Gary Jerke submits to Gordon Howie's blog a vague homily to putting Bibles in public schools. The former Yankton-area legislator opens by saying "Last evening a group from our church appeared before our local school board concerned about their policy toward distribution of Bibles to the children...." Jerke does not directly tell us what the school board's policy is or what his group's concerns are. He also doesn't tell us what school board in South Dakota meets on Saturday night. (The post is dated January 25; "last evening" was January 24.)

But details and explanation be darned, we're off and running into the fundie shower-singing meant to get its practitioners into heaven faster:

Schools are to be a place of preparation and yet the most important aspect of preparation (meaning to make ready) we overlook. That is the preparation of spiritual things which the Bible first addresses in Joshua 22:26 in the building of an alter as a place to show witness to God. For me that underscores a part of my cultural history where in communities churches were built in the heart of our towns and pastors were regarded as the highest authority or often final word on many if not most matters [Gary Jerke, "Be Prepared," The Right Side, 2015.01.25].

Pastors as the highest authority in the community, giving the final word on most matters—translate that as theocracy.

But wait! What's this introduction of spiritual things into the public school curriculum? What does that "preparation" have to do with getting students ready to become welders? "Spiritual things" sounds an awful lot like "philosophy," and we all know philosophy won't help our students get good jobs! How dare Gary Jerke threaten to distract our schools from their primary mission of solving South Dakota's workforce shortage?

I am sure the Governor will join me in standing against this intrusion of impractical theology into our K-12 workforce preparation system.

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Equality South Dakota is hosting a Legislative Day in Pierre on January 29 to talk up the equality and civil rights for South Dakota's LGBT citizens. The Family Heritage Alliance will come to Capitol the following week on February 5 to knock those notions right back out of legislators' heads with good God-fearing goobledygook straight from an expert reality-TV star!

Family Heritage Alliance postcard, front, submitted by an anxious reader

Family Heritage Alliance postcard, front, submitted by an anxious reader

Family Heritage Alliance postcard, back, submitted by an anxious reader

Family Heritage Alliance postcard, back, submitted by an anxious reader

Yes, the Family Heritage Alliance, defending South Dakota against the Republic-damning and child-damaging godlessness of constitutional same-sex marriage ("every child deserves a mother and a father," a correspondent tells me was the big line at the FHA luncheon yesterday, showing that FHA believes non-matching gonads are more important than love), will rally the troops in Pierre (with free bus rides from Sioux Falls and Rapid City!) to hear from Josh Duggar, whose only claim to fame and authority is being a child from a large family chosen to be on television.

That, and affirming stodgy white folks' belief that homosexuals are out to get them. And exaggerating... which is all "reality" TV is.

The event could be fun: wear your rainbow lapel pins, go hear what our pious FHA friends have to say... and hold hands with a friend while listening.

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No matter how oppressed some of us may feel by the sometimes radical statements and legislation of South Dakota's Christian fundamentalists, let us remember that our Christian friends don't kill us.

Gunmen attacked the Paris headquarters of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo this morning, killing twelve people and wounding seven. Witnesses heard the gunmen shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad."

Charlie Hebdo has flipped the bird at Islam in the past and paid a heavy price in violence committed by Muslim extremists:

In November 2011, its offices were fire-bombed after it had published a special edition, supposedly guest-edited by the prophet Muhammad and temporarily renamed “Charia Hebdo”. The cover was a cartoon of Muhammad threatening the readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”.

The petrol bomb attack completely destroyed the Paris offices, the magazine’s website was hacked and staff were subjected to death threats. But six days later, it published a front page depicting a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist passionately kissing a bearded Muslim man in front of the charred aftermath of the bombing. The headline was: L’Amour plus fort que la haine (Love is stronger than hate) [Julian Borger, "Fight Intimidation with Controversy: Charlie Hebdo’s Response to Critics," UK Guardian, 2015.01.07].

charlie-hebdo-coverNo Christian offended by my blog commentary, criticism, and occasional satire has burned down my house or physically attacked me. When Kurt Evans* and Larry Kurtz badmouth the entire Catholic Church, good Catholics Troy Jones and Patrick Duffy don't get out the shotguns. The most vile Christian fundamentalists in America shout a lot, but they and their opponents trade slogans and signs, not bullets.

