Paper Covers Rock

You've no doubt heard by now of the remarks made on January 17 by Alabama governor Robert Bentley.  After being sworn into office, he addressed a crowd at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, which Dr. King once served as pastor.  In that speech, he made remarks that are searingly insensitive and sadly shallow.  Here they are, in part.

"Now i will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters.  So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

I find it mind-numbing that Governor Bentley would utter such hurtful words on the heels of a national discussion about the power of words precipitated by the unspeakable tragedy in Tucson. 

Remember the old game "Rock, Paper, Scissors?"  Here is another sad case of the thin paper of religious belief covering the rock-solid gem of compassion. 

As a person who is keenly interested in the psychology of religion, I am aware that religion often helps people be better people.  With all those who have studied religion through a psychological lens, however, I am also aware that religion sometimes impedes or thwarts spiritual growth and expansiveness of soul and can be downright hurtful to people.  The governor's remarks represent a sad example of a religious mindset that is constricting and that only fastens and perpetuates the sad separation between people that helpful religion ought to bridge.

Our sisterhood and brotherhood is not found in our religion.  Our sisterhood and brotherhood is found in our humanity.  Dr. King spoke of "the inescapable network of mutuality" and "the single garment of destiny" in which the human family is wrapped.  And, I long for the day when we elevate our common humanity to a place of greater importance than whatever religion we espouse. 

A poem sprang from my soul last year.  My colleague, Amir Zaheri, set it to music, and it is now an anthem called "Where All May Stand."  It's what came to my mind when I read of Governor Bentley's remarks, and I'd like to share these copyrighted words with you.


My soul's grown weary of the sideful illusion

of this without that,

of we without they.

My soul's depleted by the dual-confusion,

the versus that cuts whole into twain.

I'm longing for an end to things with sides,

to squares and tears and dividing lines.

It's the whole that I want,

seamless, sideless.

A perfect circle

where all may stand

and in their timeless freedom be,

a twainless, oneful dance of peace.

What we need's a revolution,

a joyful blitz of dis-illusion,

to make the two and all a one,

so swords may ploughshares be.


I hope that the religion we practice will always sharpen our vision to see the abundant and bright humanity in everyone.  And, I hope that we will recognize the world-changing power in our words, to the end that we each and all may speak words that turn swords and walls into ploughshares and bridges.