Truth and Meaning: Half-Baked Bigotry

Much ado has been made in the past year about the bakery in Colorado that refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple celebrating their marriage. The baker argued that he exercised his religious freedom in refusing to bake a cake celebrating an act he considered counter to his religious beliefs. This argument makes a mockery of our Constitutional rights by hiding bigotry behind the right to religious freedom.

Here are the salient points:

  • The baker argued that he feels no hatred of homosexuals, and would willingly provide other types of baked goods to gay customers. He would refuse to provide a wedding cake to a heterosexual customer if it was for a same-sex wedding. But this argument is a distinction without a difference. The primary feature distinguishing same-sex weddings from heterosexual ones is the sexual orientation of its participants. Only same-sex couples engage in same-sex weddings. Therefore, it makes little sense to argue that refusal to provide a cake to a same-sex couple for use at their wedding is not “because of” their sexual orientation.
  • The baker candidly acknowledged that he would also refuse to provide a cake to a same-sex couple for a commitment ceremony or a civil union, neither of which is forbidden by state law. Because his objection goes beyond just the act of “marriage,” and extends to any union of a same-sex couple, it is apparent that his real objection is to the couple’s sexual orientation and not simply their marriage.
  • The baker argued that preparing a wedding cake is an expression amounting to protected speech, and that compelling him to treat same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing him to adhere to “an ideological point of view.” But the baker categorically refused to prepare the cake before there was any discussion about what the cake would look like. He was not asked to apply any message or symbol to the cake, or to construct the cake in any fashion that could be reasonably understood as advocating same-sex marriage. The mere act of preparing a cake is simply not speech warranting First Amendment protection.
  • Regardless of what the cake itself might communicate or not, the act of selling cakes is also not a form of speech; thus, forcing a bakery to sell to a same-sex couple is not compelled speech. Compelling a bakery that sells wedding cakes to heterosexual couples to also sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples is incidental to the state’s right to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (which is the law in Colorado). To say otherwise trivializes the right to free speech.
  • The baker’s refusal is distinctly the type of discrimination that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found illegal. It adversely affects the rights of buyers to be free from discrimination in the marketplace; and the impact upon sellers is incidental to the state’s legitimate regulation of commercial activity. Conceptually, his refusal to serve a same-sex couple due to religious objection to same-sex weddings is no different from refusing to serve a biracial couple because of religious objection to biracial marriage — an argument that was struck down long ago in Bob Jones Univ. v. United States.
As a minister, I wholeheartedly support the free practice of religion and I absolutely defend your freedom to believe the religion of your choice. What I find reprehensible, however, is when people use their religion as a shield for groundless hatred and bigotry. If you choose to discriminate against same-sex couples because you oppose homosexuality based on your interpretation of your religion’s teachings, then you must apply those same standards to all customers. Are you going to give every customer a survey asking if they are guilty of any of a list of sins you find objectionable? If not, then you are a hypocrite abusing an important freedom that is seminal to the founding principles of this nation.
 
As the Michigan legislature considers adding “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression” to the Elliot-Larsen Act’s list of protected classes of people, I call on everyone to make clear to our senators and representatives that we cannot allow people to pick and choose which religious beliefs they want to protect. Whatever your personal beliefs about homosexuality, the state has an overriding obligation to protect the basic civil rights of LGBT people.

Truth and Meaning: The Character of Candidates

Halfway through writing a posting on brokenness for this week, I walked out to get the mail. Living in a house previously owned by a Republican, I have been exposed first hand to the character of their candidate for State House. Joan Brausch has run a clean campaign based on nothing but her record of service and her stance on the issues. Organizations backing Gary Glenn, on the other hand, have produced some of the most vile and despicable pieces of political trash I have seen in my 58 years.

