Friday, June 19, 2015

Southern Tier Religion and Politics

Throughout the Southern Tier of the nation, an intense evangelicalism was spread upon the wound of slavery and Jim Crow laws - a thick, gooey, perfumed, salve, that healed nothing, even as it was used, none too successfully, to obscure the stench.

And the more the wounds suppurated, the more was spread the salve.

In part, to ease the conscience ("look at what fervent believers we are"), but religion so used can never heal the troubled conscience; in fact, the conscience itself, deeply troubled, has to engage in ever-tightening circles of self-deception, making a lie of the very religion so used.

Yes, true as well, in lots of places throughout the nation (because racism is part of our DNA), but the South, I fear, is the motherlode from whence the sorrow flows and spills over into the nation.

Many in the South stand against this; yes, this I know. But the current status of the South is frighteningly regressive, from statehouse to statehouse, and my sympathies to those of enlightened mind and heart who have to live in such environments.

One can only hope that RW people in the South will see how deceived they've been by a couple of centuries of preachers and politicians.

And I can only hope that women and men of good faith and conscience will confront these evils for what they are, and offer to the world something far better.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Comparing US to other Nations

Comparisons between the US and some European countries always bring howls of protest from those who are blindly committed to American Exceptionalism, the crippling belief that we're special, if not superior to everyone else.

Sadly, such nonsense makes it impossible for Americans to learn from others ... I mean, after all, what's to learn, when we already know it all, have it all, and can do it all - the American Way?

I'm reluctant to writer any further, but I'll push on ... having recently spent a few weeks traveling in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, by car and train, I can only conclude that their roads are magnificent, and their trains, plentiful and comfortable, run on time.

All of this with various forms of universal health care and support for education.

The people are happy, can't understand America's current health-care mess, enjoy eating out, love the sunshine, have generous family-leave time, and dress well.

Heaven on earth?

Of course not, but a simple reminder that America isn't the last word on everything, and slipping further behind, we're likely to have the last word on nothing, as the rest of the world, even the Third World, outstrips us in environmental care, affordable housing, public transit, health-care and education.

Some needed changes:

First off, American Exceptionalism is a lie ... the world if full of great nations, large and small. We badly need to get over ourselves.

Secondly, lots of nations are doing a far better job of caring for their citizens than we are. Imagine that.

And that means we have to learn from others. I know that galls some, but like it or not, if we can't learn, we will fail, and fail badly.

The current message of conservative politicians doesn't help right now, but sadly, theirs is a message that still has plenty of street appeal for a segment of the American People who find it necessary to think that might makes right, or something like that.

Progressive voices offer us our best hope, but their message doesn't carry the weight of a John Wayne or Charlton Heston.

I hope that Americans can awaken from their slumbers and begin to see how the lies of our conservative leaders are destroying us; that John Wayne and Charlton Heston are no help whatsoever, except if you're rich and wanna stay rich by robbing everyone else of life, health and hope.

I see hopeful signs ... people are sick of failing schools and the failed promises of charter schools ... people are sick of lousy roads and our lack of public transit ... people want health-care, decent jobs, wages and benefits.

Maybe, just maybe, folks will see how other countries are doing it, and that we can and we must learn from others, because we're in a real mess right now.

Tides turns, and I think the tide is turning to a more populist message, the kind that guided Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, even Eisenhower at times, and certainly Carter, Clinton and Obama, too. But now's the time for even more ... if America hopes to find its rightful place in the world story.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Anti-abortion Activists and Universal Health Care

Just read a piece about anti-abortion efforts across the nation, now going after 20-week restrictions.

