There’s a deep suspicion of the Federal government in my region of Kentucky, and as someone who came from the northeast, I didn’t understand it at first. Once I learned about the history of the region, some of that suspicion started to make sense.
When the Federal government formed the Tennessee Valley Authority in order to create jobs and affordable electricity in our area, the dammed up Cumberland River resulted in flooding that required the removal of several towns in the region now known as the Land Between the Lakes.
In addition, the Land Between the Lakes region was designated a recreation area, and the few remaining homes were purchased by the government so that residents could resettle.
Although there were some excellent benefits from this project, including extremely cheap electricity in a region that has struggled economically, homeowners in the Land Between the Lakes region alleged that the government undervalued their homes and then paid them less than the home’s value. In addition, several long time communities were unwilling to move from land that had been in their families for generations.
Such incidents hardly account for ALL of the suspicion of the Federal government in our area, but they surely don’t help. From what I can tell, the good of providing jobs and electricity was undermined by some extremely troubling exploitation of people who already didn’t have a lot of resources.
When I hear someone’s strong views about government overreach around here, I’m mindful that there’s some history that I haven’t lived through that could be influencing such perspectives.
I’d also qualify that by saying there’s a history in our region (and to the south) of resenting the government for liberating slaves and assuring the rights of black citizens. Such resentment should be understood, but it’s certainly not a belief that should be honored or accommodated.
Looking a bit more broadly, it’s fair to say that when someone is deeply committed to religious beliefs, political ideology, or a certain school of philosophy, there’s sometimes (if not often) a good bit of pain involved in that person’s story leading up to those strong beliefs.
Looking back at my own history, I am strongly opposed to the politicization of the Christian faith for the ends of any political cause, but those strong beliefs are driven in part by my disillusionment with Christianity being exploited by the religious right in America.
I know I’m hardly unique in that sense. It feels like well over half of the Christians I know in my age range share my disillusionment with politics co-opting the Christian message.
I’ve met plenty of Christians who were disillusioned by organized religion, especially Christian churches with strong pastoral figureheads, and all of them have a story of a leader abusing his (it’s almost always a man) position to the detriment of others.
People end up supporting political leaders, rejecting religious beliefs, swinging from one extreme to another, and engaging in who knows what else because of pain from their past.
Perhaps they can’t draw a straight line right away from their pain to their current convictions, but it sure seems like pain changes us and prompts us to make really big shifts that we’d otherwise resist. At the very least, our pain prompts us to make changes that we feel very strongly about.
I had some extremely negative experiences with Catholic priests who were quite dismissive of me and who were quite authoritarian in their use of power. They more or less said, “I’m the priest who represents the authority of the church, so your beliefs need to fall in line with what I’m saying.”
Such things were said with a smile that belied an assumption that I would surely take their view of things and merely fall in line. They never thought that I’d want to read the Bible and consider ideas outside of their own.
To this day I find the Catholic mass almost suffocating and unbearable. The last place I want to be is under the authority of a priest, even in the course of leading a mass.
I can read Catholic writers because there’s a different dynamic present with an author and a reader. I can go to an Episcopal Church because our priest doesn’t claim a kind of unlimited and unquestionable religious authority that is linked to a Pope. It’s quite clear in my mind, but I’m sure it doesn’t make sense to everyone.
The common link between myself and those who are suspicious of government, religious leaders, organized religious groups, or politicians pandering to religious groups is a history of pain and disappointment.
It’s easy to judge people based on how they act today. I’ll admit that it would be much, much easier to dismiss someone who doesn’t make any sense to me or who holds views that I find wrong or even harmful.
Yet, such a dismissive spirit falls well short of how I’d want someone to handle my own pain from my past.
I also know I haven’t been as kind and gracious to some Catholics or politically driven Christians because of my own past.
We all want to be understood. We want our pain to be acknowledged and seen for what it is, even if it can make us a bit hard to handle at times.
Maybe if we can talk about our shared pain, we can even more toward a common healing where we can drop our defenses just a little bit so we can see how much we hold in common.