Many years ago, when I still lived in Pittsburgh, I was represented in Washington by a gentleman named Doug Walgren. He had served many terms quite successfully and was a popular Democrat. Then, Walgren ran against a political newcomer whose entire campaign was based on the fact that Walgren had moved his family to D.C. out of convenience. His opponent argued, therefore, that Walgren couldn’t possibly represent the people of Western Pennsylvania adequately. Of course, it didn’t matter than Walgren maintained two homes and paid taxes on both. This opponent was slick, avoided the issues and kept hammering this inconsequential point and managed to get elected. Literally one month after the election, he moved his family to Washington D.C. as well. That flagrant hypocrite was Rick Santorum.

So, folks, let me tell you that I have seen this act before. And believe me, it is an act. When he pulled that stunt about the American Legion with Karl Ieuter, I revisited the politics of the Big Lie again. I am a pacifist, and I have been a member of the American Legion because of my father’s service, so I knew Glenn was making a political mountain out of a mole hill just to scare veterans. And now, according to Glenn’s ads, electing Joan Brausch will turn Michigan’s men gay, get our young women raped, and infest our population with Ebola. I wish I were kidding, but that has been the content of these ridiculous and sensationalist ads.

If you want to vote intelligently on Tuesday, you must look into the soul of a person. Someone who claims to be pro-life, but would continue slashing funding for public schools, cut access to birth control, and interfere with women’s basic health care will say whatever it takes to scare conservative voters. Someone who claims he can revitalize our economy, but walks lock step with the Koch Brothers and the Mackinac Center will say whatever it takes to scare business owners and rich people. And someone who claims the moral high ground, but stoops to the low tactic of calling LGBT folk pedophiles worthy of being fired or evicted because of who they love certainly isn’t moral.

If you can’t bring yourself to vote for Joan Brausch, then at least reject Gary Glenn’s Tea Party obstructionism and simply abstain. We have more than enough fear mongering in government. We need people with hope and vision, people willing to listen to all points of view and do what is best for the people. Reject the slick words and the insulting scare tactics and look into the souls of the candidates. Then vote for the person who respects the dignity of every person, speaks to the issues, and doesn’t resort to cheap theatrics to garner your support.

Truth and Meaning: Normal

Normal. I am hard pressed to think of a word I dislike more in the English language. Whatever definition one uses, I believe the word creates confusion and prevents us from engaging in useful and productive dialogue.

For instance, one may say that a society is “normal,” because it functions by the laws or norms that it has established. Should we consider normal the fact that nearly 50 million people in the richest country in the world live in poverty? Should we consider normal that there are as many guns as people in this country — and we have the gun death rates to back it up? Should it ever be normal that most of our elected officials could not pass the simplest tests on women’s anatomy, the environment, or our national banking system?

One may also say that something is normal if it is the “usual” state or condition. But tens of millions of Americans have untreated physical and mental illnesses. For them, the “usual” state consists of pain and anxiety, disability and depression. Tens of millions of people of color in America are “usually” treated as inferior by so-called white people. Should that situation ever be accepted as normal? On the average, 430 young people injure themselves and 13 succeed in committing suicide every day. How could a society ever consider such a “usual” state to be normal?

We routinely say that someone is “normal” if they are free from illness or sickness. Well, if that is the case, then there are no normal people on the face of the earth. We learn more each day about the nature of physical and mental disease, about neuroscience and addiction, about the impact of stereotypes on our levels of stress, and about the long-term impacts of trauma and abuse. Normal health does not exist and we delude ourselves believing that it does.

The word “normal” always carries with it an inherent stigma. When a teacher calls Johnny a normal student, the implication is that he does not really excel at anything but fits some arbitrary average. He may be the next Rembrandt or Albert Einstein, but we might never know because he is dyslexic. When friends call Katrina a normal-looking girl, the implication is that she is not beautiful. She may be the next Amelia Earhart or Sally Ride, but we might never know because she suffers from bulimia. And when we say that the Smiths are a normal family, we imply that the Smiths are heterosexual, have children, and pursue goals that match those of their neighbors. We don’t notice the bruises on Mrs. Smith’s arms, or the way the children flinch from the slightest touch. And the “abnormal” Joneses next door may be an amazing gay couple who could revitalize the neighborhood, but they just got evicted from their apartment and fired from their jobs for being gay.

