I do a lot of news reading. And I have watched with sadness and more than a bit of anger when I see nontraditional “beliefs” get pummeled by obnoxious flouting of the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state, a principle that endures despite today’s renaissance of fascistic Christian supremacy.
Surely most of you are familiar with the proliferation of the “In God We Trust” motto upon police cars.
You look at this stuff happening somewhere remote, and you say to yourself, “it can’t happen here”.
Then it does.
Sinclair Lewis saw it in his day, and I’m here to tell you it can still happen here. And there. And there too.
Yesterday, the separation of church and state became blurred in my current hometown. My police department is now operating with the authority of God.
Look, I know how that sounds, that I’m getting a little hyperventilated about an issue that is unlikely to affect the rights of nonbelievers. But I’m afraid that I can’t be sure that vesting religious authority in those who administer the law will not be tempted to use their authority to be prejudicial to those of us who advertise that we are not religious.
We’re a defiant folk, those of us who do not have a religion. We are past tired of being marginalized.
Of all the injustices that have been visited upon people in this country, on balance the complaints that atheists (and perhaps practitioners of non-Abrahamic religion) have seem to be a bit petty and privileged in and of themselves. But I can only fight the battles I know best. I read H. Rap Brown’s autobiography recently and it was literary fire for me-but I’m just a white atheist. I’d gladly join far worse oppressed people in their fight for justice, but really I can only speak for my own marginalization. I’m amenable to being recruited for more trenchant issues.
It could surely be argued that I need not speak out against my marginalization, because presumably I have a choice in the matter. I can choose to not be a believer, it is alleged. It’s nothing more than an intellectual conceit. I should be silent about it.
I disagree. Those of us who are not moved by a religious belief have no choice but to conclude that there is nothing moving this universe in any direction that would suggest that “someone” is doing it. Should evidence arise that we are wrong, I assure you we would believe. It’s not the same by a long shot, but it is as indelible as something like color or sexual orientation-we cannot politely say we are who we are or how maligned we have been. Granted, we have not been summarily lynched or anything resembling that (although you can still be killed in other nations for blasphemy and heresy)-but I am saying that it is part of our identity and we have just as much right to coexist as anyone, and the supremacists in our culture ought to know that we are among them.
Anyway, when I saw that this thoughtless decal initiative hit my little hick town in Georgia, I decided I’d had about enough of the marginalization. I went straight to the fount, the mayor who went on record saying that “some will be offended”, and that he didn’t really care. I began to email him at his public account.
I know you won’t change your mind, but you should know that the proposed
police car stickers that proclaim “In God We Trust” is troubling to
those of us who do not believe in the Christian “God”, be they
practitioners of different faith or practitioners of none. You should
choose to be inclusive as a public servant. But you think your faith is
more important than your civic duty, it seems.
Do we have a Christian police force? Did you ask them when you decided
to festoon their cars with religious slogans?
I know stunts like this play well politically in places like Columbia
County but you should probably pay more attention to the overloaded
infrastructure that can’t handle all of the commercial and residential
expansion in Grovetown rather than push people’s buttons on matters of
church and state.
As I said, I might as well talk to a wall from the impression I get of
you but I thought I’d try anyway.
Was I being a smart-aleck? Sure. I knew I wouldn’t make him ask himself if what he was doing was right with reason. But I wanted to be heard loud and clear.
Evidently being mayor isn’t a particularly busy job, because I got a response lickety-split:
In God we trust does not imply any particular God. This statement is broad. Congratulations you are the first to speak negatively about the stickers.
Do you ever wonder how some people keep their jobs? That they’re so stupid it’s a wonder they don’t come to work with mismatched shoes? Well, the mayor is one of those people. You already know from the national stage that stupid people are electable. That said, all grammatical assassination and disturbing punctuation conservation above and below is his.
Anyway, I called him out in the next email for being full of shit.
Thanks for the congratulations. I’m actually quite surprised, given that there is a robust community of nontraditional believers in the county who tipped me off to the story.
Come now, Mr. Jones. Do you honestly believe that anyone thinks of another monotheistic god when they see “In God We Trust”? Additionally, in your predictable response you fail to take into account nonbelievers who take the separation of church and state rather seriously. What about us? Once again I ask: do we have a religious police force?
You know this is your Christian privilege and you know you’re going to get away with it…unless of course one of your officers doesn’t want to drive an advertisement for religion. Then you might have a problem on your hands.
It has been said that the stupid are always sure of themselves, while the intelligent are often full of doubt. So in the spirit of certainty, Mayor Jones wasted no time firing off his next response, attempting to educate me on a subject that he clearly knows nothing about since he’s the dumbshit putting religious slogans on police cars.
