on hard times and could not afford a booster seat.

“I was in a spot where I could help her,” Hall said.

DeLorenzo said she knew that she should have been ticketed, but instead, Hall told her to meet him at a near-by Wal-Mart, where he bought her the seat.

Hall’s boss, Emmett Township Chief Mike Olson said Hall’s decision was an officer’s discretion and he thought, “What a class act. He turned a bad situation into a good one for the sake of the child. He could have written a ticket but the benefits for the child ought to be more important than the ticket. People sometimes lose sight that we are public servants and public safety officers across the country have the common mantra that we protect and serve.”

“It changed my life,” DeLorenzo said. “For a police officer that could have just given me a ticket, and gotten me in a whole lot of trouble, he, out of the kindness of his own heart and out of his own pockets did something for me and my family that I’m never gonna forget,” she said.

DeLorenzo said the generous officer gave her some much-needed hope with his selfless act. “He did his job and above and beyond that, just to protect a little girl and to help a family that can’t help themselves right now. I’m never going to forget him. And neither will my daughter.”

And that, my beloved wife and anyone else reading this, is the happy news for today! I will try to find more in the future.

Alexis DeLorenzo, her daughter, officer Ben Hall, and the car seat Hall bought

Alexis DeLorenzo, her daughter, officer Ben Hall, and the car seat Hall bought

Something is Really Rotten in Maryland

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. – William Shakespeare: Hamlet (Act I, Scene 4)

It seems to me that something is rotten in politics in the State of Maryland. I no longer reside in the “Free State,” but that does not lessen my concerns about what is going on there in the political arena.

Take, for example Anne Arundel County’s upcoming election for sheriff that pits a longtime law enforcement officer against a relatively unknown political outsider. Incumbent Democrat Ron Bateman is seeking his third term as sheriff by touting his successes in decreasing the office’s backlog of unserved warrants. Challenger Joseph Delimater, a Republican, vows to be a “constitutional sheriff” who will not enforce “pretend legislation” that is not in accordance with the state and federal constitutions. Delimater’s pastor, the Reverend David Whitney, called Delimater “an honest an sincere Christian who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and wants to serve his fellow citizens and protect their God-given rights.” How loving the Lord Jesus qualifies Delimater is a mystery to me, but let’s move on. Delimater states that his best quality as a candidate is “knowing what the law is,” having studied both the state and federal constitutions. Delimater says that he has attended twelve-week courses on both the state and federal constitutions at the Pasadena-based theocratic Institute of the Constitution, a group founded by Michael Peroutka (more on Peroutka and this organization below).

On his campaign website, borrowing heavily on an essay by Peroutka, Delimater concludes that it is the duty of county council members and the sheriff to cooperate in resisting the enforcement of state laws – such as Maryland’s laws on marriage equality, transgender rights, and storm water runoff fees – which, in Delimater’s views, contradict God’s Law as revealed in his reading of the Bible. “If these man-made actions conflict with God’s moral law,” Delimater states, “then they are not law at all…. When our local officials, including county councilmen and sheriff’s [sic] confront such ‘pretended’ legislation, it is their duty to resist its implementation.”

How do you like that for an understanding of the Constitution?

And then there is this.

Michael Peroutka backed a plan to defy United States District Court for the District of Maryland Judge William D. Quarles’ order that the Carroll County Board of Commissioners cease grandstanding by opening their meetings with a sectarian prayer. But a day after Judge Quarles barred the commissioners from invoking Jesus Christ in their pre-meeting prayers, Commissioner Robin B. Frazier did just that — twice — saying she was willing to go to jail for her beliefs.

But unreported in the media was the support from Michael Peroutka and Pastor David Whitney – who praised Frazier’s “principled stand” against Judge Quarles’ “ungodly and unconstitutional ruling” in a sermon. Whitney even said he called Frazier’s office to commend her, and hoped her county sheriff would prevent her from being hauled off to jail.

