Bishop John Shelby Spong
June 16, 1931 – September 12, 2021

Bishop Spong provided a much needed place for those of us who did not connect with traditional theology.
We love you Bishop Spong. You will be missed!

Who Made the Monster?

Thoughts & Dreams on the Nightmare in Atlanta

 

Who made the monster?

This is something I have been wondering about a great deal.

Is Mr. Long, the monster who brought suffering and sorrow to Atlanta, simply the product of a racist, misogynistic socio-political environment; the victim of mental illness, the prisoner of a defective personal genome he has no control over? The sheriff seems to think he’s just a “kid” who “had a really bad day.”

On a more abstract, esoteric level we seem to be in a period of very bad “metaphysical weather.” Indeed, since I began writing this article a week ago, other mass shootings have already occurred and by the time it finds a publisher, I expect there will be more…

Dream

“Again, and again people attribute the dark things that happen in the world to historical motivation, to political or socio-economic causes, to the impact of psychological disease. Again, and again they persist in denying the reality of the soul, of God, of the metaphysical plane, of the evil forces which dwell in each.”

In other words, even in a world where none of the temporal forces mentioned in the dream were active, bad things would still happen because as the dream voice instructs, “Evil is part of the whole ballgame.”

That being said, the physical and the metaphysical world influence each other and are connected, whereat it may be helpful to trace as best we can, the temporal origins of what happened in Atlanta in the hope that in the days to come, at least some of the conditions which contributed to a truly unforgivable crime can be altered.

As quoted in the NY Times, “State Rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House affirms the following, “The shootings appear to be at the “intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia.”

I would add one more intersection to this list.

Hatred of one’s own sexuality per the conditioning of conservative religion.

Indeed, while the impacts are usually not as tragic or sensational, this is not the first time a disturbed individual suffering from sexual guilt related to religion took it upon themselves to rid the world of temptation (just google religiously motivated serial killers).

The church that brought him up says of Mr. Long “He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires” and in so doing absolves itself of any and all culpability. The church that brought him up says the “extreme and wicked” attacks perpetrated by Mr. Long were “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind” while announcing that it has “begun the process of removing him from its membership.”

Indeed, it will be as if he never existed. It will be as if he came out of nowhere. It will be as if the church in which he learned to hate a part of himself that comes from God, in which he learned that the proper role for women is to dress modestly and, (as stated in 1 Timothy) to “learn in quietness and full submission,” had nothing to do with the making of the monster.

“He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires”

Perhaps. But this is coming from a church that strictly prohibits sex outside of marriage, a church whose bylaws condemn “adultery, fornication (I’m doomed), homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.” As if they are all equally condemnable, equally wrong, equally sin. As if, when it comes to bestiality and bisexuality, you might as well just screw the cat because either way you’re going to hell.

This is coming from a church that proclaims the following:

“We believe that (on account of the Fall) …mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.” Crabapple First Baptist Church Website

And also,

“…the wicked will be adjudged to endless punishment, and the righteous to endless joy; and that this judgment will fix forever the final state of men in heaven or hell, on principles of righteousness.” Crabapple First Baptist Church Website

In other words, this is coming from a church that teaches hate. Not necessarily of women or other races, though women at least are certainly diminished by the teachings quoted above, but of “indefensible,” “inexcusable” “mankind” itself.

No wonder the monstrous Mr. Long was afraid. No wonder he was consumed with guilt and shame. No wonder he was worried about falling “out of God’s grace.” The FBI says that they have yet to find evidence of a hate crime with which to charge Mr. Long. That is because the people Mr. Long hated, women who have sex with or simply arouse religious men who think that sex is a sin and hate themselves for it are not a statutorily “protected group,” at least not yet.

It is not surprising then, given all of this “condemnation” and “judgment” that a perfect storm of hate seems to have gathered in a man who, while he lives and breathes in a world poisoned by misogyny and racism also experienced the enduring influence of a conservative religious faith that regards the human sex drive, except when expressed within the narrow confines of religiously sanctioned behavior as damnable sin. Should he, as a human being with a functioning heart and brain have had the baseline moral insight, intelligence and discernment to rise above these influences and understand that the crimes he contemplated were wrong? Of course, and he is ultimately responsible for the abominable choice he made. Nevertheless, although they say he “acted alone” I do not believe this is the case. It is almost never the case in anything we humans do.

Yes, one should not underestimate the role hatred of another race may have played in the mind of the monster who brought death to the massage parlors of Atlanta. It is much easier I think to slaughter human beings as if they are “just” a bunch of animals in a stockyard, when in addition to blaming them for one’s inability to accept or control their demonized sexual desire, one also thinks they are less than fully human. The fact that the trigger for that desire was to be found in those who are routinely dehumanized by society at large undoubtedly reinforced Mr. Long’s determination to carry out his fake anti-sex jihad.

But why and how was the desire Mr. Long wanted so to escape demonized in the first place? And do the religious authorities Mr. Long looked to his entire life for moral guidance, bear some responsibility for instilling in him a fear that was so profound he ultimately came to a place in which, as Mr. Long himself suggested, he had but two choices: suicide or murder.

