In this blog, I’e2’80’99ve avoided talking about religion because it’e2’80’99s personal, it’e2’80’99s complicated, and basically because talking about it opens up a whole lot of boxes I don’e2’80’99t want to fall into online. So although my academic background is in religion and theology, you probably won’e2’80’99t read much about it here, unless I can figure out a format that doesn’e2’80’99t get out of hand.

However, two articles in the Thursday San Francisco Chronicle are just too juicy to pass by.

The first isn’e2’80’99t directly about God, except for the form of worship we employ when it comes to media. Seems that conservative talk-show host Bill O’e2’80’99Reilly got a tad pissed about the results of San Francisco’e2’80’99s Tuesday election, when the City voted against military recruitment in public schools and against handgun ownership:

‘e2’80’9cYou want to be your own country? Go right ahead. And if al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we’e2’80’99re not going to do anything about it. Were going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.’e2’80’9d

Ah, the sheer joy of such a statement; it just makes you just want to hug yourself. Or maybe drive to San Francisco and find a cozy leather bar and hug all the nice boys inside.

If, that is, you could get past all the tourists from Bill’e2’80’99s part of the country who are standing outside on the sidewalk, taking pictures.

And why Coit Tower, that monument to firefighters? What, you thought that pointy erec’e2’80’94um, edifice with the lumpy bit at the top was something rude? It’e2’80’99s meant to represent a fire hose, you idiot. Just because Coit sounds a little like coitus’e2’80’94Jeesh, Bill, you have a dirty mind. And as the Chron kindly points out, a bomb at Coit Tower would kill maybe three San Franciscans among all the tourists.

Bill, of course we Californians want to be our own country. What responsible and intelligent individual wouldn’e2’80’99t, with the US of A in the hands of people like you? The border fence between us and Mexico should be turned ninety degrees, so that California can secede and lock out the truly dangerous lunatics. So long, it’e2’80’99s been good to know you, and please take Arnold with you when you go.

But what about that God stuff I mentioned? That, you might guess, comes from that subtle theological and political thinker, Pat Robertson.

Seems that on this same Tuesday the voters of Dover, Pennsylvania, got fed up with its eight school board members who thought so-called ‘e2’80’9cintelligent design’e2’80’9d was just a dandy thing to teach kids in school, and in a burst of decency and common sense, voted them out. And the Reverend Pat Robertson, Jesus’e2’80’99s right-hand man, reacted in a similar vein to Bill O’e2’80’99Reilly:

‘e2’80’9cI’e2’80’99d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’e2’80’99t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city.’e2’80’9d And he added, ‘e2’80’9cGod is tolerant and loving, but we can’e2’80’99t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin.’e2’80’9d

For more than three thousand years, the Judeo-Christian tradition has been struggling with the troubling incompatibility between free will and a personal God, accumulating thousands of pages and countless nuggets of wisdom along the way, yet this is the best Robertson can come up with? That God will throw a tantrum when his creatures think for themselves? That he feels threatened by the workings of the scientific method, because (I suppose) it undermines his absolute authority? That God is petty enough at the thought of Dover, PA replacing its school board with people who wish to encourage children to make use of the minds God gave them that he would call down fire and brimstone, on the voters and their innocent children alike?

Oh, please, Pat. What size is your God, anyway?

And more important, why are we in the hands of individuals whose God is myopic, small, and vindictive? I had a small, myopic, and vindictive neighbor one time, and found the best thing to do with him was wave politely as I drove past but otherwise ignore him.

Now, just because I’e2’80’99ve indulged in a little God-talk here today (God-talk being a literal translation of ‘e2’80’9ctheology’e2’80’9d) doesn’e2’80’99t mean I’e2’80’99m going to make a habit of it. Arguing about God can be like trying to stop a raging stream with a child’e2’80’99s plastic shovel and bucket: theoretically possible, but requiring huge amounts of energy. However, in the interest of providing a boulder to redirect a little of the flow, let me suggest an alternative interpretation to Pat’e2’80’99s view of the role of humanity.

Remember the book of Genesis, Pat? You probably believe that we are created in the image of God, as the book says, but surely you don’e2’80’99t mean just physically. Even you must see that we are divine in our sense of the universe, in our willingness to assume responsibility for our actions, in our eagerness to explore and manipulate.