Whitney concluded that telling “an elected official that they cannot acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom all authority belongs, is to deny that the so-called civil government has any authority at all.” I find this to be an extraordinary statement that suggests that because a federal judge issues a preliminary injunction against sectarian prayer in a county commission meeting, that therefore the entire federal government has no authority at all. “What is apparent,” Whitney declared, “is that our Federal Government, of whom Judge Quarles is but one example, is opposed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Well, it may be apparent to Whitney, but I do not believe Judge Quarles’ order had to do with Jesus so much as it had to do with the “wall of separation between church and state,” (Thomas Jefferson’s phrase.)

“When a civil government denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” Whitney concluded, “it asserts that it, the civil government itself, is greater than Him – that it is above Him and that its own so-called laws, not His Law, are the laws that must be obeyed. So the Federal Government has made itself into a wretched beastly idol in our day.” He claims that requiring people to conform to the law of the land when it is out of sync with his personal notions of “the Law of the One True God” is “the very essence of tyranny.”

Perhaps you are starting to see why I am concerned? But wait, there is more.

Those same Carroll County Commissioners made a “request” that employees attend a class produced bt the Institute on the Constitution. I don’t know what would happen to an employee is the “request” was not obeyed, but I can guess. The class was taught by the Institute’s David Whitney – the same David Whitney mentioned above who is also the chaplain of both the Maryland League of the South and the Southern National Congress. The Baltimore Sun’s article on the class described it as having “biblical overtones” and Whitney as “basing his teachings on the biblical view of law and government.” In this case, the biblical worldview is the same one espoused by Rousas Rushdoony – a worldview calling for American law to be reconstructed to align with one interpretation of biblical law and to strip the federal government of regulatory power.

“Constitution” classes are a ploy being used all over the country.  What could possibly be wrong with a class on our nation’s Constitution (or state constitutions)?  I will tell you what is wrong. These classes are taught from the viewpoint of “theocratic libertarianism,” the Christian “Dominionist” belief that after the regulatory powers have been stripped from the federal government, society will be kept in check at the local and state level through strict adherence to a narrow interpretation of biblical law.

And you thought this kind of stuff only happened in Iran!

But I have saved the best – or rather the worst – for last. There is one name that keeps cropping up in all of these stories and that name is Michael Peroutka. And it is about him that I will devote the rest of this space.

Republicans in Anne Arundel County, Maryland – home county of Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, home to the U.S. Naval Academy, National Security Agency, and Fort George G. Meade – ostensibly with the capacity to read, write, and think – voted for a man who has openly declared war on science, on the United States Constitution, on marriage equality, and who does not just whistle Dixie – he thinks it is the national anthem.

“He” is Michael Peroutka, described by one writer as “a party-switching theocrat.” This anti-science, anti-evolution, racist, homophobic, secessionist won his primary election for county council and could possibly win in the general election in November.

So what? you might ask. Peroutka is not running for national office. Or even for state government (yet).

Even if he loses the council race to Democratic contender Patrick Armstrong, Peroutka still won an elected position in the primary election: He is now a member of the Republican State Central Committee in his district, making him a leader of the local GOP faithful – whether they like it or not. Combine that with depressingly low voter turnout in mid-term elections, and you have a recipe for political putrefaction. Sounds like the folks in Anne Arundel County had better wake up, get fired up, and get some “boots on the ground” to do some more registration for Patrick Armstrong.

Who in the world is Michael Peroutka?

Michael Anthony Peroutka was born in 1952, is a Maryland lawyer, and the founder of the Institute on the Constitution. He once held a position in the United States Department of Health and Human Services and was the Constitution Party candidate for president in 2004. He is co-host of The American View radio program.

