A friend from my time in Alton, Illinois while working as a reporter, columnist and photographer for The Telegraph faulted me Saturday for a column written about the violent racists attracted to the controversial presidency of Donald Trump.
He accused me of “claiming moral superiority” and “unassailable religious pontification” when writing about Trump and many members of his “base.”
This is the first time anyone has ever suggested I could “moral superiority” in anything. Friends and others know I have the morals of a junkyard dog.
A recovering alcoholic — I am sober on this day for 24 years, four months and 22 days. Recovering means I am still a recovering drunk who loved drinking too much for 34 years before my wife and friends woke me up with an “intervention” that worked.
I spent my adult single days between first and second marriages as an unrepentant womanizer who did not care if the targets of sexual involvement were single, engaged or married. I lied when convenient, cheated when desired and hurt far too many good people.
Today, I recognize that I am an arrogant bastard while attempting to make amends to those I have wronged over too many years. Recovering alcoholics compile a list of those they wronged as drunks and my list is long and it remains a race between whether or not I complete that list before dying. I made amends just recently with someone I spent a long, drunken night of sexual activity nearly 50 years ago.
My old friend also said I used “unassailable religious pontification” in my writings against Trump.
No one, to the best of my knowledge, ever accused me of that before Saturday. Pastor Jeff Dalton — a former cop, motorcycle rider and friend — would be surprised that anyone of accused me of such behavior. We have tangled more than once over what he and others consider my lack of religious credentials in life.
Critics of my writing often call me “an atheist.” I’m not. I believe in God but have serious doubts about organized religion. I cannot, and will not, attend a church that condemns gays for their lifestyle. I accept the beliefs of Jewish friends who raise faithful doubts about Jesus. We have the Bible in our home but also the Koran and other books that offer different approaches of faith.
Religions are faiths that exist on how each of us accept certain beliefs and preachings. Even within the Christian faith, differences exist on what is or is not considered good religious faith or a “sin.”
Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, died at age 21 in 1989 after two violent young men beat and burned him in one of the nation’s worst anti-gay hate crimes. Fearing desecration of his grave in Wyoming, his parents cremated him and kept his ashes until they felt safe to inter him inside the crypt at Washington National Cathedral this weekend.
He joins the remains of President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller and Navy Adm. George Dewey and about 200 others at the vast cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church and a place for many national spiritual events.
Amy and I attended services at the National Cathedral during our time in Washington and prayed in the memory of others. The pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Floyd reached out and invited us to attend services after I made the painful decision to leave the church my grandparents helped found after its decision to split from their presbytery over gay marriage and other issues.
Being charged with “claiming moral superiority” or “unassailable religious pontification” shook me on Saturday. As a newspaperman, I try to judge people on their actions and their words, not morality or religious considerations.
I’m an immoral man, have been for most of my life. I cannot judge anyone by comparing my moral history to their actions. When dealing with elected officials, I recognize the constitution-mandated separation of government and religion even if too many officials try to use religious biases to guide their decisions.
Journalists look for documentation and facts and question claims as a matter of course. “If your mother says she loves you, confirm it with another source,” said Jim Echols, my first city editor at The Roanoke Times in 1965.
As I have said many times before, I follow the advice of legendary Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne, who wrote that “It is the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted…and afflict the comfortable.”