Several years ago, I caught up on back episodes of the TV show Tyrant. One episode featured a Muslim cleric telling a group of schoolchildren that they were soldiers in “God’s Army.” These children were later killed in a government attack on a terrorist training camp. This same cleric forgot to tell these children that they would be used as pawns in the war against America and the government of the fictional country, Abuddin. Killed in an attack on the terrorist camp, the dead bodies of these children were filmed so they could be used in anti-government propaganda videos. A horrific scene to be sure, one that is played out time and again in the Middle East.
As I listened to the Muslim cleric tell the children that they were soldiers in God’s Army, my thought turned to the Evangelical junior church staple song, I’m in the Lord’s Army. Everyone now:
Harmless kid’s song? Sure, but consider for a moment how much time and money Evangelicals spend indoctrinating their children. (Please see Do Fundamentalist Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?) Throw in Christian nationalism, American exceptionalism, Bible literalism, and “Second Amendment remedies” — why, it is easy to see that, in the future, some Evangelical churches will become training camps for youthful recruits for The Lord’s Army. Preposterous? Perhaps, but consider how easily fascist Donald Trump (and Ron DeSantis) turned countless Evangelicals into supporters of policies that could plunge the United States into civil war.
In 2016, armed Christians took over a government building, believing that God wanted them to take a stand against tyranny and attacks on personal and religious freedom. In 2021, armed, militarized Christians took over the Capitol and tried to overthrow the government. So-called Patriot Pastors are now defiantly breaking federal and state laws, believing that freedom of religion is under attack by liberals, secularists, humanists, and atheists. Calling for more “Christian” laws, scores of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons now believe that the Separation of Church and State is a myth. Many of the domestic terrorist attacks over the past thirty-five years have been committed by Christians who have turned to violence to right perceived wrongs. White power groups such as the KKK — once thought to be buried beneath the rubble of the race riots of the 1960s — are drawing new soldiers to their war against multiculturalism and non-whites. These groups are almost always Christian.
Given the right circumstances and motivations, I can envision Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents encouraging children to be soldiers in the Christian God’s Army. One need only watch how Westboro Baptist Church uses children to promote bigotry and hatred. Is it really a stretch to think that rabid Christians could turn to violence to advance their agendas? And even if you think I am out of my mind to believe that such things are possible, consider the fact that millions of American children are taught that there is no greater privilege than to give one’s life for Jesus. Be it in a life devoted to servitude or being martyred, these children are taught, “only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last” – Only One Life by C.T. Studd. (Please see The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss, A Book Review) Martyrdom is very much a part of the many Christian sects. What better way to prove one’s faith than to die for it?
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
I know the last three years haven’t been easy for you. Once all the other Florida politicians figured out you weren’t going to the White House, they stopped bending over backward for you.
That was especially true for the folks whose priorities you’d vetoed. Still, I thought it was rude of them to slip that line into the budget that allows Disney to garnish your wages to pay off that million-dollar judgment against the state.
I’m sure you’re wondering where everything went wrong. How did you fall from being reelected in 2022 by a 19-point margin to being less popular than Sen. Rick Scott, once labeled the least popular man in Washington.
Looking back, I think I‘ve spotted the turning point. It happened on June 29, 2023. Do you remember? About six months into your second term. That was the day when you, with no fanfare whatsoever, signed into law SB 718.
Your approval of the so-called “sprawl bill” got the most attention from the environmental community. Remember that one? The one about how big developers could collect attorneys’ fees from any citizens who dared to challenge their projects? Friends of the Everglades called it “the worst environmental bill passed by the Florida Legislature during the 2023 session” and “a death knell for smart growth in Florida.”
So, it was Sen. Rodriguez, R-Dark Side — er, excuse me, Doral — who first proposed ending the voters’ ability to change land-use regulations in a bill labeled SB 856. When she filed that bill, it was referred to three different committees: Community Affairs, Judiciary, and Rules.
Her bill never made it out of its first committee — thanks to Sen. Rodriguez.
“Bill banning public votes on local land use yanked amid lack of support,” FloridaPolitics.com reported.