In the 2004 United States presidential election, he was the Constitution Party’s candidate. His campaign theme was “God, Family, Republic” and he emphasized the Bible, the traditional family, and the need for constitutionally limited government. He gained support from many paleoconservatives, and was also endorsed by the America First Party and Alaskan Independence Party. Peroutka was also endorsed by the League of the South and supported by a group called “Southerners for Peroutka.” Peroutka accepted the endorsement from the League at their 2004 national convention. If you do not know about these groups, you owe it to yourself to learn about them.

Peroutka appeared on the White Nationalist radio show, The Political Cesspool to promote his campaign, describing the show as a “Christian/Constitutionalist radio program” and “a great blessing to our cause.” Political commentator Pat Buchanan stated on Hardball with Chris Matthews, that “There is a chance I would vote for Peroutka.” Peroutka received just over one-tenth of one percent of the national popular vote, finishing fifth nationally with just fewer than 150,000 votes. This was a showing similar to the previous Constitution Party candidacies of Howard Phillips – however, it was the only third party to increase its share of the vote in 2004.

Peroutka emphasizes the Bible and believes that America has a Christian heritage that should be reflected in government. He opposes abortion without exception. He opposes a federal marriage amendment, believing that civil government (federal/state/local) does not have jurisdiction over marriage. He advocates for free market capitalism. He supports the right to keep and bear arms – and to his credit – strongly opposed the war in Iraq, calling it ungodly, immoral, and unconstitutional. He supports the right to homeschool and believes the federal government should not regulate or fund education.

In 2012, the Human Rights Cam­paign called Per­outka an “active white suprema­cist and seces­sion­ist sym­pa­thizer” due to his links to the League of the South. Per­outka told The Bal­ti­more Sun that he “con­tin­ues to be a proud mem­ber of the League of the South,” since it “has a belief that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment is too large, too spend-thrift and too out-of-control,” but he called the Human Rights Cam­paign’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of him as a white-supremacist sym­pa­thizer “absurd” and “not at all true.”

Peroutka has declared that the laws of the State of Maryland are invalid. In an Institute on the Constitution video, Peroutka claims that the Maryland General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” and as a result, none of the laws that it has passed are “legally valid and legally enforceable.” This is because, Peroutka argues, the Maryland Assembly has passed laws that “violate God’s law” and therefore have violated the Constitution and moved toward “despotism.” The laws that have invalidated Maryland’s entire state government in Peroutka’s estimation are a marriage equality bill, a transgender rights bill, an assault weapons ban, and a storm water runoff fee.

Oh, but it gets worse. As I mentioned earlier, Peroutka founded the Institute on the Constitution.

What is that?

Recently, this innocuous-sounding group issued a press release about their God and Government Project (appropriately, GaG), the purpose of which is to remind elected officials and those who seek civil government offices, that government is from God and their first duty must be to obey God and His Word (Romans 13.)

The folks at the Institute on the Constitution want officials to use the Bible as the basis for civil law and encourages followers to use Institute on the Constitution prepared scripts.   The God and Government Project is consistent with Institute on the Constitution’s Christian Reconstructionist worldview. During his course on the Constitution, Peroutka twists history to make it appear that the founders deliberately created a biblical form of government in line with Institute on the Constitution views. That, of course, is a “twisted” view of our founding and of our Founders’ intentions. In a current commentary on his Institute on the Constitution website, Michael Peroutka makes a case that civil government officials are obligated to govern in accord with his view of the Bible. He writes: “Since civil government is ordained by God in order to protect God-given rights, then the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law – PERIOD.” Who can argue with logic like that? (I am being facetious, of course.)

According to Peroutka, government can only do what he thinks God says government can do. The Institute on the Constitution website enshrines the late Rousas Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism. John Lofton, the one-time Institute’s Director of Communications, called Rushdoony his “theological mentor.”  Rushdoony’s articles on theocracy and dominionism, politics, taxation, and religion in law are available along with many others. According to Mark Rushdoony (son of Rousas), Christian Reconstructionism sees the church as Israel. In a book on covenant theology by Charles D. Provan called The Church Is Israel Now, the heart of covenant theology is summed up: the Christian church is heir of the promises to and the responsibility of the Hebrew nation of old. Thus the proper society is ruled by an Old Testament style regime where the Christian Reconstructionist’s understanding of the Bible is the basis for civil law. This is exactly what the Institute’s God and Government Project promotes as the message followers should tell elected officials.

