Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Reverend White, and Faith, his daughter
Josh, operator of a make-shift homeless shelter
Maggie, resident at the shelter
Solomon, a preacher
Setting, a church in a small American town, modern day.
[Lights up on the Reverend at a lectern, in the middle of his sermon, speaking to the audience]
REVEREND. Alright, we’re most of the way through our service, remember that next week’s sermon is going to address homosexuality. I’m finished with my actual sermon, but we’re going to do something a little different today. At the suggestion of the bishop, I’m going to open up the floor so we can have a bit of dialogue here. The bishop has the notion that we need a little more give-and-take in our ministry here. So….our sermon today was on abortion, but I’ll take questions on any subject, don’t want to be rigid.
REVEREND. Yes, go ahead, get us started. Let’s have some fun. What’s your name, sweetie?
MAGGIE. I’m Maggie, I live down at that new shelter. And this is Josh, he runs the place.
REVEREND. You’re the one who runs that shelter?
JOSH. Yes. We came here together.
REVEREND. And you had a question, a comment?
MAGGIE. Well, we’ve only been in town for a few weeks, and we’ve been hearing a lot from the folks at the shelter about your work here. We heard you took over the school board, getting rid of evolution and sex ed, taking Martin Luther King out of the schoolbooks, stopping the HPV shots, pumping up that charter school that can’t even teach proper English…forcing teachers to expose gay students.
JOSH. And then we saw what you did to the women’s clinic. You posted the doctor’s address online, and his daughter’s school, so they had to run away, leave town. They had to fly in doctors in choppers, one of them got shot at, it was like the fall of Saigon. Now you’re at the state house, trying to make it justifiable homicide to kill the clinic doctors, put a girl in jail if she can’t prove her miscarriage wasn’t an abortion. You got an army of screaming maniacs surrounding the clinic, women are running out of state to get treatment.
REVEREND. Now wait a minute --
MAGGIE. So we started coming to your church. Sitting in the back, real polite. You’ve been preaching destruction for the people who disagree with you, attacking the other churches when they don’t join your holy wars, burning CDs, burning books…
JOSH. You’ve gone beyond trying to pray away the gay, and now you’re talking about kidnapping the children of gay couples, to save their souls…?
MAGGIE. And last week you came after us, the shelter. You told everybody to steer clear of us, and you’re boycotting all the charities that are helping us. I kinda thought Jesus was all about helping the sick and the poor.
REVEREND. I’m doing the same work I’ve always been doing, providing moral guidance to this community. Religion is where people get their morality, always have.
MAGGIE. So why is all the immorality rampant in all those red states with all the churches? They have the most dangerous cities, the worst rates for burglary, theft, murder.
REVEREND. But all morality comes from religion. If we don’t have the Bible, where do we get morality from?
JOSH. The Bible? Morality? Hmm, let’s see. Book of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Jehovah promises to force the Israelites into cannibalism. Parents eating their children. Kings, pregnant women are sliced open. Samuel, God creates a three-year famine because the wrong people were massacred.
MAGGIE. Slavery, slavery, slavery.
JOSH. Kings, children are torn apart by bears and their heads are thrown in baskets. Zechariah, kill your child if he even mentions another religion. Abraham, kill your child. Jephthah, kill your child.
MAGGIE. Garden of Gethsemane, kill your child.
JOSH. Forgot that one.
MAGGIE. Genocide, treachery, assassination, infanticide, the death penalty for offenses that are minor or just plain silly…
REVEREND. Come on, the Bible is not all killing.
JOSH. You’re absolutely right. Sorry -- morality, right? We have the bedroom escapades of Solomon, Esther and Ruth, the pornography in Song of Songs.... Abraham gave the Pharaoh his wife to sleep with, to save his own life. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by strangers, so they wouldn’t bother him –
Maggie. Then his daughters got him drunk, slept with him, and got pregnant.
JOSH. Judges, a priest gave his concubine to a gang which raped her until she died; he then cut up her body.
MAGGIE. Ethnic cleansing, senseless cruelty, rape, intolerance, racism, masturbation, incest....
REVEREND. But only a priest can establish rules for love and marriage! Only the church can stop unnatural sex!
JOSH. And what is the most unnatural form of sex? Celibacy! Priests! Their life with their altar boys and their housekeepers and their wine and candles and incense – that’s not unnatural? The one man in town who knows nothing about love, marriage, divorce, contraception, a woman’s right to choose, and they insist on lecturing the rest of us on all of it.
MAGGIE. Like having a blind man drive you to the airport.
JOSH. And then sitting in the confessional all day, listening to women and girls talking about their sexual urges.
MAGGIE. We do wonder why people take celibate priests seriously when they give us their expertise on marriage, and take pedophile priests seriously when they lecture us on morality.
REVEREND. That’s the Catholics, don’t blame me.
JOSH. There is the whole wave of financial crimes by churches and preachers, the sexual escapades, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker...Unsurprising when you put the sexually repressed in control of the totally vulnerable….
REVEREND. Only the clergy can lead us through these problems.
JOSH. Jesus didn’t want priests at all, he hated priests. When the disciples asked him about picking new rabbis like the Jews had, Jesus said no. He said they had one God and one Messiah, and the rest of the believers were all brothers, all equal. Go read Matthew.
REVEREND. Who will teach us morality if the churches don’t?
MAGGIE. Ah. Right. God’s spokesmen are supposed to be the world’s moral authority. So...the Holocaust. Biggest moral issue of the last century. The world waited for the Pope to denounce the Holocaust. Nada....he did nothing.
JOSH. Plenty of primitive tribes out there found their way to a moral life just fine, with no God at all. Morality is self-evident – it can’t be a mystery handed down to us by a God no one can see.
MAGGIE. Back before I got off track, I worked with Child Protective Services, and we had to remove children from a cult one year, it was child abuse. What if we held your church to the same yardstick? You get ‘em young, target kids deliberately like the Nazis and Phillip Morris, selling this product to vulnerable minds, like crack dealers. Then you scare the hell out of them. You people pick up that book of yours, and read horror stories to children -- the Israelites committing genocide in the book of Joshua, Jehovah constantly killing or threatening to kill individual people or even all mankind -- and then terrorize children with fairy tales about spending eternity in hellfire. And how can any parent tell their child that God killed his own son for no apparent reason? There is good stuff in the Bible, but somehow that part never gets into your sermons.
REVEREND. Children learn when they fear punishment.
JOSH. You make them fear and hate new ideas, so they never question anything, never think, never decide for themselves. You fill their heads with lies, superstition and stupidity.
MAGGIE. You tell them that science is just plain wrong.
JOSH. You want science out of the schools -- and prayer into the schools. You teach them ignorance.
MAGGIE. Children have a right to be protected from such abuse, don’t you think? If kids were taught to think and question, instead of hating – if they did that overseas, there would be no suicide bombers.
REVEREND. Well, do you have a better way to keep them out of trouble when they grow up?
JOSH. Well, look at how you do it. You insist that one of the most dangerous things for children -- sex -- is the one thing they should never have explained to them, so they can be safe. Protecting children from the dangers of the world is admirable, but protecting them from knowledge of the dangers of the world is child abuse. Stay married, even if your husband beats you, have lots of kids --
MAGGIE. Saint Paul’s epistle to the Fallopians!
JOSH. If a cult brainwashed and abused children the way you have, the police would be at the door lickety-split. Wouldn’t they?
REVEREND. Your view of the faith is completely distorted. The Bible isn’t dangerous. It’s all about love. About God’s love for us.
MAGGIE. God loves us? Well, here’s your Bible. Jehovah loves Adam so much that he gives Adam a thirst for knowledge and then punishes Adam for reaching out for it – punishes all his descendants too.
JOSH. Jehovah punishes all the men of Babel for reaching out for truth. And ruins Job’s life on a bar bet with Satan, just for the fun of it.
MAGGIE. Jehovah demands that Abraham kill his son, and Jephtha kills his daughter to prove his love for God.
