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Why I Hate the South

I was raised in Tallahassee, Florida, where the university football team, the Seminoles, and their apotheosized car-dealership pitching, crimson-necked coach, Bobby Bowden, was about as close to Jesus as one can get. And between games, I grew up, alternately beaten up for being a Christ killer, or getting evangelized.

But how ’about them ’Noles! Let’s talk football. The football coach, with his flanking disciples, asses ever widening, a veritable proxy for ‘Jaysus on hah.’ Indeed the temple to Christ in Tallahassee was not the dozens of churches and religious schools, which resembled military barracks more than houses of the Lord, but the football stadium. The football stadium was in fact the house of the Lord in my town, and it’s probably so in other southern university towns, too. Yes, there are the churches, but as mentioned, those are mostly military establishments for discussing Jewish ownership of media, the general evil of Zionism and the Masons, whoever they are, plus the Homo-sekshuls, and that perennial boot-stomping favorite, nigrahs. And maybe, before the bake sale, a discussion of how to take back the government, the government intent on spending our hard earned dollars on helping nigrahs too lazy to work. Churches in the south are for cementing a kind of aggressive sectarianism. Fuck it, that’s what churches everywhere are for, but in the south, it’s natural as corn-holing.

But the football stadium is where religion is practiced. In fact, Jesus himself Christ was a football player, as is well known. He played for the Florida State Seminoles, under Bobby Bowden. It might be added that my instinctive dislike for our president comes not from any rational distaste for his policies and practices, for which I have a rational loathing, but for something completely irrational, a dislike for what he represents: the kind of shit-heeled frat boy, hale-fellow well-met rednecks I had to tolerate for most of my life in Florida.

In Tallahassee, Florida, that is, where the going faith was Southern Baptist and church of Christ Evangelical. Radio stations slathered on the “Jesus so loves you” crap 24/7, along with the moral majority and the “700 club.” Jerry Falwell was considered a well-tempered theologian lover of football. That’s why my father one day lost his temper and punched my mom in the face. She kept saying, “take them out of Sunday School, the Nazis are coming, make them blend in.” He was—is—an atheist but he thought we needed to go to Sunday School anyway and be Reform Jews for some reason, I suppose heritage and all that.

Well, my mom had some basis to go by; when she was a little girl, the Nazis were, in fact, coming, and her mom had shown her some Cyanide pills and told her to keep them in case the SS made it to New York.

But that was another time, and we were in a much more tolerant time, in a much more genteel part of the world, the American South. Indeed, a part of the world, understand, where Protestantism has reached its evolutionary terminus, evinced by the extreme sport of Evangelical Christianity peopled by the kind of wacko, brewed-up in the tannic swamps of the South, who willingly traipse off to Afghanistan, or Iraq, to preach the love of Krahst to the hook-nosed self-immolating desert vermin, or who crawl five hundred clicks into the jungle east of Kinshasa, live in huts, slowly going mad with gangrene and dengue fever, just to save a few souls from their jungle gods, but winding up, most likely, sprawling “exterminate the brutes” on their thighs with shards of glass.

Anyway, I was marginally Jewish down south until the idiocy of it became apparent. Belonged to a reform synagogue, which was self-defeating, just as Reform Judaism is in a sense self-defeating. There weren’t enough Jews to make a minion down yonder, and Jews there all had southern accents, even if we were faking it.

My brother has a southern accent for real now since he’s been living down there his whole life, in Tallahassee, Florida, a place I dreamed of leaving from the day I got there at age five, as one would dream of leaving, say, Alcatraz. But my brother is a Christian, now, playing drums, when he’s medically able, for a band whose lead guitarist wrote a song called “God Bless Ollie North.” Converted, that’s what he says. He said he converted. “I'm a Christian,” he says, in that self-righteous way some born-again southerners have of saying “Christian,” which sounds like “Krrsh-chin.” Which means Southern Baptist or one of its relatives.

My father—a scientist, retired, living in St. Augustine, where people are always talking about their personal relationships with Jesus, how they were saved, and God Bless George Bush, both of them—thinks there’s a gene religious people are lucky to have, a gene for believing in bullshit. And he wishes he had it. He really does. He really wishes that, sincerely wishes it, now that he’s lost several immediate family members to untimely deaths, including my mom and my deceased eldest brother, not to mention my other brother, the Christian, to whatever cocktail of psychiatric drugs it is that keeps him is so puffed up and somnolent that he might as well be stuffed and mounted like the Savior.

