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  • December 5th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I may have lost a long time friend a little while ago when I posted a response to a Facebook post by him that I took objection to. I hope not, but I’m sure that I would be ticked off if someone ate my lunch for saying something intended to be inspirational.


My friend (and I hope he still is) is perfectly free to say whatever he wants. But then, so am I. Here is where we diverged: “I’m going to vent here,” he posted on Facebook. “I believe we all have the right to worship as we please, but I also know that our country, the United States of America was founded on Christian principles.” I could not agree more with his opinion that we have the right to worship as we please. Certainly, no argument there.


But the rant went on to claim that the Today Show had edited out a reference to Jesus Christ by the widow of a Navy Seal killed in Libya who, when asked how she wanted her children to remember their father, said “by his love for Christ.” The rant, supposedly written by my friend, went on to say “I hope every Christian or every person that believes in God who is offended will copy this and paste it to their status.”


I simply did not believe that the network would do such a thing and checked with the website Snopes.com about the accuracy. I further Googled the incident and found a number of references to it, all of which said that the attribution is false. Truth or Fiction.com says “we found the video on that page to be in its complete and unedited form.”


What’s even more distressing about the whole thing is that the supposed incident took place in an interview by Matt Lauer, the discredited and fired anchor of the Today Show, which occurred in 2012–seven years ago. This rumor has been floating around for seven years, being repeated time and again and all it took me was about two minutes to check it out and find out it’s bull hockey.


Furthermore, I have seen the “rant” by my friend, word for word, before, posted by someone else. If anyone wants to make a case that we are threatened as a society, let them rant instead about the virulent dissemination through social media of totally false and damaging information. It should be common knowledge by now that Russia and other outlets hostile to our national interest are flooding Facebook and the like with false postings, intended to corrupt our national mindset. The credulous believe that crap and won’t take the time to check it out for accuracy.


The bottom line is that my friend’s rant (which he did not write) could’ve been disproved by a couple of minutes of fact checking.


More than 100 people, including some of the best friends I’ve had in life, endorsed this rant with an “amen!”. Only Al Agnew, one of the nation’s finest wildlife artists, said what should have been said by all “I get so sick and tired and fearful for this country when stuff like this that probably is just spread to further divide us and is taken to be true (and current) by so many people without questioning it. Whether or not Russia or another enemy is generating stuff like this, it couldn’t be more perfectly designed to weaken the country.”


Here is what the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  Let’s first examine the second clause of that priceless amendment to the framework of our society—freedom of speech


Does the right of freedom of speech mean that freedom extends to speaking falsehoods? Especially if the dissemination of phony information is intended to mislead and persuade people to believe something that is harmful to the common good?


As a nearly lifelong reporter, I’ve had it drilled into me from day one in journalism school that you don’t report dubious allegations without checking them for accuracy. Far too many people tend to believe the worst, no matter the source. This is especially true when it comes to sensitive subjects like—in this case— religion or politics.


We have become a nation afflicted by lying, in danger of oblivion through falsehood. Somehow we managed to elect a president who has been documented telling more than 13,000 lies since his regrettable election. Nazi Germany was a society that relied heavily on the dissemination of lies and Joseph Goebbels , a master propagandist, was Hitler’s weapon of choice when it came to deceiving. And he did it without the benefit of Facebook or Twitter or any other social medium that today is a platform for launching bullshit bombs. We have tried our best since World War II to ban the horror of nuclear bombs; how about working to ban the present threat of the bullshit bomb?


Some years ago, another friend, a Marine veteran, seriously wounded in Vietnam, started a discussion group of fellow Marines on the Internet. I had no qualifications for being among the group, not being a Marine (my buddy allowed me in, calling me a “cannon cocker” because of my artillery status) and not having been in combat. But this was the dawn of the troll when monstrous whoppers began to get passed along as truth and after it happened a few times, I jumped in with a suggestion that the person who had posted the misinformation instead check it out with Snopes.com or Truth or Fiction.com before letting the pixels fly.


After I had rubbed it in a few times, I began to see notes that said the poster had checked one of the fact checking websites before posting. Since, I have called out more than a few people for posting phony statements on the Internet and will continue to do so until—possibly— I have no friends left and will be universally vilified as a grumpy old bastard (and I will be the first to declare that that is an absolutely true description).


