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.
I have had an interesting conversation with several of my friends lately. Same conversation, but with different friends and on different occasions - and that’s what makes it remarkable. Each conversation was with a LIBERAL friend, and each conversation centered around how they refuse to discuss politics with anyone not of a like mind anymore. They gave me a lot of different reasons for their decision, and in the meantime I gave them a hard time about “giving up” and “letting the bad guys win” and “making our voices heard.”
Now, though, I’m joining them in silence. I’m lucky, though: I have this public forum in which to explain why I’m giving up to anyone who cares, and yeah - to take one last jab at “the bad guys” before signing off for good. Writing this feels kind of like quitting a job: I’m sad about leaving something that has meant so much to me, but I’m relieved, too. It’ll be nice to reprioritize and put my energy into other things.
So… why am I quitting? Why am I giving up?
I have a lot of conservative friends. I met these people through various means other than politics - through gaming, through past jobs, through other friends - and since I live in a section of the country in which conservativism predominates, it’s natural that I will meet and become friends with people more conservative than I am. When I met these people, our political views are not what attracted us to each other. It was something else.
As I persist, though, in presenting what I believe to be truths regarding U.S. politics today, time and time again I butt heads with my friends. A lot of them are reasonable - more reasonable than I am even - and a lot of our discussions don’t break down into argument. But a lot of them do. We get angry with each other, at the other’s refusal to see that he’s absolutely wrong, and the argument ends with us packing up and stomping away. (A lot of these conversations/arguments take place on Facebook and Twitter, so packing up and stomping away is figurative language - although it has happened that way “in real life” too.)
I don’t like being angry. Also, I don’t like the creeping sensation of disrespect for these friends that grows a little every time we discuss politics. Like I said, their political leanings are not generally what attracted me to them, so it should not color how I feel about them. On the flip side, if I’m feeling this level of disrespect from them, then they’re probably feeling it for me - and I want them to respect me, as I want to be able to respect them.
Finally, I don’t want to be known as “the guy who’s always bringing up politics”. I’ll leave that for Dennis Maguire (if you know Dennis, you know what I’m talking about). I want to be known as “my friend Will who wrote that poem which touched me” or “my friend Will who wrote that kick-ass story” or “my friend Will who has those two beautiful children” or “my friend Will who beat my ass in Twilight Imperium last night.” Hell, I’ll even take “my friend Will who really digs beer” over “Will the politics guy”.
To continue on that train of thought - in order for me to be “the guy who…”, then I need to turn my attention - my full attention - to the things that will make me that guy. In other words, I’ve known for a long time what kind of person I was destined to be, what I was supposed to do with my life. And it wasn’t politics. Whenever I engage in heated political discussions, I feel like I’m wasting time - time that I should be using for the things that I’m supposed to be doing.
For example, yesterday I scheduled a whole afternoon for editing my novel. For various reasons, it’s absolutely vital that I finish this last round of rewrites and edits soon. But then, I got sucked into a discussion - one that I started - about political campaign contributions. The discussion went back and forth on Facebook for hours, and in the end resulted in three things: 1) Neither I nor the people I was arguing with gave an inch. 2) Two of us effectively stormed off, throwing our hands up in disgust. 3) I got about half of my intended goal with the novel finished.
I can’t keep arguing politics and get the things I’m supposed to do with my life done.
Nine times out of ten, when someone posts something which contradicts the standard Republican/conservative talking points, Republican/conservative people retort, and often their retort contains some misunderstanding or some distortion of the facts. Sorry guys, I have to say this one final time, even if you think I’m wrong. I don’t think you necessarily misinterpret information or misconstrue it on purpose. I just think that you’re being led my the nose by entities who are actively trying to make you vote against your self interest and against the interests of your country.
