Christmas 2017

There once was humanity's savior,
who spoke about moral behavior,
goodness and kindness—
that's all behindness,
now Jesus has fallen from favior.

Note against misinterpretation: some readers could conclude that I think the problems in society all stem from people not having Jesus in their hearts or not going to church, but when I say "Jesus has fallen from favior" I mean he, and his basic teachings, has fallen out of favor with many, many people who purport to love, worship, and follow him. I don't like to write essays, but I guess I'm OK with excessive footnotes to silly poems. Sorry to get serious all of a sudden. I am an ex-Catholic agnostic. I don't care about religion in and of itself. It doesn't suit me, but I don't see any problems with people being religious or loving Jesus, God, Buddha, Allah, or any other deity. I enjoy some Christopher Hitchens, but I am not an anti-theist, and I don't share the view that religion is inherently bad or regressive. However, if you don't see how religion is often harnessed by fanatics, demagogues, and the powerful, you can probably stop reading. I'm not going to convince you. I don't believe that Jesus was divine, which is something I have in common with Thomas Jefferson. Like Jefferson, I believe in the wisdom and goodness of much of Jesus's teachings. I disagree with some, I am quite bothered by some, but I'm on board with the majority of his teachings. I mention Thomas Jefferson because he's a key figure in the culture war that, should my side lose, will spell the end of enlightenment, freedom, and democracy. The biggest threat to Christianity comes not from atheists, Muslims, or Hollywood, but from the types of Christians who insist that Thomas Jefferson, and all the founders of the United States, were Christians. Some of them were Christian. Some were deists, believers in a Creator who doesn't take much interest in human activity beyond the initial act of creation. Jefferson most certainly was not a Christian. He respected Jesus, but even if he tended to describe himself as a Christian he fails the fundamental test of Christianity: he did not believe Jesus Christ is the literal son of God. No one who rejects the divinity of Christ can be considered a Christian. This is not speculation. This is not subjective. It is a matter of record. Jefferson openly stated his opinion, and he went so far as to create The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, often referred to as the Jefferson Bible, a collection of Jesus's teachings with all references to the supernatural cut out. The Christian nation narrative pushed by so many Christian conservatives relies on the myth that this country was founded as a Christian country, based on Christian teachings, by Christians. If you allow that some of our founders were not Christian, the claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation crumbles. So its adherents rewrite history by arguing that Jefferson and all the founders were explicitly Christian. This narrative represents a threat to non-Christians, democracy, and liberty, as well as to Christianity itself. I don't dispute that the U.S. is majority Christian, but we are not a Christian nation in the sense that our laws are explicitly Christian laws or anything like that. I regard such a view as both un-American and dangerous, a threat to my personal liberty. I have no desire to destroy Christianity, or even to undermine Christianity, but I will fuck you up if you try to impose religious laws on me, my family, my neighbors, my compatriots. Religious freedom is not, as people like Ted Cruz want you to believe, about Christians being able to make laws based on Scripture or Christians being allowed to discriminate against supposedly unChristian groups. We—by we I mean not liberals or atheists but non-fanatics—need to reclaim the term "religious freedom." Whenever you hear a news story in which the phrase is used to describe an instance in which a religious person is attempting to impose or enforce his narrow religious beliefs, you should write a letter to the editor or the ombudsman, reminding them what "religious freedom" really means. Religious freedom is about individuals having the freedom to choose which religion, if any, to belong to, and to be free from the constraints of religions to which they don't wish to adhere. Here is Thomas Jefferson on the matter, in a well-known passage from Notes on the State of Virginia: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" (quoted from Early American Writing, ed. Giles Gunn, 440-41). It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there is a God, and as long as he doesn't try to compel me submit to the will of his God, we don't have a problem. 

The loudest, most pigheaded Christians have made their religion unappealing, and if you care to look up some polls on how young Americans feel about religion you might see that this is true. More importantly, they pervert their faith. Christianity, in its best form, is a very American religion: it's about love and tolerance. But the theocratic wing, of which the infamous Roy Moore is an extreme example, makes it about whiteness, straightness, purity, being superior to the infidels. They cannot be described as simple Biblical literalists, for they do not love their neighbors, welcome strangers, or (we can be grateful for this one) murder fortune tellers. They're just self-important, simple-minded, close-minded, self-serving assholes. If that was all I wouldn't bother talking about them, but they reject science, they require conformity, they desire power, they are dangerous. If you were to compare the writings of an Al-Qaeda-linked religious philosopher and a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, with all references to the name of their religion and their God blacked out, you might find it difficult to identify which text belonged to which dangerous religious extremist. I've said this before, but I have a small enough audience that I can say it again: religion is good when it's used for good, bad when it's used for bad ends. People get worked up about abortions and gay marriage because those are easy issues. It requires no effort to say you're against abortion. For many people in many communities, there's very little social pressure to support abortion rights: in general, one's friends and family and peers are likely to agree. I am a liberal, pro-feminism nonbeliever. I have no political or religious incentive to be against abortion, but I will say that abortion makes me very uncomfortable. I think abortion should be legal, but I don't like it. I don't like the way people talk about it, too frequently glib or abstract on one side, gruesome and absolutist and downright stupid on the other. I think men should be allowed to have opinions about abortion. I think we, through our government, through nonprofits and schools, through our relationships, should do everything we can to reduce the number of abortions that are performed in this country. Those so-called pro-lifers who rail against abortion, who call my side baby-killers, are complicit. The Catholic Church is complicit. If you are against abortion and you are against condoms and other forms of birth control, if you're against teaching young people how to fuck responsibly, you're complicit, a base hypocrite destined for the eighth circle of Hell. You're creating a system designed to create unwanted, unplanned pregnancies, a system that harms young women and young families, that treats unborn children not as precious but as an electoral commodity, that benefits only disingenuous politicians who run for office on an anti-abortion platform and do nothing, when they're in power to really reduce abortion rates because if they actually did something useful to reduce abortion rates they'd have no wedge issue to run on and distract voters from the many shitty horrible things they're doing with their power. I don't like abortion because I don't believe in an afterlife, so ending a potential life before it has a chance to live—that bothers me. I don't presume to judge women who have had abortions. It's not a choice I would want to make. It's not the government's choice to make. If you want to end abortion, stop trying to outlaw it, and start making this a country where abortion is less necessary or appealing.

For years we heard the talk that Predident Obama was secretly a Muslim. This was a two-pronged attack. They were saying he was un-Christian and therefore un-American. It was also a way to further otherize him based in his skin. Donald Trump rode the Obama-is-a-Muslim wave to the White House, but no one seriously believes Donald Trump is a Christian. Christian support for Trump is a Machiavellian calculation. Trump is the means to an end. The end is Christian rule, Saudi America.

Let's play a game: Who said it, Jesus or Bernie Sanders?

1. "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."

2. "While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

3. "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Answers: Jesus, Eugene Debs, Jesus. Sorry I tricked you with Bernie Sanders, but I needed someone with more name recognition than Eugene Debs.

If you are a Christian, that's good, I respect your faith, and I encourage you to shut the fuck up about gay people and abortion and start worrying about homeless people, immigrants, the poor, the most vulnerable, the people Pope Francis talks about the most.