Making Light: Gods Bless Tennessee

TN was also the site of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which evolution VS. creation in curriculum was debated in open court.

Just this week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, chose not to veto the so-called “Monkey Bill” that requires science teachers to “teach the controversy” about scientific theories such as evolution and climate change. The Wild Hunt has excellent coverage here. Some of what I have to say is repeated in the comments there, but I thought I would write a little something about this idiotic piece of legislation.

I am so mad about this, I can’t even tell you. I am angry.

I’m angry that our legislators would pass such a bill and that Haslam failed to veto it, but that alone merely scratches the surface of my ire. As a Tennessean and a parent, I see this bill as a step backwards in the education of our children– of my children. While I have the utmost respect for most science teachers in Tennessee, I know that there are places in our good state where children are being taught science by barely-certified coaches who are all too glad to gloss over evolution and teach creationism under the protection of this bill. As a Tennessean and a scientist, I know that the industries of science and technology flourish throughout the state and that the passage of this bill will make those who wish to bring more such businesses to Tennessee hesitate to do so, fearing that there won’t be enough people here with sufficient science education to work in those industries. I also suspect that those wishing to pursue science as a career will choose to take their tuition dollars out of state, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of programs at our universities that support researchers as well as undergraduates interested in STEM careers. As a Tennessean and a Pagan, I am enraged that my state government is promoting a particular religious view in this way. I have no issue with Christianity or with Christians, but religion has no place in a science classroom. I’m not okay with that.

What angers me even more is that otherwise reasonable people see this and use it to perpetuate stereotypes about Southerners in general and Tennesseans specifically. My family is from East Tennessee. I grew up in the comforting embrace of the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I played as a child under the Appalachian canopy and my heritage lies in the sound of fiddles and cloggers, reels and ballads that reflect our ancestral memories of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Cherokee songs ring in my ears as well, drums and dances from the pow-wows we sometimes went to. Biscuits with honey and butter taste like home and sweet tea means “hospitality.” Muscadine wine is somehow more perfect than any other fruit of the vine and bourbon whiskey is just the thing for sippin’.

I used to be embarrassed to be a Tennessean. I used to think that my heritage was something to be ashamed of because sophisticated, intelligent people didn’t listen to the Grand Ole Opry and speak with an accent like mine. We’ve been portrayed in the media as poor, uneducated rubes a la The Beverly Hillbillies, but I have since come to accept the rich beauty of the place I’ve always called home and it is that beauty and deep connection I feel toward the natural cycles and rhythms of this place that led me to become a Pagan and a biologist. What a wonderful and diverse environment we live in! I love who I am and where I come from and when our state government does something stupid like this, they make the rest of us look bad. They add fuel to the fire of those who would continue to see us as ignorant hillbillies. I realize that I live in the Bible Belt. I understand that evangelical Christianity is the dominant type of religion here, but with the notable exception of most of our esteemed representatives in Nashville, most of Tennessee is neither backwards nor stupid, regardless of the religious convictions of her citizens. Our legislators have disrespected and insulted the intelligence of every Tennessean from Knoxville to Memphis and I will not stand for it. Athena give them wisdom. Apollo open their eyes.

My dear Pagan brothers and sisters, as you continue to hear about this in the news, please don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping us as backwards and stupid because our legislators have done something idiotic.

About Sunweaver

In addition to her personal and group practice as a priestess of Apollo, Sunweaver works as interfaith clergy with a diversity of religious groups in the Middle Tennessee area. She is a founding member of the Rutherford County Women of Faith and has worked with the area interfaith center, Wisdom House, to help bring positive awareness to the non-Abrahamic religions. She is a mother of two, a fiber arts enthusiast, and a holds a Master's degree in biology.

  • Themon the Bard

    I sympathize. I come from Colorado, and as one of only two states (as I understand it) with a public referendum for state constitutional amendments, we get more than our share of nonsense legislation intended to press forward extremist agendas.

