The Hypocrisy of Religious Dribble

It has always been troubling to me when, after a natural disaster, we invariably hear a “person of faith” make the pronouncement that the devastation and suffering being experienced is God punishing God’s people – most often, it seems, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who support feminism, and those who support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will have an abortion.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 12 years ago, some from the Religious Right blamed the storm on all of the above, and as HIV/AIDS ravaged scores of people, religious leaders from the Right said the disease was the judgement of God.(

Some religious leaders said that the tragedy at Sandy Hook, where little children were blown to bits by a mad gunman, was God punishing gay people and the tolerance of gay rights. (

Interestingly, there has been an air of caution and a lack of public judgement in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Both Texas and Florida are seen as firm bastions of evangelical Christianity. Voters in Texas struck down in 2015 a law that banned discrimination in bathrooms, and Florida is home not only to many of the Conservative Right, but also to the president of the United States.

In other words, God doesn’t punish people on the Right.

The god of the Right is a troubling presence (little “g” used intentionally). This god causes horrific punishment for people who have a different belief system than does the Right, but is oddly silent when home bases of those who spew this type of theology are hit with tragedy and disaster.

The enemy, it seems, to the Religious Right is liberalism and all that liberalism “allows.” In the world of the Religious Right, there is no room for diversity, no place for members of the LGBTQ community, no room for a woman to choose when she has a child. Liberalism gives people too much leeway, the Religious Right believes, leeway that is against the will of God.

Their definition and understanding of the will of God, however, is painful and limited. Their god doesn’t care about racism and the pain and misery it has caused; their god doesn’t care about sexism or about discrimination wrought against people who are somehow different from what the Right would call “normal.”

Their god had no feelings about the tiny, innocent children who were massacred at Sandy Hook, or about the people who have died horrific deaths because of HIV/AIDS. Their god’s values political, not compassionate; their god holds one group of people accountable for “sins,” while letting another group of people walk free for their shortcomings.

The people of Texas, many of whom are evangelical Christians with the attendant set of beliefs, are suffering, and now religious leaders are urging people to come together to help those who are suffering. This, in a place where voter suppression, immigrant discrimination, and sexism and homophobia are celebrated values. These people are spared the religious dribble and are allowed to suffer under an aura of compassion, urged by the Religious Right.

It is troubling to watch. At the end of the day, nobody really knows who is “all right” with God and who is not. The Christian Bible says that anyone who “confesses with his mouth the Lord Jesus and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead shall be saved.” That sentence doesn’t eliminate any group of people; all who confess and believe are said to be “saved.”  Sin, as defined by theologian Paul Tillich, is anything that separates people from God.

It would seem that the “do-over” of God and God’s will by the Religious Right  – of all religious sects, because this judgmental tendency is not exclusively Christian – truly displaces the sovereignty of God and replaces it with human arrogance and bias. Humans stand between God and God’s people, and are therefore “the sin.” “The sin” causes other people to sin by putting between them and God false definitions of goodness and “rightness” in the eyes of God, definitions which are not from God or even close to the notion of God as loving and nonbiased.

The victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are being spared the horrific spewing of self-righteous dribble because many of those suffering are evangelical Christians. Please understand: this is not about putting down the Religious Right. They have the right to believe as they want, and I don’t have to ascribe to it.

This is about being disturbed about how any religion can celebrate in the suffering of other people, and be so arrogant as to assume that they know that the suffering is God’s will. God would not punish some for “sin” and not others, not if the description of God we learned in Sunday School is true.

The silence of the Religious Right in the suffering of the people in Texas and Florida is telling. These people are truly suffering, not being punished, because they are on the “right” side of the Religious Right.

Maybe that’s not true …but it sure looks that way.

A candid observation

America Is Not Safe

I have waited to write anything as I have watched the developments in the story of the horrific shooting in Oregon because I had to think.

I had to think, to wonder, what is going on in America, and what I came up with is that America is not safe anymore.

I had been thinking that for a while. I am no longer comfortable going into movie theaters or any public venues, really. When I drive I am really conscious of using my turn signal and watching my speed — which I always did, but with more intentionality now. I think of Sandra Bland, now dead, after she was arrested for <a href=”; target=”_hplink”>allegedly not using her turn signal</a>. I think of saying things, writing things, to let people know that if I end up dead in someone’s jail cell, that I did not kill myself. I take time to pay attention to the things I warned my son to take note of when he began driving, because I was afraid for him as a black man in America, a young, brilliant, handsome black man in America whose life is never safe here.

America is not safe — not because of international terrorism or ISIS, although ISIS as a force exists. America is not safe — not because of black on black crime. Yes, we in the black community need to be concerned with the destruction of black lives wherever and however it happens, including in our own communities. The one thing GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson said that I agree with is that all black lives matter. There is no doubting that the destruction of black lives occurs in black communities.

But that is not why America is not safe. Black people for the most part do not target and kill white people. Black people, most often go after other black people. Back on black crime is not the reason America is not safe. America is not safe because of white on white crime, because of this tendency of mostly young white men, angry with the world, or angry at their circumstances, and definitely angry at the government, think the way to handle their anger is to go into public spaces and just shoot, or kill masses of people in whatever way they can.

I remember thinking how unsafe America was when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was angry at them for targeting a building with innocent people — including babies — inside. It’s OK to be angry with the government; that is part of being a citizen in a country, but to just bomb a public space, or to just go into a public space and begin randomly shooting, is a punk way to handle the anger. It is a punk way and it is despicable and it is cowardly.

