"Good Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."
— Jerry Falwell
Sunday December 23rd, the Sunday before Christmas 2012. I had been dragged to a church service here in Canton, Ohio. I was reluctant to go because of my strained relationship with the Church over the last few years, but relented before becoming blatantly insulting to my family. What I witnessed there that day was the final offense to put me over the edge. I have seen many things in my few years, death and destruction, recreational arson, drug use and abuse, sex of every shade, unspeakable love and unbearable cruelty. I’ve seen generosity and change, selfishness and stagnation, and 6 foot transvestites sucking down mojitos in seedy downtown bars. None of these things fundamentally changed me the way this did. None of it struck such a deep and immediate chord.
Devotion had started and the choir was roaring over the steady and boisterous rhythms of the band; Gospel music at its finest. The congregation was being whipped into a frenzy as usual and there were people weeping openly in the pews, and grown men kneeling and slobbering before the altar. Two women on my right suddenly became overcome with emotion and as one was throwing her hands to the heavens I noticed the second was doing a sort of crazed, spastic version of the Running Man. Within seconds they had taken off, jogging lightly around the church, making laps around the outside of the pews. Knees trembled, women wailed, and children covered their ears. All the while the band played on.
My cousin(who was also attending against his will) looked at me with a mixed look of shock and terror, expecting the Blues Brothers to appear back-flipping down the center aisle at any moment. I gave a half smile and shrugged. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. Behind us a woman let out a jarring, lung rattling, ear piercing shriek that lasted to the end of her breath. After a pause, she unleashed another. This went on for about 30 seconds. I could tell my father was annoyed, but his patience held like a rock. I’m continually astonished by him.
The fatal blow came during the sermon. The morbidly obese pastor clutching the pulpit and sweating profusely as he bellowed out into the crowd. We were instructed not to receive the “Word” with our minds, but rather our spirits. That alone gave me pause, but again…was nothing new. He spoke of Christmas and the gift of God, and the gift of Christ and the gift of life. He spoke of God’s omnipotence and how he is always watching, right in the same place. Easy to find. Then he got into the old and famous secularist’s question. “Where was god when___?”
“Where was God during the Tsunami? Where was God during the shooting in Connecticut?” He asked in character, pausing for effect and scanning the room for a reaction. “He was right there in the same place! But I’ll tell you this, he is there helping every one of those people left behind. They will come closer to him because of this.” He went on to talk of using tragedy as a means for conversion and how the family members should now come to Jesus in the wake of their loved one’s murder(that He allowed to happen).
Rage, Hatred, and Gravely Unspeakable Violence boiled and hissed inside me unlike anything I’d felt in years. My whole face burned with the heat of anger. Hairs on the back of my neck rose like a beast preparing for attack. My brows furrowed, and I contemplated standing but knew I would never be able to walk out. I began frantically negotiating with myself, straining to stay seated.
“If you get up now there is no walking out. If you stand up, you are going to walk right down that center aisle and knock this fat bastard right on his ass. Is that what you want? You want to be the guy who broke the pastor’s nose and throttled him half to death in the pulpit the Sunday before Christmas? That’s your big news story? THINK goddamnit! Use your mind. Write about it.”
My fists remained clenched and my brow remained furrowed, but I stayed seated. That moment has not left me since it happened I’ve been replaying it in my mind over and over. How can a grown man stand before a crowd of people and say that their god allowed for the wanton murder of women and children in order to bully their family members into converting?
Then I realized these people around me believed it too. He was amongst like-minded people. Their great Celestial Dictator had sat idly by while innocents, men, and women were gunned down like dogs in broad daylight, and why? So that His ambassadors on earth could bash their families and friends over the head with their shattered and bloodied memory. I don’t see a way that any reasonable person can sit by and allow for this sort of nonsensical bullshit to pass without issue. When you are a leader, you have a responsibility to people. A responsibility to refrain from the kind of sick drivel that poisons the mind and perverts the character, that stunts intellectual growth and promotes callousness and absolute disregard for human life.
When you have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and never having a life in your hands, and never having to feel the responsibility for the end of a human life, it becomes easier to become cavalier about life. You can disregard the most precious thing we have for some silly dogmatic principal. That doesn’t mean you should. Trivializing the deaths of innocent people is one thing, but twisting the murder of children to fit your doctrine is something more despicable altogether. Perhaps because I’ve lived a life engulfed in destruction and hounded by death I have a higher respect for human life than the average person. I don’t know. However, I hold strong to the fact that Life is the most precious thing we have, and Death is the most serious thing we come across as living beings. Life and Death are the bottom line, the end all, be all. To simply brush off the death of so many, the violent death of so many sickens me to the point of rage.
I expect this from the Westboro Baptist Church. I expect this from the extremists like Pat Robertson, and those following in the footsteps of Falwell and Graham. This however was right in my hometown, right where I grew up. On my doorstep. My mother attends that church every week. I was unprepared for that type of madness to meet me at home. That much is my fault, since I did not prepare myself to receive that sort of philosophical assault. The worst part of it is that I couldn’t get a concession out of her that what he had said was out of line. I had lost her on that front. The desire to obey always overcomes the desire to question or challenge in the Church. Here I was staring it in the face.
In the end the only people we can truly control is ourselves, and because of this we can’t lose sleep when people don’t see eye to eye with us. Information, facts, and truth are the best weapons you can wield in the battle against ignorance, and we have to arm ourselves and bolster our resolve if we ever hope to destroy the Bastions of Ignorance that have a death-grip on our society and on our collective minds. The fight continues, but there are too many of us passively sitting on the sidelines. We say it doesn’t affect us, that it’s not our problem and that it doesn’t matter in the end, but it does. The fight of our generation is to make sure that knowledge is distributed to our fellow man, because knowledge in the hands of the people is how this world gets better, and it starts with us.