Oh my name it is nothin’

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest

I’s taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And that land that I live in

Has God on its side.” (Bob Dylan)

The latest propaganda missile in the current political and theocratic Right’s Christian Crusade aimed at followers of Islam worldwide was detonated by Fox News commentator and radio host Todd Starnes who asserted that Jesus would love the film “American Sniper” and would graciously thank all the American snipers who assassinate “godless” Muslims and transport them to the “lake of fire.”

On his “American Dispatch” YouTube Broadcast, January 26, Starnes announced:

I’m no theologian, but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.‘”

Oh the history books tell it

They tell is so well

The cavalries charged

The Indians fell

The cavalries charged

The Indians died

Oh the country was young

With God on its side.” (Bob Dylan)

From Belief to Certainty:

Religion is a human response in our attempt to answer the mysteries of life: How did we get here and what is our purpose within the cosmos? From belief in faith and mystery, many religions have taken to an arrogant certainty that they and only they have “the Truth” with a capital “T.”

Today we term the ancients’ and indigenous peoples’ explanations to the mysteries of life as “mythology” or “superstition.” The reality is that all religious doctrine stems from conjecture, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Burning Bush, to the Covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the Rock, to the Mormon Golden Tablets, all beginning with the human invention of God(s).

“But now we got weapons,

Of the chemical dust.

If fire them we’re forced to,

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide,

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.”(Bob Dylan)

Many of the more conservative religious denominations demonize free thinkers and critical thinkers because they cannot and will not allow themselves to be herded into pens of social conformity and convention as readily.

Though the enforcement tactics differ, this arrogant sense of certainty remains virtually the same from extreme fanatical religious-based political groups, to orthodox religious denominations within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

“But now we got weapons,

Of the chemical dust.

If fire them we’re forced to,

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide,

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.”(Bob Dylan)

I gave a lecture on the topic of homophobia (fear and hatred of LGBT people) at Pace University in New York City approximately six years ago. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently-gendered, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexuality and gender expression is hurt by homophobia and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate this very real and insidious form of oppression.

Following my presentation, two students came up to me – one young woman and one young man – to continue the discussion. The young woman began by telling me: “I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian.

I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual person. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

My response: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I have to change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I have to becomelikeyou? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not understand how this in itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not understand how this type of statement perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “Truth,” and that if I accepted this, it could grant me salvation and happiness, but if rejected, it would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.

We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me. He asked: “Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?

Yes,” I responded.

Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete or isn’t any good.”

Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.

Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”

I said to him, “Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Jewish Bible – not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures – somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran. The real Truth. The ultimate Truth. The only Truth.”

My response to this young man: “As we speak here, we are standing literally a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious Truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings, or to invade others’ territories. Utterances like yours of people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’

Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too? And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me or for the Christian woman. How many deaths have to occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”

“Truth”:

That was then. Though it transpired a number of years ago, this discussion comes back to my memory giving me an insight I previously had not known: That “truth” is what the dominant group declares to be “true.” “Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

Throughout history, Jews and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Jews have killed each other, Hindus and Muslims have killed each other, Catholics and Protestants have killed each other, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims have killed each other, many faith communities have killed Atheists and Agnostics, and on it goes.

Einstein said that insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results. The insanity of the world continues because human beings do not know their history, do not understand that we are doing something over and over again while expecting different results, namely, we are expecting peace to break out.

Individuals and entire nations continue to believe that their reality fits all, and that it is proper and right to force their beliefs onto others “with God on our side.”How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God”: our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”? Someone said to me once that throughout the ages, more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point: we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts we can never prove.

Religious texts — between disparate religions and between denominations within the same religion, as well as within a single text — on close examination, are paradoxical and even contradictory. Moreover, individuals and entire denominations often interpret identical scriptural passages very differently, and they also emphasize and adhere to some readings while disregarding and even dismissing others.

One particular passage seems to stand out in the Christian Testaments when we attempt to answer the question, “Where do we go from here to ensure a just and equitable worldview?” I suggest the following:

James 2: 8-9:“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

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Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice ( Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).


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