Tag Archives: Phil Gulley

Ceding My Space

Phil Gulley is a Quaker pastor in Camby, Indiana–one of Indianapolis’ bedroom communities. He lives in Danville, another small community. Gullley is also a humorist; he writes for the Indianapolis Monthly and for the Danville Republic, among other publications. He has graciously given me permission to share the following essay, which focuses on America’s future prospects.

When I am tempted to say something critical about “churchy” folks (as I often am) I think about Phil and about several good friends who are members of the clergy. (Those of you reading this know who you are!) They are all truly good human beings “walking the walk” of their various faiths–and their presence in the community and in my life reminds me that painting any group of people with too broad a brush is bigotry.

Here’s Phil’s essay.
         The study of American history requires a keen eye for irony. It began when Thomas Jefferson, an enslaver of some 600 souls, was charged with writing the first draft of The Declaration of Independence, which included these soaring words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For something that was self-evident, equality wasn’t apparent to Jefferson, nor to the 48 other founding fathers who held enslaved people, hence the irony.        

Women were not accorded the right to vote for the first 144 years of our nation’s history, and not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did Blacks gain that right, though even today, in some of our more benighted states, that right is under steady assault by those who laud freedom in one moment and deny it to others in the next. As I said, one must have a keen eye for irony.      

A more recent head-scratcher occurred after our last presidential election when a mob of miscreants, moaning about the demise of American democracy, nearly dealt it a death blow by storming the Capital Building to halt the peaceful transfer of power. As of this writing, over a thousand rioters have been charged, with one glaring exception, the Rioter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, who so far remains free. So much for that old American chestnut that no man is above the law.

Even now, those who crow the loudest about American exceptionalism are the same ones bemoaning our nation’s supposed fragility, daring to call those who believe most strongly in America’s promise of equality “snowflakes.” (Again with the irony.) If the United States of America should ever end, it will not be at the hands of those who demand equality, but at the hands of those who demand rights and privileges for themselves, while cunningly denying them to others. Should those robbed of their freedoms dare to complain or march or organize, their silence is demanded, their compliance required. Let a woman insist on the right to make her own medical decisions, let people of color decry police brutality, and all of a sudden America is perilously close to collapse, the end times are near, the socialists are coming.
It should come as no surprise that our faint-hearted brethren have draped themselves in the garments of religion, cloaking their tyranny in divine authority. It is God they are fighting for, not themselves. Or so they claim. Robert Ingersoll, a Republican when Republicans were sane, famously said of our founders, “They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought.” Fanatics and zealots are, and have been since our founding days, the gravest threat to America’s future. If we are imperiled, it is because of them.

But I am an optimist. I believe these lovers of piety and power, posing as lovers of freedom, will be seen for who they are. I believe wise Americans will reject their shrill demands, will recognize their crocodile tears as performative art and nothing more, and will dedicate themselves to a better America. As is nearly always the case, the younger among us will see what their elders refuse to see, that “freedom” which comes at the expense of another is not freedom at all, but oppression masquerading as liberty, and they will stand against it, and our nation will be saved.


To which I say, “amen.”

See you tomorrow.


There’s Religion, And Then There’s Religion

Yesterday’s post sparked a number of comments about religion, pro and (mostly) con.

It is easy to look at the self-righteousness of the Christian warriors–the Mike Pences and Franklin Grahams of the world–and come to the conclusion that Christianity (and for that matter, all religion) is a poorly-veiled effort by self-righteous prigs to control and dominate others.

And yet….

We need to recognize that even those of us who are nonbelievers are nevertheless  products of specific religious cultures, and consider the ways in which our early socialization into those cultures have shaped the attitudes with which we approach issues of justice and human behavior. (Pardon the shameful plug, but I wrote a book–God and Country: America in Red and Blue– about the ways in which those unrecognized religious roots influence Americans’ positions on ostensibly secular policies from economics and criminal justice to the environment.)

Religion was initially a way to explain an inexplicable world–especially why some people prospered and others suffered. Different religious traditions approached these questions differently, and when humans invented science, some embraced the “new learning” and some rejected it.

That leads me to an utterly banal observation: some approaches to religious belief encourage people to live together amicably, and some do not. My own unoriginal rule of thumb is based entirely upon the behavior of purportedly religious folks. If your religion makes you more compassionate and kind, if it provides you with a helpful (but not unduly prescriptive) framework within which to approach moral dilemmas, it’s probably good.

If it turns you into a self-righteous moral scold, it probably isn’t.

I came across a far more eloquent version of my approach on Phil Gulley’s blog. Gulley, as many readers know, is a Quaker pastor and author from a small community near Indianapolis. The post in question was his response to a mean-spirited cartoon by Gary Varvel, who is a longtime cartoonist (and inexplicably, recently a columnist) for the Indianapolis Star. The cartoon, which portrayed Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser as a demanding publicity seeker, is reproduced on Gulley’s blog.

The Star evidently refused to print Gulley’s response, saying that the newspaper had already apologized for printing the cartoon. (A number of people canceled their subscriptions, citing it, and I can see why the paper might prefer not to call any further attention to it.) That’s a pity, though, because Gulley has captured the distinction between religious beliefs that prompt humility and self-examination and those that serve as a substitute for self-awareness and as a crutch for judgmentalism.

You really need to read the entire post, but here are the paragraphs that illustrate that distinction:

I’ve known Gary Varvel most of my life. We were raised in the same small town and have many friends in common. We embraced the Christian faith around the same time. I once believed as he still does. But his faith has taken him places I cannot go, embracing causes I cannot support. To be fair, he likely says the same thing about my faith. Gary has often said his faith informs everything he does. I believe him, which is why I reject his faith, or at least his version of Christianity, which always comes at the expense of others, be they women, or gays, or liberals, or any “others” whose demands for justice challenge its narrow and settled world.

I have never wanted anyone to lose his or her job. It has happened to me twice, and each time was painful and difficult. While I have never wanted anyone to be fired, I have often wished those who neglect the hard work of self-awareness and self-improvement would retire, or perhaps find another line of work that doesn’t involve shaping, or misshaping, public opinion. That is my wish for Gary, to retire and spend time learning the world his wife, daughter, and granddaughters inhabit, a world far different from his own.