Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Wrath of God as a Souvenir

I wonder about the need for God's righteous anger among some of those at the extreme edge of the religious right here in the United States. When I hear these people speak, they don't talk about the love and redeeming power of Jesus, at least not much. They talk about the anger and wrath of God, and revel in the concept of Hell, where all those who have the temerity to disagree with their beliefs will suffer eternal torment.

While some religious people take comfort in the Sermon on the Mount, others wallow gleefully in the destructive power of God such as when he tore Sodom a new one in Genesis or murdered the first born sons of Egypt in Exodus. This focus on Old Testament wrath and a God who acts like Charles Bronson in the movie Death Wish strikes me as being psychologically revealing.

I'm willing to bet that such beliefs are signs of deep, unresolved anger and other kinds of emotional disturbance. But I'm no psychologist, so I'll leave it to others to do the heavy lifting in terms of the science of their beliefs. This is just my hunch, an observation from contact with such people at the Cranston School Board meetings, large Tea Party rallies, marriage equality and reproductive rights testimony at the RI State house, and elsewhere.

People talk about the fear and hatred they sense from religious believers at these gatherings, but there is sometimes something deeper, something more sinister and dangerous. There is the expressed need for divine justice here on Earth. At its most extreme this need manifests itself in physical assault and murder, such as when Dr. Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion zealot, and other times it comes in the form of death and rape threats of the kind suffered by my niece Jessica Ahlquist when she was advocating for the removal of an illegal Christian prayer banner in her public high school.

About a year ago, at the 2012 House Judiciary Committee meeting held to discuss the marriage equality bill, Ron L'Heureux, of the Exodus 18 project, testified against the bill and brought along an interesting prop: a small piece of sulfur that he claimed was taken from the actual location of the City of Sodom. In Genesis 19:24 it states "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven…"

Brimstone is the biblical name for sulfur. L'Heureux believes his sulfur is 98% pure, tainted only with trace amounts of calcium, from the bones of those sinful humans God destroyed in his anger. L'Heureux went through great effort to obtain this artifact, though I've easily found such items being sold on eBay for under $100.

A bit of sulfur from Sodom is an especially symbolic prop to bring to a marriage equality hearing, because on the most simplistic reading of Genesis the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah seem to have something to do with homosexuality, hence the  antiquated term "sodomy" for various sexual acts. However, as the very next speaker pointed out, a deeper reading of the text indicates that Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped off the face of the Earth by a vengeful God for the way the city residents mistreated guests to their city.

Theology, as ever, is no real help in deciphering the Bible.

Either way, what Ron L'Heureux believed he had in his possession that evening at the RI State House was a physical piece of evidence of God's Wrath. Not content to merely believe in a vengeful, wrathful murderous God who metes out fiery justice with a terrifying decisiveness, L'Heureux has collected a grisly souvenir consisting of God's fury and the bones of those who deny Him.

To L'Heureux, this must seem a compelling demonstration of his argument, that in extending the law to recognize the basic human right of human beings to marry who they love we are provoking the wrath of an all powerful sky God. To those of us to don't feel the need to revel in genocidal destruction L'Heureux's clump of sulfur is no more a piece of God's wrath than the green rock in my garden is a lump of Kryptonite from Superman's home planet.

1 comment:

  1. I posit that it's a defect in the Limbic system. That's pretty much the emotional center of the human brain and is the one we share with, you guessed it, the reptiles.

    Of course nobody wants to hear about the science side of it. But I think you're right too, it's all based on fear of the other.