Let’s just look for a while at what the founding fathers of the nation actually said about religion. There must be a reason that religion plays such a prominent part of the very first amendment to the Constitution, the document that lays the framework for our existence as a democratic nation.


A nation founded on Christianity? “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from the shores the ceaseless drive that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” So said James Madison, known by all as the Father of the Constitution. Or how about this one? “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” So said John Adams, the second president of the United States.


And Mr. Madison again, “I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, and showing that religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”


And Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, had this to say among many other statements about separation of church and state “the legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”


The First Amendment does not say that we are not a Christian nation— it merely says that the government has no business dictating what religion we should practice or how. I have no quarrel with money stating that we trust in God and also no problem with saying that we are one nation under God in the Pledge of Allegiance. But what God? That, I think, is the meaning of the First Amendment— that we are as humans free to pick our own God and worship accordingly.


Men (And It’s Mostly Men) have been killing each other in the name of a God virtually since the dawn of humanity. And each of these justifications for death and destruction claim that it is the will of their God that they are enforcing. The gods vary, but almost all religions believe in either a single God, or a combination of divinities. If one were somehow to eliminate the cruelty and devastation wrought in the name of religion and boil down what I believe to be the essential meaning of religion it is the Golden rule. If everyone truly believed in and practiced that simple statement of faith, evil would be vanquished forever.  It’s usually interpreted as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” How could anything be simpler?


The concept of the Golden rule existed centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a fundamental principle in every religion that has existed almost since the dawn of humanity—even including Wicca, the practice of “good”witchcraft.


I’m not a regular churchgoer and probably destined for hell or whatever ultimate destination awaits he who has been largely indifferent to religious dedication throughout life. I was baptized Methodist as a teenager in the Dalton Methodist Church which no longer exists—I think it became the victim of a fire years ago. And its replacement recently became the victim of a Missouri River flood. One can read into this any religious meaning you want.


One religious experience does stick out in my mind and has for years, recurring in my memory time and again. It took place on a sunny Sunday in a wooded clearing on Auvasse Creek. My National Guard unit was on a weekend drill on an accommodating farmer’s land alongside the creek south of Mexico, the location of our Guard armory. We had set up a headquarters battery camp there, just as we would in an actual field location, a practical exercise.


We offered a Sunday nondenominational service, conducted by the local Methodist minister, a friend of our family who had visited my wife Marty and me in the hospital after our first daughter’s birth where we celebrated the blessed event together with a simple prayer.


There, in a natural setting, blessed by the beauty of nature, Bob simply talked. No fire and brimstone sermon, no proselyting for the Methodists or any other belief set. He just talked. It was about the tranquility of our spot in nature on that Sunday morning, about the harmony and peace of what we were experiencing. There was no splashing of holy water, no munching on wafers, no exhorting of the necessity to cast out devils. Just a thoroughly decent human being sharing a moment of mutual grace. He did, at that quiet moment, do unto others what he would have them do unto him. I can’t speak for the rest of the weekend warriors, but what he said (and perhaps as important what he didn’t have to say) has stuck with me for decades.


At the risk of being a spoilsport let me correct a story which has been current on Facebook and elsewhere for some time, namely that Mr. Rogers, the beloved host of his long time television show for adoring youngsters and sentimental oldsters, now being lovingly portrayed in a biopic by Tom Hanks, was not either a decorated Navy Seal in World War II, nor a sniper with many kills to his credit. Fred Rogers never served in the military. Likewise, Captain Kangaroo although a Marine did not earn a Navy Cross for service in World War II, and did not serve in combat at Iwo Jima with actor Lee Marvin, a fellow Marine.


For the record, Marvin was an authentic hero but was not wounded at Iwo Jima, rather at Saipan. But at least these falsehoods involving Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers are harmless and feel good unlike most of the internet whoppers that fundamentally are cruel, damaging, and hurtful.


So, that’s my rant, and take it for what it’s worth. If I’ve offended my friend and those who agree with him, I guess I can live with it. My bottom line objection is that perhaps the most dangerous threat to our democracy today is believing falsities promulgated by devious or stupidly credulous folks, rather than taking time to check the facts, and sticking to the truth.


So, as almost any holy leader in any religion ever known to man would say, “go with God.”




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  1. Paul F. Vang

    December 5th, 2019 at 10:08 am


    From one grumpy old bastard to another: well done!

    • joelvance

      December 6th, 2019 at 12:40 pm


      It’s one of the few benefits of age.

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