Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Oh my name it ain't nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
~ Bob Dylan
If you haven't met them already, let me introduce you to the two smartest people on the planet.
A day after launching from the Kennedy Space Center, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken docked with the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft at 10:16 a.m. EDT Sunday, May 31, 2020, to complete a 19-hour transit on the new commercial crew capsule.
With more than a hundred thousand Americans dead from the COVID plague, gridlock and incompetence at all levels of government, millions out of work, an economy in shambles, dysfunctional law enforcement, tear gas in the air, and slim or no leadership, Doug and Bob made the right decision.
They left Earth.
Unfortunately, the rest of us were still stuck right here and the very next day we were reminded of the ugly side of thinking God is on our side.
A Presidential Photo-Opportunity
According to news reports the President of the United States ordered troops to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators so that he could walk across the street to a church that he seldom attends, to hold a bible that by all accounts he never reads, all for a photo opportunity.
“Let me be clear: The President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for," Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde told CNN.
"And to do so... he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the churchyard. I am outraged," she said.
And so goes the old story of how religion casts a shadow over the government and social change.
Religion and Racism
For hundreds of years, social scientists have pondered the role that religion plays in promulgating racism. Even “believers” have scratched their heads and tried to make some sense of this question. According to progressive, Christian, author Anne Lamott, "You can safely say that you've created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do."
A seminal article in Psychology Today noted, “Whether we are secular humanists or religious fundamentalists, in an effort to seek authoritative confirmation of our biases, we run the same risk of perverting information to suit personal prejudices. It is easier this way, especially when we are confronted with social inequities. An analysis led by Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC College and the USC Marshall School of Business, found a positive correlation between religiosity and racial bias.
“If I can blame a group's oppression on the retribution of an angry God or some inherent physical or mental deficiency, then, well, I am let off the hook. I am assured that my privilege is not a problem and that I needn't feel guilty for not advocating for social justice. That is the problem--the very human need to justify our intolerances and inaction.”
Everyone must work to avoid the unquestioned worship of our own beliefs.
An Emory University article pointed out the logical fallacies of religion in dealing with systemic racism. “Religiously speaking, God-talk and rhetoric plays an uncanny role on both sides of justice-seeking and continued violence. For example, Darren Wilson—the police officer accused of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — claimed it was “God’s will”, while protesters and activists on the ground claim God as being “on their side.”
“Is God another white cop waiting to beat my ass,” as the rapper and Hip Hop prophet Tupac Shakur poignantly suggested? Does religion, more generally, have a role in spreading racism? And, what role has God-rhetoric played in racial injustice in cities such as Ferguson or Minneapolis in the U.S. and around the world?”
Even the traditional leaders of anti-racism in the U.S., the ministers, rabbis, and priests are being replaced by younger, non-clergy groups, many of which are composed of “Nones" who do not belong to any religious sect.
More and more, civil disobedience against racism is being marshaled by groups such as “Black Lives Matter” and “The Washington Peace Center.” A report from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University, highlighted the influence of churches on fighting racism, as in many other areas of society, is waning. Why? Religious-based groups are often ineffective and have other agendas to take care of. In noting that the primary actors in the “Black Lives Matter” were not religious leaders, Reverend Yolanda Pierce of the Howard University School of Divinity raised the question of whether clergy leaders were still necessary for the movement.
“I think the larger conversation has to do with whether or not we need religious bodies to be leaders and whether or not we’re still stuck on a model of religious leadership in which we expect a singular figure, like a pastor, to be on the front line,” Pierce said.
Plus, by and large, Baptists, Methodists, and members of other sects who are black attend predominantly black churches. While those who are caucasian, attend their own segregated services. This weird throwback to slavery gives many who fight racism pause. It’s illogical and it’s obvious to anyone who thinks about it.
Be Smart. Be Compassionate
Ending racism is perhaps the most difficult challenge facing the United States and the world. If it takes a public lynching by rogue police officers on the street of a major American city to raise the level of awareness of the insidious and morally bankrupt practice of denying equal opportunities to all races, we have not been paying attention for more than 400 years!
Whether you believe God is on your side, or you think human beings should be responsible for their own actions, or both, now is the time to be smart and to be compassionate. Listen closely to people who may not look like you. Support elected officials and law enforcement who are working to solve the inequality between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Have moral and informed convictions and vote accordingly. In the words of another song: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Art Young is a frequent contributor to American None. He is a Writer. Editor. Storyteller. He’s just a guy who aspires to be the kind of person his dog thinks he is.