Friday, June 12, 2015
When I came back from my adventure in San Francisco in the spring of 1970, I needed a job. I applied at the Durham County Social Services Department, thinking that as a person with a masters degree I might be qualifed for the opening as case worker that they were advertising. Not that I knew anything much about case working, but still... I was told, after making 100% on the screening test, that I was over-qualified. The interviewer, who was also as I recall the director of the agency, also told me that in future interviews I should not wear “curious shoes.”
The phrase has stuck with me. The shoes were suede boots, nothing all that mindblowing to me. It wasn't as though Merle Haggard had interviewed me for the gig: “beads and roman sandals won't be seen.” Actually, the Hag recommended boots as I recall, but Durham was not Muskogee. I shortly got a job editing books at Duke University Press. I enjoyed the work and stayed there until I found myself in an accidental hit off-Broadway play in the Spring of '75. A long strange trip.
One of the first books I worked on was Shelton Smith's “In His Image But.” It was a work of historical theology, and analysed how the slave-owning South justified the “peculiar institution” with scripture and scriptural interpretation. That is, Dr. Smith noted that it wasn't as though the antibellum South was steeped in some devil religion, which you might expect (coming from Mars) if all you knew about my ancestors was that they were owners of human slaves. Nope. They were Christians, with the many protestant denominations: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians. Not for the most part Quakers I would say, although out here in the depths of far western Chatham County, where almost all we have are little Quaker churches, if you do bother to go to a service you'll find something much more like the Southern Baptist way that you might predict. This, according to my good wife, who grew up in the Southern Baptist church some 100 miles further to the east.
At any rate, Dr. Shelton Smith and other scholars have worked this field well. It is a fact that many odious policies and practices have been succored and embraced by portions of the Christian religion, as a matter of historical record. This phenomenon is understandable as a matter of psychology and sociology, and occurs not only in the South of the United States, but in Nazi Germany as well. And it occurs across religions too. The depredations of ISIL and the Taliban are grounded in Islam, not offered as brave new worlds.
In this factual context then, and with the further fact that Duke University, in North Carolina, has done some of the relatively recent scholarship showing this phenomenon, I report with great disgust that yesterday the Republican NC Legislature over-rode the Republican Governor's veto of a bill which has thus become law, and which allows magistrates serving the North Carolina public and salaried by the North Carolina taxpayers to opt out of performing duties which they self-report to be “against” their religious beliefs.
The goal of this odious and hopefully unconstitutional bit of legislation is yet another spanner in the spokes of the movement to expand the "institution of marriage" to include couples of the same sex. But it is plain and obvious that any number of obnoxious beliefs might be grounded in “sincere” religious belief, since in plain historical fact slavery and the murder of six million European Jews was grounded in and succored by “religious belief.” This is not to deny that some of the horrors humanity has visited upon itself haven't come with the more modern flavor of science and enlightenment. See, e.g., Revolution, French; Revolution, Russian; Revolution, Chinese. But the man who beheaded the journalist on your TV just last summer held the severed head aloft with the words, “God Is Great.”
How sad for my state, and for all those people who worked so earnestly to end the racism which infected us to the core in my youth. How sad for the good couples of the same sex who hope only to establish a loving union, and find this bitter, nasty broken glass thrown in their path. As one of the dissenting Democrats in the Legislature said last night, this will now have to be undone in the courts, at North Carolina's expense. We have in the past few election cycles allowed the incipient racism and general prejudice which will probably always fester to some degree in our body politic to drive the voting for some of the worst politicians available to this generation to victory. We have a legislature of Louie Gomerts here in NC, men and women who almost every day find some new way to tear down the small achievements of the last fifty years. Yesterday, as well as the veto-override, bike paths were made more difficult to establish. No doubt the Honorables view cyclists as likely homosexuals, what with their curious shoes. It is the politics of Dumb, driven by the likes of our own Franklin Graham.
“Sincere religious belief” is a talisman for anything goes, a foundation of sand. The people we have elected have apparently learned absolutely nothing. Apparently they never even noticed that the Klan burns Crosses! That would of course be the Christian interpretation of their remarkable amnesia.