Saturday, April 14, 2012

In the News: Marcus Bachmann and Ex-Gay Therapy, Phelps and Westboro Baptist, God and GOP

More end-of-week religion and politics news: 

1. As readers may recall, last summer Truth Wins Out created a news flurry (and see also here) when it sponsored a secret insider report which found that, despite his claims to the contrary, Marcus Bachmann, husband of Minnesota representative Michelle Bachmann, practices "ex-gay" therapy at his clinic.  

It doesn't look as if that story is going away anytime soon, since yet another secret insider report, this one by documentary filmmaker Kristina Lapinski, has made precisely the same discovery months down the road: people coming to Bachmann's clinic who say that they are gay and seeking help, Lapinski's findings suggest, are still likely to be told that the clinic will help them pray away the gay.

2. On Huffington Post this week, Nate Phelps, son of the notorious anti-gay pastor of Westboro Baptist church in Topeka, Fred Phelps, shares his experience growing up in the Phelps household.  Nate Phelps says that the experience centered on a relentless stream of sermons about a wrathful God bent on punishing the world, and a punitive father who physically disciplined his children.

Once he left the household of religion-based violence, he had to unlearn much that he had been taught throughout his childhood, Phelps writes.  To be specific: 

As I began to speak and write about my journey, I was overwhelmed with letters and comments from others who have struggled with religious extremism, violent childhoods, and the destructive effects of blind prejudice and hate. Members of the gay community wrote to say they understood and related, having experienced violence and rejection in their own childhoods. I was amazed to discover that the insidious ideas I held about the LGBT community dissipated as I got to know the individuals that made up that group. I learned that the best way to destroy a prejudice was to have the courage to encounter those we have learned to prejudge. The perceived differences dissipate like a fog in sunlight, and we discover that they are us.

Prejudice is taught.  It's learned.  And when it has been learned early in life, it has to be unlearned at painful cost in adult life, when those taught to despise and hate have awoken to the damage done to them when they were taught prejudice.

3. As Common Dreams reports a day or so ago, at his site Musings of an Exiled Sage, Dylan Alexander suggests that God isn't faring so well in the 2012 pre-election cycle in the U.S.  Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all had direct messages from the Deity indicating that each was the candidate anointed of God for this election year.

As the GOP primaries wind down, the tally appears to be God: 0 for 4.

For me, one of the surprises of each presidential election cycle that comes down the pike in the U.S. is the discovery of just how unimaginative those who believe that God controls the political process and makes their political decisions for them are.  I find it hard to understand that in 2012, we're still debating birth control as a burning issue--hard to believe that a major political party wants to keep recycling that long-since-settled cultural and moral issue as the burning issue du jour.

And this notion that God hand-picks certain leaders: it has been around forever in the American political context, it seems.  The fact that it won't slink off into the shadows of history where it belongs seems to me to attest to the . . . fundamental stupidity . . . of many American voters.

The book on which I'm working right now, which features the work of a freethinking doctor-philosopher living on the western Arkansas frontier in the latter half of the 1800s--Wilson R. Bachelor--contains a brief meditation Bachelor wrote after the 1892 presidential election.  In that election, Democrat Grover Cleveland bested Republican Benjamin Harrison.  When he was elected in 1888, Harrison had asserted that he was elected due to the selection of divine providence.

When Harrison (who was Bachelor's candidate, as a Republican) lost in 1892, Bachelor wrote his meditation to ask just what Harrison intended to do now with the claim that God controls presidential elections via divine providence.  Bachelor's proposal: it might be better to dispense altogether with the notion that God controls American elections.  God lost in 1892, it seems, just as God is losing now: if God does, in fact, hand-pick the Harrisons, Bachmanns, Cains, Santorums and others of the world.

Maybe better to put forever behind us this idea of God's special selection of America and God's intent interest in who prevails in American elections?  At least, that was the proposal of a Republican country doctor living in the wilds of western Arkansas over a century ago--but, to our discredit as a nation, we still kick this idea around in our political arena and try to make it count. 

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