JOSH. Jehovah demands that Moses dedicate his life to the impossible task of freeing the Jews and building Israel, and then doesn’t even let Moses go there.
MAGGIE. Jehovah kills the whole city of Sodom, kills all the newborn boys in Egypt.
JOSH. Jehovah sends Joshua to the Holy Land to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing – but don’t kill the virgins, give them to the soldiers!
MAGGIE. Jehovah ordered Saul to slaughter the Amalekites, every man, woman and child. Saul let one victim live, and Jehovah destroyed him for it.
JOSH. What’s the first book of the Bible?
JOSH. And the last book?
JOSH. And the first book of the Bible and the last book tell the same story, Jehovah killing almost all of mankind because people didn’t love him enough.
MAGGIE. So, Jehovah ends the story the way he started it, with the overwhelming mass murder of most of mankind.
JOSH. Jehovah doesn’t love you, he loves killing. If you insist on reading the Bible literally, word for word, that’s the God you get. A murderer.
MAGGIE. It got to be a joke – when Jonah was in Nineveh and Jehovah decided not to kill everybody in the city, Jonah got mad at him – “hey, you’re Jehovah, mass murder is what you do!”
REVEREND. Why is this going on in my church?
JOSH. The really sad part was the book of Joshua. The Israelites committing genocide in the holy land? But afterward they proved that it didn’t happen the way the book says. The guy who wrote that book, whoever it was – they didn’t kill thousands of people, but they wanted everybody to think they did.
MAGGIE. A couple of weeks ago, you were leading your folks through the Psalms, Psalm 137, by the rivers of Babylon. Ever read that Psalm all the way through? “Happy shall he be, that takes and dashes your infants against the rocks.” At least that one is about killing their enemies’ children, not their own.
REVEREND. But how can you deny that God loves us?
JOSH. So why does he come up with so many ways to kill us? One more cruel than the other? For centuries he sent us plagues, cholera, typhus, TB, yellow fever, smallpox, influenza, and just sat back and watched us die.
MAGGIE. He hit us with mosquitos and rats and locusts.
JOSH. He liked killing us with cancer so much, that he invented a dozen different kinds.
MAGGIE. When he didn’t feel like killing us dead, he’d hit us with Lou Gehrig, MS, birth defects, polio.
JOSH. He kills millions of young children each year, children too young to know what sin was. When he was really in a bad mood we got hit with Ebola and HIV.
MAGGIE. The Irish prayed hardest of all and they got the potato famine; the Mexicans prayed day and night and got the swine flu.
JOSH. When disease didn’t kill fast enough he’d hit us with floods, droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes. And the occasional volcano.
MAGGIE. And sometimes he’d send in his God Team, priests terrorizing all of Europe with inquisitions and executions and excommunication, twenty thousand innocent women killed for witchcraft, horror stories about children going to limbo.
JOSH. Even his own son. Why did Jesus have to die by execution? If he had to die for our sins, couldn’t it just be by old age? And is there intelligent life on other planets? Did Jesus have to go from one planet to another, dying over and over and over?
REVEREND. We are the people chosen by God. God made a covenant with us.
MAGGIE. Yes, according to the Bible. A lot of promises. And what happened? God chose the Israelites, and then allowed his people to be thrown out of the “promised land” by unbelievers, driven into exile and slavery by unbelievers, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, overrun by Romans, chased all over Europe for two thousand years.
JOSH. And then that whole Holocaust thing.
MAGGIE. The Jews who obeyed the Torah got hosed. Pagan idolators who did everything imaginable to break God's laws, like the Romans, the Huns, the Goths, and then the lords of the Middle Ages -- they got to conquer the world. A little practical joke on the "chosen people"?
REVEREND. But I’m a Christian…
JOSH. Okay, fair enough. The Roman Emperors promise to follow your God, and God allowed the Empire to be crushed by unbelievers. The Crusaders followed God, and God let the Muslims slaughter them, even the army of children.
MAGGIE. You believers still believed, when God killed fifty million of you in the plague, and when you had a pope in Rome and another in France, each claiming the other was an imposter.
JOSH. And again when the Catholics and the Protestants went at it – they couldn’t both be right!
MAGGIE. You kept believing when Galileo and Darwin proved the Bible was wrong, and when one preacher after another was caught raping children, sleeping with their so-called housekeepers, stealing money.
JOSH. Same with the men who claim they are godly. Oral Roberts lied to you for years, and then warned that God would kill him if you didn’t give him eight million bucks – and you gave it to him. Your church leaders said if you gave money to the right politicians they would ban abortion, they never did. They’re making you the same promises on gay marriage.
MAGGIE. So how many times does Lucy pull away the football and watch Charlie Brown fall on his ass, before Charlie Brown gets the message? I mean, there’s some plain gullibility here. [Josh and Maggie turn to the audience] Hello, you don’t know me, but from the minute you were born, you were condemned to spend all eternity in flames, you and all of mankind, because that girl ate an apple. You are responsible for the sin of Adam and for the crucifixion even though they happened long before you were born. Everyone is guilty no matter what, so we own you no matter what. But listen to everything we say with any questions, and give us money every week, and you’ll go to a really nice place after you die.
JOSH. So why should I believe you?
MAGGIE. You want proof? See, there ya go with the questions! It’s a mystery. Sorry, ya gotta buy the whole package: God, the devil, heaven, hell, creation, miracles....Here’s another: this bread and wine will change to human flesh and blood by magic, and then you’re going to eat it.
JOSH. Here’s another: this is a bone belonging to one of our greatest members – pray to the bone and your prayer will come true....
MAGGIE. Hey, we’re flexible people! It only took us a couple of centuries to admit that man is an animal and the earth is a satellite!
JOSH. God is my special, magical, invisible friend. He can do anything, but you can't see it. Of all the trillions of creatures in the world, he knows he, he loves me, and that makes me better than you. When I do something bad, he washes it away. And he will make me live forever, even after I die, although you won't see that either. He's magic!
MAGGIE. If I had a child who came to me with a story like that, I'd make her scrub toilets until she came to her senses…. You know what your church sounds like, with the gift shop, the velvet paintings, Disco Jesus and the Elvis Jesus, the football screen behind the pulpit, the big sound system, Vegas night, that fat woman who flops on the floor and speaks in tongues every Saturday night, begging people for money so God doesn’t call you home? It’s sounds a little but like a carnival con. You make the other preachers look bad.
REVEREND. But look at the beautiful perfection of the universe…? The world God built for us.
JOSH. Look in the sky! Just look up! The universe is a disordered mess. Our solar system has nine planets, and eight are dead. All the moons are dead. Most of the earth’s surface, we couldn’t survive there either.
MAGGIE. And the sun is going to explode and kill everybody. That’s kinda inconvenient.
JOSH. Ninety-eight percent of “God’s” species have died out. You know what this solar system looks like? A mistake.
REVEREND. Surely you can’t deny the miracle of the human body.
MAGGIE. Uh huh. Right after a baby is born, God insists we cut off the foreskin – did he make a mistake? Did he really think things through when he added appendices, tonsils, male nipples, body odor, bad breath, baldness, wrinkles, blindness, deafness, hemorrhoids, warts, a dozen baby illnesses like colic...?
REVEREND. Can you deny the miracle of reproduction?
JOSH. I know women were supposed to be God’s afterthought, but seriously – he had to give them menstruation, PMS, menopause…
MAGGIE. And put the clitoris in completely the wrong place? A little joke on the girls? Oh, yeah, and childbirth – if NASA or Boeing came up with a design like that, they’d get fired.
JOSH. The priests of Israel took advantage of human ignorance to try to use their Bible to explain the world – the origin of the universe, the birth and spread of the Jewish people, rules for food, rules for health, rules for sex…But every time science catches up to religion, religion loses. Geologists know there’s no hell down there, and astronauts know there’s no heaven up there: nothing but space dust, broken satellites, and Buzz Aldrin’s golf balls.
MAGGIE. Doctors proved that what you call the soul is really just a process that happens in the brain – it changes when we use drugs and it stops when we die. So there’s no soul – that’s an even bigger challenge to the Bible than evolution. If the God Team got all that wrong, why should we believe the other obvious nonsense like the resurrection?
