Is God Among the Final Four?

Is God Among the Final


Leonard Zwelling

         On the morning of Sunday (how appropriate), March 29,
Governor Mike Pence of Indiana was George Stephanopoulos’ guest on ABC’s This Week. He was being questioned about
the new law he had signed that promoted religious freedom in Indiana. What Mr.
Stephanopoulos wanted to know was whether or not the law would allow a small
business owner to discriminate against gay people based on the business owner’s
religious beliefs. (For example could a baker refuse to supply a wedding cake
simply because the couple getting married is gay)?

never got an answer despite asking the question repeatedly. Yesterday (March
31) Governor Pence relented and will ask for qualifying and clarifying language
to prevent discrimination under the law. Or so he now says.

         Later Sunday, the last two teams to win their way to the
NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship known as the Final Four were identified—Duke
and Michigan State. Duke won here in Houston and I was there with my two Duke
grad sons. The tournament will conclude this week in—wait for it, ta-ta—Indianapolis!
Don’t you love irony?

         The major question that remains is will there be boycotts of
the Final Four because of the new Indiana law that seems to allow
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or preference? Personally, I
hope so.

         In a new book (One
Nation, Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America
), Kevin
Kruse notes that the common belief that the United States has always been and
is today a Christian nation, is simply untrue. The identification of
Christianity with things American actually began as a response from corporate
America against the communitarian values embodied in FDR’s New Deal. The large
corporations and the Chamber of Commerce enlisted major Christian leaders to
oppose the tenets of the New Deal with some success. This success grew from the
late 1930’s until President Eisenhower permanently poisoned the Pledge of
Allegiance so that loyal American atheists would have trouble saying it by
inserting “under God” into the words of the Pledge.

         Considering how many of our ancestors came to these shores
fleeing religious persecution, it seems bizarre that we should try to ensconce
any religiosity into aspects of American loyalty, but there it is. A
“God-containing phrase” is also in most court rooms and on our money, which I am
sure Jesus would find more than humorous as would the Deist George Washington
if he could turn around and read “In God We Trust” on the other side of the
bill his face is on.

         Public displays of religion are fairly common here in Texas.
Most major donor dinners I have attended in Houston have begun with an
invocation and I have had to ignore references in these pre-dinner prayers to “Our
Lord, Jesus Christ” at more than a few of these functions at which I found my
Jewish self.

in the name of God, discrimination against certain groups of Americans has seemed
to be legitimized. This is shameful, but hardly surprising.

         One of my pet theories is that the need to believe in God is
hard wired into human DNA. It is a protective mechanism, selected for during
man’s evolution, to explain inexplicable natural phenomenon and make us feel
less lonely. Call it the comfort in the vast, uncaring universe gene. Even the most
devout of religious leaders will admit that the physical and documentable evidence for God’s existence is
nil, but that most Americans do believe in God. Great! I have absolutely no
qualm with any of that. But if people or governments use this natural, but
unsubstantiated belief, to discriminate against other Americans, that’s a line
that cannot be crossed.

         Governor Pence managed to take himself out of any meaningful
consideration for a Presidential run on Sunday. Any Republican candidate must
be able to garner sufficient numbers of cross-over votes in Blue states if he
or she is to be elected via the electoral college. That is no longer possible
for Mr. Pence who will be viewed as an enemy of the LGBT community and the
embodiment of religious intolerance. Furthermore, he knew exactly what he was
doing, but sometimes good local politics and “playing to your base” does not
travel well.

         God may dwell among the Final Four this weekend, but His
influence may well be in the form of protests against an outrageous abridgement
of American tolerance.

         And on the subject of tolerance and the Final Four, how much
longer are MD Anderson faculty members going to tolerate your Final Four? That would be DePinho,
Dmitrovsky, Buchholz and Fontaine. How about a game of H-O-R-S-E to see which
one of these guys is the biggest horse’s you-know-what? If that happened,
perhaps it would be proof that there is a God!

         The truth is that there can be no easy resolution of the inherent conflict between the civil rights of LGBT Americans and the presumed rights of small business owners
to determine who they serve. This is the exact problem that the civil rights
legislation of the 1960’s aimed to resolve in favor of openness and tolerance
and against the individual personal choices of bigots to close lunch counters to blacks. To me this is the
essential American solution—the government forcing inclusiveness in the face of
individual intolerance. It’s a choice and a just society will lean toward
tolerance even if it offends the putative legitimate religious beliefs of other citizens.

         There is nothing more American any more than the Final Four.
That this year’s tourney ends in Indiana does tend to increase my belief in an
ironic God. Governor Pence has begun to realize the error of his ways. Oh that
others in Indiana, Arkansas and even Houston should follow suit. With Houston, I mean that the Final Four next year is here and should the Texas Legislature attempt to enact a law like that passed in Indiana, the NCAA should reconsider its tourney ending in the Bayou City in 2016. Ditto the 2017 Super Bowl.

         There is no room in modern America for intolerance based on any group’s skin color, beliefs or sexual orientation. If that offends those who would discriminate and hide behind religion to do it, so be it. The right to offend is the greatest American right of all.

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