Recent censuses taken worldwide indicate that less and less people identify themselves with a particular faith, and that more and more people have begun to identify themselves as having no faith at all. Being somebody who DOES believe in God, I am of course saddened. But I’m not surprised. Considering all the shenanigans that people who profess faith often get up to, it’s wholly understandable that some people outright reject religion. The real sadness is that it is often BECAUSE of the actions of professed religious people that less people follow a faith. And it is increasingly true that people with no faith - atheists and agnostics - are more philanthropic, more generous to their fellow man. Go figure.
As an example of something infuriating (at least to me) that certain religious people do, I’d like to take this opportunity to rant about a gigantic irony pervading the political climate in the U.S. these days, particularly with Republicans.
Recent surveys I found put the percentage of Fundamentalist Christians among Republicans at somewhere between 40 and 51%. Now, before it looks like I’m agreeing with Ann Coulter when she says that Democrats are all godless heathens, let it be known that the disparity between the number of Christians among the two parties is NOT that big. Yeah, the Republicans have a few more supposed Christians - and way more of the Fundamentalist variety - but a significant number of Democrats believe in a Creator, and often believe he sent the Christ to Earth to die for man’s sins.
Now, according to a 2007 Barna Group survey, found here, 57% of Republicans assert that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches. This means, for everyone who hasn’t had a heart to heart talk with a Fundie, that the Bible - a document of over 1000 pages, translated from as many languages as Jesus had fingers and maybe toes, which is easily over 2000 years old, and whose translations, interpolations, iterations, and derivations have mostly passed through white men with political agendas and axes to grind - is the absolute perfect message that God wanted us to receive. Screw the myriad contradictions, the uncertainty of some of the source material, and the glaring omissions.
Well, I don’t think the Bible is the PERFECT WORD OF GOD. But on one subject, time and time again, it’s pretty clear. Let’s look at some passages, shall we?
“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich - both come to poverty.” - Proverbs 22:16
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. There will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered litte did not have too little.’” -2 Corinthians 8:13-15
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Matthew 25:41-45
A friend of mine (What’s up, Kym?) told me recently on Facebook that it’s easy to manipulate what the Bible says to match your ends, and seeing what I’ve seen, I tend to agree, but these passages are pretty straightforward, and since I’m not a Bible adherist, I gravitate to the straightforward bits. Like these.
These seem ridiculously obvious to me. Even their surrounding context doesn’t contradict or undermine what they say. And what they say is this: if there are poor people among you, do what you can to help them out. If there are those who have a little more than average, then they should give up some of what they have to those who have a little less, just to even things out a little.
Those are essentially (and Bible adherents can’t reasonably deny this) commands from “on high.” And hey, you know what? Centuries later the absolute common sense of “taking care” of your poor and underprivileged was underscored by such prominent philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith - philosophers which the Founding Fathers of the United States studied, honored, and drew inspiration from.
Flash forward to the United States, circa… now. Now we are told by the political party that contains so many Fundamental Christians to let the poor fend for themselves - it’s typically their fault that they’re in the condition they’re in, so why should we help somebody so lazy and desperate? (By the way, I invite you to make it through the month playing this game. I did, with $24 left, but WOW, my poor children suffered for it.)
Now we’re told by the millionaires of our country to leave their money alone. It’s theirs by right, and they need all of it - they can put it to better use than any poor person can, creating jobs and such (BTW, this has been proven false in more ways than the Bible has). We’re told by those who say the Bible is PERFECT to simply disregard these few passages (oh, and a LOT of other ones, too) simply because, well, it inconveniences them.
Now I know a lot of you have figured this irony out already. This post isn’t really for you, except to underscore what you already know, and to let you know that a “person of faith” understands the ironic difference between the things that certain other people of faith say and appear to believe.
The purpose of this post is to ask people who claim to be Christian, ESPECIALLY those who claim that the Bible is the perfect Word of God, to reconsider their position toward the poor. I suggest that maybe they go back and read their perfect Book without some preacher with an agenda and an axe to grind looking over their shoulder. I suggest they use their common sense, and THINK about what happens to a society that doesn’t take care of its poor.
The following post comes not because I have any real interest in what happens in Alabama politics, and not because I personally have any interest in going to a country music-themed entertainment complex. I’m about to tell you this story because it’s an outrage which we all should be aware of, and that we should all fight to make sure doesn’t happen in areas where WE live, work, and play….
First, some background. Why? Because you need context. You need to understand why a not-so-humble blogger based in metro Atlanta is pretty annoyed at the governor of Alabama. You keep reading, and soon you’ll be annoyed by him as well.
Background Bit #1: Alabama has a number of anti-gambling laws on the books, which is understandable considering the number of highly religious people who live in Alabama, and the long-term anti-gambling stance that religious people tend to take. There is a bit of a loophole, however: while the usual staples of gambling (blackjack, poker, slots) are expressly forbidden, BINGO is not. Now, when you think of Bingo, you probably think of old blue-haired ladies playing with numbered cards on long fold-out tables at the local VFW. Well, welcome to the 21st century, chum! Electronics and digital technology have made the old models of all sorts of things obsolete, or nearly so. And that includes Bingo.