Even after his death, Rushdoony’s views are controversial. The Institute on the Constitution does not back away from this controversy. Rushdoony affirms that civil government should be based on the Bible, including injunctions that would lead to the death penalty for some fifteen crimes including homosexuality, abortion, adultery, incest, lying about one’s virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, atheism, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, bearing false witness in a capital case, and truly incorrigible sons.

Given its reverence for Rushdoony, I believe that it is a fair to assume that the Institute on the Constitution is in sympathy with these views. I wonder if Peroutka and his ilk, in the government they are calling for, would put people to death for adultery, homosexuality and the other crimes delineated by Rushdoony? If I were a voter in Anne Arundel County, I would sure like to hear his answer.

One thing I do not need to wonder about is the Institute on the Constitution’s view of public schools. Peroutka has said that civil government has no role in education. Historically, reconstructionists have been strong supporters of Christian schools and homeschooling as alternatives to public education.

One of the leading reconstructionists, and Rushdoony’s son-in-law Gary North, wrote this about the relationship between Christian schools and religious liberty: “The major churches of any society are all maneuvering for power, so that their idea of lawful legislation will become predominant. They are all perfectly willing to use the ideal of religious liberty as a device to gain power, until the day comes that abortion is legalized (denying the right of life to infants) or prohibited (denying the ‘right of control over her own body,’ after conception, to each woman). Everyone talks about religious liberty, but no one believes it.

“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort. But religious anarchy, like ‘democratic freedom’ in ancient Greece, is a temporary phenomenon; it lasts only as long as no single group gets sufficient power and accepted authority to abandon the principle. Religious anarchy, as a long-term legal framework for organizing a society, is as mythical as neutrality is. Both views assume that the institutions of civil government can create and enforce neutral law. They are cousins, and people believe in them only temporarily, until they make up their minds concerning which God they will serve.”

There you have it! Do you want to know what a theocracy looks like? Look no further than those words of Gary North.

Will this ever happen? I doubt it, but my doubt does not lessen my concern because it seems clear to me that the Institute on the Constitution and like-minded reconstructionists will keep on trying to make it a reality.

But Institute on the Constitution supporters who love the First Amendment have a rude awakening coming. As Peroutka proclaims, civil law should obey and enforce God’s law, and by that statement he means his interpretation of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Someone’s religion must be obeyed according to Rushdoony, and the folks at the Institute on the Constitution want to make sure it is their religion. For now, they will use freedom of speech and religion at city council meetings to have their voices heard but if ever they get their way, one cannot count on such rights remaining. If you really believe in freedom of conscience and religious liberty, then you cannot embrace the Institute on the Constitution’s GaG program. While the folks at the Institute on the Constitution want freedom of religion so as to be able to  speak at public meetings, they very openly proclaim that they want civil government to obey their religious views to the exclusion of all others.

I am all in favor of reconstructionists being able to speak their mind, but I do not want civil officials to use religion as the basis for their governing. Gary North may say that no one really believes in religious liberty, but he is wrong. The framers of the Constitution certainly did and they most certainly did not intend to establish a theocracy.

As long as we the people do not get up off our collective ass[ets] and exercise our franchise, we will continue to see more Peroutka’s seeking elected office. We can forget that sane and rational Republicans will put a stop to it. I am utterly convinced that is not going to happen. Just look at the loonies in the Republican Party: the birthers, the creationists, the theocrats, the climate-change deniers, the nativists, the gay-bashers, the anti-abortionists, the media paranoids, the anti-intellectuals, and the out-of-touch country clubbers. None of these people should even be elected dog catcher. Peroutka and his ilk are against people of color, women, LGBTs, immigrants, workers, unions, the elderly, Muslims, Jews, atheists and educators. They are equal opportunity destroyers.