Yes, it’s ironic that a bill to ban voting didn’t make it to a vote. Why did the sponsor pull the bill? Because the committee’s chair was absent. Without that one vote, “it wasn’t going to pass,” Rodriguez said.
That should tell you a lot about this measure that critics were calling the “protect developers from citizens” bill.
Baxley called the Rodriguez bill “perfectly appropriate,” because, he said, it “takes people out of a situation (where they’re voting) on something they have no idea what they are voting on half the time, when you throw something that massive on the ballot.”
In other words, Baxley contended that Florida voters are much too stupid to be trusted with anything important. Perhaps he was thinking that that’s how someone like him was elected.
Rodriguez said then that she’d probably bring her bill back at the next committee meeting, but she didn’t. The bill she’d sponsored died, but its provisions moved on. She’d implanted them in a different bill, not unlike the alien in the movie “Alien.”
The Yarborough version of the Rodriguez bill is what finally passed, and that’s what you very quietly signed. Which you should deeply regret.
These land-use referendums weren’t common before you signed that bill, but they sure were important.
A few small communities, like Key Biscayne, had the referendum requirement written into their charters, which meant they had to adapt to state law altering what they were accustomed to. In other communities, though, they were optional — and crucial.
In the runup to the vote, CAN DO was outspent 25-to-1 by an anti-referendum alliance between the city and developers. But CAN DO’s name was like a prophecy. The height limit passed by a margin of nearly 60 percent to 40 percent.
From a land-use planning standpoint, those referendums are, in the words of Jane West of the smart-growth organization 1000 Friends of Florida, “the option of last resort.”
In other words, they were sort of like dropping the atomic bomb. Just knowing it was possible could be a deterrent.
Five people calling themselves Venice United organized a petition drive to vote on repealing the new regs. The five did this, one of them told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, because “city council pushed this through without listening to the voters.”
Within six months, Venice United had rounded up the necessary 2,228 signatures from registered voters to put the matter on the ballot.
By then, n-n-nervous city officials were ready to work out a compromise. The council did NOT want Venice United to drop that bomb on them.
“Your voters are passionate about preserving what makes Venice special,” the leader of Venice United, Frank Wright, said then.
That’s what this bill you signed in 2023 killed. In effect, you approved the nuclear disarmament of Florida’s citizens.
Well, you know what happened after that.
Local governments around the state were already inclined to say yes to most anything developers demanded to avoid facing a Bert Harris Act lawsuit. Once they no longer had to fear a voter revolt like the ones in Ormond Beach and Venice, they became even more eager to please the big-money boys.
And there was nothing that upset citizens could do about it. You’d robbed them of their last defense.
The result was easy for West to predict when we talked a week after you signed the bill:
“It was one more step where the Legislature was taking away from the citizens having any control over their communities,” she told me in July 2023
But Florida has a finite amount of developable land and a finite amount of clean water, she pointed out. As a result, she said, “basic market forces are going to start driving the conversation.”
With no one able to say no to development, or to at least hold it to acceptable limits or steer it to acceptable areas, “the whole thing’s going to snowball into one big mess,” she said back then.
Thus, as development ran amok, we wound up with crisis after crisis over the past three years.
We’ve seen maddening traffic gridlock on even smaller roads. The frequency of road rage incidents exploded, including several involving colliding golf carts in The Villages.
School campuses are now full of portable classrooms trying to handle the overflow of students, even at the voucher-fueled charters and religious schools.
Sewer plants started breaking down more frequently. Their repeated spills fueled more and worse algae blooms and fish kills which then drove away tourists who wanted to go fishing or boating. Disney and the other theme parks have continued attracting visitors, but a lot of the other places that depended on tourist money are struggling.
You went along with them, as usual. But the folks in North Florida fought back by forming volunteer militias to guard their springs against anyone stealing the water.
And that’s when people started burning you in effigy, sabotaging construction equipment, and using your campaign merchandise as projectiles to throw at public hearings. Those gubernatorial golf balls really did some damage, too!