Background Bit #2: A couple of years ago, an ingenious entrepreneur named Ronnie Gilley saw an opportunity to turn the travel corridor in Southeast Alabama into a bona fide destination spot. For years, millions of people have traveled THROUGH the area, mostly on Highway 231, hellbent on getting to Biloxi or Florida. Gilley reasoned: why not turn a pasture that people would ordinarily drive right past into a multi-faceted entertainment complex that would make them want to stop? The idea came to fruition, and thus was born Country Crossing, a country music-themed multiplex featuring restaurants, hotels, concert halls, and a huge electronic Bingo parlor.
Background Bit #3: Playing Bingo at Country Crossing is just like playing Bingo at the VFW. Except you can play faster. Except it’s on a computer screen. You typically pay to play at the VFW. You pay to play at the Crossing. And just like at the VFW, the money you pay is eventually won by the players themselves or contributed to charity. This is unlike “real” gambling, where the “house” is ever-present and often wins. (Just so no one comes back and challenges me on this point, I have to state that Country Crossing does skim a very small percentage off the top to pay its overhead.)
Enter the Governor of Alabama, the illustrious Bob Riley, Republican Extraordinaire. Riley has opposed Country Crossing from the get-go, claiming that the venture constitutes an illegal gambling operation that will eventually spread like a virus across the Southeast, causing Alabama to become a crime-infested state run by disrespectable gambling bosses and the mob, who control the government and manage crime in all its nefarious manifestations: prostitution, drug-running, gun-running, murder, extortion.
Those of us who’ve studied debate and argumentative semantics recognize this as a “slippery slope” argument, where the most extreme possibility is immediately presented as the most likely scenario. Riley has no legitimate basis for his position. Sure, his vision of Alabama’s downward spiral COULD happen. But the likelihood is very, very small.
By assuming this position (heh), Riley has allied himself with a number of religious organizations in Southeast Alabama, most notably the Concerned Wiregrass Citizens. Now, while I may disagree with many of their convictions, and I may disagree with using politics as a pulpit for religious agendas, I refuse to outright blast people of a more religious tendency than myself, chiefly because I admire their conviction, short-sighted and misled as it may be. Religious conviction has led to some of the most deplorable situations in history (most wars are religious in nature, 9/11 was religious in nature, etc.), but being a person of some conviction myself, I still kind of identify with their fervor.
Even when they’re wrong. But I will not blast them for being misguided - in fact, one of the points of this post is to demonstrate how I sympathize for them. Still, here’s my argument against them.
- The unemployment rate in Alabama is roughly 9%. Country Crossing employs 1300-1500 people by itself.
- Residual business - at places like the gas stations, motels, restaurants, and retail stores that exist in and around Houston County (where Country Crossing is located) - have seen an increase in revenue. They no doubt are hiring more people themselves, to handle the increase in business.
- In and around Houston County, there’s been a somewhat of an economic boom, flying in the face of all other negative economic data. Country Crossing contributed $1.8 million dollars to Houston County’s 2009 budget surplus. Dire warnings from the state’s budgetary officials still ring ominously, but surely Country Crossing, were it allowed to stay open, would have offset or even stopped the impending budget cuts. Hell, imagine the tax revenue a place like that would generate in the long term….
- One of the chief arguments against gambling is the tendency for crime to increase in areas where gambling takes place. Ironically, last year Dothan, the principle city in Houston County, saw a 30% DECREASE in the crime rate. You know why I believe that is? Because the correlation between a bad economy and crime is higher than the correlation between gambling and crime.
Now, if you equate crime to “sin”, then Country Crossing could actually be contributing to a decrease in sin. And if you equate gambling to sin, well…. Bingo isn’t exactly gambling, is it? And despite Riley’s impassioned wailing and gnashing, the Alabama law is at the very least vague about it all.
Basically, the benefits of Country Crossing’s existence far exceed the detriments. The owners and managers have worked hard to make sure Country Crossing provides a safe, family-friendly yet fun environment for the people of the area as well as for visitors. And the economic upside is undeniable.
So what’s the problem, really? Well, funny you should ask.
The problem with Country Crossing is that it has the potential to draw clientele away from the Native American casinos in the Southeast as well as from nearby Biloxi. So it APPEARS that some of the purveyors of those establishments took proactive steps to make sure that the threat of competition didn’t happen. Allegedly, a certain Governor received millions of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for making sure that Alabama didn’t open up any thing that might attract business away from the existing establishments. Day after day reveals increasingly incriminating deals, that - while they aren’t necessarily illegal - do constitute a glaring conflict of interest.
As it stands right now, the Governor has threatened to enforce a raid on the establishment, with the raiding officials having pretty much carte blanche on what they do with all the confiscated machines. A raid, in fact, almost took place a few weeks ago, but a local judge stopped it with a court order - a court order which has, in turn, been overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court. So Country Crossing is closed. A legislative hearing and vote is upcoming that will allow the citizens of Alabama themselves decide on which side of the gambling law the Bingo machines stand.