“Normal” should be an aspiration — not the average or worse yet, the least common denominator. Wouldn’t it be nice if a normal day consisted of the United States not bombing some other country in the name of democracy and freedom? Wouldn’t it be nice if a normal day consisted of not one gay teenager being beaten and bullied, and not one woman assaulted or raped? Wouldn’t it be nice if a normal day consisted of not one single instance of wanton police brutality against unarmed and innocent civilians? Wouldn’t it be nice if a normal day consisted of every person in the world being fed, clothed, sheltered, safe, and happy?

Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and our leaders insist that those aspirations are currently beyond our reach. So, in the meantime, I will revel in being abnormal. Because the only way we can make those aspiration real is if we all excel in whatever makes us not normal — that is what makes us who we are.

Truth and Meaning: What is Racist?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have several enthusiastic contributors to the comments section. One of them openly supports the Ku Klux Klan and some Midland residents may remember his 2008 demonstration in full Klan regalia at the corner of Eastman Avenue and Saginaw Road here in Midland Michigan. Sometimes, people advise me to ignore his postings because of their extremist slant. I believe, however, that people of faith must try to engage anyone, at anytime, and at any place where the opportunity for spiritual growth presents itself.

I was rewarded for my diligence when, in response to my blog posting last week, this individual asked me several important questions on the subject of race. He posted the questions as they were written in an article titled “The Answer to Crime Among Young Black Males” by Tim Wildmon. I will quote Mr. Wildmon’s words exactly and then provide answers to each. Perhaps you will hear your own voice somewhere in the text.

He began by asking, “For example, without knowing skin color, when someone tells me they saw an awesome basketball player I immediately think he is Black. Why is that? Because most awesome basketball players in America are indeed Black. Does that make me a racist?”

Yes, it does! Most basketball players in high school are White and there are awesome White high school basketball players. At the college level, according to the latest NCAA Student-Athlete ethnicity report, there are still more White players than any other racial/ethnic group, and there are awesome White college basketball players. Only at the NBA level does one see a marked dominance of African-American players. And of the NBA’s 49 majority owners, only Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats is a person of color. And that is because of PRIVILEGE. Predominately White public schools generally get more funding than predominately Black schools. White families can usually afford college more easily than Black families. Blacks have far fewer opportunities than Whites to escape systemic poverty. And Blacks have far fewer opportunities open to them in other occupational sectors. So, yes, assuming that an awesome basketball player is Black is a racist observation.

He continued, “In the same way, when I hear of a convenience store robbery, without knowing the skin color, I immediately think it was a young Black male who committed the crime. Why is that? Because night after night I see the faces of young Black males on the news arrested for crimes. Does that make me a racist?”

Yes, it does! In 2010, the National Institutes of Health published a definitive article on the portrayal of lawbreakers and victims in crime news (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904566/). In their conclusion they wrote, “Starting with the results for portrayals of offenders, we would expect Whites to have a higher likelihood of being reported on if reporting reflects offending incidents, because they are the most populous group. We did not find evidence of a significant difference in the number of portrayals of White perpetrators relative to Blacks in our base models. To us, this suggests a relative over-reporting of Blacks compared to Whites. We also found under-reporting of Hispanic perpetrators relative to Whites. We interpret the results for Blacks as consistent with power structure, racial threat and racial privileging arguments.” People are led to believe that Blacks commit more crimes because our media highlight the race of suspects far more frequently when he/she is a person of color. When that presentation is not challenged, we cooperate with the racist portrayals in our media. In 2011, White people committed nearly 250,000 violent crimes in this country, but just because the news shows more Black suspects than White does not make them more prone to violent crimes. So, yes, immediately assuming that a criminal is Black is racist.