The book of Genesis is a folk-tale, shaped into a vessel that holds truth. Its third chapter contains the idea that our thirst for knowledge leads us toward God. We are born curious, driven by the bone-deep urge to become ever more in God’e2’80’99s image. If this brings us to taking fruit from a forbidden tree, then we must leave the garden of innocence. Please note: This is not punishment, this is consequence. Once we perceive the world consciously, with knowledge, we are no longer innocent creatures (although we may be ignorant, a very different thing.) We sweat and work and die and are afraid of snakes, not because God is angry, but because work and death are a consequence of growing up. And yes, there’e2’80’99s no going back on Knowledge: We can’e2’80’99t get back into the Garden, not unless we lobotomize ourselves as a race and leave behind all that strife and sweat and free will stuff. Which, perhaps, is what Robertson would like.

It would be funny if it weren’e2’80’99t so sad. And scary, because I’e2’80’99ve read ‘e2’80’9cOne Flew over the Cuckoo’e2’80’99s Nest’e2’80’9d and I know what happens when a patient raises too much of a fuss. We Northern Californians, especially the natives, are very aware of the weight of the rest of the country.

But below the fear I have faith, that this paroxysm of imposed ignorance will pass, and we will be allowed to honor the mind again.

In the meantime, look, Pat: I’e2’80’99d really appreciate it if you were to go sit in some quiet place for a while and think about the size of your God. And as for you, Bill, make sure you apply for a visa next time you want to see California. We don’e2’80’99t allow just any old nuts in, you know.

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  1. Anonymous on November 13, 2005 at 3:18 pm


    What’s really interesting is that I just finished “Born Fighting: how the Scots-Irish shaped America” by James Webb. (This is my father’s heritage; I’m at the age to be interested in it.)

    This book explains the mindset of people we dismiss as “rednecks” and (among other things) how the faith that used to be a proudly independent Nonconformist belief hardened into today’s fundamentalism. It also deals with how and why there is such a split between the mindsets of, say, Northern California and Arkansas. It is not just ignorance; todays blue-collar people have been screwed over by their leaders economically and politically – yes, and culturally – and are clinging to the only thing left to them. If you want to break the grip of the Religious Right in this country, start a serious Populist movement which is respectful of the “farmers, mechanics, and laborers” and watch the nation revive again. (The latter opinion is just my $0.02, but, oh, well.)


  2. CaptMair on November 13, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    Bravo again Laurie! It’s nice to hear a voice such as yours in this “Flat Earth Society” dominated country. When California secedes can Washington state come along too?

  3. Anonymous on November 13, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    I got tired of being outraged by politics, so I went out and bought three cylindrical tins of tootsie rolls — the kind you can use as a bank by punching out part of the lid. First I emptied the tins (not into my mouth), covered them, in a sort of lumpy fashion, with paper (somewhere Martha Stewart shuddered), and added labels for three of my favorite causes, and tossed in a dollar to each. Then I went and bought a paper, and, outraged again, came home and tossed a dollar into two of them. I will probably have a million in each in a far shorter period of time than I had thought — or I can just add the contents of the tins to a “regular” donation. I guess I feel better ….

    I’ll add a buck for the news in this blog, although it doesn’t reach the real outrage level — too “normal” for today, unfortunately.

  4. Anonymous on November 14, 2005 at 1:01 am

    Amen, again, Laurie! There are a few of us in other parts of the county–even here in the south USA–who do not agree with bush, that idiot Pat R who calls himself a ‘preacher’, and OReilly. So many people believe in one thing this group of politicians say (take your pick: abortion, flat earth, intellegent design, gay guys, whatever) and look at NOTHING else these people are doing!! And what they are doing is destroying our long-held values, a way of life, and what our forefathers/mothers truly stood for. They have taken independent thinkers of a few generations ago and made them into the blind following those who refuse to see!! Just a few decades ago, I graduated from a religious-affliated college (Baptist) so liberal that we learned that most of the Bible is folklore!! Imagine that happening today. And it made my life all the richer to hear Phyillis Shafely AND Betty Friedan on the same campus, same audience. Imagine that happening today! What have we become? And why do we listen to Pat Robertson?

  5. elisa on November 14, 2005 at 1:26 am

    Almost 40 years ago, the BIG earthquake was predicted for our fair state. On the appointed day, Herb Caen publised a column describing how the earth trembled, split, rose up, and Nevada started to slip into the Atlantic Ocean. Having been born in Northern California, I loved it. Today, I’d part with those water theifs from Southern California and happily become a soverign nation. If the majority of our people are so afraid of using their own minds that they let the Pat Robertson’s of this nation tell them what is moral, I rather we faced the terrorist on our own. A mind is just like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it regularly (by turning off the TV) it rots. Keep up the good work.