You tried distracting everyone with more of your culture war “Ya Got Trouble in River City” song-and-dance routines, but it didn’t work anymore. Everybody was too mad. You ended up hiding in the mansion like you were on a one-man COVID lockdown.
You dispatched your underpaid Florida State Guard to help out several cities in chaos (only the ones with Republican mayors, of course). But the first time someone took a shot at them, they retreated faster than the Arctic ice sheet facing climate change.
On the plus side, though, Carl Hiaasen had a lot of material for his 2025 Florida novel, “Apocalypse Wow!” People really love the climax where Skink kicks your butt. I hear he’s already working on a sequel.
Anyway, that’s my analysis of where your administration took its most crucial wrong turn. As any student of government could tell you, you can’t close off EVERY avenue of legal protest, or people will turn to illegal means to fight back.
That’s what happened here, and if you hadn’t been distracted by your ill-fated presidential campaign, you might have spotted the danger.
Maybe next week, when you start your new gig hosting “The Anti-Woke Hour with Ron DeSantis” on Fox News, you can warn other politicians not to make the same mistake and underestimate the need for letting citizens have their say.
I mean, assuming anyone’s awake and watching you at 3 a.m.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Portland City Council plans to hold a hearing tomorrow on an ordinance that will grant atheists and other non-believers civil rights protections under Portland law. The summary of the ordinance states:
Amend Civil Rights Code to add non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism and non-belief to the definition of Religion (Ordinance; amend Code Chapter 23.01)
The City of Portland ordains: Section I. The Council finds that:
I . Discrimination on the basis of non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief exists in the City of Portland and the state law does not explicitly prohibit such discrimination against these groups. This change is necessary to clarify that disbelief, or lack of belief should be included in the protected class of “Religion” in order to provide every individual an equal opportunity to participate fully in the life of the City.
2. Providing protections for non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief promotes the intent of the Council to remove discriminatory barriers to equal participation in employment, housing and public accommodations in the City of Portland. Other cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, have taken similar measures.
3. It is necessary to update citations to the Oregon Revised Statutes as cited in Chapter 23.01 to the most current version in order to maintain accuracy.
4. Updates to make language used in Chapter 23.01 more inclusive are also needed
According to a 2015 Public Religion Research Institute survey, Portland is the most non-religious city in the United States. Forty-two percent of Portland residents self-identify as non-religious. Unsurprisingly, the most religious community in America is the Baptist stronghold of Nashville, with only fifteen percent of residents identifying as non-religious. Nationwide, almost one out of four Americans check NONE when asked their religious affiliation. This number continues to grow, scaring the shit out of Christian church leaders. Southern Baptists, in particular, are desperately trying to find ways to stem attendance loss. Millennials, especially, show an increasing indifference towards religion. I should note that being non-religious and being an atheist are not one and the same. All atheists are non-religious, but not all NONES are atheists. Most just don’t care about matters of faith. Most of my children fit in this category. They simply have no interest in organized religion. Do they believe in a deity of some sort? I don’t know, but I can tell you that such questions don’t interest them in the least.
Portland has a large percentage of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated. We need to make these changes to our Civil Rights Code to remove discriminatory barriers, so they may participate equally in employment, housing, and public accommodations in the City.
Readers might be surprised to know that in many locales non-religious people do not have the same civil rights protections as the religious. At the Federal level, atheists have been forced to claim atheism is a “religion” in order to gain equal protection under the law. While atheists are growing in number and influence — much like the LGBTQ community — they often lack the same rights as religious people — especially at the state and local level. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union tirelessly fight for civil rights protection for non-believers, diligently challenging separation of church and state breaches and discrimination against non-believers. These battles are fought daily, and the good news is that unbelievers are, for the most part, winning. This does not mean, however, that the playing field is fair and just for atheists and other non-believers. It’s not. The United States is a long way away from living up to its secular heritage. Religious sectarians are, by nature, exclusionary, demanding that their beliefs be given preferential treatment. Evangelicals, in particular, believe that the United States is a Christian nation, a bright shining city chosen by God to conquer the world with the Christian gospel and the teachings of the Bible. In their minds, atheism is a religion too, albeit a false, Satanic one. I laugh when an Evangelical says to me atheism is a “religion.” If atheism is, indeed, a religion, it is the only sect in American history without beliefs, buildings, clerics, and holy books. Atheism can be defined with one sentence: The disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. If atheism is a religion, it’s the only sect that doesn’t ask anything, including money, of its adherents. Maybe we should get the word out about the First Church of Atheism®. Keep your money, sleep in on Sundays, and eat succulent roasted babies for dinner. Better forget that last one, I suppose.