He concluded with this question. “Which begs another question: does a stereotype only become racist when it is negative? Or can one have a positive stereotype based on race? What about the idea that “White men can’t jump”? Is that racist?”

Yes, it is! Saying that “all Asians are good at math” is a negative stereotype of what a racist would consider a positive observation. Research shows that perceived positive stereotypes, when brought into the forefront of an individual’s mind, can actually make them do worse at the thing they are supposed to be able to do better. One such study discovered that when Asian-American women were made explicitly aware of their ethnicity (and the expectations attached to it) right before testing their math skills, they were more likely to collapse under the pressure and do poorly in the test (http://pss.sagepub.com/content/11/5/399.short). ANY stereotype reduces the complex humanity of individuals, making it easier to dismiss each person’s inherent worth and dignity. And ‘White men can’t jump’ derives from an evil and ignorant stereotype that somehow Blacks are more closely tied to jungle animals than Whites. So, yes, attempts to compliment a group of people through stereotyping of any kind is racist.

The comments and questions posted by this individual represent classic examples of privilege — of how White, or straight, or male, or American-born people are often oblivious to their privilege and in complete denial of their prejudice. Systemic racism oppresses people of color, just as systemic sexism oppresses women, systemic hated of LGBT folk oppresses gays and lesbians, and systemic anti-immigration laws and opinions oppress undocumented immigrants. And those with privilege benefit ONLY by accident of birth. Those who possess privilege did absolutely nothing on their own to earn that privilege. Therefore, those who choose to take advantage of their privilege and do nothing to level the playing field, ARE racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or xenophobic.

But, here is the most important point. HAVING privilege is nothing to be ashamed of. No one is trying to lay a guilt trip on you for being White, or straight, or male, or a native-born American citizen. But those who accept the advantages of privilege do so at a cost to those who do not have privilege. Thus, those who accept the benefits — and do not work toward eliminating privilege — do so from the suffering of others. I am a White, straight, male, American, too. But I fight to eliminate privilege. I defend the poor, the hopeless, the oppressed, the exiled. As long as privilege exists, there will be oppression. And so long as the oppressors do nothing to stop it, then they are complicit in the resulting discrimination and suffering.

 

Letting Go of Religion

We spend our whole lives letting go. We let go of things, places, people and ideas. Sometimes letting go is easy — we make a gift to give to a friend, we leave one job for a better one, we pack our belongings and move into a new home.

Other times, letting go can be challenging — we end a relationship with a loved one, we lose an heirloom, a favorite store closes its doors. Sometimes, letting go can be traumatic. A thief steals a car or valuable property. A fire destroys your home. A cherished love one dies. But, perhaps most traumatic of all is letting go of ideas.

From birth, we are blank slates, constantly written upon by parents, siblings, teachers and perfect strangers. Every scribble enters our mind and gets categorized into our identities, our sense of self, and our moral compass. And when we enter our teen years, we naturally begin to question whether or not that developed identity indeed reflects who we really are. We begin to question the easy dichotomies of Western thinking: good/evil; rich/poor; liberal/conservative; male/female; believer/non-believer.

The regressive mind will resist these questions, falling back on stock answers and dogmatic teachings learned throughout childhood. They will refuse to let go of comfort, privilege and even irrational beliefs that give them satisfaction.

Others will explore, willing to consider letting go of ideas, but the quest is a perilous one and not without its dangers. The act of questioning alone may cause us to let go of seeming truths and of self-obvious paradigms. These explorers may fall into a valley of doubt; they may climb a mountain rejecting everything and become hardened skeptics; or they may simply become lost and hopeless facing a foggy world they cannot change and are doomed to endure. But, those who make the quest along the valleys, over the mountains and through the fog emerge as seekers.

And the seeker is prepared to develop a progressive mind. And it is the progressive mind that is best suited to keep ideas that make sense and to let go of those that do not. The progressive mind thinks beyond its own happiness and comfort and concerns itself with the common good. The progressive mind lets go of asking “Why?” in favor of asking “Why not?”

