Making Light: Gods Bless Tennessee

John Thomas Scopes photographed by Watson Davis. Public domain.
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.

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