And as far as I know, no followers of Jesus are calling themselves the Christian State, waging terrorism, forcing conversions, and killing thousands of people to forge a Caliphate.

I am reminded of my friend Martin back in high school who wrote a letter to the editor when the local movie theater piously announced it would not be showing Martin Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ. Martin, a devout Christian, and a fresh high school graduate—the same age as many of the Muslim jihadis propagandized and recruited by ISIS—wrote that his faith would not crumble before a strip of celluloid.

Evidently these gunmen and far too many Muslims believe their god and their prophet will fall before a drawing, a piece of paper, or an unkind word. They apparently do not believe that love is stronger than hate. They feel they must defile the City of Love, the City of Light, the City of Enlightenment, with their murderous fear, all because some harmless French dudes said silly things and drew silly pictures of a guy who's been dead for 1400 years.

A faith so fearful, hateful, and thus weak does not earn my tolerance, let alone my respect.

*Update 19:53 CST: We should note that Kurt Evans badmouthed one Catholic, not the entire Catholic Church, and even apologized for it, saying "it's wrong to use pejorative labels that devalue and dehumanize other people." But our Catholic friends perceived him to be badmouthing Catholics in general... and they still haven't shot him.

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In the Department of Non-Responses, one Leonard Heckel of Ethan responds to my upbraiding of the Mitchell Daily Republic for publishing a letter to the editor last month from John Shaw that fabricates statistics and repeats proven lies. Mr. Heckel addresses none of my claims; he merely amplifies Shaw's Islamophobia and homophobia and reasserts with cowardly indirectness the pernicious lie about the President's religion:

In his letter to the editor Dec. 6, Cory Heidelberger blasts John Shaw as being hateful, bigoted, a liar and therefore not a Christian, but just some malcontent. He goes on to say that Obama is a Christian. Heidelberger was commenting on Shaw's letter (Nov. 29).

...True Christians confront evil and do not consciously lie and deceive. Obama, on the other hand, has been caught in many lies and deceptions, and in some instances has promoted evil. And in addition to all these things going on under his watch, he has been involved in a string of scandals. Shaw was only warning of coming judgement and why. So let us not kill the messenger [Leonard Heckel, letter to the editor, Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.12.19].

Heckel avoids saying, "Barack Obama is not a Christian." But none of his text refutes the fact that Barack Obama is a Christian. None of that text refutes the argument I make that if one rejects all available evidence to cling to the fantasy that Barack Obama practices some other religion, one must then logically reject the claims and evidence all other people, including Shaw, present to posit their Christianity. By Shaw's and Heckel's own logic, my claim that Shaw is not Christian is as valid as Shaw's and Heckel's claim that the President is not Christian.

If Heckel wants to assert some "True Christians never lie" Heaven-eligibility standard, then Heckel just forfeited his membership card. Heckel, like Shaw, repeats a lie to gin up fear of Muslims:

The Judicial Watch Corruption Chronicles blog confirmed that four ISIS members were captured on the Mexican border on Oct. 8. These are threats and concerns we can't ignore [Heckel, 2014.12.19].

Actually, we can ignore that threat. There have been no ISIS arrests at the Mexican border. Politifact declared this claim by California Congressman Duncan Hunter "incorrect and ridiculous" two months ago. But people like Heckel and Shaw find it easier to embrace fear and lies to support their narrow-minded worldview.

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Speaking of religious apocalypticists steering our politics, South Dakota's leading theocracy advocates (Perry Groten calls them a "social advocacy nonprofit"—come on, Perry!) are calling on Christians to keep keno, craps, and roulette from wrecking the Redeemer's return:

A social advocacy nonprofit will lobby against a measure in the upcoming legislative session to authorize three new voter-approved games in Deadwood and at tribal casinos.