Yes, there is really something rotten in the State of Denmark Maryland.

Not Enough Religion? Give Me A Break!

Religious tolerance illustration

This may be a small thing, but I will ask it anyway. The question is: When did it become the norm for presidents or potential presidents to conclude their speeches with the words, “God bless the United States of America?” Those words have become the expected way that presidents end their official speeches. And I hate – yes, that is the word I want to use – I hate the modern presidential habit of ending all major addresses with the phrase “And God bless the United States of America” or simply “God bless America.”

Let me be perfectly clear here. I love the 1918 Irving Berlin song and Kate Smith’s rendition of it always inspires me. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. But a little chunk is hacked away from the national brain each time a president ends a speech, not with a thought or original phrase but with this mindless Pablum. This practice has become the political equivalent of “Have a nice day!” Oh, Barf!

But isn’t this how presidents have always spoken? God, no.

We did not hear it from George Washington. We did not hear it from Abraham Lincoln, either in his second Inaugural Address or in that work of political genius, the Gettysburg Address. We did not hear it from FDR, neither in four Inaugural Addresses nor in thirty “Fireside Chats.” We neither heard these words from Gerald Ford nor from probably the most sincerely religious president of recent times, Jimmy Carter. And we did not hear them from JFK. In what has been called one of the greatest speeches in twentieth-century American public address – his eloquent and only Inaugural Address – John Fitzgerald Kennedy perhaps came the closest to uttering those words when he said: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

In their 2007 book, The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America, authors David Domke and Kevin Coe explain how and when this phrase crept into our political oratory. 

The authors state that the first president to say the phrase was Richard Nixon, who dropped the expression during an attempt at damage control for the expanding Watergate scandal on April 30, 1973. Nixon said, “Tonight, I ask for your prayers to help me in everything I do throughout the days of my presidency. God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.”

But then Ronald Reagan, “The Great Communicator,” used the line when accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1980, and made it his standard sign-off once elected. Reagan began using the phrase to mean “The speech is over now,” and ever since then politicians have seemed afraid not to tack it on, perhaps out of fear that it will somehow sound un-patriotic if those familiar words are not heard. Since Ronald Reagan then, it has become a standard part of the language of the American presidency.

Domke and Coe note that out of the 229 major Presidential speeches from the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to the end of Jimmy Carter’s term in 1981, Nixon’s use of “God bless America” was the only time a president used the phrase publicly. In contrast, from the inauguration of Reagan in 1981 to the Bush administration in 2008, 49 out of 129 major presidential addresses used the line. Since their book was written before the Obama presidency, his speeches were not included. But how do you think Barack Obama has ended his two Inaugural Addresses and every one of his State of the Union speeches? It is not difficult to guess – “God bless you, and God bless these United States of America.” Apparently, Obama began sliding down this slippery slope in his first year of office and it has now become a cliché.

Are modern presidents simply more religious than their predecessors? Domke and Coe do not think so, writing: “It’s that ‘God bless America,’ true to its presidential birth on that April evening in 1973, has grown to be politically expedient. The phrase is a simple way for Presidents and politicians of all stripes to pass the God and Country test; to sate the appetites of those in the public and press corps who want assurance that this person is a real, God-fearing American. It is the verbal equivalent of donning an American flag lapel pin: few notice if you do it, but many notice if you don’t.”

I find it remarkable to think that anyone under thirty-three years of age was not even alive during a time in which our presidents did not routinely call upon a religious deity for blessings. So perhaps it is not surprising that most Americans feel that religion’s influence is waning in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

I bring up this entire matter because according to some recent polls, Americans believe that they just do not have enough religion in their lives. Or, more precisely, not enough religion in their politics. We especially do not have enough to suit the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP’s). And it is getting worse. Eighty percent of white evangelicals and seventy-nine percent of white mainline Protestants feel that religion is no longer making its presence felt in America like it used to in the “good old days” when the Republicans were in charge.

