Announcement: the Oklahoma Evolution Road Trip has been postponed until further notice. Now for the essay.
How did you spend your Good Friday? I spent the period between one and three pm listening to Science Friday on public radio. This show had lots of interesting things, except for one segment in which a science writer insisted that, as I interpreted it, it is impossible to say that God does not not not exist. Whatever. But even this person, who is creating something of a pro-religion stir in science communication circles, admitted that the God of western religions is mythological. He was defending Spinoza’s and Einstein’s God, a God that or who makes no difference whatsoever in the daily operation of the world or of anyone’s life.
Meanwhile, millions of Christians were reliving in their minds the story of Jesus dragging his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and then being crucified. This is supposed to be what the gospel is about: a man who was supposed to be the son of God getting killed so that all the sin in the world is potentially atoned for. I say potentially, because these Christians insist that a person must assent to a detailed list of beliefs before the Christians will permit the blood of Christ to actually do any atoning. But if you leave out the part about human Christians anointing themselves as the filter to decide whom God can or cannot save, the story itself is quite beautiful, a story of fallen creatures being redeemed into goodness. Who would not want to believe this?
Jesus was also an articulator of one of the most advanced visions of altruism (which is a recurring them on this evolution blog) in the ancient world.
But actually, to thousands of fundamentalist Christians, the supposed gospel of redemption from sin is quite secondary in importance. So is Jesus’ message of altruism. To the fundamentalists, the most important things to believe are: first, that the United States is God’s Chosen and Holy Nation on the face of the Earth; and second, the most important thing in life is that Jesus wants them to do is to collect assault weapons. If you are a liberal or a Muslim, they do not believe that Jesus wants you to collect assault weapons, however. And certainly, if you are a foreigner, your nation is not God’s Chosen Nation.
You may rightly wonder if I am making this up. But a gripey-looking old man left a flyer on my screen door handle a few days ago announcing an upcoming conference at a Baptist church in Durant, Oklahoma. (I hesitate to name names, but I am getting this information from the flyer.) It is called the Patriots Conference. Its avowed purpose is to reclaim America’s Christian heritage (the beliefs of deists such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams apparently do not count, and the religious neutrality of the constitution must be ignored). One of the speakers is apparently going to talk about how accumulating assault weapons helps to prevent “the threat of tyranny.” There is something called the “Black Robe Regiment” about which nothing is said and apparently all the fundamentalists around here already know about. Their declaration of values includes the “use [of] firearms as central to the preservation of peace and liberty” (emphasis mine). And to make the emphasis on assault weapons absolutely clear, the conference organizers are going to give away a DPMS Panther Oracle ATACS .223 16” BBL. 6-Position Stock to one lucky attendee.
Now, if a Muslim group held such a conference, you can be damned sure that there would be an armed uprising in rural Oklahoma. It would widely be considered an open call for terrorism.
Visibly missing from their declaration of values is any mention of peace, either international or domestic. The death and resurrection of the Prince of Peace, and the reconciliation among people of the world that this supposedly made possible, is simply not mentioned. It appears to me that the main work that Christians believe Jesus did on the cross has no effect whatsoever on this conference or the list of values associated with it. To judge from this conference, Jesus came to Earth so that we could all have assault weapons. That is the rural Oklahoma version of the Easter story. (But their list of values does include a rejection of progressive taxation. What this means is that poor people and the Koch Brothers should pay the same amount of tax.)
I actually wish that I could attend this conference as a sort of sociobiological observer. But I will be out of town at an artistic celebration of blood, violence, murder, and passion. I refer, of course, to the Tulsa Opera production of Carmen.