The coverage of the shooting in Oregon has rung hollow for me. Our politicians are more concerned with holding onto an illogical insistence that “common sense gun laws” will keep people from owning guns. Pro-gun advocates insist that more people having guns will reduce gun violence and deaths from gun violence. It is insane and illogical reasoning, borne out of a stubborn resistance to “big government.

The sheriff of Douglas County, John Hanlin, does not believe there should be any kind of gun control and even suggested that in the Sandy Hook situation, where 20 <em>children</em> were left dead, might be a conspiracy. He posted a piece on YouTube after that incident, saying that “there has been a lot of deception surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.” He suggested that the grieving parents might be “crisis actors.”

This, from a “law enforcement” officer.

There has been much talk about these young men, mostly white, who go into public spaces and gun people down. They are bad people, the experts say. They are mentally ill.

Perhaps. But the point has been made that people who are mentally ill are more likely to kill themselves than others for the most part. And, the case was made by President Obama, that in other modern countries there are just as many young men who are mentally ill, but we don’t hear about them gunning people down like they do here.

Attempts to explain the behavior of the mass shooters have relied as well on profiles, saying they are angry. Lots of people are angry. They don’t mow people down.

No, there’s something else going on. America’s culture is one of violence; the people from the Mayflower came into this new land mowing people down, specifically the Native Americans who were already here. We are a violent society. One of our core American beliefs is that the way to handle anger and to acquire and keep control of others is by and with violence. Cowboys were violent. Those who settled the West were violent. The debate over slavery was handled with a horror called the Civil War.

The answer, actually, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign of non-violence, was violence. White people actually said that his non-violent campaign was inspiring and forcing violence in return.

America, with its core value of violence, is not safe. These young men, staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, are good, wholesome American citizens, with American values.

That’s what’s scary, and it’s at least one reason why America is not safe.

Mental Illness and Our Fear of It

Rethink Mental Illness
Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the latest mass shooting in this nation at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. has come the usual spate of debates about gun control and the reasons these mass shootings continue to occur. Frankly, the discussion over gun control, whether or not to have it or to make people get background checks, is annoying. It is clear that in terms of policy this nation’s lawmakers are deeply divided. Gun control and background checks are seen by far too many as just another intrusion of government into the private lives and affairs of American citizens. There exists this absolutely maddening opinion that more guns, not fewer, are the answer to mass shootings.

In the debate, however, mental illness continually comes up as a root cause for the mass shootings. After Sandy Hook, there was extended discussion about it, and today, revelations about the mental health of Aaron Alexis are steadily coming to light.  That Alexis was mentally ill is clear. What is also clear is that American society is sorely inept at dealing with it.

I heard a TED talk where the presenter said something that is a no-brainer:  if we diagnosed and treated mental illnesses early on, we would have less severe mental illness in people overall. He used as a comparison point that in all diseases where diagnosis and treatment begins early, the seriousness of those diseases diminishes and in some cases, the given illness can disappear altogether.

Not so with mental illness. It seems that we are deathly afraid of it. Children who have mental illness are too often labeled as “bad” or behavior problems, and kind of banned to the fringes of society.  These sick children grow into sick adults, who now also carry a fair amount of anger and resentment over how they have been treated due to their illness. And …they grow up believing they are deficient and bad and not worthy of a good life. That cannot be good for any psyche, much less for a psyche made tender by mental illness.

People do not want to admit that they are mentally ill because of the stigma, and in hospital waiting rooms, I am told they are often totally disrespected while they wait for treatment. A young woman shared with me that she was having a crisis and went to an emergency room. She was relegated to a chair in the waiting room, and later, to a gurney in the emergency room. She sat in that waiting room for 23 hours, without seeing a doctor all that time. While she was there, nurses, she said, hollered to her from nurses’ stations: “Are you suicidal? Are you having hallucinations? Are you hearing voices?” This young woman felt humiliated, disrespected, and angry. People began to look at her with fear in their eyes, she said.  It was like I was a nothing, a nobody, she said, just because I have a mental illness.

WIth that kind of treatment, it is no wonder people do not talk about it, and do not get treated.  I was prescribed Cymbalta to be taken because the drug does something to treat a condition I have called neurocardiogenic syncope. That’s a fancy way of saying I get dizzy, and the Cymbalta, taken with another drug, helps control it. When I listed my drugs on an application to participate in the Susan G. Komen  3-day walk to raise money for breast cancer research, walk officials, looking at my meds,  decided I had depression and would not let me participate! I had raised thousands of dollars (which still went toward the research, thankfully) but because I was taking that drug, I was no longer considered a viable walker. My doctor wrote the walk officials to let them know that that’s why I was taking the drug, but they would not budge. And now, I’ve changed my health insurance, and the company will not cover the drug at all. So, illogically, I guess they would rather risk me getting dizzy at the wheel of a car and crashing and damn near killing myself or someone else, rather than covering that drug so that I can handle my dizziness . I will never attempt to walk in the 3-Day Walk for cancer again.

Clearly, there is a problem. Chances are that everyone has some level of mental illness, but for those who have serious mental illness, there is really nobody who can say “it’ll be all right if you admit it and get treated.” Real-life experiences do not support that kind of support or encouragement.

My prayer is that the stigma against mental illness will begin to lift and that mental illness will be respected as an illness that needs to be treated, not run from. Those who are suffering from it deserve better. And those who would be victims because a mentally ill person finally unwinds deserve better as well.

A candid observation …