Family Heritage Alliance Action executive director Dale Bartscher says the group's board unanimously agreed this month to oppose the legislation.

He says the organization will be urging lawmakers in January not to authorize the new games, which 57 percent of voters supported as part of Amendment Q on Nov. 4 [Perry, Groten, "Non-Profit to Lobby Against New Deadwood Gaming," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.13].

Good grief! What part of "The voters have spoken" do you Republicans not understand? We pass an initiative to raise the minimum wage, and you Republicans rumble about overturning it in the Legislature. We approve diversifying the games with which people can entertain themselves in Deadwood, and you Republicans (show of hands: how many Democrats belong to the political arm of Family Heritage Alliance? how many FHAA folks were lobbying their churchmates to vote for Democrats?) decide you'll sabotage the necessary enacting legislation.

I do appreciate FHAA's willingness to buck the free-market fundamentalism which they erroneously conflate with Christianity and get back to basics on this issue. Here's their pre-election statement against the constitutional amendment that was on the 2014 ballot:

Whereas in most cases, free market should be the primary regulator of business, in the case of an industry that generates so much addiction, societal ills, and even suicide, this should not be the case regarding the gambling industry. For instance, The National Council on Problem Gaming (NCPG) estimates that among South Dakotans, there are 18,000 adult gambling addictions which inflicts on the citizens of the state a whopping annual cost of almost $16 million. The NCPG also estimates that one in five problem gamblers will attempt suicide, putting this statistic at about twice the suicide rate of other addictions [Family Heritage Alliance Action, statement on Amendment Q, 2014.08.26].

I voted against craps, keno, and roulette myself. But the voters have spoken, and 56.69% of them said let Deadwood's casino industry do its thing. If the Legislature won't respect the voters' decision, it will respect the Deadwood casino lobby.

On the upside, we will get to witness the amusing spectacle of the Family Heritage Alliance casting its gentle Jesus against the state's true god, Mammon.

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I've wondered why believers in the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, and the Second Coming would get so wrapped up in right-wing politics. If the Apocalypse is coming within our lifetime (41% of Americans and 58% of white evangelical Christians believe Jesus is coming back by 2050), isn't it pointless to try to stop all the devilry that must take place to bring him back? Why fight all of the Anti-Christ's groundwork for centralized authority and global dominion—Medicaid expansion, regulations on coal and fishing tackle, Keystone XL (oh ho! you fundies have missed that one, haven't you?)—if the End Times must happen to fulfill cosmic destiny? (And the age-old question: why again must an omnipotent, loving God let all this unpleasant drama play out?)

History professor Matthew Avery Sutton offers an explanation for faithful political activity in the run-up to Armageddon. Believers in the Rapture, Tribulation, and Armageddon don't withdraw; they invest their talents:

Traditionally, people have believed that this expectation that Jesus is coming back would lead to indifference, that people would focus on the next world, they would invest very little in this world. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite....

It’s clear from D.L. Moody to Billy Sunday to Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, that to believe that Jesus is coming at any moment does not make you less active or less involved in your culture. They say over and over and over again that this is not the case. We just haven’t heard them. Every generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists says it. Their apocalyptic theology makes them more active not less.

There is a biblical argument for this that they use. It’s the parable of the talents. In this story a ruler invests in his servants, giving each of them a number of talents, or money. He then goes away to another kingdom. When he comes back he wants to know what they’ve done with their talents. Some had buried their talents, afraid of losing it. Some had lost the money, wasting their talents. But some had invested wisely and made more money. So the returning ruler rewarded those who had invested wisely and maximized their talents and used them for greater good. For fundamentalists and evangelicals, the point here is that God has given them talents. He’s gone away, he’s coming back, he’s coming back soon, and he’s going to ask what you’ve done with your talents. Jesus ended the parable by instructing the disciples to “occupy” until I come. And that’s what fundamentalists and evangelicals have done.

