WHEN YOU BELIEVE IN THINGS....
Last night I went to see Religulous down in Orange County. The theater was pretty much full which surprised me as I kind of expected to see this movie picketed down in the home of the John Birch Society.
I enjoy Bill Maher's humor... to a point. I think he's pretty smart and very sharp, but sometimes he is so snarky as to be completely disrespectful. Sometimes I wonder why why he's so angry and cynical. He is often verges on mean and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I worry that I sometimes act like that during those days when I wonder if maybe there's no such thing as PMS and I'm just a bitch. And then I cry.
But I digress.
Religulous is one of those movies that preaches to a choir that I sing in. I have tried to get religion but I cannot completely buy in. I have been "saved" twice, once in 7th grade when my Presbytarian youth group went on a field trip to a Foursquare Pentacostal church and I succumbed to peer pressure following my friends up to have the preacher lay his hands on me and feel the power of God (I just stood there and he finally shoved me backwards really hard into the waiting arms of the catchers), and once in 10th grade when the cute senior boys went to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa and accepted Jesus, so I did too. Both churches had music and dancing and singing and hugging and I enjoyed all of that. What I did not enjoy was the sermonizing which was to my youthful mind a bunch of crazy talk. It sucked the good time out of all the rest of that stuff.
The whole concept of sin was a bummer and there was no way that I could believe in a God who was represented as an old white guy sitting in a chair in the clouds surrounded by angels. When they asked me how it made me feel to think that Jesus was in the room with me when I was having pre-marital sex I thought that Jesus would be pretty pervy to do that.
I eventually discovered Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead and found a place where I could have music and singing and dancing and hugging and pretty much the same happy feeling of a collective consciousness along with non-judgmental pre-marital sex.
Bill interviewed a neurotheotist (sp?) who talked about testing people's brains when they were hopped up on God and he said that those scans showed all kinds of colors - I'm pretty sure my brain looked exactly the same way at a Dead show.
So in the movie Bill interviews all kinds of people - mostly from the religious right in the United States. These people scared the shit out of me and had me sitting there with my mouth hanging open. They were at places like the Creation Museum in the state of KY run by a guy who I do believe is batshit crazy although he was definitely given a run for his money by the cast at a theme park in Orlando, FL called the Holy Land Experience, a cement recreation of Jerusalem with a tall, bearded Jesus who re-enacts the crucifixion several times a day for rapt audience members who cry and stand with the arms up in adoration. It's like a super creepy, low budget, kind of psychotic Knott's Berry Farm.
Bill also interviews Mark Pryor the senator from Arkansas (who I bet wishes he never agreed to being interviewed on tape) and Joe Lieberman the senator from Connecticut. Both of these men have extreme religious beliefs that definitely affect their decisions when it comes to making policy for this country. The fact that they are voted into office by people who share those beliefs, as well as those who probably have no idea, frightens me more deeply than I can say.
At one point in his interview with Senator Pryor who believes in revelations -you know the end times where Jesus comes back and all the true believers are taken to live with God - Bill asks him if someone who believes in this possibility wouldn't have a hard time making the world a better place to live in, because, you know, they're going to be in heaven? Pryor just kind of stared at him blankly.
Bill spends time with the Muslims and the Jews, and there are some hilarious moments with the Mormons, but it's the religious right that he focuses on for the most part. The religious right that has been insidiously infiltrating the government of these United States and pushing forth an agenda that is systematically destroying everything that our forefathers, the framers of the constitution, fought a revolution to create.
I have never been able to believe in the stories told by any religion preferring to think of them as parables or illustrations of moral ideals that had a context in the epochs during which they occurred. I tend to think that sane people have an internal moral compass and that the human urge to belong to a group be that family, community or tribe, which can be traced back to a time before we walked upright keeps us adhering to a social contract wherein we don't kill or mess with each other lest we be banished to a cave in the hills so that we don't really need commandments that threaten us with hell should we get out of line. And then there are, of course, actual laws and the consequences of breaking them.
Apparently I am wrong. There are a lot of people in this country and in the world who are considered sane who believe some pretty whacked out stuff and who make choices that affect every single person here based on these beliefs. Many of these people are currently serving in congress. One of them is sitting in the white house.
By the end of movie I totally got why Bill Maher is so pissed off. He's scared that these people are going to create the end times for all of us and seriously what the FUCK?
I am descended from Puritans who came here to escape religious persecution. They settled in Salem, MA in 1630 and they soon got involved in witch burning - some were accused and some were accusers - so I know that believing in things can drive people to do really crazy stuff, but that was the olden days. People don't do that kind of stuff anymore! Not here in the United States! Well, you know what? They do. They shoot doctors who perform abortions. They beat homosexuals to death. They hang people whose skin is a different color, or whose God is different from the one they pray too. It has been happening in small towns in states that are colored red on those election maps and the collective conscious pretends it doesn't happen and the press doesn't mention it so the rest of us don't have any idea until there's a Matthew Shepherd or a James Byrd.
I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of people who go to church and keep it all in perspective, but more and more people are becoming fundamentalist extremists and they aren't Muslims they're "Christians".
Religulous quotes Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and I had never thought to specifically look and see what these guys really thought about religion and government. I went and took a look at what they said, and they said a lot, although none of it was Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
My favorite quote is from Thomas Jefferson who took the New Testament, removed all the fantasy aspects and published The Jefferson bible (The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth) wherein he gives Jesus his props as a truly admirable man who walked the walk he was talking. Jefferson was a fan of Unitarianism which I like to think of as the church of the social worker so it makes sense that he would be a fan of Jesus who was pretty much the first Jewish bleeding heart liberal the bolt of cloth that so many social workers are cut from.
Here is the quote:
Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
I completely agree. I don't believe in the popular mythology of most religions but I do believe in and respect the right of people the world over to believe in their God (or Gods) or to not believe, and to have conversations about it without fear. I believe that anyone who wants to serve in public office has no right to project their beliefs onto the population, e.g. you can believe in revelations but you cannot destroy the planet because you think the endtimes are around the corner. You can believe in a guy who lives in the clouds with angels but you cannot tell me what I can do with my uterus or with whom I can share the sacrament of marriage.
If you want to be president of the United States then you understand that you are going to serve all people not just the ones who've accepted Jesus as their personal savior and if those "saved" people start behaving as a special interest group who exert pressure to insert their agendas into schools, communities, cities, states and foreign policy then you better make damn sure that they cannot translate their hate into laws.
I know why Bill Maher is pissed off and scared and he summed it up perfectly in the last three minutes of the movie and left me sitting there stunned. I believe that the closing credits rolled over the Talking Heads singing "We're on the Road to Nowhere."
In two weeks we all have a choice to make and if we make the wrong one we are most definitely on that road.