JOSH. The Biblical concept of God is like an appendix: in an earlier age it might have had a purpose, but now it’s merely a dangerous Iron Age artifact, like cannibalism, slavery, human sacrifice, torture and war. All of which had God’s approval at one time or another.
REVEREND. Anything that man and science cannot explain -- or explain yet – we must leave to God.
MAGGIE. You’re just using "God" as a big box in which we can dump everything that we don't understand. That's like defining God as a big filing cabinet which we use to organize our own ignorance.
JOSH. The Greeks and Romans loved science and engineering; then the Christian church came in and blocked it because they were terrified that scientists could prove them wrong. Imagine the state of science today if the church had encouraged science for a thousand years instead of blocking it. Or imagine if the Muslims had been in charge in Europe – they protected science, they actually found the old Greek scientific works and gave them back to Europe. There is a reason why they called it the Renaissance, rebirth – under the church, western civilization was pretty much dead, a barbarian chaos ruled by armed robbers – backed by the church.
REVEREND. But if the Muslims had been in charge, art would have stopped dead. They don’t allow pictures of people. So no da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt.
MAGGIE. Okay, God is all about love and such. Let me describe somebody for you. He’s coming to this town, how will you and the sheriff handle it? This guy I’m talking about, a lot of the locals think he’s an unsavory character, even in his hometown. He was probably born a bastard, whose father almost chose to reject him and abandon him; his family feared the law and fled the country at one point. He’s been accused of undermining the law, he followed a cult leader who was later arrested, and his friends have been arrested over and over – one of them was probably a political extremist. He associates most of the time with the poor, and he’s usually homeless. He probably smelled, bad. Throughout his life there is no sign he had any interest in women; his only known public display of affection is when a man kissed him late in his life.
REVEREND. Sounds like trouble.
MAGGIE. He loves the poor. He spends a lot of his time helping the sick and the insane, worrying about children and those who had lost loved ones, and feeding the hungry. He does it all for free: he said he doesn’t want credit or money for helping others and he told his friends to help others the same way too. He despises the rich, and once he launched an armed attack on bankers, and he dislikes people who ordered the labor of others while making no exertion themselves. He thinks it’s a great deal to sell off your possessions rather than piling up a lot of personal stuff, donating to the poor, spending liberally rather than seeking austerity, and paying taxes. He talks all the time about reconciliation, forgiveness, even for enemies and people who are cruel. He stands up for people who were being mistreated. He opposes people who are vengeful or judgmental. He loathes organized religion, and he warns about dishonest preachers and predicts the collapse of the big local church. Religious conservatives plotted to kill him and they hired someone to betray him for money.
REVEREND. Sounds pretty simple. The man is trouble. The locals would probably run him off before the sheriff even got a chance to get him for vagrancy.
MAGGIE. Yes, I know. The guy I just described was Joshua of Nazareth. But his criminal alias was Jesus Christ. If he came to this town, you would probably kill him, like you did the first time. And it’s not just Jesus and the New Testament – even in Proverbs – happy is the man who feeds the poor. Would you run King Solomon out of town too?
REVEREND. Alright, I’ve had enough of this. Folks, next week, we are going to be joined by my daughter Faith, just coming back from seminary school, she’s going to be a preacher in her own right. And she’ll tell these young folks a thing or two about the Bible too. So, uh, the service is ended, go in peace. [rushes off]
JOSH. You feel better now?
MAGGIE. I can’t believe they didn’t throw us out on our ear. I was shaking, you were like a rock…You’re unbelieveable. You kept everybody calm during that storm last night, you were up all night. You helped the doctor cut the dead skin out of my leg. Chased that infection right out of me. Haven’t had one of those seizures all day. You weren’t even afraid to touch me.
JOSH. Part of the job. It’s even busier over at the shelter now, what with the food running short and the sickness running long, I’ve got quite a crowd there. Any way you could get the word out, to give us what food they can spare? Don’t go to the rich part of town, you’ll just cause trouble for everybody.
MAGGIE. Hard times coming. It’s going to be tough, getting help in this town. Especially now that we told off the preacher.
JOSH. Don’t tell the whole world everything I’m doing at the shelter, I don’t want any trouble. My mother would worry.
MAGGIE. So where do your folks come from, your family?
JOSH. Back home they don’t think I’m much of anything, although my family goes back a long way….That’s ancient history. You folks are my family now, pretty much. You’ve been like my right arm, watching the place when I’m not there, you stuck with me when everyone else ran off, the other folks at the shelter are jealous, it’s like they want to pretend you don’t exist.
MAGGIE. A bunch of those guys let you down.
JOSH. They’re human. And this is tough. You know how hard it is, doing this? Knowing where all this is going? Don’t be planning on me being here next year. If I’m lucky, they’ll just drive me out. Or they’ll do something more drastic like they did that first guy that came here. [pulls out sandwich] Here. Eat. One more time before all the crazy stuff happens.
MAGGIE. So that’s why you kept me up talking all night. You’re really saying goodbye, aren’t you?
JOSH. Love you babe.
MAGGIE. Love me….but…what? [sighs, touches his face] You’re warm. You’re sure you didn’t catch this thing? [takes a cloth, wipes his face]
JOSH. Here, let me, you’re the sick one. Sick and hurt both. [takes the cloth and wipes the dirt off her feet].
MAGGIE. Man, I forgot some of that stuff in the Bible. Pretty wild stuff.
JOSH. Well, let’s be fair, it’s not just the Bible. Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a convicted con man in New York, who wanted to con his neighbor, a farmer, into mortgaging his farm and giving him all the money. The con man claimed that when he was seventeen, an angel told him how to find a sacred book engraved on metal plates. The con man said ancient Egyptians had buried the plates in upstate New York.
MAGGIE. Um, how did ancient Egyptians get to New York?
JOSH. It’s a mystery! The con man claimed the plates were written in “reformed Egyptian” –
MAGGIE. Reformed –
JOSH. Never mind, it’s a language that doesn’t even exist. And the kid could barely read, even in English.
MAGGIE. And how did a criminal teenager in New York, who had never been to Egypt, know any kind of Egyptian?
JOSH. Um, yeah….The con man refused to let anyone see the plates – he warned they would be struck dead if they looked at it. The con man said the plates were magically whisked away just as they had arrived. The con man said the angel who took them away was named Moroni.
MAGGIE. You’re joking.
JOSH. The farmer with the mortgage believed it all, and mortgaged his house to finance the book. The wife of the farmer with the mortgage was very suspicious. The wife stole part of the “magic” manuscript, and challenged the con man to translate it all again. The con man couldn’t translate it again, because the pages the wife stole were just gibberish he had scribbled down, to fool the farmer. When the book failed to sell, the farmer lost his wife and his farm. Later they figured out that not only was he a con artist, some of the “sacred text” was actually plagiarized from very human, non-Egyptian sources. And thus, the Book of Mormon was given to the world. The guy who dreamed up this con, Joe Smith, ran for president in 1844. He fell short.
MAGGIE. But what if he had won? He’s a crook!
JOSH. His followers don’t think so. They believe they are the only real Christians, and all of the other denominations are fakes. And that they can baptize dead people whether they want it or not.
MAGGIE. I’m assuming not.
JOSH. And dark skin is a curse from God, and if you have sex with an African-American you will die on the spot.
MAGGIE. Well, I had sex with a black man. Still alive.
JOSH. They tried to cure homosexuality with electric shock. They claimed that Jesus Christ himself proclaimed to them that they must give up polygamy; in fact it was the Teddy Roosevelt who threatened to confiscate their farms if they didn’t stop.
MAGGIE. So what happened to the guy.
