The Tree of Life
This weekend tragedy struck – again – when a neo-Nazi named Robert D. Bowers entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and opened fire killing 11 worshipers. Bowers has been charged with 29 criminal counts ranging from murder to ethnic intimidation and hate crimes to name a few. Located in a predominantly Jewish enclave that for all intents and purposes was an idyllic neighborhood where no one expected carnage on this scale to ever happen. Throughout the years, the synagogue has been the cultural and religious center for the Pittsburgh community since 1864 when the congregation was founded in the city’s downtown. To better understand the importance and cultural influence the synagogue has had on the lives of the people of Pittsburgh read Howard Fineman’s moving and provocative New York Times op-ed found here.
While I am no fan of religion, indeed, I side with Deepak Chopra’s description of the institution when he said,
“God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, ‘Let’s give it a name and call it religion.'”
Despite the fact that there can be no devil without a God, my heart breaks when I see the list of the dead, mostly elderly Jewish people, and think of the pain and sorrow that their families, the city and friends must feel who have lost the love and companionship these unfortunate people offered. As an atheist, my lack of belief does not trump the faith that people who choose to believe have and cherish in their lives. It would be hypocritical for me to not want to be persecuted for my lack of belief and vice versa. Faith in God, or lack thereof, is a personal choice, and I celebrate their right to believe as I hope they do mine.
However, heart-wrenching events like this one have become all too common in the environment of today’s intolerance, hate, and bigotry that is consuming the nation day by day. While we mourn the passing of the people of the Tree of Life Congregation, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that our culture is in the throes of a toxic battle for control of the government that is sweeping the nation and has only accelerated over the past two years. We have lost our empathy. Our love of our fellow human beings. Our personal allegiance to the Constitution and what it stands for all Americans.
And for what? Political expediency? When a man can gain the highest office in the land and turn his back on the conventions and mores that have made this country great and strong, the fault is not his alone but shared by us all. Certainly, Trump and his followers are to blame for the intolerance and hatred that has come out of his fold, but the rest of us are culpable as well. Or to put it more politely, the nation is on the brink of breaking into pieces if we donot find a way to get past our differences and move forward with humility and inclusion.
The issue that I struggle with is my anger toward the people who would gladly restrict the rights of some while retaining their own rights at the expense of the Union. Trump and his ornery band of deplorables seem hell bent on reshaping America in a whiter, less diverse and more totalitarian image that makes my blood boil. Trump is quick to brand the truth as fake news when it suits his purpose or simply to obscure what is actually happening. Shamefully, the Republican Party has capitulated is now wandering through a wilderness created by Trump and have sold their souls to gain a modicum of power and control that is illusory at best and destructive both in the long and short hauls.
There is no better example of Trump’s control over the conservative narrative than to look at the American evangelicals. Despite his philandering, lying, cheating and hypocrisy, the evangelicals of America have embraced him wholeheartedly as one of their own. Of course, religion has a variety of gradations, but in this case, they seem to span a wide variety of levels of sanity. For instance, on one extreme you have people like Rick Wiles whose beliefs fall somewhere between the Stone Age and the Taliban of the Middle East. Recently he stated,
Do not be fooled by what’s happening in America. The anarchists in America, their enemy is not the Republican Party. Their enemy isn’t corporations. Their enemy is the church. They’re coming against the church and I’ve been warning people for years and years and years—you better get ready, you better be prepared, if these people ever get power, they’re going to slaughter tens of thousands of pastors, tens of thousands of Christians.”
“They will spill blood in America,” Wiles added. “That is their purpose. That is their objective.” Wiles
People like Wiles in an earlier time would be found wandering the streets of major cities clad in a sandwich board that proclaimed “The end is near. Repent”. Now, they have the ear of the president of the United States. Wiles is only one of a cadre of religious zealots who air programs daily spreading their message to a host of believers around the country. The message is fear. Think about what that means. This message is based on a religious belief system that few adherents have the will or mental capacity to deny much less resist.
Okay, you might say these are the fringe groups that have always been with us since religion began. However, one of the leading organizations at the forefront of the surge of evangelical ideals is the renowned Billy Graham Evangelical Foundation. In an op-ed published in the organizations newsletter last week, the editors stated,
The past 22 months have brought significant progress in restoring religious liberty in the United States. But if Christians do not remain engaged, those gains could be brought to a screeching halt or even lost after next month’s midterm elections. If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society. BGEA (My emphasis)
This is yet again Trump supporters willing to test the bounds of credulity. Maybe it is me, but goll durn it, I don’t remember American evangelicals being “targets of punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society”. Which brings us full circle from The Tree of Life causalities and the monster that Trump created. Those killed in this past weekend’s terrorist attack on their synagogue where people of faith who were doing what their faith and heritage called upon them to do. Worship their God. Trump and his minions, including evangelicals, have become provocateurs whose mission is only to grasp power and control for their own insidious ends.
I won’t ask you to pray for our country. What I will ask is to be cognizant of reality and pay attention to what is going on in the country. In a recent article by Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, he titled the piece, Why This is the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime. Let’s not pretend he is hoping for equality of rights for everyone. Take it as a warning and vote to ensure your voice is heard over the Trump rabble.