I remember well when I got religion, but I still don’t get religion. A lot of people don’t, if you follow the newsmakers. Religion is being defined by narrow-minded narcissists who have forgotten, or maybe have always ignored, well-worn Scripture shorthand like “love thy neighbor” or “judge not” in preference of their personal dogma, or to their personal benefit.

Let’s start with Andy Stanley, pastor of an Atlanta megachurch and scion of one of the most notoriously dysfunctional Christian families in America.

Andy Stanley, whose church claims 30,000 members, said in a recent sermon that parents who prefer to attend smaller churches (smaller than 30,000 leaves a lot of wiggle room) are “stinking selfish” because there isn’t the proper indoctrination for their children.

A harsh enough judgment without the modifier “stinking.” The sermon went viral to much criticism.Andy thinks, I guess, that his huge church is a more welcoming environment than a church where most everybody knows your name.

On an even larger stage, Donald Trump boasts of his Christian faith. Of course, most presidential candidates do that. They didn’t used to, but it has become commonplace, unfortunately, in order to woo voters.

But in Trump’s case, his religion has been called into question; first by Pope Francis, now by Max Lucado, pastor of a megachurch in Texas. That’s probably the only thing those two men have in common theologically, other than Christmas and Easter; yet they are communally upset enough to denounce Donald Trump.

But if Donald Trump wants to proclaim his Christianity (while misquoting the New Testament), who am I to judge? As long as he doesn’t claim that Jesus also had a dyed-orange, comb over, I’m good.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the Georgia General Assembly and its passage of a “religious liberty” bill a couple of weeks ago?

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But before we get into it, I’d like for everyone to sit down with pen and notepad and list the religious liberties you have lost in your lifetime. Think hard. Do you still attend your preferred place of worship? Or, could you if you got your butt out of bed or away from the TV?

Do you still give thanks for your blessings, including the last meal set before you, and still pray for God’s tender mercies for your loved ones?

Do you still say Merry Christmas and Happy Easter without being indicted?

So … if you haven’t lost any religious liberties, why does Georgia need a religious liberty law?

Because it’s not about “religious liberty.” It’s about giving businesses and churches license to discriminate against people who are of a differ-ent sexual orientation than the majority of us. It’s the same as when we had laws sanctioning discrimination based on skin color.

We’ve got serious issues in Georgia – edu-cation, transportation, air and water – yet there were seven (seven!) “religious liberty” bills introduced in the General Assembly in this past session before lawmakers finally settled on HB 757, cleverly labeled the “Pastor Protection Act.”

HB 757 would’ve overridden local laws, and undermined federal laws, that protect gay Georgians; it would’ve used up public tax dollars; and it would’ve cost Georgia business investment. It would’ve allowed businesses to deny employment or benefits to gay workers, or landlords to deny housing, as long as they cite religious faith as the reason.

If signed into law, 757 would have been over-turned by the U.S. Supreme Court, if it got that far, simply because it’s unconstitutional, because it does not give all citizens equal protection. 
Already, Atlanta’s hopes of hosting a Super Bowl are dashed. I guess our enlightened ones under the Gold Dome didn’t see that coming from a mile away. The Walt Disney Co. and Marvel Studios said they would have taken their business elsewhere if the bill was signed into law. In short, the bill doesn’t add up.

So Gov. Nathan Deal has vetoed 757. That is not only morally right and economically wise; it is courageous, except for the fact that Deal is a lame-duck governor. His future doesn’t lie in the ballot box … unless he decides to run for Congress again, in which case he will need the support of religious bigots like those who pressured him to make 757 law.

Religious liberty, Andy Stanley, Donald Trump. It’s enough to make you want to become a Pastafarian. Except for this bit of news: An Atlanta Pastafarian has been told she must retake her driver’s license photo, next time without a colander on her head. Pastafarians believe that the universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

They actually are a tongue-in-cheek, loosely knit group that advocates for science and disdains the Bible and the institution of religion. They like to say that a colander is religious headgear. The driver’s license photo is an obvious attempt to strain the intent of the First Amendment while mocking religion.
But let’s suppose Pastafarianism gains traction. It’s only a matter of time before schism, and we’ll have differing denominations: Ziti, Linguine, Macaroni, Rotini and, for fundamentalists, Noodles.

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Georgia’s lawmakers also passed a “campus carry” bill to allow weapons on the state’s public schools, and at the last minute declined to make modifications suggested by Gov. Deal. Great. I have been at campus parties and Saturday after-noon football games where alcohol (and perhaps other substances) flowed freely, and adding guns to the mix is a bad idea, plain and simple.

It’s a far cry from the poet John Masefield’s tribute to universities many years ago. He wrote; “There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university. It is a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”In which case, you’re most likely a rock-headed bohunk.

Erin Andrews, the popular sportscaster who won a $55 million judgment against a peephole pervert and the Marriott hotel chain, isn’t actually going to see nearly that much money. The pervert, Michael Barrett, doesn’t have that kind of cash lying around. Otherwise, he’d be wooing and buying big-time strippers and hookers.

And Marriott will appeal on general grounds that it wasn’t their fault, that they’re just a convenient target. Erin didn’t suffer physical harm, just emotional distress, which matters less in our judicial system.

And then there are her attorneys’ fees. The lawyers are going to get a nice check at the end of the day, way more than Erin. And whatever she winds up with is taxable. Still, she should walk away with more than $5 million. Not exactly chump change, but not nearly what she could have done with 10 times more money.

J. Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.

*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.