Friday, April 27, 2007

And Another Thing: Religion and Civil War

By Carole Taylor

Information, get me Jesus on the line.

I’m from the South. I know that might not matter to you, but it does to me. Whether you realize it or not, folks in the South are some of the very few people on earth who survived a civil war and then got on with business within just a couple of generations. Who got over living in an occupied country. My lover is a Yankee. I like Yankees. Only Yankees don’t call themselves Yankees. They won. Had they lost, they’d be as strange about the Civil War as we are.

I would not have been someone fighting for the South in any case. Not a big fan of slavery in any of my incarnations. But Southern identity has more to do with being brought up in a country that lost a war, not necessarily why the war was fought. That’s a whole nother discussion.

You may wonder what civil war has to do with gay and lesbian or even gender issues. Probably everything, given that if certain civil wars now raging continue to get out of hand, there may be nothing left anywhere to have rights about.

With every day filled with news of multitudinous international sibling rivalries/boarder disputes/jihads going on in various parts of the world, I kept asking myself why it was that in America we had a civil war and aren’t still having it. In the Middle East, somebody has been giving the rebel yell almost continuously for 5,000 years. In India and Pakistan, gone with the wind will mean gone with the nuclear fallout. In Ireland, it’s supposedly over, but it lasted over four centuries. And those are just the most glaring examples.

What do all of those other wars have in common? What did our own civil war lack that let us get over ourselves in relatively short order?

The answer to both questions is religion, that’s what. Our civil war was not about who believed in what god or how to spell his name. Or not spell it. It was over a lot of things, stupidity being one of them, but it wasn’t over religion. Religion was used by both sides in America to justify this or that, but religion itself wasn’t the issue.

It has never, ever made any sense to me to have even a verbal argument over religion, but apparently I am nearly alone in my lack of adrenaline. People the world over are absolutely CERTAIN that there is only one god and he’s on their personal speed dial and nobody else’s. That’s the same certainty that creates Virginia and Kansas “ministers” out of the dust of the earth and drives these holy men to hound gays and lesbians to distraction, and nearly always for the same reason. All these guys know who God is, doncha know. The one thing that nearly all of those religious types CAN agree on is that WE are the enemy. Once they stop fighting the congregation across the street or across the boarder for condemnation rights, that is.

And Godde help you if you suggest that the Deity is a female entity, that the Being isn’t the manufacturer of quantum amounts of Celestial Testosterone. Talk about civil war. Don’t take me there.

So if religion is the cause of the problem, or at least the reason given that all these warring factions can’t come to the peace table, then might it be that we should inspect that issue.

Other than that your mother told you it was a good idea, why believe in a god at all? And beyond that, why beat up your neighbor over it? What good does it do? Here’s a thought: If God is supposedly the embodiment of all that humans aspire to, then it matters how we describe who and what we worship. It matters how we describe heaven. It matters how we describe the diety. Because that is how we would describe who we wish we were, what the best possible Earth could be.

How we describe Godde, if you believe in one, has nothing to do with who Godde actually IS, in the existential sense. I can believe that Godde is a flaming Amazon beauty with a double headed axe and a dog kennel, but if Godde exists, my belief will have no effect whatever on who that being actually is. You can BELIEVE whatever you wish about someone. Your belief might be either flattering or simpering or insulting, but your belief alone will not change who that person is.

But your belief about who YOU are will have everything to do with who YOU become.

If you tell children from the time they can hear that heaven is reached by killing twenty Jews and blowing yourself up in the process, that the reward is 72 virgins (for boys only, damn it all), that women are cattle and only worth anything, however slight, as a virgin, I can pretty much tell you what your society will look like, what your home life will look like, what your wars will look like.

Personally, I believe that Godde is a beautiful menopausal Black lesbian. I used to believe that She was a beautiful 30-year-old Cherokee bravette. Before that I believed that He was a reeeeeeeeeeeally old, unmarried, confusing white guy who supported things like incest, castration and complicated restaurant menus. Who the futz knows. I certainly don’t. Maybe he’s a tiny little gay guy who sings show tunes and occasionally does drag.