It will be interesting to see if Portlandian Christians object to the aforementioned proposed ordinance. In 2015, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, became the first community to pass a law making discrimination against atheists and other non-believers illegal. Local Christians said nothing. Channel 3000 reported at the time:
The vote amends the city’s equal opportunity ordinance, adding atheism as a protected class in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
“There are many categories that are protected,” Weier said. “And it did occur to me that if religion was then perhaps the opposite should be”
UW graduate student, and former Atheists Humanists and Agnostics president Chris Calvey was among the five atheists speaking in favor of the proposals.
They told the council stories of housing, employment, volunteer, community, and parental custody discrimination because of their non-belief in God, saying that fact has no bearing on their character, values or what type of job they do.
“It’s actually something we’re commonly very concerned about, just because atheism is viewed as such a taboo in this country. And there’s such a stigma with it. That people in my student group for example are very hesitant to be honest about their lack of belief in God out of fear that they are going to be discriminated against in employment opportunities. If that came up in a job interview that’s held against them,” Calvey said.
“Having it on the books, where we’re legally a protected class, that’ll make things much easier for atheists,” Calvey said. “And we’ll be able to be confident that at least if we’re honest about what we actually believe, then we have the law backing us up so we can’t legally be discriminated against.”
“It’s really making a big statement that we’re not going to put up with discrimination in the name of God. That being a believer doesn’t mean you can discriminate,” Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
If such a law were proposed here in the land of God, Guns, and Republican Politics, I am certain local Christians would be outraged, filling local newspapers with letters to the editor about how evil and un-American atheism is. I have been personally attacked in the pages of the Defiance Crescent-News by Evangelicals and Catholics outraged over my atheism, anti-Christian views, and liberal/progressive politics. (Please see My Response to Daniel Gray’s Lies.) One of the reasons I take photographs for the local school district is to put a real flesh-and-blood face on atheism. I want locals to be confused by what they know about me as a man and what their pastors say about evil, Satanic atheists. If Christians actually know an atheist, that relationship often changes their opinion about unbelievers. Behavior matters. I know, when it came to me and my hostility towards LGBTQ people, my beliefs didn’t change until I actually knew and befriended someone who was gay. The same goes for atheists. Take the time to get to know an atheist/agnostic/humanist/pagan or other non-Christian and you will find out that we are not much different from the people you sit next to in church every Sunday. We have the same wants, needs, and desires as you do, and it sure would be nice if we had the same civil rights protections too.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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President Donald Trump recently took his nationalist road show to the United Nations. During his speech to U.N. delegates, anti-globalist Trump, a pathological liar who daily lies to the American people, said:
Today I stand before the UNGA to share the extraordinary progress [lie] we’ve made. In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country [lie].
After Trump uttered these lies, many of delegates laughed at him, thinking, I am sure, is this man nuts? What’s astounding about his delusional rant is that it was a scripted speech. This wasn’t Trump talking out of his ass. His handlers wanted him to say this, knowing that it was a boldfaced lie.
America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours—huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction—what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.
That self-deception started early.
When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”
When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”
On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”
It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.
We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.
As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”
We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.
Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.
How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?
One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on September 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.
We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.
We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.
It was ten after four as I pulled into the Bryan High School parking lot. I arrived thirty minutes before game time so I could make sure that I had a first-row seat for the night’s slate of basketball games between the Swanton Bulldogs and the Bryan Golden Bears. Bethany, my daughter with Down Syndrome, was with me. Armed with pens and spiral notebooks, she spent the night drawing pictures and entertaining those who sat nearby.