I thought: I would feel a whole lot more comfortable with these folks and their efforts to restrict abortion if they supported:

1) Universal Health Care for everyone in America.
2) Expanding Medicare and Social Security.
3) Full funding for public education and scaled back on their support of charter schools.
4) Climate change research and funding.
5) Universal voter registration.
6) Sex education in our schools.
7) Free contraception.
8) A woman's right to contraception without fear of employer reprisal because of "sincerely held religious beliefs."
9) Marriage Equality.
10 Efforts to end the death penalty.
11) Fair taxation of the wealthy.
12) Infrastructure rebuilding.
13) Labor unions and collective bargaining.
14) Efforts to raise the minimum wage.
15) Maintaining Jefferson's Wall of Separation between Church and State.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Nixon, Billy Graham, and White House Religion

June, 1969, Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of American, concluded his sermon in the Nixon White House with the following prophecy: "I hope it is not too presumptuous of me, in the presence of the President, to say that future historians, looking back at our generation, may say that in a period of great trials and tribulations the finger of God pointed to Richard Milhous Nixon, giving him the vision and the wisdom to save the world and civilization" ("One Nation Under God," #KevinKruse, p.252

Billy Graham played a determining role in selecting clergy of various faith traditions who would echo the party line: that faith and politics were now, finally, wedded together in the White House, all for the wellbeing of the nation, of course.

Nixon and Graham, often standing side-by-side in various religious and political events, represented this happy marriage that would renew America and set us on a course of national revival and international power.

Yup, and we all know how it ended ... iconically, the Rabbi was party right: "the finger of God" did point to Nixon ... much like the prophet's finger pointed at King David, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12.7).

The macabre dance of religion and politics in our nation has long endured ... sort of life a really, really, bad marriage, with all kinds of abuse and manipulation, but never, ever, a divorce. In some ways, I suppose, the two can never be separated in America, any more than they can be separated anywhere, because human beings, in the most part, are always political (I know of no other alternative) and incurably religious (especially as we use our religion to justify our politics), what with politicians using religion to enhance their own power and various religious leaders more than eager to bask in the glory of state pomp and power.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Terror of Mountain Top Removal

From our friends at Coal River Mountain Watch ...


On March 26, about a dozen McDowell County residents and supporters from Coal River Mountain Watch, OVEC, and Appalachian Voices told the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection that they did NOT want another Jim Justice mountaintop removal operation in their community.  Annette Brichford, former director of Catholic Charities in McDowell County, shared her experience with another Jim Justice operation: "Our daycare staff had to wipe coal dust from the kids' eyes after they played outdoors. When they blew their noses, it came out black. We had to hose down the dust from the playground equipment every day... I fear the same thing for the children of Endwell Head Start if another Jim Justice mountaintop removal site is permitted."

Al Justice, Coal River Mountain Watch member and founder of Dry Fork Watershed Mountain Watch, said, "You're robbing our future economic development.  Where's the economic development that was supposed to come with the existing permits? You know it's criminal. You know it's wrong."

Other residents, including retired coal miners, spoke of their concerns about increased flooding from having so many mountaintop removal sites together, and about the deadly health impacts from mountaintop removal, such as the demonstrated links to increased cancer.

Dr. McCawley speaks about health impacts of ultrafine particulates near mountaintop removal sites
On March 28, Dr. Michael McCawley, Chair of the Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health at WV University, addressed a crowd of Charleston area residents. His research has found "smoking gun" elevated levels of ultrafine particulates near mountaintop removal sites. 
Some key points:
-Ultrafine dust is so small that it can easily penetrate cell membranes, including into the unborn.
-Ultrafine dust is already associated with some of the illnesses that are elevated near mountaintop removal, such as cancer.
-Clouds of the stuff can travel for miles without dissipating. Charleston is vulnerable to ultrafine dust from nearby mountaintop removal sites such as the KD#2 site.
-There is presently no regulation of ultrafine dust and its health effects on the public. Existing Clean Air Act protections in some places do not address this threat.

What can you do about this public health threat? Call and email your US congressional representatives and urge them to support the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act), H.R. 912. You can find their contact information, details about the ACHE Act, and links to health studies here

And continue calling Gov. Tomblin at (888) 438-2731(888) 438-2731 FREE to tell him that, until his WV Dept. of Environmental Protection understands the health consequences of the permits that they are granting, they have no business granting any more permits. They can start by withholding the Jim Justice permit, number S400511, within a half mile of Endwell Head Start.