And they think that this dearth of religion in society is a bad thing.

I happen to disagree.

I think they have been watching too much FOX & Friends.

I must admit that a small part of me feels sorry for the Religious Fundamentalists who are worried about society’s ability to manage in the face of waning enthusiasm for their brand of religion, so to help them keep the faith, and to realize that they still have some influence on the day-to-day lives of American citizens, I began to look for stories that would warm the cockles of their hearts.

And, sure enough, I found some examples. All that follows comes right out of newspaper or television reports. None of it is made up. Here is some evidence of God, or something working in society.

The first thing that I found to bring joy to their hearts of Religious Fundamentalists is the story of how these true believers in Utah can now continue to use child labor in their pecan fields because of Hobby Lobby’s enduring legacy of freedom.

Less than three months after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned about the widespread repercussions of the Supreme Court’s majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a federal judge in Utah has cited the controversial ruling in his decision to excuse a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from testifying in a child labor investigation.

Since 2012, the Department of Labor had been investigating this Mormon sect over allegations that church leaders ordered children to be removed from school in order to harvest pecans on a private ranch, without pay, for up to eight hours a day.

Church member Vergel Steed refused to answer basic questions about the investigation in a deposition on the grounds that divulging information related to the church violated his religious vows. U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled that Steed could not be forced to answer the investigators’ questions about the Mormon sect or its leaders.

Citing the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows closely-held corporations to opt out of providing contraception coverage for their employees based on religious objections, Judge Sam argued that forcing Steed to answer the Labor Department’s questions would place a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs.

“It is not for the Court to ‘inquir[e] into the theological merit of the belief in question,” Sam wrote. “‘The determination of what is a ‘religious’ belief or practice is more often than not a difficult and delicate task …. However, the resolution of that question is not to turn upon a judicial perception of the particular belief or practice in question; religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

Yep, these Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members can now violate laws against child labor with no fear of a federal subpoena requiring the names of church leaders who may or may not have sent children to harvest pecans. After all, did not Jesus say, “Suffer the little children to come onto me and pick pecans?” Or something like that? And then, if they are girl children, perhaps we can find husbands for them.

And there is more good news for Fundamentalists about contraception and the continuing battle to force women to produce babies so someone can pick those bloody pecans.

The Obama administration has developed new rules that would allow employers like Hobby Lobby to avoid paying for contraception coverage by making the insurers pay for it. To help those employers who feel that notifying the insurers of their intent to opt out is too onerous a burden, the government has offered to make that notification for them. I suspect that this battle has never been about providing insurance for contraception or who would pay for it. It has always been about denying women the opportunity to obtain it. After all, if they do not produce those pecan pickers, who will?

But it gets worse. That accommodation is not good enough for some employers, such as Ave Maria University, which has filed a motion to block the change.

Ave Maria University, located in the town of Ave Maria, Florida is owned and governed by the same person, Tom Monaghan, a conservative Roman Catholic – who was the one-time owner of the Detroit Tigers and also founded Domino’s Pizza. Monaghan also owns and governs the entire Town of Ave Maria, Florida and he has banned contraception in the entire town.  The one and only church in the Town of Ave Maria is owned by Tom Monaghan’s Corporation, Quasi-Parish of Ave Maria Oratory, Inc. Monaghan’s church is conveniently located in the center of the town. Currently, there is no drugstore in Ave Maria, Florida and the hospital there has never opened a clinic in Ave Maria.

