Outside The Comfort Zone
“John Selig Outspoken” Podcast
Episode 11 September 2, 2007
Religion, or religious preference as I prefer to call it, is not an easy topic for me to discuss for several reasons. First of all, my family wasn’t religious so it has never played a dominant role in my life. Second, as a baby boomer who grew up in the northeast in the 50s, 60s and 70s, discussion of religion was about as rare as talking about somebody else’s salary, bowel habits or favorite sexual positions. Religious preference was considered private. People lived by the tenet that one practiced their religious preference however they wanted as long as they didn’t force their beliefs on others.
However, we live in an entirely different country than that of my youth. I live in Dallas, which is located inside the Buckle of the Bible Belt. Combine that with the increased political presence of Christian fundamentalists and religious preference is talked about daily even amongst many of my gay friends. Religious fundamentalists have carefully planned for over thirty years how to take control of our government on the local, state and national levels. First, with Ronald Reagan and even more so with George W. Bush, fundamentalist influence has been felt all the way from the schoolhouse to the White House and everywhere in between. They are one seat away from controlling the U.S. Supreme Court. Don’t think for a minute that a Democrat in the Oval Office will stop them. Fundamentalists will suffer a setback, perhaps. But they are patient. In 2004 a Gallup poll showed that 46% of Americans identified as born again Christians.
Fundamentalists claim that our country is a Christian nation, forgetting somehow that so many of our ancestors came to America to escape religious persecution. Amongst our founding fathers were deists, Freemasons, Unitarians and atheists. Freedom of religion, as guaranteed in our Bill of Rights, was seen as critical as a means to prevent State religion.
Make no doubt about it; religious fundamentalists are concerned about freedom of religion. Their concern is freedom for THEIR religion to dominate our lives.
Fundamentalists’ strong stance against abortion, as well as, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders is not an end but rather just a beginning. We are the low hanging fruit that are easy to exploit in order to frighten people and gain support. If fundamentalists obtain control have no doubt that they will move on to outlawing divorce and birth control and mandating school prayer (THEIR prayer not a rotating selection of prayers from different faiths). Just recently there was a protest in the Congress when a Hindu was chosen to read the daily prayer. Can you imagine a Moslem prayer, a Scientology prayer, not to mention a spiritual comment from pagans or atheists? Creationism will be in and evolution out in our schools and you can forget any medical advances that might be realized from stem cell research. In fact, the U.S. will be left in the dust by the rest of the world when it comes to advances from scientific research.
Religion classes will be taught in all public schools and they won’t be comparative religion; rather, the approved curriculum will focus on fire and brimstone. Fundamentalists already have far too much input into textbook selections for public schools in Texas. Since Texas is the second most populous state in the nation. Textbooks selected for use in Texas often impact the textbooks of choice throughout the country because of economies of scale that result in cheaper prices being available for the most popular textbooks.
Just a year ago a large Delaware county promoted Christianity so aggressively that the Dobrich family, who are Jewish, felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, which is two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. Also in 2006 a history teacher in a New Jersey public school told his class that they would go to hell if they didn’t accept Jesus.
The bible will take precedence over the U.S. Constitution. Fundamentalists will control our culture so which books get published, which movies get made, which music is recorded and, even Internet content will be under their control.
It is dangerous to assume that it could never happen here. That’s what many Jews thought in Nazi Germany as they were stuffed into cattle cars and sent on their way to Auschwitz, BergenBelsen, Buchenwald, Dachu and others. After all, they were Germans before they were Jews. Germany had the highest rate of interfaith marriage of any country in Europe as Hitler came to power. So many, including members of my own family, got on the trains thinking that things would improve once they reached their destination.
The increased pressure in the U. S. from religious fundamentalists, which remains essentially unchecked by moderate Christians, both disgusts and frightens me. I’ve always been a “live and let live” type person. If you believe that eating fish on Fridays is wrong or eating pork is wrong or mixing meat and dairy is wrong, fine “whatever floats your boat!” If you believe that dancing is a sin, don’t dance. If you believe that working on Friday, Saturday or Sunday is wrong, then don’t work on your Sabbath. If you believe that the world is flat, the sun orbits around the earth, lead can be turned into gold or the Grand Canyon is only 6,000 years old, so be it. If you believe that using electricity, riding in an automobile or wearing fancy clothes is wrong then live your life accordingly. I don’t care what you believe. How you choose to live your life is just fine with me as long as you don’t force me to live as you do. I believe that consenting adults should be able to live however they choose as long as they don’t hurt anybody else. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and all of that. However, the religious zealots who are out to control our country demand that everybody live according to their doctrine.
The Republican Party is in firm control by Christian fundamentalists. Even moderate Republican presidential candidates have made pilgrimages to Bob Jones and Liberty Universities in attempting to garner their party’s nomination.