As a minister, my expertise is religion. Young progressive minds often let go of religion once they find that their Sunday School stories don’t match the world’s reality. Young progressive minds often let go of religion when it makes irrational demands, rejects people who think differently and disempowers women, LGBTQ folk and other oppressed people.

But, letting go doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition, either. I can let go of a label without completely erasing all that comes with that label. The choice is not between being Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or not. The question is whether there is truth and meaning to be found in any religion — perhaps in all religions — as you continually reshape your identity.

Sometimes, we rationalize letting go as an irretrievable loss. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even if you feel betrayed by your religious upbringing, I believe that there is value in religion for the young progressive mind. For me, of course, Unitarian Universalism is one such religion. We support same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, environmentalism and most other progressive causes. I am a religious atheist and mystical humanist, serving a congregation with a wide range of opinions and beliefs.

So, as you let go of ideas, as you question the teachings of your youth, always leave the door open to keep the pieces of the past that make sense. The progressive mind never closes any door completely.

The Path to Truth

We face a world of confusing uncertainty and contradictions. Some prosper while millions suffer. Mean-spirited sound bites drown out civil discourse. We yearn for heroes and heroines only to see them eviscerated by our cult of celebrity and our celebration of cynicism. The jesters have taken over the castle while the feudal lords plunder the people and pillage the land.

We look to our churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples for guidance, for deliverance. But we find the poison creeping into those foundations as well. Our questions are answered with irrelevant platitudes and empty satisfactions of our simple desire to be cared about, our need to be cared for. Our young people naturally look elsewhere for relief from out-of-control tuition debt, for an end to the limitless hurdles to achieving their goals, for the self-respect to resist unattainable standards of beauty and virulence and societal definitions of success. Too often, our young people see their future as a desolate plain with no harvest in sight.

We live in a nation of incredible abundance, with a wealth of resources, but we feel empty. We live in communities with boundless activities, but we feel listless. We live unfulfilled lives and seek to fill that void with the bread and circuses of the internet, with drinking and drugs, with absurd reality on the television, and real absurdity in our daily lives.

The time has come for a frank and honest conversation about religion. We must discuss our souls as individuals and our soul as a nation. The time to seek the answers to the questions that matter has arrived. Why am I here? What is the purpose of living? Can I find meaning in this insane asylum of a world? What can I do to ease my overwhelming pain?

Some offer simple answers to these questions. You are here because God created you. Your purpose consists of worshiping him. This life offers only a path to a better world after you die. You must endure the pain as a test of your faith that God possesses all of the answers. As children, these answers can work. In the pleasant world of coloring pages and tales of good conquering evil, we need no further explanations. But, as we grow older, we learn that these answers no longer suffice. We begin to question. We fill our doubtful gaps with more complicated rituals; we desperately strengthen our commitment to blind faith and traditions; and we greedily consume more complicated interpretations to the stories of our childhood.

But, despite our valiant efforts, we still feel lost and alone, hopeless and in pain. Our faith never seems strong enough and the answers begin to ring hollow. The zealous shout louder and we assure ourselves that they must be right. How else could they be so convinced of the truth? But, how can we believe their truths when our life tells me differently?

Our own structure as a nation places the burden of resolving these conundrums on us. Our Constitution guarantees us the freedom to believe and to practice (within limits) our religions. As a nation, we declare no one religious belief to be “truth.” America does not proclaim that absolute morality resides within any one specific theology. We may consider others misguided or incorrect, and we can freely promote our particular versions of truth. But, those who profess to know “the” truth exhibit shocked indignation when refuted with facts and reason. Purveyors of divine insight claim persecution when their efforts to demonize people they consider sinful are deemed hateful and hypocritical.

