When I finished graduate school in 2000, I interviewed with a large number of schools. One of them was Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. They are a pretty strong liberal arts school which, its name notwithstanding, has never had a religious affiliation. I was interviewed by the chair of the department, and at one point he asked me, after noting that I had lived in the Northeast for nearly my whole life, whether I thought I would be happy to moving to Texas. I waxed eloquent about how I could be happy living anywhere, regardless of the state or whether it was a big city or a small town. The answer was entirely sincere.
As it happens, I did not get that job. Instead I ended up accepting a post-doc position at Kansas State University, in Manhattan, Kansas, where I stayed until 2003. At that point I went on the market again, and as it happens I once more interviewed with Trinity University. It was even the same fellow who interviewed me, and he remembered our conversation from three years earlier. The first thing he said to me was, “When you told me three years ago that you thought you could be happy living anywhere, I was very skeptical. But then you went and proved it by moving to Manhattan, Kansas!”
As sincere I was at the time, I don’t think I could still give that answer. The red states have gotten so crazy, so utterly uninterested in anything other than turning themselves into little theocracies, that my earlier, sanguine answer no longer seems appropriate. Consider this missive, by Jeffrey Ann Goudie, about the latest goings-on in Kansas:
The 2014 Kansas legislative session kicked off with more than a prayer — a prayer fest. For the third consecutive year the Old Supreme Courtroom of the Statehouse was occupied by religious conservatives on the eve of the legislature’s opening. Irony bumped up against doctrine.
This year’s event was organized by Concerned Women for America and something called the Culture Shield Network. Governor Sam Brownback spoke at this event, but not before the spokeswoman from the Culture Shield Network held forth.
According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the spokeswoman exhorted the audience to take an active interest in their children’s education: “I pray that these children will come out so strong that we will not lose any of them to secular colleges,” she said. She also warned against the teaching of evolution and the notion that some of the founding fathers were Deists.
Charming, but sadly typical. It’s always useful to be reminded that right-wing Christians live almost entirely in a fantasy-land of their own creation. Evolution is only part of it. They also hew to a demented version of American history, where the nation was founded by heroic evangelicals who established the country as a Christian theocracy.
They’re right to worry about the kids losing their faith upon entering a “secular” college, however. That’s not because we crazy left-wing professor types are so keen to indoctrinate them, though. The real reason is much simpler. It’s how do ya keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree. Right-wing culture requires insularity to survive; once that is lost you can never get it back.
This bizarre scenario wasn’t church, this was state — or at least the Statehouse — and the constitution that is revered by social conservatives is very firm on the separation of the two. That separation has gone the way of the Passenger Pigeon in Kansas. If not extinct, it is surely endangered.
The separation of church and state was further collapsed during Gov. Brownback’s annual State of the State speech. My husband, our 17-year-old son and I set up our TV trays to watch Brownback’s speech while we ate dinner. Each time the Governor mentioned God, I raised my hand. I raised it early and often.
After recognizing the House Speaker, conspicuously chewing gum behind him, the Senate President, legislators, cabinet secretaries, and the judiciary, not to mention his fellow Kansans, the Governor pronounced: “As had been foretold and promised to us: God is in Heaven, the Legislature is back and the crane is gone!”
But in the world of right-wing evangelicalism, there is no such thing as the separation of church and state. (Or, to the extent that it is real, it only protects the church from the state.) The phrase does not appear in the Constitution, after all! Church/state separation, like evolution and global warming, are just left-wing hoaxes cooked up my morbid religion-haters for the purpose of killing Christianity.
I spent three happy years in Kansas. They have always been a conservative state, but when I was there I did not feel like they had gone over the bend. I started this blog while I was in Kansas, and never had a nervous moment doing it. I don’t think I could say that today. The red states have been going down some pretty dark roads lately.