Religious Voices Sing Different Tunes

There’s a central insight that gets lost in those fabricated “wars” on Christmas and the purported victimization of “people of (Christian) faith.”

The really consequential religious battles aren’t those that occur between us secular folks and adherents of various religious communities. They aren’t even the conflicts between followers of different religions.

The real dividing line is between people who look to their religion for guidance about the nature of the good, and those who see in dogma a tool for exercising power and/or asserting superiority.

The religious folks I admire strive to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord” (to appropriate a phrase from Jewish liturgy). These are people who aren’t consumed with moral certainty or pumped up with self-righteousness; they’re people looking for wisdom in managing their relationships to each other and the planet, people who understand that there are many paths to a good life, and many good people on paths different from their own.

Then there are those who use religion primarily to advance their own temporal prospects, and the zealots to whom they appeal– angry, insecure people for whom religion is expressed in fundamentalism and intolerance.

Recently, these two incompatible approaches met in Louisiana. I give you Bobby Jindal and the awesome counter to his blatant politicizing of religion. 

A group of religious leaders has scheduled a prayer rally at Southern University to rival Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s religious gathering — officially called The Response — at LSU.

The prayer rally  at Southern University will take place in the Felton G. Clark Center (Mini Dome) on the same day, Jan. 24, as Jindal’s event at the Peter Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC) on LSU’s campus. The Southern gathering is being called the “Prayer Rally for the Soul of Louisiana.”

Organizers of the Southern event have said they will focus on Louisiana’s mass incarceration rate, Medicaid expansion and the state’s failing education system. The list of issues may be a personal critique of Jindal’s tenure as governor. For example, the governor has consistently refused to accept federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana, even as other Republican governors have done so.

Jindal has come under criticism for holding The Response at a public facility on LSU’s campus. Some question whether the event, which is overtly Christian, should be held in a government building. Other criticism has to do with sponsor for The Response — the American Family Association (AFA) — which holds controversial views about homosexuality, Eric Garner’s death and freedom of speech. An initial prayer guide released for The Response linked the rise of same-sex marriage to Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

If more genuinely religious folks protested the hijacking of religion for political purposes, religion might be more appealing to the growing number of Americans who are throwing the baby of spiritual exploration out with the bathwater of bigotry.


School Choice of Fact

Yesterday, I noted that school privatization brings with it a number of unintended–and unfortunate–incentives. In Ohio, those incentives were financial; the Ohio Superintendent forced to resign was gaming the system for money.

Today’s lesson, children, centers upon a different incentive: the opportunity for proselytization. Welcome to Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana.  

Mother Jones reports on Jindal’s sweeping voucher program, which has received glowing reports from advocates of school choice and privatization. There is no doubt that Louisiana schools are in need of dramatic reform, but as the article notes, the state is poised to spend billions of tax dollars with virtually no accountability.

The early result? Of the 119 private schools participating in the program, at least 19 teach creationism in lieu of science, and substitute religious dogma for documented history.

These schools rely on textbooks and curricula produced by Bob Jones University. (The texts are quoted and referenced in the article available at the hyperlink.) They teach bible-based “facts,” including:

Dinosaurs and humans were on earth at the same time.

God used the Trail of Tears to bring Indians to Christ.

Most slave masters “treated their slaves well.”

In some areas of the country the KKK “tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters and immoral movies.”

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was part of a propaganda campaign to make the Depression sound worse than it was.

If rejection of science and rewritten history aren’t your thing, the schools also teach law (“Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person…”) and literature (“Mark Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless”…Emily Dickenson’s poems “show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny…she never accepted [the bible] as an inerrant guide to life.”)

Louisiana tax dollars at work.

I’d worry about this more, but global climate change is a sign that the Rapture is imminent…..