I brought my camera equipment with me. I ALWAYS bring my cameras, feeling naked on those rare occasions when I leave them at home. I love watching high school basketball games. I am reminded of a time long ago — forty years ago now — when a young redhead boy sprinted up and down the court, hoping his meager effort would lead to a team victory. Never a great player, I still love the machinations of the game. Tonight’s varsity match was a blowout until late in the fourth quarter when Swanton mounted a comeback. A flurry of shots fell through the net, trimming Bryan’s lead to eight. I wondered, would Swanton find a way to snatch victory out of jaws of defeat? Alas, it was not to be. Swanton lost all three games — ninth grade, junior varsity, and varsity. My cousin’s son plays on Swanton’s ninth grade team. He, statistically, had a great game, but his fellow teammates did not.
I knew that tonight was going to be difficult me. It was Veteran’s Night — an opportunity for locals to recognize and applaud veterans for their service. Surrounding me were fans wearing Trump tee shirts and hats, along with hundreds of people wearing flag apparel. These are the same people who would be outraged if I burnt a flag, demanding my arrest for violating the “flag code.” Lost on them are their own violations of the code with their Trumpesque accoutrements.
The public address announcer let the crowd know that the pregame events would begin with the Bryan band playing God Bless America. Everyone stood to their feet as the band began to play America’s second national anthem. Those near me put hands over their hearts, and several of them lustfully sang the words made infamous by the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
I did not stand, silently voicing my disapproval of the insertion of Christianity into a secular public high school event. It is not easy for me to do so. I can feel the stares, and in the past I have had people rebuke me for not giving Jesus his due. I remind those who dare to challenge me that I am an atheist and a secularist. Why should I give reverence to a mythical deity or show my support for those who care little for the separation of church and state.
Once the Christian Tabernacle Choir® finished with their hymn of praise and worship to America’s God, it was time to move on to the patriotic portion of the pregame events. The announcer asked all the veterans in attendance to stand while the rest of us stayed seated. Dozens of veterans stood as people cheered and young millennials ran to them, giving them high fives and thanking them for their service. I did not clap, hoping that since we were seated no one would notice my lack of applause. Alas, I was quickly outed as the crowd rose to its feet, applauding and cheering those who were lucky enough not to return home in a body bag. Their raucous applause went on for several minutes.
I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American militarism offended him. However, he knows that my refusal to do so is a matter of principle for me. I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East. Without soldiers, politicians would not be able to stuff American exceptionalism down the throats of the world. Most of all I refuse to stand because I don’t want one more drop of blood shed in my name. I don’t want American men and women dying just so I can have the “freedom” to watch basketball games. I will gladly not watch another sporting event if it means no more violence, carnage, and bloodshed. How dare we cheapen military deaths with empty words about freedom and the American way of life. Enough! I say, to the endless violence and destruction.
After the veterans were seated, it was time for the playing of the National Anthem. As is my custom, I stood, removed my hat, and held it over my heart with my right hand. As the band played, I turned my gaze to the flag and quietly sang the Anthem. A tear trickled down my cheek as I pondered what has become of the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.
This is the one hundred and thirty-fifth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a clip of a speech given by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
By now, I am sure that virtually every reader of this blog knows about and has an opinion concerning San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick has been praised and brutalized in the press. I have been hesitant to give my opinion on the matter, fearing how some people might respond to my position. When it comes to the US military, law enforcement, the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and political/social movements such as Black Lives Matter, most Americans have strong positive or negative feelings. I too have strong feelings.
First, I fully support Colin Kaepernick. He has a First Amendment right to protest, speak his mind, and refuse to swear allegiance to the flag of a country that he believes directly and indirectly supports the oppression of people of color. All Americans have the right to voice their dissent, and I applaud Kaepernick for his willingness to voice his on a national stage.
Second, while there is some debate about the legality of Kaepernick’s unwillingness to honor the American flag, whatever laws might be on the books, the US Supreme Court has made it clear in its ruling on the constitutionality of burning the American flag that acts of dissent and civil disobedience are protected First Amendment behaviors. I’m astounded by the fact that many supposedly educated people think Kaepernick should be publicly and privately punished for his dissent. The moment we stifle or outlaw dissent is the moment when we cease to be a nation that values freedom and liberty.