    The unfortunate fact is, Tennessee is filled with idiots, just as is Colorado, or any other state in the United States. These are the ignorant, fearful, easily-led masses who turn out in large numbers to vote for the idiots who passed this law in Tennessee. Or any number of other laws here in Colorado, or (of course) in Washington, DC. Are they actually the majority? I don’t know: they are, however, the voting majority.

    As this bizarre 2012 election heats up, and culminates in the winner-take-all mud-wrestle next November, I don’t think any of us will have much reason to be proud of any of our states, or our nation. 

    • Sunweaver

      I want to believe that we’ll eventually return to a place of reason as a nation. This is certainly a difficult time, but one that I hope won’t last much longer. Thank you for reading this and for your thoughtful response.

  • Gus diZerega

    I sympathize with your feelings – I was born in Virginia, grew up in Kansas, and spent considerable time in Arkansas,  and know first hand much of the warmth and decency that characterizes many people in those states.  And presumably elsewhere in the South and near South.

    That said, those imbeciles keep getting elected.  Somebody voted for them.  Repeatedly. For decades. Why. Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy” was an eye opening read for me.  I recommend it.

    There is something very twisted about Southern culture as well as much that is beautiful and warm.  I think that ‘something’ is the lingering cultural, political, and religious impact of slavery, which birthed the Southern Baptists just before the Civil war, and whose Confederacy has been romanticized as the great “lost cause” ever since.  Southern elites and their servants have lied to themselves and others about that war, claiming slavery was a minor or nonexistent cause when their leaders at the time said it was by far the major cause, even the only cause.  The culture lives a lie, and living a major lie facilitates lying about so much else. It drains integrity like a hole in the side of the Titanic.

    (To forestall one reaction, I am not saying any culture is completely honest, though at this point perhaps Germany might come closest.  But few places are in as deep denial about their real history as the South.)

    When Southern Baptists  essentially became Dixie’s state religion the majority of the region rooted its ethical and spiritual foundation on rejecting the Enlightenment and therefore the principles behind our country’s founding. (There is no doctrine of states rights in the constitution. Madison made that explicitly clear in “The Federalist”.)   Only then could slavery be defended because supposedly the Bible approved. But that bred a style of thinking that necessarily rejected anything “unBiblical,” including science. Hence my collection of Jesus-riding-dinosaur pictures.

    I do not know the answer here.  I have a deep seated fondness for Virginia, love the Hunt Country, Blue Ridge, and Smokies to the south, have rafted Ozark rivers and explored some of its caves, and have fond memories of time with family and friends there. But the the South has also been the center of support for almost every nasty trend in our country.

    We should never forget our Pagan and other friends who live in and love the South, but we should also never consider it as just like the rest of the country but with a warmer and more humid climate and a slower accent. Sometimes I wish Lincoln had not responded to their aggression at Fort Sumter. They would have been independent, had to abolish slavery for themselves, and been forced to be a third world country or rejoin post-Enlightenment Western civilization.

    • Sunweaver

       Part of the point of this post was to illustrate that extreme conservatism and anti-evolution legislation was not solely the product of the South. The fact that conservatism and anti-evolution sentiment exists in the South is not in question, but I daresay that there is a national phenomenon here and not one that can solely be placed upon the shoulders of Southerners or for which side their ancestors chose to fight during the Civil War. (Fun fact: East Tennessee, where I’m from, was Union-supporting, as were my ancestors.)

      The biggest organization that supports and promotes teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom is the Discovery Institute. This seems like the kind of place that would be based in the heart of Dixie, according to your assessment, but is, in fact, located in Seattle, WA– the far corner of the country from here. In other words: not Southern.
      At all.

      A quick look at a couple notable Republicans shows that Sarah Palin (not Southern) doesn’t believe in evolution, but Newt Gingrich (who represents Georgia) does.

      So, what we should do is set aside our geographical prejudices and exactly consider the South like the rest of the country.

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