They Took Our Religion and Gave Us Opioids


The great thing about a cruise is meeting people . . . at one point in the day a nice lady from New Jersey helped us with sunscreen. She did not allow us to pay her for the copious amount we used to protect our too-much-time-inside skin. Then there was the older (even by our standards!) couple reading thick novels together in the lounge. We heard them discuss their day in a good Southern drawl, while another couple held hands as they prayed over lunch.

Later in the day, however, we met the people one most dreads: the type that confirms the stereotype you have fought all your life.

I love West Virginia and am happy to say “Mountaineers are always free.”  I am from Appalachia and I hate the stereotype that we are ignorant, bigoted, and full of ugliness. The wisest people I have ever known are from the hills. Some of the best folk I have known never went to college, and I’ve seen small Appalachian churches teach values that lifted people up and helped free them from despair.

Today I met people who have ingested the stereotype and become what we are accused of being. How? I was reminded of what is left of my home culture when we lose our religion: ugliness, divorce, alcohol abuse, racism.

The Death of the Muses

We sat next to a group of people who drunkenly insulted the Mexicans they’d met at a cruise destination. The group was full of “Moe-HEEE-TOE.” This might have been fine, had they not rejoiced in “whipping the tar” out of their kids while discussing plans to trade up to a better wife—or two.

The blend of profanity, shouting, and ugliness was not new to me, but it was no better for the familiarity.

Rich elites claim religious people are ignorant. They do not understand what Christianity does in regions they never enter. Elites sent us government, corporate culture, and condescension. The results have been devastating to human dignity. Christianity elevates, but secularism is an opioid of the heart: death to anything greater than the immediate, the ugly on sale online.

Christianity teaches those of us from forgotten areas to think, read difficult texts, restrain our desires, and do good works. Get rid of Christianity and hope is gone because nobody but a government “relief” worker comes with a flood of corporate media. They might bring you a check, but they can offer no check on the behaviors that are killing us. There is entertainment, but the death of the muses.

Corporate “Culture” Kills

I have heard old men sing songs they had heard as boys in the nineteenth century. They were beautiful and original and now all gone. Instead, their great-grandchildren consume corporate culture made by people who despise everything about them—except their disposable income.

Religious belief keeps us from despair, warns us against substance abuse, and gives us a way forward out of poverty. This works, but not if pop-culture, the entertainment that corporate media gives us for “free,” mocks the values that would deliver us.

Education isn’t valued on corporate video, just money and attractiveness. Reading is forgotten as people who scarcely made it out of school become post-literate. There is no King James English in their Bibles to soften the speech and fill out the vocabulary.

Substance abuse and hatred of schooling and other people is not good for anyone. I am not shocked by it, nor was this behavior any better than the drunken college student on another part of the deck who voted for HRC and screeched ugly things about everyone who disagrees.

Save the West Virginia Mountaineers

The sorrow I felt was a sorrow of betrayal: the Appalachians have sold their birth right and are not even getting the bean soup—just more drugs.

If the ugliness of these Appalachians were just a single instance, then that would be that. There are bad folks everywhere. Sadly, the little churches of my childhood too often have been replaced by angry, opioid-addicted people. Mass corporate media took their souls, the religion that helped them created blue grass and beauty, and replaced it with nothing.

The people who harmed them hate them. I love my folk but wonder what is left. Can Mountaineers still be free when the state that left Virginia to fight for Lincoln becomes a hot bed of hate? Can we have dignity when the jobs left to us are Walmart and government work?

Here is to the church that remains, fighting to help lift people out the bad habits of poverty. God bless the local pastors, whatever their politics, who went to graduate school and then came home to help. God bless the ministry of people like John Mays who works with college students in West Virginia to give them a vision of intellectual activity combined with a mission to serve our home state.

We do not stay in despair, or even in poverty if we listen to the message of the church. I have hope because the bones of West Virginia are good bones: founded by Mr. Lincoln for liberty, fighting for the dignity of labor in the coal mine wars, and creating a beautiful culture of music, art, and language.

We’ve got this: Mountaineers are always free.

Rachel Motte edited this essay and wrote the sub-headings.


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