Now let me state very clearly how I personally view these matters. I realize that some readers will be incensed by some of the things I say in this post. That’s fine. People are free to voice disagreement or even be angry or hateful towards my viewpoint. All I can do is live according to the dictates of my conscience.
While I understand the need for a military, it troubles me deeply that the US military has been used to promote colonialism, imperialism, and American exceptionalism across the globe. I find it beyond offensive that American troops (along with the CIA and NSA) have been used to overthrow democratically elected governments, wage wars against political enemies, and expand the iron grip of American capitalism. American soldiers since 9/11 are directly responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. This coming year I will be 60 years old. The United States has been at war somewhere in the world my entire life. We now rain unholy hell from the skies through a drone program that supposedly kills only the bad guys. We now know drone strikes do indeed kill terrorists, but they also cause what our political and military leaders like to call “collateral damage.” I wonder what we would think of the term “collateral damage” if it were our children, our wives, our parents, our grandparents, and our siblings that were being slaughtered with bombs shot from machines that are controlled by soldiers thousands of miles away?
Yesterday, President Obama authorized spending of $90 million for the use of eliminating 40-year-old bombs that were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War. Thousands of Laotian people have been killed because they accidentally stumbled upon American bombs. These bombs are a perfect reminder of the senselessness of war and our inability to find ways to settle differences without the use of violence. The United States remains the only nation on the face of the earth to have used nuclear weapons against civilian populations. Instead of realizing the danger of nuclear weapons and working towards total disarmament, the American government is now working on improving its nuclear arsenal. Is there no end in sight to such madness? Fifty years ago a Trappist monk by the name of Thomas Merton said the world was on the precipice of a nuclear holocaust. Nothing has happened in the intervening years that has changed this fact. The doomsday clock continues to tick. Which nation will it be that pushes the red button and obliterates the human race off the face of the earth? Naïve Americans like to think it will never be the United States, but history tells us that our leaders have been quite willing to slaughter vast numbers of people for political and economic gain. It’s time we stop living the lie, the one that we were taught in school, that Americans are basically good people. We’re not, and quite frankly we never have been. Only by ignoring our history can Americans look in the mirror and see themselves as a good people. Maybe there was a time when we had good intentions, but those days are long gone. Naked ambition and a thirst for political power and economic supremacy is now the engine that drives our political class. Unwilling to die themselves, our overlords use US military power to advance their agenda.
It sickens me every time I hear someone say — usually before the playing of the national anthem — that American soldiers are dying overseas so we can enjoy the freedoms we have here. Let me be blunt. This is bullshit. Our invasions of Iraq (both times) and Afghanistan, along with our military interventions in numerous countries across the globe have become the fuel that fires the hatred terrorists have for America. While I think the teachings of the Quran play a significant part in the bloodthirsty actions of Islamic terrorists, I refuse to turn a blind eye to the fact that the country of my birth is somewhat culpable for the rise of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. The US military has killed countless civilians and used torture against combatants and noncombatants alike. Almost 8 years after President Barack Obama said he would close Guantánamo Bay, it remains open, an ever-present reminder of America’s use of torture and violence to advance its agenda.
I refuse to be cowed by demands that I blindly and without reservation support the US military. I do not support military interventionism, expansionism, or offensive wars. The US military should be used for defensive purposes only. So when someone tells me that US soldiers are fighting on my behalf, I say, not in my name! Not in my name! I have never asked soldiers to shed their blood or remain in some foreign land just so I can have the freedom to pursue the delusional American dream. I do not want one more person to die a meaningless, senseless death in wars that cannot be won. This does not mean that I am anti-military. It does mean, however, that I am anti-violence. When the Huns are at the gate, it’s time to fight. When Muslims are fighting against each other in the Middle East over whose religious beliefs are the right ones, the fight is theirs not ours.