One caveat, to cover my ass legally: Riley vehemently denies any knowledge of any wrong-doing by his associate Michael Scanlon (famous for HIS involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandals). He also vehemently denies any knowledge that the anti-gambling organization which he supported, the U.S. Family Network, was funded by casino-owning Choctaws in Mississippi. Finally, he denies that his current stance on the Country Crossing issue is politically motivated. None of the allegations against him have been proven in court. Yet. But an investigation is underway, and the evidence is mounting.
Do I believe Riley has the best interests of the average Alabama citizen at heart? Here’s my answer:
He’s a politician.
And - IF Riley is indeed guilty of the charges laid at his feet - here’s why I am really, really pissed at him.
First of all, being a Republican, Riley probably claims to be a capitalist and economic conservative. Most Republicans I know stand adamantly behind the free market system, trusting that - if left alone and not tampered with - the market will correct any aberrances and fluctuations that occur within it. Competition drives prices down, etc. etc. Well, what if people in positions of power work behind the scenes to make sure there IS no competition? What if certain people stand up in front of us and claim that we should let the market act unimpeded, and yet they’re there, manipulating the market out of our line of sight?
Second, if this is all true, then Riley took advantage of local religious groups’ good intentions to help make good on his promises - promises he allegedly made to garner campaign contributions and monetary support for his election. I find the continued (mis)use of the fundamentalist Christian base as a means to further political gain deplorable. It’s bad enough to be disingenuous to the average person, but to be disingenuous to a person who truly holds the conviction you’re just giving lip service to?
It remains to be seen what will come of all this. Will Country Crossing reopen? Will Alabama be able to take advantage of the economic benefits that a place like that would surely generate? Are the Bingo machines a violation of Alabama’s anti-gambling law? Will Riley be exonerated?
Who knows. All I know (besides the fact that I’m annoyed by it all), is that there will only be one real loser in the struggle, no matter what happens: Riley will stay a rich Republican regardless. Ronnie Gilley, smart guy that he is, will find some other means of making his entrepreneurial dreams come true. The casinos in Mississippi will continue to operate and profit.
The losers will be the people of Alabama - the ones who would benefit from Country Crossing’s existence, and the religious ones opposed to its existence, who are once again seeing their convictions exploited and betrayed.
For more information, visit these sites. (Yes, some of them have an agenda. Reader beware, okay?)
You MIGHT ask that question from time to time: where do poets and authors get the ideas/inspiration for their work? And every poet or student of poetry will tell you that just about any situation, emotion, or circumstance might wake the Muse and make her tell you to SIDDOWN, SHADDUP, and put pen to paper. The “places” from which poems come from are almost as numerous as the number of poems out there (I say almost because every teenage angst poem pretty much comes from the same place).
I thought it’d be interesting to share with you the etiology of one of my poems. It’s called ‘Create Me Again’, and here’s where it came from:
Strangely, I came up with the title first. You see, I used to pass time when I was bored in class coming up with what I thought were cool titles for songs that didn’t exist. I never wrote an actual song, but I organized the track listings for a whole lotta albums released by imaginary bands. You laugh. Whatever.
Anyway, several of those titles to songs which didn’t exist actually resonated with me; they were bits of poetry in and of themselves - wordplays that, were they expanded on successfully, might have meant something. ‘Create Me Again’ was one such title. Think about it: it has a fairly resonating implication to it, doesn’t it?
Then, sometime in the early to mid nineties, I had a crisis of faith - I didn’t so much begin to wonder if God existed (I don’t think THAT happened until I was in my 30s) as I began to wonder if God had died or gone on vacation or written us off as unsalvageable and gone off to reinvent Moses as a four-armed blue-skinned alien on some faraway planet in a different galaxy. So, with that I had the theme of a poem which I wanted to write. All I needed was something to solidly tie it all together and give me the solid ground I needed to build from.
And then, somewhere in there, I recalled the story in the book of Daniel about Nebudchadnezzar’s dream of the statue made of precious metals but with feet of clay.
Everything clicked, and I had a poem. One day I wrote the whole thing in a single sitting, and several years later the Snake Nation Review published it. At the center of it is that multi-metaled statue, standing as a symbol of… what? Me? The nation? The planet?
However you want to apply it, you can. That’s what poetry’s for, if you ask me.
Finally, here’s the poem in question. Thanks for reading:
Create Me Again
The little multi-metalled statue
With baby soft clay feet
Stood on his tiny pedestal
“Create me again
In the likeness of another image
For if what I am is what you are
Then one of us is falling short
Of every expectation.”
A tear ran down his golden cheek
Along his silver belly
Splashed erosively in a hole
That was forming in the clay.
(Image from http://blackinkdesigns.com/diagrams.htm)
And… BTW, the crisis of faith is over. (God exists. Neener neener.)