Millions of people do not believe in the Christian god and live exemplary moral lives, just as many Christians do. Some people who do not hold Christian beliefs do awful things, just as do some professed Christians do. We do not live ethical lives because a supernatural agency makes it so. We live ethical lives because as human beings we make choices – choices to love and show compassion, or choices to be intolerant and selfish. A faith in some form of god that helps us live ethically is admirable. But faith in god is not required to be a good citizen, a spiritual person, or a soul aligned with the powers of the universe.

How, then, can I answer the burning questions without a belief in God? Some believe in Love. My Universalist predecessors preached that God is Love, and that works for many people. And while I often find fault with the texts attributed to the Apostle Paul, I agree with his assertion to the Corinthians that Love is patient and kind; Love is not arrogant or resentful; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Faith sometimes offers a wonderful power in our lives and can serve as a force for great good. But faith can also twist our perceptions and close our minds to the search for truth and meaning. So, when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage and equality for LGBT individuals, I ache when I hear people profess their Christian faith to damn others, to sit in judgment on others, and to call down the wrath of the God they worship on others. And it pains me just as greatly when religious people stand mute while these voices of intolerance dominate the public conversation. There is no factual basis to believe that homosexuality is a “choice.” None. Therefore, if one claims the belief that we are made in the image of God, then our sexual orientation and gender identity is part of the grace bestowed by a loving deity who merely wants us to share that Love. We should practice ours faith to honor that gift and to respect its source. But Love is greater than faith. And the sharing of Love trumps any ritualistic practice or dogmatic adherence to sacred texts.

Relying on ancient passages written in another time and place, in a context wildly different than those we live in today ignores our most spectacular gifts as humans. If we are indeed children of a god, then that god bestowed upon us minds, emotions, and the capacity for discernment that raises us above the instincts of mere beasts. An active and engaged spiritual life uses our powers of reason, evaluates our life experiences, and amasses our collective powers of wisdom to determine what is moral. The spiritual life demands only that we understand and love each other. We are no longer children that need to view God as a schoolmaster beating unruly pupils, or an overseer whipping mindless drones. God is Love. It really is just that simple. And that choice lies in our hands.

And what does loving mean today? It means that we keep our beautiful and treasured traditions of spiritual practice but discard those outdated and meaningless rules that serve only to separate us. It means that we celebrate the marriage of loving people committing their lives to each other, whether they are a man and a woman, two men, or two women. It means that we say “Not One More” meaningless and stupid waste of precious life defending our obscene worship of guns. It means telling all women that they are beautiful just as they are, and telling all men that expressing kindness and gentleness does not show weakness. It means sharing the bounty in our lives with those less fortunate by paying living wages and fighting the root causes of poverty. It means providing every person with equal access to physical and mental health resources and freeing them from the crippling burdens of disease and affliction.

We live in a region of great wealth, knowledge, and potential. We can become a model of modern living by pioneering prosperity for every person. We merely need to heed the call to seek our own truths, to enable the search for truth by others, and then to come together in Beloved Community. It is possible and we have the power to do it.

Truth and Meaning: Hate

Emotions are the expressed transfer of living energy. When we feel, when we reside within an emotion, we emit a certain energy that others around us can sense. Children are the most transparent when radiating emotion. We easily sense when a child is joyful, confused, scared or frustrated.

As we grow older, we learn complicated emotional combinations and filters designed to hide our true emotions. The choreography of emotional exchange becomes a ballet of exquisite skill and complexity that opens the door to different kinds of feelings. But this dance also complicates our routines. As we see often in football, sometimes the “receiver” runs a different route than expected by the quarterback, and the passage of emotions fall incomplete to the ground.

As carriers of energy, emotions share many characteristics with living creatures. Some emotions hearken back to a more primitive state of reptilian instinct. Other, more mature emotions evoke feelings of family and tribal group. And some emotions combine with others in a symbiotic melding — a beautiful waltz of grace made possible by the willingness of those sharing the emotion to bare themselves, to make themselves fully vulnerable.

