The following letter was published (without the snake handlers) in its entirety, sans the postscript, in the Sentinel Record on Thursday, January 23, 2014. Responses will be posted in the comments area below as they are received…
As for the absence of Mr. Oliphant’s cartoons (which, strangely, coincided with the retirement of the newspaper’s longstanding editor and the arrival of a new editor and scion of its owners) noted in the postscript, she wrote me back with this:
“Regarding Pat Oliphant, we stopped running him because his cartoons featured nudity, which we do not publish, and because a number of readers complained that they found him offensive. The purpose of cartoonists is to provoke thought and opinion, not become news themselves.”
Historians will surely look back on this generation as an age when ignorance and silliness trumped reason and progress. Ours is a time pregnant with potential, yet scarred and crippled by war, greed and prejudice. Why?
I’ll lay blame squarely on the bane of fundamentalism. Whether in religion, or politics, or the social contract we all enter into when we choose to share the risks and rewards of community, fundamentalism has shackled us to a form of slavery that is beholden to what it imagines once was, and willfully blind to all that can be.
There is something about the fundamentalist spirit that insists every new revelation, invention and discovery be immediately ossified. Frozen in place… Innovation must be stifled. Once something new is set in motion, it must never be re-invented, or adapted to meet new realities, or pressed into a service its inventors never imagined. Old truths must never be discarded, but tortured into bizarre, illogical reconciliations with new truths. And when the old cannot be reconciled, fundamentalism clings to it anyway, and concludes that God stands with regression while progress is the work of the Devil.
Thus we are told we must forever hew to ancient recollections about a tribal god of wandering Hebrews, a deity of smoke and fire and blood sacrifices and prone to much smiting. A strange fellow named Jesus showed up later in occupied Palestine, and dared suggest there was a better way than that old-time religion of endless rules and regulations. Got killed for his radical opposition to religious fundamentalism…
We are told by political fundamentalists that even our America, born in the crucible of colonial tyranny long ago, must be forever held hostage by the “original intent” of those powdery old white men who signed the U.S. Constitution (rumor has it, by the flickering light from a burning bush on Mount Sinai). It’s peculiar of course, but apparently only certain fundamentalists can rightly divine original intent…
Fact is, all of fundamentalism’s divinations are patently silly. They would give rise to light-hearted mirth were they not dangerously perpetuating rampant poverty and plunder. Why give a damn about lingering injustice, or our systematic rape of the environment, when Christian fundamentalists itching for Armageddon insist the world as we know it is about to end anyway? These same Christian fundamentalists constantly lecture us about the dangers of Islam, even as they lust for the glory of bloody new crusades. Patriarchal fundamentalists and dynastic duck hunters wax pathetic about women’s rights and maternal responsibilities. Straight fundamentalists seem to know an awful lot about homosexuality.
The end of fundamentalism is what? A long, backwards slide into the squishy swamps of unreason, where humanity’s collective intellect whimpers and dies? In the winter of 1170, King Henry II said of Thomas Beckett, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” In this, the winter of 2014, will no one rid us of these meddlesome fundamentalists?
Hot Springs, Arkansas
PS (and beginning at 496 words, this postscript is NOT for publication since we are now venturing beyond the infamous 500-word limit) – it is deliciously ironic that your recent self-congratulatory review of the new mandate for brevity required more than 500 words! And whatever happened to Pat Oliphant? It has been many months now since “the most influential cartoonist now working” (according to the New York Times) graced the pages of this newspaper. Does his absence signal an overt right-wing shift at the Sentinel Record?
Photograph of serpent-handling ceremony at the Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky, by Russell Lee, 15 September 1946. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Handling_of_serpents… or http://bit.ly/IrNGxF