My dad wishes he, too, could cloud his life with the spongiform, serotonin-infused love of – and personal relationship with – Christ. But he can’t because it doesn’t make any fucking sense, especially the part about the personal relationship. As if Christ on hah has a divine Palm Pilot for personal relationships, especially the important ones, those with people with net worth over a billion—his special friends—rolling in it after dumping a few billion tons of crude into Prudhoe Bay, or securing deals for talking the cowboy in the White House into sending soldiers to die somewhere in the name of Krahst and freedom so they can grow lucrative deals in the sand – especially them; especially those spiritchall Christians who do God’s work at companies like Bechtel or Halliburton. Yee haw. God loves them more n’ anything, and when they die of prostate cancer, arteries choked by foie gras, or cerebral hemorrhage, they will no doubt go to a special heaven that resembles Montego Bay, or Malibu, while the other Christians, also with personal relationships with Christ, but less personal due to lack of net worth—they’ll go to a heaven resembling, say, Disneyland, or a mall.

No, he’s not buying it because it’s fucking irrational, and that is not something he is happy about, because, as a neuroscientist, he understands, or at least believes that there’s some sort of gene that the lucky people who believe, I mean BELIEVE, have that generates some sort of imbalance in their stew of neurotransmitters that dulls their capacity to act like they have a fucking brain at all. He understands that theirs is a genetic disposition that allows them to regress to a kind of prehensile infancy, eliminating all sentience, and instead making them believe they can have a personal relationship with a figment of their fucking imagination, that make them believe that what they have is the Good News that, everyone else in the world who doesn’t have that same delusion, is going to burn in hell. Yee haw, “Go Seminoles!!”

And he knows and understands that, even if he could turn off that switch, and could believe that he might have everlasting life, he would, presumably, have to spend it with God-Fearing southern Baptist crackers from the panhandle of Florida that I grew up with, that he’s stuck with now, the kind of morons driving around waving American flags from their pickup truck windows, screaming “Support our Boys” and blessed in the certainty of God’s love, America’s front-row seating in the Biblical eschatology, and the starting lineup. “How about them ’Noles?” What’s the point?

I unfortunately inherited that attitude—or genetic Deficit—from him, but it took the narrow-minded vapid, obstreperous Southern Baptists in Tallahassee, Florida—and I don’t mean the poor shack dwellers in the woods in Wakulla County I knew who used to show up at school with bullet wounds just from having so many loaded firearms in their trailers. No, it took middle-class Plaster of Paris Christers to permanently unhinge any capacity I might have had to accept Jesus into my heart. Because I developed an unfortunate but incontrovertible link in my thoughts and sentiments between the words “Jesus,” and “Christian,” and the hard, provincial, ignorant and intolerant middle-class, God-fearing crackers I had to live around. It is unfortunate, but for me the Lord Christ is in fact the God of rednecks, all of whom are no doubt saved, and who despised us because we were Jeeee-yeeews, (said as one might say “eeewwwh, groossss”) they spay painted it on our driveway: “Jew.” Fucking rednecks. Fuck you, too, Jesus.

Anyway, my dad is a member of the Rotary Club in St. Augustine, where there’s a prayer before each meeting, and people bow their heads and there’s a general supplication to our Lord Jaysus Kay-ryest. Or, make that Juh-hay-uh-sus, a loving stretching of that name through several diphthongs and syllables. If I sound a little bitter about Southern Baptists and Christians by which I mean not people who go to church, but those who say, proudly, “Ahm a keeee-rizzz-chin” those who Accept Kay-ryest as their Savior and feel obliged to tell you all about it especially if you’re a Jee-yeew, another word passed through the taffy-mouthed, sun-stupid, spittle-softened mechanism of the God fearing southern palate. “How ’bout them ’Noles!!”

Still, I wish I were religious. Because I doubt if Jesus really was a redneck. He was probably more like a nigger. But say that where I’m from, you’re likely to get shot. Where I’m from, the Lord Gawd wears a mullet, drives a pickup, watches professional wrestling, and has a skybox at every Seminole game. He’s rooting for the ’Noles, no, not the real ones, not the brown-skinned little brothers straggling about in them swamps. Christians though they no doubt are. No, he’s rooting for the helmet heads, and yes, he used to manage a Winn-Dixie supermarket on the truck route, or maybe it was a Jiffy Lube, and yes, he doesn’t care too much for nigrahs, jews, chinks, spics, eye-rakis, and brownish people in general, but he is willing to accept ’em, let ’em into the lower reaches of heaven, maybe where they have a Motel 6 and a tilta whirl. Love you, give you a locker room pass, but you gotta believe, deep down, that Christ is a football fan, real nice guy, and the only prayer you have to know, besides God so loved you that he gave his only begotten son, etc, is “how about them ’Noles.”


K.P. Berg


The Brooklyn Rail


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