JOSH. Smith got caught coming on to the wives of two of his fellow Mormons – he even proposed marrying both of them. The husbands complained. Smith threw the husbands out of the church. They formed their own church and published a letter criticizing him. Smith sent a mob to destroy the printing press. The other two guys sent a mob of their own. Smith was arrested. A friend smuggled a gun to him in jail. Smith fired at his enemies, they shot back, he died. His successor took over as governor of Utah and waged war on the U.S. Army. Later his troops massacred a hundred pioneers to win revenge on America, and then tried to blame the murders on native Americans.
MAGGIE. But that’s the craziest thing I ever heard.
JOSH. Just wait. That’s just fake religion. Scientology is fake religion and fake science – we all are really space aliens trapped in human bodies and you can cure heart problems and obesity with vegetable oil. They claimed they could teach people to cure their own sickness, and let you read minds and do mind control. And the church can solve your problems through confession – and the process very very expensive. People forget that the guy who started it all was writing…science fiction.
MAGGIE. Who was he?
JOSH. The guy who founded it was a con man – just like the Mormon guy, he conned a rich guy into mortgaging his house to start the religion, and then stole the guy’s money and his girlfriend. He was convicted of fraud, he sued anybody who ever called him out on his cons, his wife went to prison for trying to burglarize government offices…then he kidnapped his wife and daughter and tried to have his wife declared insane. The wife told the police he beat her, but she had to withdraw the report to get her daughter back. It was blackmail. Another charismatic con man, great at roping in the ladies.
MAGGIE. Now I feel bad, going after the reverend.
JOSH. Don’t forget, he’s going to burn down our shelter, just like he did the women’s clinic.
MAGGIE. Oh yeah.
JOSH. There really is good stuff in the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount – I’m surprised that the conservative types like the Reverend don’t tell the story of Saint Paul.
MAGGIE. Why Paul?
JOSH. He invented capitalism.
MAGGIE. Oh, bull.
JOSH. Absolutely. When he started out he was a bitter opponent of Christianity, but he was open-minded enough to try out totally new ideas. He built Christianity into a message that could be spread across the Roman Empire. He argued that they would need to let go of Jewish law if they were going to sell the new religion – it would be impossible to win people over if their first order was for people to chop off their peepees.
MAGGIE. Yeah, smart move there.
JOSH. He travelled across the Empire over and over, selling the message, making the Church grow and grow. For years he managed to avoid being executed by the local pagans or the local Jews. He wrote a pile of letters, telling Christians to stay on message and spread the word. He played referee in the middle of personal squabbles and philosophical conflicts. He got people to donate help – he was shopping for venture capitalists! He built a Church strong enough to grow in a hostile environment, and turn all of Jesus’ preaching into a religion that could hold together for years. He changed Christianity from a tiny cult into a religion which blew away centuries of paganism and conquered an Empire, and then a continent. By the time he was done, he had laid the groundwork for a global enterprise which would survive a lot of challenges, including Luther, Henry the Eighth, Galileo and Darwin, and remain powerful and profitable for almost two thousand years.
JOSH. Profitable for two millennia. Name a CEO who ever accomplished anything of the kind. Who comes close? The East India Company? Rockefeller? The Bank of America? Hearst? Carnegie?....Saint Paul was the founder of capitalism. Not Adam Smith, not Ricardo, not Ayn Rand, not Henry Ford. You would think that the rightwingers would have latched onto this guy, who perfectly united their two favourite things, Christianity and capitalism. But, ya know, a lot of these guys don’t actually read the Bible.
POLICEMAN. [entering] Mister…
JOSH. It’s okay….I know why you’re here. Vagrancy, or disturbing the peace?
POLICEMAN. They haven’t decided yet.
MAGGIE. Officer –
JOSH. Maggie, stay out of this. You need to get back to the shelter. Get them ready. Be ready for anything. Remember, we talked about this?
MAGGIE. Love you babe. [hugs him, runs out]
POLICEMAN. So you’re Josh. We heard about you. There was a guy like you here, not long ago. The mayor got after him for bringing the bad element into the middle of town, and he made a comment about the mayor’s wife and his mistress. Two weeks later he had a bullet in his head.
JOSH. Yeah, I heard about him. That’s why I came into town quiet. Night time. Just running my little shelter. Not looking for trouble. I’m not a big fan of the folks who run this town – the banker, the preacher who can’t talk sense, even I could do his job better than he can, that church is gonna come down right around his shoulders, got to watch out for ‘em – but the regular folks have been real nice.
POLICEMAN. They seem to like you a lot. That’s why we arrested you real quiet-like last time. Don’t need any more trouble.
JOSH. Your boys tuned me up pretty good the first time. What happens now?
POLICEMAN. You got a night in jail. Got two boys in there already, tried to swipe a car. The folks who pressed charges against you can’t seem to agree on the charge, they’ll probably cut you loose….After next week’s church service.
JOSH. You did try awful hard to get me to incriminate myself.
POLICEMAN. Tell us about all your friends at the shelter, they might cut you loose even quicker….You take anybody in that shelter, no matter who?
JOSH. The folks you hate the most, they’re the ones who need help the most. The addicts, the poor, everybody.
POLICEMAN. Even Sundays?
JOSH. Even Sundays. Not really a church-goer anyway.
POLICEMAN. You got women and kids in that shelter?
JOSH. When they show up, yeah.
POLICEMAN. You’re not married?
POLICEMAN. Not to the girl?
JOSH. Let’s just do this, okay?
POLICEMAN. This is a God-fearing town.
JOSH. Is that so?
[Reverend is at the lectern, Faith beside him, Maggie and Solomon listening]
REVEREND. Rather than leap right into a sermon, I’d like to announce the return of my daughter Faith from seminary school. As you know she has done very well at school, and has done missionary work in Africa and around the world. And, as it happens, she is an expert on the Bible. So once we get into our question-and-answer portion, she can handle questions about Scripture just as well as I can! [glares at Maggie] Where’s your friend?
REVEREND. Well, last week we heard some unexpected comments about the Bible. So, let’s go look – who actually wrote the Bible? As we know, it came from God, through the prophets – Moses, Joshua, Matthew, John, Paul…..God revealed his will to them.
MAGGIE. Just like George Bush said God told him to invade Iraq.
REVEREND. Oh good Lord --
MAGGIE. Mm-hmm. And the Yorkshire Ripper claims God told him to murder women. They put him behind bars, he was nuts, he heard voices.
REVEREND. The Bible is divine revelation!
MAGGIE. It can’t be a revelation of God’s will when it’s just telling the history of the Israelites or Jesus, because anybody could tell that story.
REVEREND. Faith, tell her!
FAITH. Actually, Daddy, she’s right. The history of things that happened on earth can’t be divine revelation. So that wipes out the histories, and the Gospels, and the Acts – they’re not the word of God, they’re just history. The songs in the Bible aren’t revelation from God either, or the letters, or the lamentations. So right away, most of the Bible is not the word of God.
REVEREND. But it came straight from the disciples.
FAITH. No they didn’t. Scholars – Christian scholars – proved that all those books that were supposed to be written by Moses, Luke, John, Paul – were almost all written by other people, people we don’t know. The books they say were written by Moses? They write about Moses as though he’s another person, in the third person. The narrator praised Moses for being meek – how could Moses write that? And they talk about the death of Moses as something that happened long in the past, and refer to events and places that didn’t exist when Moses lived. Here’s the end of Deuteronomy: “So Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Jehovah. And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor: but no man knows of his sepulchre unto this day.” Unto this day – when was that? How many years after Moses, the guy who supposedly wrote this thing?
REVEREND. Faith --
FAITH. Same problem with the books they say were written by Joshua, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Matthew. Ever wonder why some of these prophets tell their own stories and include their own deaths? The Gospels were written by people who never met Jesus.
MAGGIE. The revelations of Moses and Matthew and the rest only work, if we know who really wrote them. There’s no such thing as anonymous revelation – from God, to Anonymous Guy, to the world. Especially since no originals exist….At least the Muslims know who Muhammad was, and where and when he wrote the Qur’an.
REVEREND. But the Bible is the unchallenged word of God!