  6. Violet Strange on November 14, 2005 at 1:54 am

    The comfort is that Pat Robertson’s tirade probably killed Intelligent Design as a subject in schools. When the Supreme Court ruled that creationism couldn’t be taught in schools, the creationists went to ground for a while. They then reappeared with “Intelligent Design,” which allegedly had nothing to do with the Christian God and was a totally scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. All their very expensive spokespeople were very good at claiming not to be creationists. But, that arguement won’t fly anymore, especially in court. All they will have to do is play Pat Robertson’s rant against Dover, and the pretense that ID is not creationism dissolves.

    The most interesting observation that I have read is that Intelligent Design cannot be considered a science, because it is only followed in one nation – the US. New scientific discoveries are invariably picked up by scientists around the world. ID has not been, therefore it is properly termed a “folk belief.” The comparison was made to Lysenkoism in Soviet Russia.

  7. Anonymous on November 14, 2005 at 7:56 am

    Bah Pat Robertson, his headquarters is here in Hampton Roads, Va along with PETA in Norfolk, VA thouse two just ruin the area.

  8. Anonymous on November 14, 2005 at 8:17 am

    You know I think Pat Robertson is a memeber of Peta, it would explain alot.

  9. Trix on November 14, 2005 at 11:05 am

    While I’m not a Christian myself, I admire the stand that more and more Christians like you are taking in the US. No, being a Christian does not mean you’re a narrow-minded, bigoted, fearful redneck. You can quite happily succeed in those things without having to bring God into it.

    “Treat others as you would be treated” is a principle many of the bigots have forgotten. If they’d come across the man who had been robbed on the way to Jericho, they’d have probably kicked him to one side while running the Samaritan out of town.

    Once again, it’s good to hear from Christians who haven’t forgotten the positive tenets of their religion. I’ve always enjoyed the wee insights into Christanity you’ve put into your books.

  10. Anonymous on November 14, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you Laurie, for your intelligent comments here. I will pass them on to others who are feeling a bit claustrophobic about the way the country appears to be leaning. I can’t quite get a grasp of their values, I only know they don’t seem to be very balanced. Nor do they uphold the constitution, though I’m sure they would argue the point. I hope they will go away soon without leaving too much damage behind.
    Thanks again and keep writing.


  11. 2maple on November 14, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    I loved it when Dover voted out the school committee. It shows that people’e2’80’99s votes can and do matter. And I agree with the previous post that this cannot possibly be constitutional to teach only one religion’s point of view on creation, and that an extreme view not neccessarily held by most of its adherants.

    I heard of Pat Roberts remarks while running errands this weekend’e2’80’a6and remember coming home and telling my husband that he was a fool. I can’e2’80’99t reconcile his idea of a God that is than vindictive and punishing for not meeting someone else’e2’80’99s ideas of what you should be, when I think of God more as a more positive force, leading you to be more than you are now.

    Funny that you feel the rest of the country weighing so heaviliy on California’e2’80’a6my state is so small that, whatever our opinions are, we feel run over by all the big states’e2’80’a6yours included 🙂

  12. KB on November 15, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks, Laurie, well said. I love the outrage that people like Bush, O’Reilly and Robertson can raise in us! And, we need to rage against these airheads.

    Some suggested reading for others of our ilk: anything by Bishop John Shelby Spong and one I just discovered, “Lamb” by Christopher Moore.

    Rage on!

  13. WDI on November 16, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Well said, Laurie. Here’s what I think is truly ironic about Pat’s remarks. A few days ago I heard an interview on NPR with one of the new members of the Dover school board. She explained that she and the other new members ran on a platform that included provision for not just removing intelligent design from science classes, but for adding a philosophy or world-religions class in which it, and other religious world views, could legitimately be discussed. She hoped that it would be a class in which students could learn more about one another.

    She thought it was very odd that Robertson would take the stand that he did, emphasizing that she and the other school board members were Christians and that Dover has a church on every corner.

    And just for the record, every time San Francisco does something like performing gay marriages or voting out military recruiters, I glow with pride in my almost-home-town and wish like crazy I could go back to Northern California.

  14. myninki on November 22, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Es una pena que no quiera hablar de Dios, es una de las cosas que pens’c3’a9 que quiz’c3’a1s encontrar’c3’ada aqu’c3’ad. Todo eso del lado femenino de Yahv’c3’a9 y m’c3’a1s.
    No me creo una fan’c3’a1tica del tema, pero hay tan pocas personas con las que se pueda hablar de Dios, eso suena raro verdad?
    Espero que se embulle alguna que otra vez, no nos vendr’c3’ada mal.
    Siento el espa’c3’b1ol, cansancio.

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