I attend numerous sporting events each year, and I can’t remember the last time when the playing and singing the Star-Spangled Banner was not directly connected to American militarism. Wounded American soldiers are displayed for all to see as the national anthem is sung — supposedly as reminders of why we are singing the song. Sporting venues roll out huge flags that are manned by military personnel. Sometimes military jets fly overhead, reminding attendees that the United States is the meanest, baddest, and most powerful nation on the face of the earth. While the crowd claps and chants USA! USA! USA!, I quietly hang my head, waiting for the nationalistic masturbation to end. While I still stand, remove my hat, and even sing the Star-Spangled Banner, I do so not out of loyalty or respect, but because I am still grateful that I live in a land that affords me great liberty, freedom, and economic security.
I draw the line, however, on the Pledge of Allegiance. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to a country that plays an instrumental part in much that is wrong in the world. I am in no way saying that I want to live in some other country, but I’m also not willing to say that the United States is the single best country on the face of the earth. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to a God that does not exist or to a political and economic structure that now causes great harm not only to its citizens, but the world. As I do with public prayers and the singing of God Bless America, I refuse to participate when called on to swear my allegiance to the government bought and paid for by Wall Street. While I certainly plan to vote in November, I do so because I fear what a Donald Trump presidency might do to America. That a narcissistic psychopath could even be on the ballot tells me that our political system is broken. Bernie Sanders is right. We need a political revolution. Hillary Clinton is not the answer. She is a centrist corporate Democrat, who will have no problem continuing to use the military to advance America’s worldwide agenda and dominance. She is, sadly, more of the same.
On my more pessimistic days (this is not one of them) I think that our Republic is too far gone to be saved. We no longer have a representative form of government. An oligarchy controls the political process and the economy. Corporate influence and money has destroyed Congress’ ability to act in the best interest of the American people. Our political leaders are little more than whores and shills for whoever shoves the most money in their g-strings. Until lobbyists are run out of Washington DC, “he who has the most money” will win, thereby controlling the government. This is not a Republican/Democrat problem. It is systemic, and until we are willing to destroy the system, things will continue as they now are. What is needed most today is for tens of millions of Colin Kaepernicks to use their spheres of influence to effect lasting political change. I am willing to be one such person and I hope you are too.
I am writing in response to the letter to the editor by Rebecca Soellner.
In her letter she extols the virtues of the American Dream and love for God. Her letter is a good example of the error of Manifest Destiny — the notion that America has a divine purpose and future ordained by the Christian God.
Such thinking allows Soellner to justify the demolishing of the land and the killing off of wildlife and Indians just so our forefathers could plant the seeds of faith, hope and love. I am not sure that the God of faith, hope and love (1Cor. 13:13) wants any part of a people who stole the land from its rightful owners and then murdered them if they resisted. I seriously doubt that God was delighted when our forefathers corralled hundreds of Indian men, women and children into a building, set the building on fire and burned the Indians to death.
The spirit that Soellner extols allowed our forefathers to take what was not theirs and kill those they had no right to kill, all in the name of the Christian God. Our nation had a bloody, sinful beginning and we should recognize it as such. We had no right, God given or not, to do what we did. Think of how we would respond if Ohioans decided it was their manifest destiny to live in Indiana and they, by force, stole the land and killed the inhabitants of Indiana. There would be outrage at such barbarity, and rightly so.
Some of our forefathers were indeed Christian men and women. But many of them were not. Some of them came to America because of religious freedom and then made laws forbidding any other religion but the Christian one (and in some cases outlawing the Catholic religion.) Many of our forefathers were opportunists who saw a great opportunity to amass land and wealth.
They had a respectable form of religion and thought nothing of using their religion to gain economic advantage. If it meant that they ended up with more money, they gladly went along with the notion that God was behind their endeavor.
Some day I hope the myth of the Christian nation will be put to rest. I hope we will stop turning our forefathers into saints who were only motivated by the Godliest of principles and virtues. They were fallible, frail, sinful human beings. Some indeed had great religious virtue but many others were driven by avarice and greed.
We must own up to the fact that our nation’s beginning is covered with blood and that we owe Native American Indians an apology for our national sin. They deserve complete and full restitution for our wicked actions. While we cannot undo many of the sins of the past we can stop trying to paint over our past sins with the God paint.