Tuesday, June 14, 2016
"Bear one another's burdens"
"Confirmation bias" is the inclination we all have toward believing things that mesh with our preconceptions. I saw a textbook example of that in my reporting Sunday morning, in the wake of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando a few hours earlier.
Sifting through the Twitter cross-talk, I noticed some of the outrage directed against Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for tweeting a Biblical verse, Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."
While that seemed a particularly jaw-dropping example of Bible-based inhumanity, to blame the victims for calling their own deaths upon themselves by being gay, it was not out of keeping with my understanding of how religious zealots behave in general. As well as how elected officials behave in Texas in particular, the state that gave the world Ted Cruz.
Hiding behind the Bible, using it as a ventriloquist's dummy to express their seething hatreds, is sort of what some fundamentalists do. Didn't a Georgia state senator just use Psalms 108 to practically pray for Obama's death, asking that "his days be few," leaving out the part about his children being fatherless?
I mentioned the tweet in the draft of my Monday column that I turned into the paper.
My sharp-eyed editor, Bill Ruminski, however, flagged it, as he couldn't find the tweet. I went online and grabbed a story explaining that Patrick had deleted the tweet. But I noticed, at the bottom, that Patrick claimed the quote was scheduled days in advance and was more a case of what his spokesman called "unfortunate timing" than a joyous slide through the blood of the fallen.
That gave me pause. It was a plausible excuse. The power of coincidence is vastly underestimated, and given the unquestionable cruelties that can be laid at the feet of religious extremism, better to give them the benefit of the doubt, and not blame them when they happen to be innocent. The quote wasn't a hastily fired off tweet, but nicely laid out against the azure sky and wheat fields. The thought of Lt. Gov. Patrick getting the grim news, then hurrying to cite chapter and verse, well, it seemed excessive, even for the flinty spite of fundamentalists—Pat Roberston certainly gloried in the murders on the 700 Club, but then he always does that.
So I removed the quote, instead referring generically to the celebrations among neo-Nazi sorts which I am 100 percent certain were pin-balling around Twitter, if history is any judge.
Patrick posted a sincere explanation on his Facebook page, saying the Sunday quotes are set up on Thursdays. He went on at length, explaining that we all are sinners, straight and gay, making him one of the few Republican officials to mention that these victims were, largely, gay Americans, and quoting the entirety of the passage, which includes the phrase, "Bear one another's burdens."
See, that the thing about religion. There is good stuff in it, and some people focus on the good stuff, and do good things and that's, well, good. But there's also bad stuff, as Omar Mateen demonstrated in such horrific fashion, and those who embrace the awful, who use faith to try to justify their acts, neither justify those acts nor corrupt the faith, which is such a sprawling mess you can find rationalization for anything. Sure, you can pitch all religion out, and people do. But then they try to justify their misdeeds in other ways—for the good of the state!—and you're denied the poetry and the power that resides in all faiths.
Readers lined up to blame Islam and the Koran, for containing the same calls to violence that the Bible is stuffed with, and which Christians acted on with great gusto for a thousand years. But they got with modernism, mostly, Texas notwithstanding, at least the don't-kill-the-non-believers part. Muslims will get with the program too, and largely have. I truly believe that someday, ahead of automobiles or televisions or computers, the prying of religion's fingers off the public throat will be seen as the signal accomplishment of the modern age. But that day tarries, and much blood will be shed by the faithful before then.