Are you, or do you know, a coal miner who has been laid off?
If so, please note this opportunity for financial support and retraining here. The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded a $7.4 million National Emergency Grant (NEG) to WorkForce West Virginia to provide retraining and reemployment services to dislocated coal miners and displaced homemakers impacted by mass layoffs and coal mine closures. There is an informational meeting April 10, 10 AM -2 PM, Southern WV Community and Technical College, Mt. Gay, Logan County.

Thank you for all your support! Words of encouragement mean a lot to us. So does your financial support at our new donation page. This is one way that we're trying out new ways to engage our friends. Another is a new donation button on our Facebook page here. Please try it out and let us know what you think.

Have a joyous Easter and Passover, and celebrate life as spring blooms all around us!

Vernon Haltom
Executive director, Coal River Mountain Watch

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Billy Graham Did Enormous Damage

Okay, I'll say it.

Billy Graham did enormous damage to American Christianity.

Many of those who "came to Christ" at his "crusades," never came to Jesus the Christ at all, but only to their own fears of hell-fire and damnation. Many, I know, were looking for an out from troubled lives - alcohol, poverty, a lousy job and who-knows what else.

And they came forward in droves, driven in large measure by mass-hysteria, fearfulness and longing.

They joined local churches, many of them led by men (mostly) who were poorly trained, who "knew the Bible" by rote and were able to string together verse-upon-verse to the "delight" of the congregation, while slowly spinning the web of pride (in being saved) and hatred (of the unsaved).

I have no doubt that Billy Graham was a decent sort of a man, but his message was a mess, and those who "came to Christ" via this message laid the foundation for the Right Wing destruction of the American Christianity.

When Hearst told his newspaper chain to "puff Graham," Hearst recognized a religion that could serve his own conservative purposes, and so emerged the strange and now deadly relationship between Capitalism and American Christianity.

Sadly, it was American Christians who were duped and played for fools. Hearst and his capitalist culture trumped everything and won the day, and men like Billy Graham bore the message that America was godly and good, Communism was godless and bad, and that American Capitalism was god's will for the world.

Yes, Graham tore down the rope of racial division at his crusades, but only to give the audience a message that has proved both hollow and tenacious. Hollow for want of a full biblical message, and tenacious because its "true believers" cannot admit how flawed the whole enterprise is (after all, look at the money, look at the buildings - the very things that impressed the disciples when they strolled through Jerusalem with Jesus, and which Jesus dismissed with a snort).

Yes, yes, yes, there was good in it, too, because good shows up in all kinds of places, but clear-headed thinking is needed. The mess we have today has to be studied and its roots discerned if we're ever going to find a way out and help American Christianity recover its mind and heart, the fullness of God's Counsel and the power of Scripture's prophetic message proclaimed by Jesus.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fundamentalism and Capitalism Are in Love

It's impossible to say who's using whom in the strange, if not demonic, alliance between fundamentalist christianity and hyper-conservative capitalism currently carrying such a big stick in our churches and in our national politics.

Each of them, by themselves, is dangerous enough, because both eliminate all ambiguity. For them, "truth" is clear, and clearly in their possession. Questions are not allowed and swift is their punishment of doubters and naysayers.

Together, they represent the very worst of human potential: repression of creativity, restrictions of freedom of thought and choice, mistrust of scientific exploration and education ... and the subsequent elevation and apotheosis of market forces, the reliance upon military means to harness the world and the love of wealth as proof of divine providence.

We live in fateful times, as we witness the coalescence of dangerous impulses, multiplying their effectiveness and threat.

It's happened before, so we know that it can't last. Sooner or later, the human spirit, the divine spirit, mitigates these demonic forces, raises up prophets who shed light upon their evil and call them to account, generates creativity, new choices and the unexpected breakthrough ... sooner or later, history corrects itself, but not without damage and sorrow.