I suggest you study up on Separation of Church and State. That statement in of itself does not impose religion upon anyone. Had I used the name of Jesus you may have a legitimate complaint. If you feel that strongly about it…stop using US currency.
There’s a lot to unpack in this response, and I lost my cool a little in attempting. I replied:
The mention of God qualifies as a religious belief. You are being extremely slippery by pretending it’s not about one god or another. The school system uses the same lame excuse when they tell kids to have “respect for a creator”. As I said, you’re being disingenuous by asserting it’s not about one god or another. Last I checked, lying was a sin.
You do not have to come to my house and baptize me to violate church and state separation. Jurisprudence has interpreted the separation of church and state to be more broad than just the imposition of a state religion. When the government gets in the religion business in any way (and once again, belief in a god, any god spells R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N), that’s constitutionally objectionable.
Thanks for making me laugh with the currency jab. Lets me know that I’m not only dealing with a lying bigot, but a jerk as well.
Some of you may think that I took a wrong turn when I called him a name. But he was literally being a jerk. Don’t use the money? Is that all you have, Mayor? Jesus Christ.
Anyway, I pushed the mayor’s angry button. He decided to get all tough with me. I’m a veteran of many an online flame war, and if there’s one thing you can expect it’s that conservatives will resort to threatening when they are losing an argument.
Come to a meeting and say that personally coward
What does that look like to you? It sure sounded to me like a threat or at the very least a personal challenge. So I asked him what he was doing. I am certainly not going to go to a town hall full of his slackjawed, heehawing supporters just to call him a name. Nope, this is my turf. Ron’s the name, writing’s my game.
Are you threatening me? I’ll be sure to forward that to the media.
Which I did. I thought it was totally inappropriate for an elected public figure to be doing the “say it to my face” routine, regardless of what I had called him, which was not only mild as names go, but accurate. Anyway, he decided at this point that he was a victim. That’s always amusing coming from conservatives, because they are so fond of being derisive toward people who actually are victims.
No it’s easy for folks like you to hide on social media and complain about everything as well as call folks names. A threat is constituted by one making statements to do bodily harm. My words no where indicate such. Do not email me again or I will seek a warrant for your arrest.
I did not know that public government email was social media, did you? But whatever, the mayor took his ball and went home, abusing his power along the way by threatening to sic his goon squad on the guy that said mean wittle things to him.
You’re quite a specimen, mayor.
So like I said, I went to the media, asking them if they wanted to let people know what a peach the Grovetown mayor is, and I received a reply. It was the reporter who initially covered the sticker story. She wanted to talk to people who opposed the slogans. I gathered a few atheists in my area, but none of us wanted to put our faces out there because Christians have a tendency to be rather un-Christian when you try to object to them barfing their beliefs into the public arena. Additionally, some of us held government jobs and were worried about reprisal.
The reporter wanted to do it the day following her breaking of the story, which gave me only a few hours to prepare. I spent several anxious hours in bed that night wondering what to say and whether or not I could say it right. Eventually I fell asleep and it was game time when my eyes opened.
Boy, was I nervous. But I usually can pull myself together for things like this when they finally happen. So we interviewed for about a half hour and I felt relieved that we all had struck a blow for our side. Everyone involved did great.
However, the piece(which is embedded in my link above) fell super short of my expectations. My conversations with the mayor were known to the reporter but I recited the highlights anyway, because I felt that the larger story was about abuse of power. I don’t think I’d have agreed to interview had the mayor not been a raging dick. None of his unfortunate, embarrassing behavior was touched on. None. We got three or four soundbites about our objections to the stickers. I don’t think anyone learned anything about atheists or separation.
In the end, what could I have expected? Separation of church and state is a complex issue that would require a network special to even scratch the surface of its importance. How we feel is irreducible and it’s impossible to do justice to the subject in 45 seconds. And I guess the local news is reticent to lose viewers over the truth about our bulletheaded, bible thumping leaders. Gary Jones knows that most of his dumb-ass constituents can be rallied by appealing to their feelings of Christian supremacy. It’s not dissimilar to, and this may sound like a stretch, shit that people like Saddam Hussein pulled. When his popularity waned after getting routed in the first Gulf war, he used religion to keep people loyal, going so far as to change the national flag to say “God Is Great”.
Demagoguery is so much easier than actually doing something, especially when your voters are brainwashed. And that’s what this is about. Cut from my interview was me quoting Jeremy Bentham about good governance and behavior. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said that the ideal aim in society was to produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.
And by that metric, Gary Jones is a fucking political failure.