Tom Monaghan’s ban on contraception for all women living within the Town of Ave Maria, Florida, regardless of their religion shows that Tom Monaghan wants to have a strangle-hold on all women, not just his employees.  But Tom Monaghan’s control of woman and men does not stop with contraception. I should note here, Tom Monaghan also founded the Ave Maria Law School in 1999. You will be comforted to know that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia assisted in developing Monaghan’s school’s curriculum, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave Monaghan’s school’s their first annual Ave Maria Lecture and Ave Maria Law School Faculty included conservative Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork.

Ah, there is nothing like having friends in high places ….

Tom Monaghan and his developers lobbied, and successfully persuaded the Florida State Legislature to pass a law that Monaghan wrote that allows him and his developer to govern the entire town forever. Governor Jeb Bush signed Monaghan’s bill into law in 2004. The law that Monaghan wrote turns the town from a normal town, with a mayor etc., to a “Special Interest” town whereby the landowners have zero say in the laws that Tom Monaghan enacts. Apparently, Jeb Bush saw no problem with denying residents their civil liberties, for Ave Maria, Florida is a community whose rulers, like the Taliban, offer their residents no civil liberties, not even the right to vote for local officials or local laws.

Tom Monaghan’s strangle-hold on women at Ave Maria University includes a dress-code for female employees in which it is mandated that females working at Ave Maria University can no longer wear slacks or pantsuits and can only wear skirts. Ave Maria University is already exempt from the conception mandate in Obamacare but, because they are exempt, they must notify Health & Human Services of their exemption so that must notify Health & Human Services can make certain that students and employees of Ave Maria University can get, if they so choose, contraception at no cost what-so-ever to Ave Maria University. But, Ave Maria University alleges two main positions: 1) If Ave Maria University notifies Health & Human Services, then they are culpable of “morally wrong” behavior, and 2) Even if Ave Maria University is not the one paying for the contraception, it is “morally wrong” for Ave Maria University to notify Health & Human Services. Boy, there’s a “Catch-22” if ever there was one!

Well, there you have it. The Ave Maria University’s strangle-hold on women goes way beyond suing Obamacare.  Tom Monaghan dreams of the day that he can control the lifestyle of all women, not just his employees. And I believe it is all based on what Monaghan believes is “orthodox” Christianity. Remember, Monaghan’s corporation owns the one and only church in town so, Monaghan gets to define “orthodox” and he gets to set the rules the church follows.

Apparently the only thing that would prove the lack of religious influence in our nation more than a woman controlling her own body would be the freedom of people to love whomever they love.

So here is more reassurance that we have not completely lost our way. In Philadelphia recently, a group of young people, leaving a restaurant where they had dined together, encountered a gay couple who were making their way home after dinner. Quickly confirming that the men were gay, the gang of young people beat the crap out of them, putting one in the hospital. Apparently they could not find a pile of stones – the biblical method of taking care of this matter – so had to make do with fists.

And here is one final example showing that religious influence on our society is not dead yet. This past May, Joni Mars, an Oklahoma mother and nonbeliever, has two daughters who were bullied by their peers and, in the case of her six-year-old daughter, beaten while riding the school bus. The six-year-old was assaulted on the bus after telling another student that she did not believe in God. The other child responded by spitting on and pinching the young girl. “The other little kids on the bus were egging him on and telling him to hit her and kick her. So he did,” Mars reported. Mars’ daughter came home covered in bruises and crying. When Mars approached the other child’s family, they promised to take care of it, but the same child assaulted her daughter again three days later on the playground. “That was the final straw,” Mars said. When all else failed, the Mars family moved from Oklahoma City to upstate New York, hoping to live somewhere more progressive.

How anxious were those youngsters to convert nonbelievers! And surely, there is no better way to convince a six-year old girl of the existence of a god than by beating her up.

So you see, there are still plenty of signs of the influence of religion on our society. There are so many willing to help spread “the good news,” using fists, or stones, or spittle, or intimidation, or whatever else is handy.

But this is such exhausting and depressing stuff for me. The only thing that I have enough energy to say to all of this is… nah, to hell with any further thought. God Bless America! Somebody better do it – and sooner rather than later.