The words above, uttered in a Southern Californian drawl by the large woman cutting my hair as we chit-chatted about baldness—of all things!—caught my attention and hit me harder than anything has so far.
I’m no longer in the EU!
In Dublin, Ireland, where I spent much of the last four years, almost no one offering a public service like a haircut would dare throw out such a loaded bomb, then follow it—as she did—with a pregnant pause during which she pointedly held my gaze in the large wall-mirror. Way back in the early 1970’s, I’d spent an unforgettable (though thankfully brief) stint with the “Jews for Jesus,” so I recognized the drill. Respond, “No…indeed He wouldn’t! Our Lord acts with infinite wisdom” or some such drivel, and off we’d be on a self-congratulatory Jesus love-fest.
Responding, as I did instead, with an uncomfortable silence and white-knuckle grip on the arms of the barber chair beneath my plastic poncho, I was readily identified as one of the damned.
So be it.
What is it that makes these obviously-insecure, so-called Christians think that God-talk to perfect strangers—or more to the point, paying customers—is acceptable? It’d be one thing if the Religious Right hadn’t turned the populist brand of American Christianity into a spiteful, misogynist, self-centered and homophobic sort of mass cult. But they have. In retrospect, I wish I’d have parried her query with something like, “I don’t believe in the literal truth of the fairy-tale myths of an ancient people who wandered the Middle Eastern desert thousands of years ago.” But that strategy seemed risky while she held in her hands the fate of my haircut.
So…here I am back in the USA after 3-1/2 years in Ireland. And wow, is it a shock in certain ways, specifically, the obvious advances made by the Religious Right. Jesus bumper stickers on every fourth or fifth car. A Republican presidential candidate who talks openly of rewriting the Constitution to be more Christian--and news commentators don't blink an eye. Even a so-called “liberal” presidential candidate who feels compelled to pander to high-profile homophobic preachers. “God bless America,” has become a standard sign-off for presidential speeches, as well as “God bless you” an everyday farewell for many ordinary Americans.
This has happened gradually enough that even those Americans who express alarm over the trend may be somewhat oblivious to its extent. Nothing like three years in a formerly-religious-now-conscientiously-secular nation to give me perspective.
And with that perspective, I find America’s sanctimonious religiosity extremely disturbing, especially in light of the stuttering economy, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the country’s widespread and obstinate ignorance about history and the rest of the world. Add to that, a widespread indifference about the Iraq war, which has murdered up to 1.033 million Iraqis, killed at least 4,913 Americans (including contractors), displaced an additional 4 million, and driven America’s national debt to 3.658 trillion dollars (and counting).
Yet turn on the news, and you’d think the worst events facing the nation weren’t the war, a sub-prime meltdown that’s wrecking havoc on the domestic and global economies, and an absolutely staggering level of personal credit card debt among average Americans, but rather Heath Ledger’s untimely death and Britney Spear’s drug problems and custody battles.
The country seems in the grip of mass cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, you have vast numbers of people who live lavishly due to an American financial and military hegemony that ensures control over a hugely disproportionate amount of the world’s finite resources. On the other, Americans ignorant of the world’s true feelings assert “America is number one!” yet want to deport migrants who dare try to escape the poverty caused by America’s global policies by sneaking across the border to pick lettuce, dig ditches, or clean toilets.
An appallingly large number of Americans eschew Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution, yet use a perversion of it to justify their coldhearted domination over those weaker, poorer or more vulnerable than themselves. Many of the same express devotion to a Jew who (may have) preached a gospel of voluntary poverty, humility, and non-violence in the face of social injustice in a far-flung province of the Roman Empire some 2,000 years ago, then these Americans turn around and vociferously support a murderous and completely unjustified empire-building American war that has devastated an entire nation.
The hypocrisy and/or oblivion of America’s Religious Right has driven me to the point where the mere mention of God makes me want to leave the room and have nothing further to do with the person speaking. So, until the actions of these religiously obsessed individuals become more gentle, generous, kinder and forgiving—in short, more “Christ-like”—I’d like to ask them to keep their insecure, death-fearing beliefs to themselves.
[Cross-posted at Dispatches from the Homeland.]