Dream

I dream a dream in which I find myself sitting at a table with a beautiful female doctor. The Doctor, who has about her the translucent holiness of the Shechinah, is leading a discussion. She asks me about the female side and I offer the following explanation, “The east – moon imagined as a bowl into which the west – sun pours a drop of its light … but I don’t like this because it’s a diminishment of the female principle – “Adam’s rib all over again.” The Doctor smiles in agreement and I feel the sense of gratification that comes with support from a respected higher authority.

Yet, while it may be difficult to ascertain for sure the extent to which racism played a role in the murderers’ attitude towards his victims, there is precious little doubt that having been raised by a church which sees Eve as the original temptress without whom the Fall of Man itself would not have occurred, in Mr. Long’s holy war against temptation, gender was undeniably an issue.

Indeed, it is important to acknowledge that the man who committed these monstrous acts of pure evil was a deeply religious person, plagued by demons who have their source in certain not uncommon forms of religious brainwashing. Afterall, body hatred is not something we are born with, not something we come to naturally. It is something we must be taught.

In any case, besides the racist, simple-minded dehumanizing of Asian people so prevalent now in the culture at large, it is beyond doubt that the demonization of women and sex in the context of religion were critical factors in the mind-set that permitted this individual who, incredible as it seems saw his furious crusade against the flesh as a way to get right with God. Of course, as we know, killing, torturing and punishing for the purpose of pleasing the Lord has been going on since religion first appeared. It is the dark side of a sacred and necessary enterprise in dire need of renewal and reform.

In fact, when I first read Mr. Long’s comments about wanting to help people by getting rid of temptation, it reminded me of the religious images which showed up at the insurrection, the signs that said “Jesus Saves,” “In God We Trust” and of course: “Proud American Christian.” It reminded me of the flags with various forms of the cross, for in both Mr. Longs’ behavior and the behavior of the insurrectionists there is the same kind of moral inversion whereat falsehood becomes truth, evil becomes good and the devil mutates into God.

Hatred of women

Hatred of another race

Hatred of one’s own natural desire

An unholy trinity born of fear.

It must be remembered that all of these unholy hatreds are ultimately hatred of the Tzelem Elohim: the image of God: God the female; God the source of all the peoples; God the source of human instinct and sexuality. All of these are rejections ultimately of the divine, and those who recognize them as such should call them out and expose them for the hypocritical apostasies they are.

Indeed, whenever people seek to transpose the unholy into the holy, the irreligious into the religious, whenever people seek to invert the rational or the real, those who love God must object. As the dream voice suggests, religion should be the champion of life in all its forms not its enemy.

Dream

“There are several ways of dealing with the chaos in the human heart, with the chaos of the ‘bull.’ You can kill the bull, an approach taken unfortunately by conventional religion, which should be the champion of life, or you can become the master of the bull, the master of the chaos, and the thing that masters is love. If you can find the love and acceptance in yourself to master the bull without destroying it, then you can become whole.”

That a person who identifies both as a Christian and a theist could believe what Mr. Long believed and perform the acts that he performed, is a challenge for those who care about how people understand sacred things, for those who care about the way in which God and the religions which worship Her/Him are understood, articulated and taught. The moral and theological inversion in which Mr. Long participated, to which Mr. Long fell prey will only reinforce the cynical attitudes of those who regard religion as wholly negative and belief in God as a dangerous, primitive remnant of the uncivilized, superstitious past. But as the voice of the dream instructs,

“There is true comfort in faith”

While the lion’s share of the failures which led to the massacre in Atlanta must be recognized as personal and possibly neurological or psychological, while again, as the dream voice instructs, the “metaphysical weather” must be taken into account, the monster did not emerge from a vacuum. It is clear that some of what happened there is the result of a wider failure on the part not only of society in general, but in particular of those in the religious community who, rather than convey a message of love and acceptance including the love of one’s own God-given sexual nature whatever form that may take, deliver a message of shame and rejection. The truth of this failure was on display just a few days ago when the Pope reaffirmed the teaching which, because the church thinks they are excluded from God’s plan, because they are “illicit,” because they are “sin,” bars priests from blessing same-sex unions. The position, not just of the Catholic church but of conservative religion across the board with regard to same sex union, is part and parcel of its ungenerous attitude towards sex as a whole, including the belief that sex should be between a man and a woman exclusively, for the purpose of procreation only, and that sexual activity outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is a sin.

There is much good in religion, much that is good in the Bible, much that is good in the people who lead the religious community, but if religion is to matter at all, if it is to have a positive meaning and value in the days to come, there is also much that deserves to be challenged, reconsidered and in some cases wholly rejected including the shame that accompanies sex…

The demonization of the human body is a hate crime too.

Dream

“Why am I afraid when I say b-b-bottom?” asks my father in a dream, stuttering on the ‘b.’

“Because society teaches us that certain parts of the body are not good, even though all parts of the body are from God, even though God has a bottom too. Man was created in the image of God wasn’t he?” I ask.

“I don’t accept that” says my father.

End

Addendum

I love words and I also hate them. Writing this article was a fulfilling experience for me. And to be fair I wrote it at least in part because I care about people… because I want to help. At the same time there is something almost obscene about writing an article that would not have been written at least in this way, if 8 human beings hadn’t been brutally murdered by a man who at least for an evening, became a monster. There is something about that which makes me uncomfortable. There is something about that which seems somehow obscene. There is something about that which makes me hate the words I love.

Daniel David Joseph

 

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