FAITH. Daddy, even Christians were challenging it as soon as it was written. Two hundred years after Jesus died, his followers were arguing about what they believed, and they had a dozen different versions of the “word of God” bouncing all over the Mediterranean – they couldn’t all be expressing God’s will the right way, could they? Years after, Jewish and Christian leaders were still arguing about who wrote what, and which books were really holy – and anything that proved them wrong, they hid or destroyed. Centuries after Jesus died, they had arguments to decide which books were the word of God, and we don’t even know who a lot of those guys were. If they can challenge the authenticity of the books, why can’t we? The Protestants came along and they had different versions of the Bible. Almost the whole King James Bible relies on another Bible written by a man who didn’t even have access to the original books. Interpretations of interpretations…
MAGGIE. Translations of translations.
FAITH. The King James was written by a committee. And all these texts have been loaded with errors for three thousand years – there was a Bible that said “thou shalt commit adultery”.
FAITH. Even the preaching and the stories Jesus used weren’t original – they were just the fables and the precepts of virtue and moderation that the Greeks were telling three hundred years before him. The story of Jehovah battling Satan, was stolen from the story of Zeus and the Titans. The story of the holy ghost raping Mary, was stolen from Zeus and Europa. The story of Jesus being betrayed by a close friend, murdered according to a prophecy, and returning from the dead, sounds a lot like Julius Caesar. Even the afterlife was borrowed from the Greeks, the Egyptians….
REVEREND. But some of it was true.
FAITH. Yeah, Jesus went into the holiest Jewish site in Israel and attacked people with a whip. The local governor loved capital punishment so he was executed. That part was true. Jesus committed a premeditated act of violence at a holy site –
MAGGIE. And if he had been a Muslim doing it, you people would have called him a terrorist.
REVEREND. But it’s all still true!
FAITH. Time after time the Bible collides with known fact. Luke had the wrong governor of Syria, the story of the census is wrong. Then you have all the nonsense in Genesis. The Bible even contradicts itself – the Gospels contradict each other over and over –
MAGGIE. Sounds like Rashomon.
FAITH. The Gospels begin with stories of Jesus’ ancestors, and even there they disagree on the facts. If they can’t even get that right, why should we believe them when they tell four different versions of his miraculous birth and his miraculous resurrection? Which is more likely, a miracle, or a lie? They rewrote the ancient prophesies to fit Jesus’ life. They even tried to cover their lies with other lies – Matthew claimed the Jewish priests bribed the guard to lie about Jesus’ body disappearing. Conspiracy theory!
MAGGIE. So nobody knows where this stuff came from, or who changed it later, or what should be in the Bible, but we know almost none of it could have come from God and a lot of it is wrong. And without the “infallible” word of God, where do you get God from?
FAITH. Well, there’s more to this.
MAGGIE. Reverend, I was raised on the Bible too. I’ve tried to be fair with you. I’ve been going to your church and listening to your sermons -- the Bible demands that you go to church on Sunday, ordained as the Lord’s day, and take the Eucharist and the other sacraments; that it prescribes eternal hellfire for sinners, and sweeping the holy up from earth to heaven when they die, and purgatory for everyone in between. None of which is in the Bible.
FAITH. Who are you, again?
MAGGIE. Maggie, welcome home!...You violate the Bible rules on idolatry and paganism – you worship Jesus instead of the one God, you pray to Mary and the saints, you celebrate the anniversaries of Jesus’ birth and resurrection, both of which began as pagan rites.
Saint Peter – the Saint Peter – openly condemned pagan idolatry, and you guys named him the patron saint of fishermen, sailors [pulls out a book] – see, I looked it up -- bakers, farmers, butchers, glassmakers, carpenters, shoemakers, clockmakers, potters, masons, bridge builders, cloth makers, and criminals. In other words a huge chunk of the Christian world has been engaging in idol worship of the guy who made it a rule that you can’t, you know, worship idols.
REVEREND. That’s the Catholics, don’t blame me.
MAGGIE. Your church has saints too, nice try. You need to up your game and do your homework. The Bible doesn’t say the forbidden fruit was an apple, Satan was not in the garden of Eden. Delilah didn’t cut Samson’s hair. Jonah wasn’t swallowed by a whale. Mary didn’t ride to Bethlehem on a donkey and the wise men didn’t see the baby in a manger. The Bible doesn’t say Jesus was a carpenter. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. I mean, do you even read the Bible?
FAITH. Now you’re being mean.
REVEREND. The Bible is the word of God, and he expects us to take it word for word, without question.
MAGGIE. Reverend --
FAITH. Here, I got this one. Daddy, all three founders of Christianity rejected that. Jesus said flat-out that he taught religion in parables and didn’t want to talk about God in literal language. And when Peter and Paul planned the future of Christianity, the first thing they agreed on, was that they couldn’t demand that people follow scripture literally – when they preached, people were trying to beat them and arrest them already, and if they told all those Greeks and Romans to chop off their penises, they would have been killed. So the first thing they decided was to reject a literal interpretation of the Bible. They said from the start, don’t take everything in the Bible word for word. And since all three of them – Jesus, Peter and Paul – switched religions, moved beyond Judaism, they would have felt foolish trying to force people to stick to the original Jewish scripture. And then…Saint Augustine? One of the first great leaders of Christianity?
REVEREND. What about him?
FAITH. He made the same point that Jesus and Paul did. He said that you can’t take the Bible literally if it conflicts with science and sheer common sense. It’s metaphor, not history.
MAGGIE. A few weeks back you said you wanted to follow the law of the Bible?
REVEREND. Our aim is to follow God’s law, just as it’s written in the Bible.
FAITH. You want the laws to mandate a lot of offerings to the priests. Make the priest a gold lampstand with seven lamps, a curtained tabernacle with courtyard, an altar, a gold table, gold dishes and cups, a gold ark, silver, bronze, the skin of a sea cow, incense, wood, oil, gems.... And a priestly costume with turban, breastplate and sash. Daily, weekly, monthly offerings to the priests. Unintentional sin, meat for the priest. Making a careless oath, a pigeon for the priest. Unintentional defilement, a goat to the priest. New baby, a lamb for the priest...You see, this really shouldn’t be about creating a nice life for the priest.
REVEREND. Well --.
FAITH. Let’s see, don’t eat rabbits or pigs; shellfish, eagles, vultures, ravens, owls, hawks, storks, bats, weasels, rats, lizards.
MAGGIE. Didn’t your church have a ham supper last month, and a shrimp boil this summer?
FAITH. The only bugs you can eat are locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.….In your sermons you said you want to ban abortion, but in the Book of Numbers, it prescribes abortion. It’s right there in black and white. If a woman has sex, give her these bitter waters; her belly will swell and thighs waste away. But if she is innocent, she can bear a child. In other words, abortion. It’s right there in Numbers. And in the rest of the Bible, Jehovah kills pregnant women, kills fetuses and embryos, kills young children. So….why are you trying to wreck the women’s clinic?
MAGGIE. You know that before Roe v Wade, women in their child-bearing years died more from botched illegal abortions than from anything else? Overturning Roe will kill people. [flipping through the Old Testament] You’re really going to lose even more women with this stuff. Women can’t swear to an oath without permission, or handle their own property, or wear men’s clothes. You can escape punishment for raping a virgin by paying a fine. You can sell your daughter into slavery. If a new groom accuses his wife of not being a virgin, and she can’t prove him wrong, she gets death by stoning....Hmm. You’ve got two whole chapters of rules on how the priest must treat skin rashes. And two more on cleaning mildew. And another on men with unclean bodily discharges.
FAITH. No tattoos.
MAGGIE. Don’t build a tower that reaches the sky. Go look at the southern end of Manhattan -- Usama bin Laden apparently agreed with you on that one.
FAITH. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife – big big problems with that one.
MAGGIE. Don’t charge interest on a loan – see, no wonder the banker’s wife stopping coming here.
FAITH. The death penalty for…an awful lot, for all sorts of things. Violating the Sabbath rules, disobeying your father, drunkenness, prophesying falsely, sex with animals, reaching out for the tree of knowledge, taking one more look back at your hometown as God is destroying it with fire and death. You got a lot of dead people here.
