Saturday, July 27, 2013

Toto, I don't think we're in Tennessee any more

I was born and raised in Tennessee in a Catholic family. We were very much a minority. I sometimes joke that native-born Southern Roman Catholics are America's smallest minority.

That's an exaggeration but not by much. Outside the seaports and Louisiana, most Catholics in the South had moved there recently, when I was a boy. The Protestants were ignorant beyond belief. I knew people, and not just one or two, who thought that there was a tunnel from the Vatican to Washington and if Jack Kennedy ever became president, the pope would come over and tell him what to do.

I cannot count the times that people, usually strangers, told me I was condemned to hell's fires forever because I had not accepted their savage god as my personal saviour. And so on.

I despise Christians of that sort, although possibly not as much as they despise me.

When I was small, I thought that were the only kind of Protestant there was. I now realize I was wrong. There were decent Christians, but with very few exceptions (none in my personal experience), they were too cowardly to speak out against the haters.

(For what it's worth, I first encountered decent Christians in black churches during my time as a civil rights demonstrater. They were not cowards.)

So I was quite bucked up today to read the comments in the Oak Ridge newspaper, and even more so, the comments in the Knoxville paper (but not quite so happy with the statements of the Christians to a followup story, once they had caught their breaths) about a coup by Anderson County Baptists to turn the county courthouse into a temple of intolerance.

I suspect the reason for the newfound backbone is economic. In the Old South, in most communities, you had to tug your forelock and do what the local bigwigs wanted if you wanted to make a living, and the local bigwigs were almost always bigots. They still are, in many ways, but the evolution of the Southern economy to more modern, non-agrarian lines means that the bigots don't have the economic power they used to.

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