Obviously, the United States is not the only country faced with fundamentalist domination. In August, CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour spent six hours over three evenings reporting on “God’s Warriors.”
God’s Jewish Warrior’s built homes in occupied territory and brutally mistreated Palestinians. They believe God told them that the land was theirs and there is plenty more yet to grab from the Palestinians as they are only occupying part of the land he promised them in the Torah. Palestinians homes were confiscated and they were forced to live behind a wall separating them from family and jobs, which amplified hatred that will simmer for generations to come. All this was done in God’s name.
God’s Moslem Warriors martyred themselves in Allah’s name becoming suicide bombers who blew themselves up, thus killing many innocent Israelis. Parents spoke proudly of their deceased martyred sons, knowing that they were in paradise as promised by the Koran. The 9/11 hijackers were doing God’s work when they flew their jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and crashing in a field in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 2001.
God’s Christian Warriors are working diligently to rid secular control of our government. A recent CNN poll of American Christians found that 59% of respondents described themselves first by their faith and then as Americans.
If you didn’t get to see Amanpour’s phenomenal series, I strongly urge you to purchase or rent a copy when it becomes available.
The impact of religious fundamentalists in the U.S., who are mainly Christian, can no longer allow me to sit back with a live and let live mentality. I have had to move outside my comfort zone to discuss this topic. I hold all people of faith who are either liberal or moderate responsible to hold their fundamentalist brethren in check. I have many friends who belong to liberal Christian churches tell me, “my church is affirming of gays.”
A gay Roman Catholic priest I see often at a coffee shop in the gayborhood here in Dallas has scolded me saying that I expect far too much from gay priests in wanting them to rise up in the Catholic Church and say, “We aren’t going to take the abuse of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders any longer. Join the 21st century or we’re out of here!” He has assured me that gay priests are working behind the scenes to change the church but it will take TIME. In the mean TIME, Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul II before him, spews hate speech against gays from the Vatican. I know an expriest who estimated over a decade ago that at least 50% of Roman Catholic priests are gay. The Roman Catholic Church has quietly taken care of priests dying of AIDS for years. As far as I am concerned, the Roman Catholic Church has had far too much TIME. How many more gays must suffer so closeted gay priests can have enough TIME to bring the Catholic Church out of the Middle Ages?
The Jerry Falwell’s, Pat Robertson’s, James Dobson’s, Lou Sheldon’s and thousands like them preach hate towards gays from their pulpits each week. They, along with representatives from Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum and many other fundamentalist organizations are seen as frequent talking heads on news shows across the country. And the members of the moderate and liberal clergy are … missing! Yes, I know there are Bishop John Shelby Spong and a few others. They are wonderful but essentially invisible to the masses. Thank heavens for SoulForce. But what is needed is far more and far larger and not just coming from the gay community speakers.
And yet, my liberal Christian friends tell me, that Christian fundamentalists are in the minority. If that is true then it is TIME for them to put their money where their mouths are. It is time for them to say enough is enough. It is TIME for liberal Christians in this country to groom more reasoned talking heads from the Christian left to take on the religious zealots who are taking over our country who are condemning gays and others from their pulpits, empowering gay bashers who killed Mathew Shephard and thousands more like him who never make the news. These fundamentalists cause gay teens to hate themselves so deeply that they see suicide as their only option. Religious fundamentalist preachers are encouraging their congregations to flood Congress to vote against the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill because they claim that they could be held accountable for preaching hate speech and such a claim would infringe on their religious freedom. The bill doesn’t focus on speech. However, religious freedom or not, they are spewing forth hate speech.
An affirming church isn’t enough. It is time to check these religious zealots who demand that we all live according to their belief system. If liberal and moderate Christians can’t check the fundamentalists then we are doomed!
Far too many gays have been poisoned by the ExGay movement, by families who thought they were doing the Lord’s work by tossing their LGBT kids onto the streets, disowned their gay sons and daughters, turned their back’s on their sons who contracted AIDS with the comment ’It’s God’s punishment for your being gay; you’re no longer our child!”
If I sound pissed, I am! I’ve had enough! As a nonpracticing Jew who has become an atheist and a huge fan of “The End of Faith,” by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion,” I am really not in a position to take on this battle. I have no street cred. But I challenge each of you who practice your faith to hold your houses of worship responsible be they church, synagogue or mosque. It is up to you to demand that they put an end to the fundamentalist power grab in our nation. It’s time to put up or shut up!
No doubt some of you will object to this commentary. That’s okay. I have had to put up with 30 years of people who don’t represent me working to control my life. If these comments have caused you to take pause and think then mission accomplished! Sometimes we just have to move outside our comfort zone to make a difference and if ever there has been a time to do so, that time is now!
© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.