MAGGIE. And you seem to have a lot of stoning here. Stoning to death for a stubborn child, stoning for blasphemy, stoning if your wife suggests you serve other gods.
FAITH. If a bull tramples someone, it’s death by stoning for the bull. Have you ever tried to throw a bunch of rocks at a bull? Particularly a bull who has a habit of stomping the crap out of people? Did they have a bunch of Israelite rodeo clowns running around throwing rocks at an angry bull and trying to avoid getting stomped to death? I’ll bet they didn’t try that more than once.
MAGGIE. A lot of folks came to America, so we could get away from blood-crazed loons who want to live by religious law. If this is how you want to live, flights are leaving for Tehran and Saudi Arabia every day. You’d look great in a turban. …And what you got in there, in your bag, for lunch?
REVEREND. Shrimp salad sandwich, with bacon.
MAGGIE. Shrimp, bacon, double score!...Crack open your Bible, and read it as though it was a script for a play. The first three speaking characters are Jehovah, Adam, and the devil. A supernatural being flying in space, a manufactured man, and...a talking snake. I mean, seriously.
FAITH. Back in the day, women were the backbone of our church. Look at the pews, where are they? You’re not serving them anymore. All across town, moms struggling to keep families going in recession, fighting battles with your school on book banning, bullying the gay kids, fighting their health plans on contraception, and every time they go into battle, you’re on the other side. You got your pals appointed to the bench, and every time a woman goes to court for divorce or rape or domestic violence, they get screwed over, thanks to your bench buddies. A lot of those women are at the church downtown now.
REVEREND. I am woman, hear me roar?
FAITH. As part of my ministry, I did mission work in Africa, for summer. Remember, you visited me that year? Girls as young as nine years old, sold to pay debts. Women need a man’s permission to leave the house, get in a car, see a doctor, go to school, get a job, save money, vote. They have few rights in court. They could be punished for being in the same place as a man, even to eat or work or study. Schools for girls are bombed and burned. Women are beaten and raped and mutilated in their own homes. Women who break the rules can be whipped or burned with acid, their noses chopped off; women who take off the veil are beaten, women who fight the rules are killed. Soldiers use mass rape as an instrument of war. Rape victims are ignored or jailed or killed, sometimes by their own relatives. They commit suicide every day.
REVEREND. So this is some feminist thing you’re doing?
FAITH. No. While I was there a woman was accused of adultery – not even proved! She was buried in dirt up to her neck, and they threw a rock at her head. And another. And another. And over and over and over. All day long. Until she died. They didn’t bother to figure out whether she died of a skull fracture, or massive bleeding, or shock, or choked on her own blood….You keep using the Old Testament as your infallible book of moral laws, every time you get into a fracas on civil unions or abortion. So do you want stoning, too? It’s in the Bible. During the war you said torture was okay, how about stoning? The Bible says parents should stone their stubborn children to death – does that include me?
REVEREND. So this is about Biblical law?
FAITH. No, it’s not about that either. You didn’t just visit me in Africa to see me. You went back to the capital, and spent weeks bribing legislators. In Africa you can buy them even cheaper than back home, right? This is the difference between your ministry and mine. While I was in Africa trying to help those women, you got their government to pass a national law, imposing the death penalty on gays and lesbians. It wasn’t even your country! And then when they passed it, you celebrated, in your sermon.
SOLOMON. And the bishop heard about it.
FAITH. This is Reverend Young, from the bishop’s office….You implied that you wanted that law here too. And you’ve been blocking any effort to allow gays to marry.
REVEREND. Well, gays pretty much have the same rights as we do already, just sign a contract if they want to call themselves married?
FAITH. You can’t just sign a contract on your own for….Where’s that list….[pulls out papers] Insurance, death compensation, tax filing status, deductions, property transfers, Social Security, veteran’s pensions and disability, relocation for military families, survivor benefits, organ donor issues, next-of-kin status, parental rights, school records, alimony, child custody –
FAITH. Yep, foster care, homestead laws, water rights, housing, school loans, farm supports, name changes, domestic violence, spousal privilege for criminal witnesses, prison and hospital visitation, conflict-of-interest, medical decisions, funeral decisions, condominium laws, bankruptcy, shared property, prenuptial agreements, wills and inheritance. We need a law, so we don’t have to fight over all this in court. And you can’t tell all those people they can never be parents.
REVEREND. So who pays for all this, the health insurance, all of it?
MAGGIE. Who paid to free the slaves? Are we going to throw our hands in the air and say America can’t afford to treat everyone fairly anymore?....You know, heterosexuals have been getting married for five thousand years, and even now straight marriage fails half the time – seems to me straight people have had their chance. Marriages destroyed by infidelity, drinking, drug abuse, immaturity, domestic violence, abandonment, child abuse, incest, and mental cruelty. Heterosexuals have proved that they cannot be trusted with this institution anymore. Maybe for the next five thousand years we should only let gay people get married, let straight people live by the rules you want to use for gays and lesbians. Fighting with lawyers and doctors over legal rights, health care, everything else. You keep saying it’s okay to treat gays like that – what if it was you on the short end?
REVEREND. So where does it end? Can more than two people marry? Can a pimp “marry” all his girls to get them health care, or a homeless activist to do the same for a shelter full of homeless guys? Can a little old lady marry her cats? Can we marry kids? Can we have marriage ceremonies with drugs and sacrifices? What about those transgender types and all the other in-betweeners? Not in my church. We’ll get employers to block their health care, drive them out of the state.
FAITH. You really think it will be that hard to write a law, allowing marriage for two adults?
PREACHER. But the Bible says marriage is for one man and one woman!
JULIA. Daddy, you’re completely wrong. You look at all those guys in the Old Testament, Abraham, Moses, Jacob – polygamy! Saul, David, Solomon – polygamy!
MAGGIE. Solomon, seven hundred wives.
FAITH. Jesus and Paul – celibacy! The apostles abandoned their wives, their kids and their jobs, to go off preaching, and most of them got killed doing it. That’s not one-man-one-woman marriage, that’s desertion. Desertion, celibacy, bigamy – show me a successful one-man-one-woman marriage in that book.
PREACHER. Mary and Joseph!
MAGGIE. [laughs] Ah, yes, Joseph-Where-The-Hell-Did-That-Baby-Come-From, and Mary-That's-My-Story-And-I'm-Sticking-To-It. And then Joseph disappeared when Jesus was a child. That’s our model marriage here? Oh, and by the way…Where is Jesus’ wife, and the kids? Being unmarried at 33 was really unusual in those days. If you were straight….All I’m sayin’.
FAITH. For that matter, you have that David and Jonathan stuff that sounds an awful lot like gay sex – your love surpasses the love of women, and so forth? And the story of Ruth and Naomi?...You didn’t go after the Mormons for polygamy, you didn’t go after the Catholics or the Boy Scouts on pedophilia, you didn’t go after all those rightwing preachers and politicians who cheated on their wives….Just the gays. Because they’re an easy target. Daddy, you taught me -- you know who goes after easy targets? Bullies. Cowards. …You went into your pulpit and said God caused the recession and the hurricane and the shooting at the school, because God hates gays. God doesn’t hate gays because he created millions of them. We know that you can’t pray away the Gay –
MAGGIE. Although it would be great if you could pray away the Stupid.
REVEREND. We run those classes to get people back on the right side.
FAITH. You can’t make gay people straight, anymore than gays can make straight people gay. This nonsense about the gay agenda is so stupid, recruiting kids to be gay – nobody can be “recruited” unless they’re already gay. Asking for fairness isn’t an agenda.
MAGGIE. We even had a gay president, James Buchanan.
FAITH. Well, he helped cause the Civil War, bad example.
MAGGIE. Abe Lincoln slept in a bed with a man for four years. Joshua Speed.
REVEREND. The Founding Fathers were God-fearing men, they would be shocked at the whole idea of…
MAGGIE. The guy who wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence rejected the Bible. And we know the Founding Fathers didn’t hate gays because they signed the Declaration of Independence wearing wigs and satin tights.