And I know many of you feel the same way about me. Here’s the thing, though, and this is the point I’m trying to make with this part of my post: when I get into a discussion, and something blatantly false pops up (nine times out of ten), I don’t feel justified in just telling you that you’re wrong. I have to do research to make sure of it. Also, and you may not realize this, so I’m telling you this now: I am totally aware that sometimes I pull stuff out of my ass, too. The thing is, whenever I do and I get challenged on it, I take the time to look at my own sources as well as yours. I have actually lost sleep at night fretting that something I wrote was false. (I don’t think Glenn Beck does.) Even then sometimes I blow it. Most times though, I don’t. Still, the time it takes to fact check so many things is exhausting, and I find that when I’m discussing politics with Republicans who get their facts from Michelle Malkin, Fox News, and their Baptist preacher, that I have to do an awful lot of it.
It shouldn’t have to be that way. I should be able to have a discussion about politics and let it boil down to the ideological differences that separate us: Do you believe that free market capitalism is self-correcting? Do you believe in the redistribution of wealth? Do you believe in a person’s right to own a gun or make her own choice regarding carrying a baby to term. We shouldn’t get bogged down in facts and figures. But because there are so many people out there trying to mislead us, and because there are so many of us who are either too lazy, too busy, or too gullible to question their sources, we do. We get sidetracked by things that we should agree on, and our discussion is derailed.
Fact checking is wearing me out.
I’m proud that I carried the torch this long. I don’t blame my liberal friends who’ve already “agreed to disagree”, and quietly acquiesced, but I’m happy to be able to say that I outlasted them. So, why did I persist for so long?
Part of it is because I’m stubborn as shit. Ask any of the guys who play games with me. We’ll be playing a game, and almost everyone will agree that it’s a foregone conclusion that so and so will win. Well, if so and so isn’t me, and I think I have a chance in hell, I usually insist on playing things out. My dad had an illustration on his wall at work that showed a frog getting eaten by a crane. You could see the lump in the crane’s throat that was the frog’s head and body. But the frog’s legs were sticking out, and he had them wrapped around the crane’s neck just below the lump. The caption read: “Never give up.” That frog is my hero.
Another reason is because I think that the GOP is evil. Seriously. I think the leaders of the Republican Party, along with pundits like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, have set up a kind of pyramid scheme, where they get minions to do their bidding while they and only they reap increasing benefits. I think a sizable portion of the Republican leadership has consciously decided to sell the U.S. short for their own material gain, banking that they’ll still be secure and happy when the rest of it goes to shit. Another portion of the Republican Party is just batshit crazy.
And YES. I KNOW that there’s a lot of corruption and impropriety among Democrats. At the end of the day, they’re all politicians, and politicians by definition are corrupt, self-serving liars. I get that. I won’t argue it - I can’t. But while Democrats are mostly guilty of political maneuvering and corruption typical to their line of work, the GOP is taking things to the next level. We can’t tackle the general abuses of power in our political system that we all recognize and despise until we first defeat this threat, which goes beyond anything we’ve experienced in this country before. We’re perhaps the greatest singular nation the world has ever known - but we’re still young. And naive. And right now, vulnerable.
I persisted because I believed I was fighting the good fight.
But now I’ve decided that this is not my fight. I have other things that I must do, so instead of using my time beating my head against the wall in a futile effort to change the world via political debate, I will turn back to the things that I feel more capable at. To things which will not alienate me from people I care about, that do not exhaust me. That I am meant to do.
Now, this is not a call or suggestion that - if you’re liberal - you do the same thing. Giving up like I am is something the GOP WANTS us to do. Instead, as I step aside, I encourage all of you to step up and take my place. The fight must continue - I just can’t participate any more.
Finally, don’t bother arguing any of the things I’ve said in this post - I’m done arguing. And if you’re disgusted or angry with me because I’m throwing out this last shot without any recourse on your part, if you’re disgusted or angry with me because you feel offended and I offer no apology, then remember why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because I want to remain friends. I’m doing this because I need to redirect my energy. I’m doing this because I’m tired.
Believe what you want to believe and I’ll do the same. I know that I won’t change your mind, so I’m finished trying. This is the last I’ll say on the subject.
Until (and if) I can say, “I told you so.”