Friday, February 19, 2010

who knows, maybe it's just me....

I'm reading a novel by Jane Haddam. She writes about a retired FBI agent named Gregor Demarkian, who lives in an Armenian enclave of Philadelphia. Jane Haddam isn't PD James or anything, but the Armenian stuff is interesting and Gregor is a cerebral kind of crime solver. However, I almost put it down because it's about a little town in the foothills of the Appalachians near Harrisburg PA that is divided over a school board that wants to make Intelligent Design an option to Evolution in the science curriculum. Even that is an interesting thing except that all the Christians in the book are total nut-cases, yelling at people who don't agree with them that they will burn in hell if they don't come to Jesus and school bullying is all about who is 'that kind of Christian' and everyone else. The 'everyone else', according to 'that kind of Christian' are called secular humanists or atheists though some of them are Methodists, for goodness sake.

So I decided to put the book aside and finish reading the parts of the Sunday NYT that take me almost until the next Sunday to finish. And what do I find in the Times Sunday magazine but a long article on how the Board of Education of the State of Texas has been taken over by fundamentalists who want to change the study of history to include such thoughts as that the US was intended to be a 'Christian nation' and that the separation of Church and state is an invalid interpretation.

Texas, I learned, is one of the few states to have state-wide curriculum decisions made by an 'elected' state Board of Education. So Texas is going to have some folks running things a little to the Right of Center--well, a LOT to the right of center!--so what? Here's 'what'--Texas, besides California, is the largest purchaser of public school text books in that multi-billion $ business. So, what Texas will tolerate in school books has a vast influence on what text book publishers provide. That's 'what'....Some 40 states will be effected by what Texas wants.

The difference between the Texas BofE folks and the folks in the Haddam novel is this--they are all very smart, highly educated and much more adept at dealing with the larger culture. One of them, who was the chairman until even Texas realized he was too fundamentalist Christian in his opinions, is a dentist for goodness sake. Some are lawyers and academics...but a majority of those who have a vote of the BofE are fundamentalists.

The writer of the article visited Liberty University's School of Law (the school founded by Jerry Fawell...) and was astonished that the goal of that law school is clearly to make sure the US is 'returned' to the status of a Christian Nation. I put 'returned' in quotes since most main stream historians don't believe a CHRISTIAN NATION (capped because of the myriad of implications from civil liberties to academic freedom to the right of non-Christians to worship or the right of non-religious people to be non-religious) was what the framers of the Constitution intended.

The framers were steeped in European Christianity, surely, and most of them--with the exception of Jefferson, for example--were practicing Christians. But because they were so familiar with the mess the mixture of religion and state had made over the centuries in Europe, they studiously avoided including religous (or Christian) language in the document. The word "God" does not occur in the Constitution...all that language about 'endued by their Creator with certain inalienable rights' is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. And, whenever the writers of the Constitution, including Jefferson who wrote the Declaration almost independently, refered to God in any context it was to a 'Creator', 'Prime Mover', 'Architect of Nature' and not to the Christian Trinity. The Constitution insures an absolute 'freedom' to practice religion but studiously avoids equating that to 'practicing ANY religion' as the basis of the State's functions. Go read it, I'm not making this up....The Constitution might have been, in my opinion, the first truly 'secular' document outlining the workings of government.

Maybe it's just me, but I am profoundly thankful that the Framers of the Constitution establish a division between Church and State. And I know that term was from Jefferson and doesn't itself appear in the Constitution. Imagine if the Anglicans had run the new nation! (Well, they practically did since a majority of the signees of the Constitution were Anglicans along with the first five presidents (absent Jefferson)...but nevermind...what a mess that would have been. A Senate made up of Bishops and such....Good grief, we can't even run a denomination efficiently, how would we run a nation?

At any rate, the folks on the Texas BofE and their allies at places like Liberty School of Law and several ultra-conservative 'think tanks' (I'll resist saying that 'untra-conservative think tanks' is an oxymoron....) believe that the prohibition in the Constitution about the 'establishment' of religion merely meant the Baptists or Congregationalist or Methodists couldn't be 'the State Church'...but the assumption was, those folks believe, that Christians and only Christians would run the whole thing along the line of Christian precepts.

One of the members of the Texas BofE through a fit when a Hindu said the opening prayer for the US Senate one day....Hey, I thought these guys liked 'prayer'! He said a Hindu doesn't believe in the 'real' God.

Here's the rub...who knows, maybe it's just me...but what scares me about the folks in the NYT magazine article is that they think they are the ones to decide what 'religion' and 'prayer' really are and, beyond that, who is really a Christian. Whoa, Nellie! I AM A CHRISTIAN, thank you very much, and I support the ban against enforced school prayer and crucifixes in court rooms and would support a ban against any other intrusion of any particular religion or any definition of who is 'religious' or not sneaking into a text book or a court room or any public place. Just so we're clear: I am a Christian, no matter what anyone else decides I am or am not.

So, I took up "Living Witness" the title of the book I put down. I'll finish it now because I need to learn how other people think and what they think of how I think....Know your enemy, is the phrase. I may not think of fundamentalist Christians as necessarily 'my enemy', but since I am, clearly, an 'enemy' to them, I don't have much choice.

I was driving my wife's truck today. It is covered with Obama bumper stickers. I was stopped at a stop light and the guy on my left tooted his horn and rolled down the window. "Did you really vote for Obama?" he asked.

"I did," I said proudly.

"Like how things are going?"

"I do," I said, knowing a stoplight is not a place to have a political discussion of any depth, "if people would let him do his job."

The guy gave me the finger and pulled out since people behind us were beeping and the light was green.

His truck costs a good four times more than Bern's.

Who knows, maybe it's just me. But I think I will start considering the importance of 'knowing my enemies'.

Something to ponder under my castor oil tree for sure....

Oh, and there's as little danger that I'll move to Texas as there is that I'll move to Armenia, in what ever form it exists today, though Gregor's Demarkian's people are interesting....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.