REVEREND. The Bible says homosexuality is wrong.
FAITH. The Bible also says genocide is okay. It’s the twenty-first century, Daddy. We can’t hide behind the Bible anymore…. You know, they proved that millions of people who say they go to church, don’t really go. They’re just afraid to admit it. Evangelicals have run a reign of terror in this country for thirty years, so all the atheists are hiding. And no politician can run for office and say he’s an atheist. In our political world, being an atheist is more horrible than being gay, or soliciting in a public toilet, or patronizing prostitutes, or killing someone in a car crash, or using drugs, or molesting children, or not paying your taxes on time, or being a criminal. Lots of Americans say they would never vote for an atheist. Attacking atheists is the one form of bigotry that is still okay. A minority of twenty, thirty million people who have almost no voice in America. Even the Native Americans got casinos. And it doesn’t seem to bother anybody that this one minority, the atheists, has no voice.
REVEREND. So why is that my problem?
FAITH. For thirty years, you hard-core evangelicals have written our national agenda for us. Gays, abortion, everything. All those years, intolerance ruled our country, and the voices of logic and science have been drowned out. And atheists – no one even admits their existence. Atheists may have more to offer America than any group. Philosophy and politics can’t work without clear thought, logic, and a resistance to fallacy, and atheists play that game better than anyone out there...Just imagine if all the time we spend on the issues that evangelicals love, could have been spent on health care or global warming.
MAGGIE. Just imagine if logic and reason got the same airtime as faith.
FAITH. Just think how much more informed voters would be. Imagine if there were an openly atheist politician.
REVEREND. You want to bring atheists into my church?
MAGGIE. Reverend, you’re creating more atheists every day. You hard-core evangelicals have given the church a bad name. That’s why people are leaving the church – they think they have no home here. That’s why the people who refuse to join any church are the fastest-growing group out there, bigger than any Protestant denomination. There are more of them that there are evangelicals – but you never hear them, because they’re too afraid to speak up….I know what bothers you about this the most, the competition. For centuries you people worked desperately to crush the merest thought about other gods and other beliefs – monotheism has a big spoonful of cowardice in it, a terror that the faithful could ever be exposed to other religions and other gods. So as soon as Moses declared that only one God was legal, priests started killing people for blasphemy. And kings and emperors loved the idea, because they love killing off their enemies.
FAITH. Well, let’s be fair, it wasn’t just the people with one god. You can’t forget the Greeks, pagan down to their sandals. Socrates made the terrible mistake of trying to teach mankind to think. The Athenians accused him of insulting the local gods. Socrates goaded the jury into giving him a death sentence, because he decided that his fellow citizens were too stupid to continue living with them. Essentially, it’s thinking for yourself that can get you killed. Or trying to learn. Daddy, I hate to say it, but men like you worked for centuries to prevent scripture from being translated into local languages so that the common man could read God’s words for himself, without the priest’s help, and figure out what he believed. And you hard-core believers paved the way for the atheists.
MAGGIE. Ever since Moses, or whoever it was, stood up and said we must believe in only one God and reject the other 999 gods – atheists just took your idea one step further, and rejected all one thousand gods.
REVEREND. All I’m really doing, is defending traditional America, like it was in the good old days. There’s only so much change a country can go through.
MAGGIE. In traditional America, a century ago, blacks could be murdered for fun, Latinos were invisible, and gays were criminals; there was no Social Security or Medicare; the utilities refused to give rural America electricity; women couldn’t vote, a woman’s life expectancy was fifty-one years.
FAITH. They have country songs about these “good old days”: in these “good old days” we endured a Depression, several recessions, two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, McCarthy, Watergate, the terror of the Cold War, but that was okay, because white men were still running the show, right?
MAGGIE. Whenever these folks say the word “traditional”, translate it to “white”.
REVEREND. We just want to take America back.
FAITH. From whom? Aren’t the rest of us “real Americans”? My beliefs are not exactly the same as yours --
REVEREND. We have always believed that the liberal churches embrace the world too much. Maybe you too.
FAITH. And how is that bad?
REVEREND. Singing, dancing, drinking….
MAGGIE. And what was Jesus’ first miracle? Water into wine?
REVEREND. Youre trying to destroy traditional American values, throw them out of the public square, the marketplace of ideas.
MAGGIE. No, we just want our views heard too. My expression of my opinion isn’t a threat to your opinion, unless your opinion is a fraud. Unless you’re trying to protect lies from the truth. Or are you afraid to put your views up against mine in a fair fight? You only feel safe when all other viewpoints are shut down. No bully ever wants a fair fight. That’s what monotheism is all about – shut down everybody’s belief but your own.
FAITH. And Daddy, hate is not an American value. It’s not a Christian value either. Jesus ate with the lepers. Hate and war, Daddy?
REVEREND. Absolutely there’s a war. There’s even a war on Christmas.
FAITH. So expanding the holiday so others can be included, is war? “Happy holidays” is persecution?
MAGGIE. And by the way, almost none of the things we do to celebrate Christmas, have anything to do with the birth of Jesus – Christmas trees, wreaths, caroling, the lights, the cards, eggnog, the spending, the selling, Santa Claus, none of it is religion…. Reverend, you use the word “war” a lot. Anybody who disagrees with you must be declaring “war” on you.
FAITH. Anybody who wants their own freedom to get birth control is taking away your religious freedom – how do you reason that out? Since when does your freedom include taking away our freedom?
MAGGIE. War on traditional America, war on marriage, war on Christmas….We’re not declaring war on you. We just want to take part in the same things you already have. We can share marriage without hurting your marriage, we can share the holidays without ruining your holiday…We’re not attacking you, just by living our lives.
FAITH. Daddy, every time you started preaching all this stuff about the Culture War, I wanted to cringe. You know where that came from? Germany! Kulturkampf, Culture War! Germany used it to persecute Catholics before they moved on to the Jews. They arrested priests, marched them through the streets….[pulls out newspapers] The thing is, you have gone way beyond your ministry. I have all these articles from the local paper. And not just the religion page. Here’s you on the women’s page, hollering about abortion and contraception. Here you are again on the education page, bragging about your takeover of the school board, the book banning, evolution, prayer….On the legal page, putting the Commandments in courtrooms. The science page, stem cell research and cloning.
The medical page, assisted suicide, resuscitation and euthanasia. Front page again, time for America to go conquer the Muslims –
MAGGIE. Maybe his Bible doesn’t have Isaiah in it – beat their swords into plowshares –
FAITH. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.
MAGGIE. Wow, you’re even on the weather page! Global warming!
FAITH. Articles on homeschooling, spanking, abstinence, feminism, guns, affirmative action, multiculturalism, political correctness, capital punishment…. “Empathy is bad, and torture is good.” You keep hollering about the liberal agenda, the gay agenda, the black agenda, the feminist agenda – your agenda is running this whole town.
MAGGIE. Ooh, here’s a picture -- The year after you told everybody to bring their Dixie Chicks CDs to the parking lot to burn them, because the Chicks had the nerve to exercise their First Amendment rights, you gave a thousand bucks to the Westboro Baptists for doing the same thing, screaming in the streets about gays. Here’s you with a great big check.
REVEREND. We need to get our word out, because you know the rest of the media is all liberal…
MAGGIE. [laughs] America’s papers and networks have been owned by corporate America for a century. At the turn of the century they helped launch the Spanish-American War. The papers fought FDR like cats and dogs and even put his secret war plans on the front page. They held Joe McCarthy's coat as he launched his reign of terror on America. And the year Agnew began screeching about media bias, the newspapers endorsed Nixon 3 to 1. The papers ran away from the Watergate case for months. They gave Reagan a free pass and then raking Clinton over the coals. And they were Bush's cheerleaders in the War On Terror and Iraq. Gimme a break. Then you guys took over talk radio, you built your own fake news network, your pals bought the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, even CNN is afraid to call a Republican a liar.