But there is a special class of emotions that share the attributes of a lesser life form — the parasite. These emotions wither and die without the energy stolen from other life forms. Hate is a parasite emotion. For hate only thrives by stealing vibrant life energy from others. Hate leeches the aerated blood of society, leaving only disease and weakness in its wake.

When someone expresses hate, the recipient naturally feels fear and anxiety in response. The recipient might naturally feel compelled to expend energy fending off the hate, and this only feeds the parasite. In this way, the hate-filled person poisons others and like a vampire drains the essence of life energy from a community.

But there is a cure for the parasite of hate. The medicine that repels the symptoms of hate is Love. For Love acts not only as a barrier to the viral attack of hate, Love offers a positive expression of emotion that not only makes the object of hate feel better, but also treats the root causes of hate. For in the end, the only difference between a parasite and a symbiote is cooperation. A parasite gives nothing and simply wallows in its own selfish desires. The symbiote returns gift for gift, bringing positive contributions to the living equation.

So when the parasite seeks to infect you with hate, do not feed its emptiness with fear or anger. Instead, inoculate yourself with the energy of Love. In this way, you also may help transform the useless parasite into a creature with contributions and, in time, its own Love to share.

Truth and Meaning: Abominations

“Abomination” is not a word one hears often in everyday conversation. I imagine that most people hear the word rarely during their lifetime.

Sadly, however, there is one group who uses this word obsessively in one particular context. Especially with the news stories about marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws, we have heard far too much use of this word in recent months.

So, lest anyone think that “abomination” is reserved only for their select purpose, let me provide my own list of things I feel are an abomination in America today.
  • With the most advanced medical system in the history of humanity, it is an abomination that some still fight against efforts to provide people in need with basic medical insurance.
  • When the wealthy get every financial advantage society can offer, it is an abomination that hard-working and honest people who need assistance are vilified and stereotyped as lazy.
  • It is an abomination that our military veterans suffer staggering rates of suicide and mental illness and that they must often wait months to receive medical treatment.
  • The selective misquoting of founders like Jefferson and Adams by so-called patriots to promote narrow-mindedness, bigotry and selfishness is an abomination.
  • The perversion of a religion of love and inclusion to persecute others is an abomination.
  • Capital punishment by any means is an abomination.
  • The ongoing treatment of women as second class citizens in the workplace and as objects for the sexual gratification of men in general is an abomination.
  • Assigning any validity to the irrational opinions of those who deny overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change, evolution, contraception and the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity is an abomination.
  • That anyone thinks unfettered access to weapons of mass killing is in the best interests of this society is an abomination.

Truth and Meaning: Mythic Struggles

Every religion has its mythic stories. We teach our children in Sunday School classes and we share them during worship services. Our stories inspire us to want to act, and instruct us on how to act.

The mythic stories of my religion involve resistance. But our resistance has not been against tyrants or kings, but against ideas and prevailing social norms. Katarzyna Weigel and Michael Servetus were burned at the stake resisting the idea that every person had to believe what the majority of people believed. When Edward Everett Hale and Lydia Maria Child helped lead the abolition movement, they resisted the dominant paradigm that accepted that some persons can be treated as property. And when Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb died at the hands of racist cowards in Alabama, they resisted the notion that all people do not have the same inherent rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Some generations don’t have the chance to write a mythic story. The great causes arrive only occasionally, and are often not recognized until they are past. But I believe that we are living through such a period right now — a period in which a shadow hovers over the land and whose minions march on many fronts. That shadow is Regressivism. That shadow is the delusion held by some that we need to return to a time that never actually existed — a time during which the masses lived contentedly under the thumb of a benevolent and privileged few.

