A lurid encounter with religious bigotry

An angry woman accused me of quoting an atheist president of the U.S. in a column Friday. No, it wasn't Trump. She was talking about Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson: Religion should be a private matter.

A woman getting out of her car in front of CVS Pharmacy in Floyd Friday afternoon descended on me as I was trying to get into my vehicle.

“You should be ashamed,” she said, leaving me wondering which of my many shames has caught her attention. Then she cleared it up.

“You cited America’s most atheistic president on your sorry website this morning,” she claimed. Was she talking about Trump? He was the only agnostic or atheist I remembered mentioning.

“I’m talking about Jefferson,” she said. “How dare you quote him as any authority on God, or Jesus, or the Bible.”

Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers, a former president and founder of the University of Virginia — my — alma mater, was many things. Atheism was not one of what some might consider his transgressions.

“I hope you burn in hell,” she said as she stomped off before I could answer. Whenever I am told to go to that place, I remember my grandfather’s toast of: “Here’s to hell. May the stay there be as much fun as the way there.”

Jefferson, I wrote Friday in a column about how it took many years to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance” and I used the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia to explain how he was a firm “theist” who believed in God but not traditional Christian divinity, and rejected the Trinity and any divinity of Jesus.

The Encyclopedia notes:

Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs have long been a subject of public discussion, and were a critical topic in several of his important political campaigns as he was viciously and unfairly attacked for alleged atheism.

Jefferson took the issue of religion very seriously. A man of the Enlightenment, he certainly applied to himself the advice which he gave to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Jefferson read broadly on the topic, including studying different religions, and while he often claimed that religion was a private matter “between Man & his God,” he frequently discussed religion.

His teachings helped mold my conceptions of a deity and religion. I believe an individual can have an acceptable faith founding on a belief in God without accepting the often contradictory facets of organized religion.

I don’t subscribed to the notion that any one religion is superior to another. After reading both the Bible and the Qur’an, I can see that the Muslim holy book preaches far more love than violence. The Bible, for examples, declares that those who work on the sabbath must be killed. Really?

Likewise, the sacred texts of Judaism or Buddhism offer good advice on faith.

America’s current “president,” by his own admission, had little to do with churches or religion before becoming the nation’s leader in 2016 and has usually spends his Sundays on one of his golf courses than in any church. He staged a widely ridiculed “photo op” at the church closest to the White House, but only after troops used weapons to clear out peaceful protestors and then had to bring a borrowed Bible to hold up clumsily.

His leading “evangelical” supporter, Jerry Falwell Jr., had to step down from his position as leader of Liberty University amid scandals that included posing and distributing a photo of he and younger woman with their pants unzipped and midriff exposed.

Then we learned that Falwell and his wife were part of a “threesome” with her younger boyfriend and Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen helped retrieve and destroy photos documenting he and his wife’s sexual antics.

Let’s see. What is that commandment that says “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain?”

Evangelicals continue to flock to Trump, even while he uses one of what they consider the most “vile” term that takes the Lord’s name in vain.

“I certainly do not condone taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is a whole commandment dedicated to prohibiting that,” the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch leader who is one of Trump’s most outspoken evangelical advisers and supporters, told The Washington Post. “I think it’s very offensive to use the Lord’s name in vain. I can take just about everything else, except that,” when it comes to off-color language.

It’s the word, “goddamn,” that Trump loves to use. He’s even uttered it at the National Prayer Breakfast. West Virginia state senator Paul Hardesty, says he has received calls from constituents after just one Trump rally, wrote a letter to the president to say “Never utter those words again.”

He didn’t listen.

At a rally in North Carolina, Trump bragged about how he plans to deal with the Islamic State: “They’ll be hit so goddamn hard.” Later in the same speech, he said he sold a businessman: “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so goddamn poor.”

That’s not all. A commandment faults those who “give false witness,” a Biblical way to describe lying. Yet evangelicals and other religious types support a president who has uttered more than 20,000 documented lies during his first term.

And there is the one about committing adultery: Trump not only admits screwing about on his wives, he brags about it.

So why do these self-professed men and women “of God” continue to crowd around someone like Trump? It’s their means to an end that includes ending legal abortion and outlawing same-sex marriages.

There’s another word for that: Hypocrisy.

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