Smile Politely

The way things are goin’…

In March of 2008, I wrote an article called “C-U Ministers and Their Mansions” where I used the Champaign County Assessment Office’s online database of property records to look up the values of homes owned by pastors in Champaign-Urbana. Shortly after my article appeared, the Champaign County Assessment Office removed the ability to search for records by name from their website and they posted this note: “For privacy reasons the search by name feature has been removed from the property record lookup.” I don’t know for sure if this was directly related to my article, but my guess is that I embarrassed some poor (or rich, depending on how you look at it) pastor for showing everyone how expensive his house was and then phone calls were made, and meetings were had, and then they decided to remove the name search feature.

And in the two years that I have written Your Humble Heretic, there have been two other times (that I know of for sure) where the members of an organization have felt it necessary to discuss me and my writings in their official meetings.

In the first case, I heard about the meeting from one of the attendees after the fact.

In the second case, I was contacted by the leader of the meeting about three hours beforehand to inform me that my articles were going to be on the agenda because somebody was upset about something (or several things) that I wrote. He wanted to know what he should say. My response was, “Why are you even discussing it? This is a free country and I have the right to express my opinions and whomever is upset should follow the advice of Jesus in Matthew 18 by contacting me directly instead of talking about me behind my back.”

In neither case was I invited to the meeting so that I could actually hear what was being discussed about me and my articles; I really have no idea what was said or why. And while I will not attempt to embarrass anyone here by naming names of either people or organizations, I will simply state that both organizations are Christian and conservative in nature and that I may or may not be affiliated with them in some way.

The general tenor of these meetings, from what I could gather, was something like, “What are we going to do about this blaspheming heretic? He is saying things that we don’t like.”

Well, that sounds familiar, no? Not to compare myself with Jesus, but that’s kind of what the leaders of his day said about him. And things turned out pretty ugly for Jesus (a line from John Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko” keeps playing in my head: “The way things are goin’ they’re gonna crucify me”).

In the old days, they would have a good old-fashioned book burning when an author wrote something that the conservative masses didn’t like. But I think we’ve stumped them with Smile Politely. This is an online, virtual magazine so there’s nothing to burn! It must have them stumped — which must be why they have to have so many meetings.

But I make no apologies for anything I have written. My goal in Your Humble Heretic has been to draw attention to certain aspects of religion that have caused pain to people and problems in our society. Examples include: how teaching mythology as science is detrimental to education, how oppression of gays and lesbians is wrong and unjust, or how killing people — whether in the name of capital punishment or unprovoked war (or any kind of war for that matter) — is sickeningly evil.

I write these things as a Christian. Yes, I believe in God and I am a follower of Jesus. And I write what I write because I see things that are just plain wrong in religious circles and they need to be addressed. I jokingly call myself a heretic because I know that, at least here in the conservative midwest, my beliefs are in the minority.

But, just for a moment, I am going to drop the tongue-in-cheek label of heretic and reaffirm the fact that I am a Christian. And nobody — whether they are other Christians, clergy, or random people on the street — gets to define what being a Christian means for me.

So, I’m going to keep writing about religion and pointing out the things that I think are hypocritical. I don’t do it to be an ass; I do it because I care about God’s world and I want to see it become a better place. And if you don’t like what I write, well, that’s why we have those little comment boxes at the end of every article. Fill it up and tell me to piss off. Or grow some and speak to my face. Or just don’t read what I write.

But please, for God’s sake, stop having meetings about my column. Nothing sucks the life out of a topic more than a bunch of people sitting around having a meeting about it. I’d rather be burned at the stake.

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