The Regressive is a cunning adversary. He poses as the polite academician, the well-groomed politician, the business owner from humble roots, the preacher of a loving god. The Regressive promises freedom from fear, freedom from government interference, freedom from immorality. And you pay for these freedoms with sacrifices to the altar of gods of Regressivism. The price? Sacrifice the Other. Sacrifice LGBT folk because they are abominations. Sacrifice women because they cannot be trusted with the responsibility of reproductive choice. Sacrifice the poor because their labor has no value. Sacrifice people of color because they are inherently inferior. Sacrifice your safety because guns matter more than people. Sacrifice the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, the immigrant, and the poor because they are not worthy.

And who resides in this godhead of Regressivism? Greed. Ignorance. Complacency. Power. Lust. Hate. Arrogance. Intolerance. These modern day golden calves demand sacrifices of blood and life and will settle for nothing less. And in return, they offer the banality of cable television, Twitter triviality, and the narcissism of a bloated America that wallows in wealth while half of the world starves.

But how can we fight these gods, whose resources to oppress us seem endless? We start locally and we start small. Throughout Michigan, towns are passing ordinances to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in nondiscrimination laws. Bay County adopted one small piece and Saginaw continues to wrestle with a much broader ordinance. Each time we take up this struggle, the shadow of Regressivism sends forth its soldiers armed with bigotry, a strategy of misinformation and the tactics of fear. The time is coming for Midland to enter the fray. The forces arrayed against us here will be strong, but we will prevail — we must prevail.

Truth and Meaning: Hypocrisy and Hobby Lobby

Recently, the Supreme Court heard the case of a privately-owned corporation wishing to impose the religious views of its owners on its employees. On its surface, this case is about contraception and whether one believes in the morality of birth control. At the next level of understanding is the debate over whether “religious freedom” guarantees one the right to practice one’s religion when doing so imposes one’s own religious beliefs on others.

But, this case is not really about either of these important debates. The Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius case is about hypocrisy — the hypocrisy running all too rampant in our society today.
The Green family sells products for a living. They pay employees a compensation package to work in their stores and sell their products. And the Greens want to control how those employees spend the money they earn because of the Greens’ so-called Christian values. But let’s examine how the Greens act upon their religious values.

  • Hobby Lobby imports billions of dollars of products from China, a nation that doesn’t allow its people to have the freedom to worship freely, where workers are routinely exposed to dangerous situations for low pay, and where persecution of Chinese Christians is increasing. And although the one-child policy was technically lifted, abandonment and selective killing of female babies continues. Forced abortion is still a regular practice in China. See http://www.usnews.com/opinion/leslie-marshall/2014/03/26/hobby-lobbys-china-hypocrisy
  • Documents filed with the Department of Labor three months after the Greens filed their lawsuit show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k), even though there exist several boutique mutual funds that specifically screen companies that are not in line with their client’s religious beliefs. See http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/hobby-lobby-retirement-plan-invested-emergency-contraception-and-abortion-drug-makers
  • The main drugs in question in the case brought before the Supreme Court are the emergency contraceptives Plan-B and Ella.One huge problem with this situation is that up until 2012, Hobby Lobby provided them as part of their insurance plan. Only when they realized that Obamacare was going to mandate this coverage did they suddenly become interested in not providing these drugs. See  http://www.reddirtreport.com/prairie-opinions/hobby-lobby-provided-emergency-contraceptives-they-opposed-them#sthash.uukZXFjI.dpuf
  • Hobby Lobby’s CFO Jon Cargill, and an affiliate company, Crafts Etc., are the two single biggest donors to the National Christian Foundation, an organization that backed groups advocating in favor of Arizona’s anti-gay bill — the Center for Arizona Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom. This action displays not just a desire to engage in a religious practice, but a concerted effort to reach out and support overly discriminatory laws. See http://www.salon.com/2014/03/27/hobby_lobbys_secret_agenda_how_its_secretly_funding_a_vast_right_wing_movement/

So, in other words, when it increases their profits, the Greens readily set aside their vaunted Christian values in favor of the almighty dollar. The only religious value ultimately important to the Greens is the worship of wealth and the desire to impose their political views on others.