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Yesterday I watched this video of Pastor Eric Dammann of New Jersey’s Bible Baptist Church recount his interaction with a kid named Ben. Go ahead and watch it, it’s short:

It’s disgusting for a whole all-you-can-eat-buffet of reasons but let’s go ahead and address a few of them. The most obvious is that he’s talking about punching a child. But not just talking about it, bragging. He underlines that he “crumpled” the kid. This full grown man, unprovoked, punched a child in the chest and crumpled him. And he’s proud of this. But just before that happens he mentions that this kid Ben was really bright which “didn’t help things” and “made him dangerous”. Reading between the lines anyone can assume Ben was a smart kid who perhaps didn’t take this guys word as law and asked some questions that the good pastor found annoying to have to answer, or not answer as the case my be. Dangerous because he didn’t just submit? Pastor Dammann then essentially lays out that through the use of physical violence he made a child succumb to his religious beliefs. Beliefs we can only assume Ben didn’t buy into prior to this altercation.

To recap: Smart people are dangerous, violence is the solution. This is the message here.

This video has sparked enough outrage that Bible Baptist Church posted a self serving, half ass, revisionist apology on their website which implores the community, and by extension the world, to be as understanding and forgiving as Ben who has already made peace with the pastor for his actions years ago. One has to wonder if this forgiveness came under threat of more violence. Forgive me or else! Of course this story is not making headlines the world over because unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t news. Religious people have been using violence to suppress dissenters for a very long time, and this week has some horrifically ugly examples. 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and another 5 in Paris because the magazine printed cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad. In Nigeria the militant Islamist movement Boko Haram has killed close to 2000 including strapping a bomb to a 10 year old girl and sending her into a market where the bomb was detonated remotely. And yes, killing people is different from punching them, but the motivations are the same. You haven’t blindly accepted this mythology that I believe is real so I’m going to hurt you.

This has been happening as long as religion has existed and no faith is free from blame.

Coincidentally this is exactly the motivation behind the creation of something else happening in the US this week: National Religious Freedom Day. Did you know there was a religious freedom day? Created in 1992 and based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which dates back to 1777. This is important because it clearly states a legal and natural freedom of and from all religions. Here’s a snip:

“…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

If you think sounds familiar you are right, as it was the primary influence for the First Amendment of the US which assures freedom of religion and speech to all people. Here’s that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech and religion are intricately related as we’re seeing in every news report coming out of Paris. People were killed because of what they said about someone else’s religion. And this sparked massive freedom of speech rallies attended by millions – the biggest such rallies in France since liberation from the Nazis. The people are obviously in support of free speech and politicians from the world over rushed to Paris to stand side by side with these people. Of course, many of politicians are barely paying lip service to the ideals represented, and it took mere hours for this to be apparent as a French comedian was arrested for making a joke on Facebook (plus 54 other cases opened for people expressing opinions) and for Turkey to ban the newest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But that’s over there and here we’ve just got pastors punching kids, so big deal, right? Well with a 92% Christian Congress and a Supreme Court ruling that businesses can discriminate based on of religion we’re already seeing where someone’s religious beliefs could prevent people from receiving health care because of their sexual orientation. This isn’t far away hypothetical thought experiments, this is actually happening right now. Religious massacres are low hanging fruit – easy to condemn, but I feel just as strongly that kids shouldn’t fear or risk being punched by an adult for not sharing the same imaginary friends. And it’s important to recognize that there is some structure, and some basis for the idea that we should all be allowed to decide what we do or don’t believe in, and shouldn’t fear institutional backlash from those decisions.

That’s the world I want to live in, that’s the world I’m trying to shape.

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