FAITH. Two thousand years ago Saint Paul did all he could to expand Christianity, by telling the Jews and pagans of the Roman world they didn’t have to follow Jewish laws. He built Christianity on the notion of expanding the big tent. Go read Luke: Jesus wanted the same thing. The apostle John came to Jesus and told him they had caught somebody trying to do their work, somebody who was not one of the disciples, and they tried to stop him. Jesus said flat-out: don’t stop him, because if he’s not against us, he’s for us. Now you’re taking the faith backward, not just to the days of Jesus, but to the days of Moses, pulling out the Torah to throw out anyone who doesn’t meet your standards of behavior. You took the big tent and blew it up. So a lot of people turned away from Christianity.
MAGGIE. You guys made Jesus uncool. People who sang along with Jesus Christ Superstar 40 years ago, sang “Jesus is just alright with me” in the 1970s, joined the kumbaya guitar churches, boasted of being born again in the 1980s…began to feel embarrassed.
FAITH. A lot of people left your church, or suffered in silence while you spewed hate and intolerance. The ranks of atheists, agnostics, Pastafarians, Wiccans, Buddhists and other “Others” grew by leaps and bounds. We’re going to bring them back.
REVEREND. You’re opposing the Bible!
FAITH. I’m not opposed to the bible, I’m opposed to rigid literalism. And we’re not anti-god, we’re anti-hate. And in both cases, we have Jesus on our side.
REVEREND. We have been loosening things up, with the music, all those worship songs…
FAITH. Jesus didn’t want us to spend all Sunday loving him; he wanted us to spend all week loving each other.
MAGGIE. You don’t own God, or Jesus. You don’t own the faith. You don’t even own this church, you just own the building. The church is the people, not the roof we’re standing under. I want my faith back. I want my Bible back. My faith is all about love, and making the world a better place. The only kind of life that matters, is taking care of the people around you.
REVEREND. Is there anything left at all, of the things I taught you?
FAITH. There’s plenty. In the end, Jesus really did save mankind. When the Greeks first started building their version of western civilization, they did it because they knew that the only way to survive was to take care of the people around you, so they could take care of you in turn. They knew way back when, that there is no such thing as a self-made man – everyone who ever achieves anything, does it with the help of their family, their community, the guys who work, the guys who have the money. Jesus revived that idea that we can only survive if we love each other, and he started an entire movement. And in the last century, guys like Woodrow Wilson made it global: they came along and said that the age of empires was over – countries couldn’t just conquer other countries and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. That great power means great responsibility, to people, to everyone. After the second world war, America could have enslaved the world, but instead we held out a helping hand to everyone, friend and enemy alike. We began to build the world Jesus saw coming two thousand years ago. Jesus gave us that roadmap, he redeemed us. And when Doctor King and Gandhi taught us to fight with love instead of hate, that was straight from the Sermon on the Mount. Every day the world gets closer to Jesus.
MAGGIE. In spite of people like you.
FAITH. And that is going to be my first sermon, next Sunday. Daddy, Reverend Young here came because the bishop sent him.
SOLOMON. Reverend, your congregation is getting smaller, older, whiter…and meaner. We got a lot of reports about this church and your sermons. Some of your views on social issues are somewhat, I don’t know –
SOLOMON. I don’t know, quaint. Uncomplicated, shall we say….But that sermon you did, about the women’s clinic. That wasn’t a sermon. It was a fatwa….The bishop wanted me to talk to you about retiring –
REVEREND. Retiring? You’re moving me out? This is my life!
SOLOMON. On the way here, I was talking to your daughter. And she had an idea. The bishop is going to appoint her as the new pastor here. You can stay on and assist her.
REVEREND. Blessed are they who are persecuted for Jesus sake.
SOLOMON. Who do you think you’re talking to? You’re not being persecuted for doing Jesus’ work. You’re stepping aside because you’re losing track of what Jesus meant for you to do.
REVEREND. Faith is taking my place?
SOLOMON. We want someone who’s views are a little less…unfiltered. We’re not moving you all the way out. We’re Christians. We forgive! [exits]
MAGGIE. I really am surprised at you, speaking up the way you did. Everyone around here thinks you’re a saint.
FAITH. Yes, I’m an angel. But even an angel needs to have that smoking pitchfork in her closet, for those little emergencies. Like today.
REVEREND. What on earth are you doing up here on this hill?
JOSH. This way, I can see anybody coming. And I’ve seen you coming for a long time. Are you lost?
REVREND. Seems like half the town thinks I’m lost. Believe it or not, I’m not the worst guy in this county. There are plenty of those guys who are much more extreme than I am.
JOSH. Yes, I know, I can still smell the smoke from the women’s clinic.
REVEREND. So who are all those people at your shelter, are they all homeless?
JOSH. People come to the shelter for help, but sometimes they come to offer help, too. I look for certain kinds of people to help out. People who think poor, even if they’re rich – they remember what it was like to be poor, they don’t look down on anybody. People who are in pain, sometimes do the best helping others, it helps them too. People who aren’t full of themselves, people who want to do right even if it gets them in trouble, people who don’t judge everybody…
REVEREND. Like I do, you mean?
JOSH. I look for the kind of guy who can stop a bar fight instead of starting one. People who do all their real praying and giving when nobody’s looking – they don’t want applause. People who can get along with people they think are their enemies – anybody can get along with their friends. People who know that if you take care of the people around you, somehow you will do okay too. I find somebody like that, I want to hold them up as a light for everybody else, I want them to see.
REVEREND. People who aren’t afraid of a hard life.
JOSH. I think it’s the people who don’t care about anybody but themselves who have the hard life. Just empty. They’re building sand castles, trying to keep humanity out. People who are always angry, always wanting more, people who can’t find what’s inside them that makes them like that, and just get rid of it. People who always think the other guy is getting a better deal, and they can’t stand it….You’ve had this attitude that I’m undermining your faith. I think I’m fulfilling your faith at least as much as you are. I’m leaving happy people in my trail, people who make your town better. Are you doing that with your preaching?
REVEREND. Sounds like my daughter is asking the same thing.
JOSH. This can be fixed, you know.
REVEREND. First I have to get back down off this hill again.
JOSH. Careful now. Watch your step.
MAGGIE. Oh my God –
FAITH. Calm down. Sit. What happened.
MAGGIE. I’m not sure. I don’t know, I’m not sure!
FAITH. So did you see something?
MAGGIE. Josh left town – they let him out of jail – and he started walking toward the county line, up by the hill. I forgot to give him – well, I forgot to tell him something. I ran out after him, I saw him about half a mile ahead, I’m sure it was him. And then this car flew past me, right toward Josh, and they pulled out a shotgun and shot at him. I thought I saw him fall into the ditch.
FAITH. So did he?
MAGGIE. I don’t know! I ran the whole way down the road, I was screaming his name. I thought I found the right spot, but I couldn’t find him anywhere, or his body. I went up and down the road. I can’t find him, he’s gone!
FAITH. Maybe he got away.
MAGGIE. Didn’t he hear me calling for him?
FAITH. We can look for him, but maybe he’s gone.
MAGGIE. What on earth am I supposed to do?
FAITH. I think you know, don’t you?
MAGGIE. Go back to the shelter. And finish what he started. Keep the place going. I can’t do it!
FAITH. We’ll help you. Make this town a better place. Maybe. People are finally bringing stuff to the shelter, they’re not afraid anymore.
Like that one guy, showed up in his Mercedes, gave up his pocket change. Big spender.
MAGGIE. Every little bit counts.
FAITH. You’re winning them over. So round up your buddies and make that shelter work.
MAGGIE. They’re going to come after us again.
FAITH. I know. Maybe open another shelter at the county seat, near the courthouse.
MAGGIE. Josh said sometimes it feels like we’re trying to make seeds grow in concrete.
FAITH. Oh, it’s not as hopeless as all that. Even when people stumble, we stumble forward. Otherwise we’d still be apes in the trees.
MAGGIE. Sounds like that sinful evolution talk.
FAITH. Come on, take me to the shelter. Sounds like we have a lot of work to do.
FAITH. Of course.