That means that, far more than many other Christians, they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible [Matthew Avery Sutton, interviewed by Daniel Silliman, "It’s The Apocalypse, Stupid: Understanding Christian Opposition to Obamacare, Civil Rights, New Deal and More," Religion Dispatches, 2014.12.02].

Invest your efforts in earthly action that the Antichrist will overwhelm and that the Lord will have to set right anyway—my head spins at the thought that that's the real motivation behind the voting habits of a possible majority of South Dakota voters.. and at the thought of trying to find a way to reason people away from the destructive policies to which that thinking leads.

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Last Saturday was the 13th anniversary of my wife and I's engagement. We got married five months later, but from the moment I took the knee, we viewed our engagement as the point of no return. And we haven't returned. We married later, wiser, and forged a pretty stable relationship...

...just like lots of other people our age and younger who are getting married and staying that way. The New York Times reports that midst all the Sodom and Gomorrah, divorce rates have been declining since the early 1980s. Lots of stable marriages like ours throw spokes in the wheel of fundie arguments that delayed marriage is a problem, that folks waiting until their late twenties or early thirties are most likely to divorce, and even that religious commitment wards off divorce.

Conservative Christian culture correlates with a higher rate of failed marriages. But I'm not circulating petitions to ban marriages between eighteen-year-old fundamentalists in order to protect the institution of marriage. My marriage hasn't been shaken one micron by all those fundies breaking up any more than it has by all those homosexuals getting hitched. Experience tells me the key to driving that divorce rate further down is minding your own marriage.

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Let's be clear from the start, I'm just making a sandwich, not exercising reproductive choice.

I contributed to the oppression of the proletariat yesterday by shopping for groceries at Walmart. I picked up some salami, another moral offense.

In the checkout line, my cashier, a black woman in hijab, scanned the salami where it lay on the conveyor. She then said something to me that did not register. I thought maybe she was puzzled as to how to proceed with my reusable shopping bag (that's me, trying to win back anti-consumerist karma) and was asking if she could place my remaining ten items in twelve plastic bags. I gestured toward my French loaf and my fabric bag. She returned my befuddled look and clarified:

"My religion does not allow me to touch pork. Will you put the pork in your bag?"

Islam! Pork! Of course! I once invited a Muslim to let me make him lunch, but all I had in the fridge was a frozen pepperoni pizza. He declined and went home hungry.

I was in buy mode, not blog mode, so I cheerfully grabbed the salami and put it in my grocery bag. My cashier scanned and bagged the rest of my items... which, interestingly, included a frozen pepperoni pizza that didn't set off her haraam alarm.

When I got home, I got to thinking. The Muslim pork taboo isn't just about touching swine flesh. My salami was packaged in plastic and cardboard. The taboo can logically extend to refusing to be complicit in the sin of others who would eat such foul meat. My cashier didn't refuse to complete the transaction, as some Muslim cashiers have done with customers elsewhere buying pork or alcohol. But my cashier did decline to provide me with a basic service that her customers and her boss expect her to provide.

Remember, it's just salami. One package of salami.

But how many cashiers are Muslim? (At my nearest Walmart, many.) How many customers have pork products in their baskets? Multiply those numbers by stores, and you start exerting a noticeable downward pressure on customer experience and check-lane efficiency. And suppose on a certain slow shift, every member of the minimal checking crew is Muslim. At that hour, does Walmart have to hang a sign directing all ham buyers to the self-service checkout? Or for the sake of its business model, does Walmart have to ensure that every cashier on every shift can handle every transaction that a customer may bring to the till?

Whether we're talking salami or birth control, I could see any retailer saying that if you have moral principles against certain products, you shouldn't work in stores that sell those products.

But can we say that? Can we tell Muslims (and Jews, and fundamentalist Christians who take Leviticus 11:7–8 at face value) that they don't get to work as grocery cashiers? Or do faithful cashiers get a conscience clause that means I take my meat to the self-service counter?

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