And maybe we can’t bring peace to the world by abandoning the pulpit, but it just could be that if we were all a little less certain about that speed dial thing, heaven might look a little friendlier.

As one of my favorite prayers says, “God, please save me from your followers.”

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She also wrote a fantastic must-read novel, called
"A Third Story".
You can email her here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lesbian Patriot

By Lee Lynch

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I left the United States. It was only to travel to Montreal, and I was pretty excited that I’d be going through Customs and seeing an actual foreign country. From there who knew? Maybe some day I’d get to France and Ireland to see the lands of my ancestors.

Almost immediately, I hated being outside the U.S. The traffic went too fast. There were so many bridges I was always lost at the wrong end of one. Camping on St. Catherine Island was like being invited to a mosquito feast, and I was the main course. The city was just like a city in the States, only harder to navigate. I wanted to go home.

This was in the 1970s, when Nixon was president and we were still mired in Viet Nam. It made no sense that I should be so attached to my native land. American citizens had been fleeing from it to Canada for years. It was even rumored that gay people were treated better north of the border.

I spent a miserable few days in Montreal with my lover. She wanted to show me the places she had lived and worked when she and her girlfriend ran away from home at sixteen, but the city was too changed to find her past. I wanted to see McGill, where I had considered going to college; seeing it, I realized college had been lonely enough for the only lesbian on campus without living in a strange, cold city too.

Crossing back into Vermont, I felt as if I’d barely escaped with my life. This was nonsense, of course, but I was so glad to be home. Forget the ancestral lands. I’d visit Mechanicville, New York where Grandma and Grandpa Lynch had met, and Petaluma, California, where Great Grandpa Lynch bought a horse farm after the Gold Rush. The inn by the sea in County Wexford, Ireland, had probably fallen in by now anyway.

I relished the narrow country roads of Vermont after my great escape. What was wrong with being proud to be an American anyway? What was wrong with being an outright American chauvinist? Just because we were (and still are) the over-armed bullies of the world, despised for our riches and polluting with no regard for our own or other populations, didn’t mean I couldn’t get all choked up when I raised and lowered the flag as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp.

It was on this trip that I learned lesbianism and patriotism are not incompatible. At the time, much of gay liberation seemed to refer to principles of Socialism, if not Communism. The most politically active gays were likely to be peace-loving tree huggers. There were a lot of anti-American feelings in the lesbian-feminist community and who could blame us when multi-national corporations were buying our government and that government was more inclined to fund mass murder – of third world citizens and our own military personnel – than anti-poverty initiatives.

America was fixable, I thought, and worth fixing.

We camped in an elbow of the Vermont mountains. There were cabins, but we set up our old canvas tent in a meadow. These were to be some of the most peaceful days of my life. The paradox of loving my native country and hating its policies could not disturb my homecoming. I was moved to sing swift unmelodic passages of “This Land Is My Land” and “America the Beautiful” at odd moments. The shame of American actions in the world was still with me, the fact that the campground owners would have thrown us out had they known what went on inside our tent was no less real, but the pond outside our door flap was blue and untroubled and the temperature at night was chilly enough to discourage mosquitoes.

I wanted to stay forever there, at my Walden Pond, like so many of my generation who retreated to Vermont and its equivalents all over the country. That is my point, of course: all Americans had rural Missouri towns where we could disappear or we could make sanctuaries of brownstones in Brooklyn or Victorian painted ladies in San Francisco.

I’m not quite sure what a patriot is anymore, after the word has been used for centuries as a bludgeon by angry politicians and as a recruiting slogan for the military. So many Americans think gay people are somehow un-American and of course, we’re not exactly welcome in the armed forces, those bastions of patriotism. I do know that this lesbian is as American as they come and glad of it. I believe in what the Statue of Liberty stands for and that we can be a peaceful force for good in the world. I’m not willing to give the word patriot to the non-gay hawks. A patriot can also defend her country by protecting it from itself.

Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch