Politics

‘American Prophecies’ And The Vision Of A God-Ordained U.S.

We have lots of Stand With Israel signs in Preble County. One can only speculate what the signs would say if the Shepherd of Hermes, instead of The Revelation of John, had been included in the Bible as originally planned. This sign is attached to a Baptist Church in Camden, Ohio.

Two men walking up the hill, one disappears and one’s left standing stillI Wish We’d All Been Ready, Larry Norman, Upon This Rock, 1969. This song, which includes the phrase, ‘the Son has come and you’ve been left behind,’ was a conservative Christian anthem in the late 60s and early 70s. It may have been the inspiration for the Left Behind series penned by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins. More than 65 million of the books have sold worldwide. The song has been recorded by Pat Boone, Cliff Richards and a slew of CCM artists.


Let me begin by saying, I don’t believe it.

I don’t believe in the Rapture. I don’t believe in Armageddon and I certainly don’t believe that Israel is part of God’s plan. It’s about politics and exploiting fear.

But I wanted to learn about the Israel movement because of the overwhelming number of ‘Stand with Israel’ signs in my county. When I first noticed them years ago, I mocked them, not grasping what they really meant — that a regressive, apocalyptic worldview was invading my community. It’s a worldview that believes the end of time will occur with Armageddon in Israel.

Growing up in an evangelical church whose brand had a muddy view of the end times, I was never overly interested in Armageddon — or its common partner — the rapture. The rapture is a worldview that asserts the righteous will be ‘taken away’ into paradise while the rest of us are left on earth to learn a hard lesson.

This worldview was told (and sold) in exhausting detail via the Left Behind book series.

The Fearful Faithful

Fundamentalism is the preferred form of Christianity in my part of America. Literal signs of this belief structure are everywhere — from the ‘If you die tonight, will you go to Heaven or Hell?’ billboards along I-70 to the ‘repent and be baptized’ sign as you enter Camden, Ohio. In the past several decades, despite a declining population, we have seen the number of our churches grow — with an increasing move toward stricter interpretations of what the ‘Bible really means.’

Despite our growing number of churches, fear is pervasive, with many local churches compelled to remind citizens that we are a ‘Christian nation’ under siege by the forces of evil. In a recent letter to the editor the minister of the Eaton Church of Christ explains the presence of small white crosses starting to pop up throughout Preble County.

“We have decided that if our local, state, and federal governments are going to bow to the demands of those who would see all the symbols of the Christian foundation of this nation removed, then we will do our best to remind them…They (the white crosses) are a way to remind those around us that this nation became the greatest nation in the world because of its Christian foundations: true morality, Christian principles and the providence of the one true God and creator.”

This approach to interpreting America’s history is common among fundamentalist who have decided that, just like with the Bible, they are the only ones to be trusted with understanding our country’s nuanced beginnings.

God Knows Best

Fundamentalism exploits the simple faith of many, and few do it better than bestselling author Michael D. Evans. In American Prophecies: Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation’s Future, Evans details how America is in the path of prophecy as he analyzes current and past U.S. events surrounding the Nation of Israel. According to Evans, the U.S. and Israel were chosen by god as part of a divine plan to save (most of) the world.

The book is worth reading to better understand the reasoning behind the Stand with Israel movement. This peculiar, fundamentalist movement has believers sadistically waiting for a nuclear war to prove their interpretation of the Bible is correct.

Evans builds his case for Israel’s holy role in America (and vice versa) by relying on Old Testament verses that, he says, prove America is part of the ‘prophecy stream.’ He details the various times in American history when presidents succeeded, or failed, to follow God’s will concerning the Jews. Overall, it appears that the GOP has been better at understanding God’s will than the Democrats, as one would expect based on the author’s political affiliations. But, politics aside, Evans does appear to truly believe that we have divine protection as a country.

God’s Protection

One example Evans gives is General George Washington.

According to Evans, on the battlefield bullets tore through Washington’s coat, but did not pierce his flesh. This, and other events like it, are proof to Evans that that God’s hand was working as a shield for Washington as God guided the country’s inception. But, as anyone who has read war accounts know, these type of ‘miracles’ are fairly common throughout history.

By Evans’ logic Dick Winters (Band of Brothers) or a Preble County WWII vet I met years ago were protected by God. This local soldier’s story of survival includes many ‘intuitions’ that saved his life (‘move away from that tree’) and in one incident, as an 18-year-old soldier, he was one of only two to survive a SS ambush. This man, who detailed other unexplainable events, said he struggled with understanding how he was saved in battle when the guy next to him was killed.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as survivor’s guilt, but for Evans, in the case of Washington, it was part of a master plan.

What Were They Thinking?

The book employs a retelling — or a ‘getting inside the head’ — of past president’s action and in Evans’ defense his life has intertwined with a lot of high-ranking political figures so he would be privy to some of their thought processes. The book was published in 2004 so 9/11 and the president all conservatives love to hate — Bill Clinton — was still fresh on Evans’ mind.

So, as expected, throughout the book Evans political leanings often influence his spiritual insights. But, at times, his reasoning feel insane.

For example, Evans quotes an unnamed ‘brilliant and respected scholar whom I have known for decades,’ who gives yet another verification that God is protecting Israel. The scholar says,

“If you look at a satellite image of the city of Jerusalem, you will see the tetragrammaton YHWH. It is clearly visible in the photos.”

YHWH is the Hebrew word for Yahweh — the ‘unspoken name of God,’ Evans says.

Moving The Embassy

As spiritual advisor to 45* Evans was elated when the U.S. Embassy was recently moved to Jerusalem, saying at a December ceremony honoring Trump,

No president in history has ever built such an alliance for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and no president has courageously stood up for the State of Israel on the global stage as you had Mr. President.

The embassy move is a mixed bag of blessings. If you believe in biblical prophecies, we’re one step closer to the end, and if you don’t believe, well a hard lesson is awaiting.

No Rating on Book. If one wishes to understand the ‘end times’ mindset, but does not want to read the 16-part Left Behind series, this succinct work should do the trick. The book I read is a signed edition –and since I bought it at Goodwill it was discarded by the original owner. I’m not sure what that says about the destination of his/her soul.


Afterthought

As Evans explains in the book, 65 million Americans profess to be Christian and he pontificates what would happen if the Rapture occurred today emptying the country of their souls. It was this argument that almost made me a believer since I could not see a downside.

“Realize, also, if that (the Rapture) happened today it would take our president. Who else would it take? How many members of the Senate? The House? How many judges? How many governors? How many mayors and city council members?”

Although I find the belief system superstitious, one part of the book I did find intriguing — and somewhat entertaining — was the list of Bible verses each U.S. president used when sworn in. Some, like Reagan understood the marketing power of a verse while others, like Lincoln, just let the Bible fall open. At least one president, Pierce, chose not to use a Bible at the inauguration.

Advertisements
Categories: American History, Books I have read, My America, Politics, Religion | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

‘Appalachia’ By Catte Is A Perfect Antidote For ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

This photo, from the 1950s, includes two of my uncles. My mother’s family lived in the Cumberland Plateau region of south central Kentucky/north central Tennessee — near Albany, Kentucky. They are Scots-Irish. In J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy’s version of Appalachia, all Appalachia residents resemble this image.

As a family historian I have researched my (mostly) Appalachian roots so I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the culture. Although my paternal side is English, my maternal side is Scots-Irish (Beaty). But personal knowledge can be a small window to peer through so I seek out broader works to better understand my heritage.

Like many, I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. However, unlike many, I was not impressed with it.

I live in the region Vance details in the book. Preble County, is directly north of Butler County where much of the memoir is set. Preble County is mentioned several times and my favorite quote — with just a little tweaking — says,

When I was about nine years old things began to unravel at home. Tired of Papaw’s presence and Mamaw’s ‘interference’ Mom and Bob decided to move to Preble County…Even as a boy, I knew this was the very worst thing that could happen to me.

Despite the acceptance of Elegy, much like the tweaked quote above, the book does not resonate as an accurate depiction of Appalachia or ‘hillbillies’ in southwest Ohio. When I reviewed Elegy I included comments from Jacobin which provided a much-needed context to the Middletown, Ohio dilemma (and other regions of the country) Vance highlights. The Jacobin review mentions the entrenched systems that prevent upward mobility, a segment of the story that Vance conveniently omits. Or, as the review states in its pithy subhead: The American hillbilly isn’t suffering from a deficient culture. He’s just poor.

As I tried to understand Elegy’s runaway success, I stumbled onto a blog by Elizabeth Catte, and learned about her upcoming book: What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. Her blog revealed she was from Appalachia but more importantly, she was committed to a realistic representation of the culture. So I preordered her book, and found in it an author who, unlike Vance, is not attempting to package a nice ‘clean’ (i.e. profitable) version of Appalachia.

First, The Basics

The book is succinct — less than 150 pages — but the size is deceiving because a lot of interesting content is packed in between the covers. The book is divided into three parts.

  • Part One: Appalachia and the Making of Trump Country.
  • Part Two: Hillbilly Elegy and the Racial Baggage of J.D. Vance’s Greater Appalachia.
  • Part Three: Land, Justice and People

I have read both Elegy and Appalachia, and for those interested in educating themselves, Elegy pales in comparison to Appalachia. Elegy is a modernized Horatio Alger story that re-manufactures an all-white culture too lazy to solve its own problems, whereas Appalachia rejects the stereotypes and reports objectively on the region.

Part One: Appalachia and the Making of Trump Country.

Catte opens with the national media’s interest in Appalachia during the 2016 presidential campaign. In one telling section she dissects the national media’s assertion that McDowell County, West Virginia was a ‘Trump County.’ She references, among other sources, a Huffington Post article which asserts McDowell County offers a ‘glimpse at the America that voted Trump into office.’

As Catte notes, the media declared the county a ‘landslide’ victory for Trump. McDowell County, which had 17,508 registered voters in the 2016 presidential election, cast 4,614 votes for Trump and 1,429 for Hillary Clinton. As Catte says,

“if we use reported numbers we find that only 27 percent of McDowell County voters supported Trump.”

Besides the fact that in ‘Trump County’ a significant percentage of the voters stayed home, Catte further counters the ‘Trump County myth’ by revealing these facts about West Virginia — truths that defy stereotypes. For example:

  • West Virginia has the highest concentration of transgender teens in the country.
  • in 2017, filmmakers in West Virginia hosted the fourth annual Appalachian Queer Film Festival.
  • More people in Appalachia identify as African American than Scots-Irish.

As she ends this section of the book, she segues into Part Two reflecting on her college years.

“While reading Greek poetry, my professors warned us to be careful of the double meaning of elegies; they were, it seems, often written as political propaganda.”

Part Two: Hillbilly Elegy and the Racial Baggage of J.D. Vance’s “Greater Appalachia”

As Catte states, the concept of a Greater Appalachia, is not an original idea by Vance. The term is usually associated with Colin Woodard who uses the phrase in American Nations. I would argue, based solely on personal experience, that the Vance family’s migration to Middletown is fairly common in southwest Ohio. Butler County, and Preble to the north does have a heavy Appalachia-based population. But, as Catte accurately notes, Vance’s version of Appalachia is all white — which does not accurately depict Appalachia (or Butler County for that matter). This is especially true of the officially designated region of Appalachia which boasts significant African American and Hispanic populations.

But, she opens this section with the story of the 1968 killing of a Canadian filmmaker who was shot by a well-connected Jeremiah, Kentucky landowner. The landowner is eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter – serving one year in prison. She uses the story to segue into the exploitation Appalachia residents have faced over the centuries — often accomplished through ‘poverty images.’ She notes,

“Much like the visual archive generated during the War on Poverty, Elegy sells white middle-class observers an invasive and exploitative story of the region. For white people uncomfortable with images of the civil rights struggles and the realities of Black life those images depicted, an endless stream of sensationalized white poverty offered them an escape …”

For me, this section of the book is the strongest as Catte builds her case against Vance’s work. I do not want to retell her arguments because I sincerely hope people purchase her book to counter the myth perpetuated by Vance’s work. (For the record, I do not know Ms. Catte and will not financially benefit if her book sells. As a human, tired of myth creation in America, I simply want a more accurate depiction of Appalachia to be read.)

Part Three: Land, Justice and People

Catte wraps up the book building on the photo motif. She describes images of individuals significantly more representative of Appalachia than Vance. This is the section for people who truly want to meet the people who are, unlike Vance, doing work that benefits the community. The individuals range from photographers to community organizers. This section also sheds light on why, and how, the War on Poverty from the 1960s ultimately failed.

Although in this section she does rehash some fairly well-known stories, like the Harlan County, Kentucky strike and Matawan, she also includes numerous lesser-known events like an arsonist attack on Mud Creek Health Clinic. She also touches on the failed promise of political leaders in the current era concerning the private prison industry. In the 1990s, two large prisons opened in southwest Virginia and with them the promise of ‘good paying local jobs.’ As she notes, though, local workers did not receive the ‘good jobs’ instead the ‘locals’ were regulated to low-paying, menial labor positions.

My Rating: 5 out of 5. One of the sad realities of life in the United States is the books that should hit the bestsellers list — this one — will not while those that perpetuate a myth — Hillbilly Elegy — do. Besides being an engaging read, Appalachia, is also a heavily researched ‘textbook.’ Included in the book is a section of 8-10 pages of  resources and suggested reading. Although it may not be important to everyone, it is to me, as I read Appalachia, I feel Catte actually cares about Appalachia and is interested in its progress. This is a stark contrast to Elegy’s author who is simply pushing a popular, but exploitive, political agenda.

Church, located in Cumberland County Kentucky, bears my surname. The church is located about two miles from my father’s childhood home.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Appalachia, Books I have read, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

Memo To GOP: Never Forget — Ignorance And Fear Generates Votes

One local Facebook user said there were 300 currently available jobs in Preble County. The user based the claim on a Indeed job search, but the user did not take the time to look at the listed jobs — or their location. An October 7 Indeed search revealed there are 101 jobs currently advertised in Eaton (the county seat), 96 of those jobs had an annual salary estimate of $15,000. But even the 101 number is incorrect because included in that list are Border Patrol jobs for the federal government, a Chief of Police job for Sylvania Township, Ohio and a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, to name just a few inaccuracies. Also, some of the listing are repeated (for example the same Water Meter Installer ad appears on the first three pages of listings and three positions at Henny Penny are duplicated).

Framing Issues Just Like In The 80s

I’m amazed at the slanted information that filters onto social media.

Although Sanctuary Cities aren’t much of an issue in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District they were Warren Davidson’s pressing concern this week. His Tweet, with its xenophobic and racist undertones, implies the need to protect our (white) girls from darker-skinned gang members.

Davidson is correct in one aspect, though, Ohio has a rape problem.

He’s just framing it immorally.

Selling Fear

The day before Davidson’s Tweet, in my hometown newspaper, a rape was reported with a story line that is significantly more common in Ohio. Victims are raped by someone they know.

The suspect, who was convicted and is scheduled to be sentenced next month, was a resident of a small, rural town on the southern end of Preble County — a county that is 97 percent white. The 49-year-old man was convicted of raping his daughter’s friend — a 20-something who, after a night of drinking, decided to ‘crash on the couch’ at the friend’s house where the father also lived.

No gangs. Just a 49-year-old man with predatory behavior — a demographic and behavior that is much harder to politicize.

Just a few weeks earlier, in Eaton, another man — about the same age — tied up a 90-something-year-old female relative, stealing her vehicle, just a few blocks from my home. After being apprehended by the Eaton Police Department, the suspect escaped the cruiser while handcuffed — and within 24 hours was accused in the stabbing of another Preble County resident.

Again, no gangs — just a white American male.

What Would Ted Nugent Do?

The Tweet — with its nod to the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 80s — is troubling on many levels, but it comes in a week where the GOP has attacked women’s reproductive rights while intentionally ignoring action on gun violence. After the horrific incident in Las Vegas where roughly 600 people were shot by a high-powered assault rifle from the 32nd floor of a hotel — negating the possibility of a CCW-armed individual neutralizing the situation — the GOP proved its political approach is woefully out of whack with the leadership the country needs.

But some of their fans are egging them on.

I see this on Facebook since I live in a Red Zone. We love our guns more than liberty, and Facebook lit up with people justifying their 2nd Amendment right to arm themselves. They quoted Teddy Nugent and Pat Robertson to justify their position — all the while ignoring the context that the 3rd Amendment brings to the debate.

God Help Us

Part of our inability to stave off nefarious Tweets or solve problems like gun violence is an exploitation of social conservative beliefs. Many good, church-attending people in my community are convinced that only God can solve our problems — effectively removing human accountability. One Preble County resident, commenting on the Las Vegas shooter, said,

‘There is no way to figure out who these people are until it’s too late.”

Besides shutting down public discourse (since there ‘are no solutions’), as Redneck Liberal Trea Crowder points out, there is a level of hypocrisy in the statement. Crowder says, this is not the response white people have when a person of color fires the weapon. It is not the response they have when non-Christians fire the weapons. And, as Crowder also points out, other countries have found workable solutions.

For some, though, none of this matters. It’s easier to do nothing. It’s the reason ‘thoughts and prayers’ resonates with many here and throughout the country — a naïve belief that God’s will usurps authority over intellect — and we just need to trust Him to solve our problems.


Passive Americans

Preble County church.

After mentioning a local church’s response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest in a recent post, I listened to the minister’s argument. It boils down to: how would it look to children if we disrespect the flag/anthem? It’s a weak argument coming from an organization (Southern Baptist) that supported a man who bragged about sexual assault and called Kaepernick a son of a bitch. Besides, Southern Baptists may not be a moral authority on race relations since they owe their inception to slavery.

But, more importantly, Kaepernick’s protest could teach children that people have an obligation to denounce systemic racism or that the First Amendment was penned for situations like police accountability.

It is the story of Elijah the minister references, though, in his ‘kneel or stand’ sermon that offers a stronger clue to why communities like mine lack the skills to problem solve.

In the story, a destitute and hungry prophet Elijah, survives because God instructs birds to daily deliver food to him. This is accepted as a literal act of God — not a Aesop-type fable — but real birds delivering real food to a real man.  Elijah does not solve his hunger problem, the solution exists outside of him.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Politics, Preble County