The Rant (April 23, 2015) ... 

On making the Bible the official state book of Tennessee.

Indulge me for a moment and consider this scenario: There's a community of Ultra-Orthodox Jews headquartered in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, called the Chabad Lubavitch. It's a Hassidic sect that believes in strict adherence to the Torah, (the first five books of Moses), and the Talmud (5,000 years of rabbinical commentary on the Torah). Their outreach efforts to reach disaffiliated and non-practicing Jews have made it one of the largest and fastest-growing religious organizations in the world, reaching 70 countries and 49 of the 50 states in the U.S. There's even a chapter in Memphis. Now imagine if the Hasidim and their return-to-roots philosophy picked up enough momentum to translate into political power and their leaders were elected into positions of authority. Then suppose they used that authority to declare the Torah as the "official book" of as many states as they could round up. Nothing wrong with that, right? Christians also believe in the Old Testament, so they would have no objection to following its tenets. But if we're going to do it, let's do it right and strictly observe the written law.

Jewish dietary rules come with a few restrictions. First, kosher food must be prepared in accordance with Jewish law. Animals and birds have to be killed in a specific manner, so no more hunting unless accompanied by a Jewish butcher. All blood must be drained from meat and poultry, so if you like your steak medium rare, you'll have to cross state lines. Also, no grape products prepared by non-Jews may be eaten, so say goodbye to all non-kosher wine and Welch's grape juice. The Torah says it's forbidden to "boil a kid in its mother's milk," (Ex. 23:19). Generations of rabbis have interpreted this passage as meaning that meat and dairy products should not be mixed, which means no more cheeseburgers or burritos. Then there are the animals the Torah mentions specifically as forbidden for supper. No pig means no more barbecue, so there goes our festival. Other no-nos include all shellfish such as lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, and crabs — not to mention crawdads. But Leviticus 11:13 says its okay to "eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud," so that's a good thing. And the Jewish sabbath is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, so that's it for high school and college football. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. Just as preposterous as it would be to impose Jewish laws, why do the right-wing Christians continue to attempt to codify their beliefs into state and federal law?

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Tennessee made the wrong kind of national news (again) when the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill making the Bible the state's "official book." The bill's sponsor, Representative Jerry Sexton, is a former pastor from Bean Station(!), again proving the antipathy these country-ass rubes have for the big city. Fortunately, the state Senate saw the blatant unconstitutionality of the proposal and killed the bill. Representative Steve Cohen said on MSNBC that "It's been 100 years since the Scopes monkey trial and we have not progressed that far from Dayton, Tennessee." Perhaps Preacher Sexton envisions himself as William Jennings Bryan incarnate, but similar bills have been introduced in Arkansas — and Indiana, which has problems of its own. Their governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. Even the title implies that if religious freedom needs to be restored, it must have vanished somewhere. The original RFRA was a 1993 Democratic initiative to "ensure that interests in religious freedom are protected," in all faiths. Now, however, the act is interpreted as payback for same-sex marriage and open season on gays whose existence offends the Christian beliefs of any auto mechanic or pizza joint owner. Didn't we settle all that "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" business in the 1960s?

The tomato is Tennessee's state fruit. The state mineral is agate, and the racoon has been designated as the official wild animal. But now that the Bible has been disqualified as the official state book, I have a few suggestions that may suit our faith-based legislators' mentalities. The obvious choice is A Confederacy of Dunces, but there are so many other possibilities: Of Mice and Men, Dostoevsky's The Idiot, The Sound and the Fury, One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest, and, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey Goose Vodka, which the House Republicans must have imbibed before passing this idiotic bill.

I just don't understand why the evangelical Christians are so persecuted in this country. A minister in Tempe, Arizona, recently preached, "I hope that God strikes Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy," thus proving that the problem isn't Christianity or any other religion; it's fundamentalism. We could argue about this, but what's the point? Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently predicted the return of Jesus, due to Obama. "We have very little time left before the second return of Christ," she proclaimed. If Jesus comes to Tennessee, I bet He'll be upset to see the Holy Scriptures placed in the same category as The Valley of the Dolls.

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