Revolution#121, February 24, 2008
BattleCry in NYC and NJ: The Depth of Religious Thinking, and the Battle to Bust Out of It
We received this correspondence from Revolution newspaper distributors and writers in New York:
I was part of a crew of revolutionaries and supporters of Revolution newspaper who jumped into the fray of the latest major rally of BattleCry, a Christian fascist youth movement that holds massive gatherings in major cities. Their main rally was at the Izod Center, a 20,000-seat indoor stadium where the New Jersey Nets basketball team plays.
We went to struggle with these kids to ditch the mental shackles that prevent them from dealing with reality as it really is. We made a plan to take out militant atheism – to struggle over how truth is arrived at, what constitutes truth, what is actually in the Bible, and what it means for there to be a morality and a society based on consciously changing people and their circumstances. We also wanted to learn as much as we could about what drives young people into the arms of someone like BattleCry founder Ron Luce, who preaches that the Bible is “God’s Instruction Manual” and promotes oppressive traditional morality like “holy courtship” in preparation for marriage rather than dating, and the banning of abortion and birth control.
So we rolled up and parked our sound truck in front of the arena. Between our 50-foot sign spelling out “AWAY WITH ALL GODS” on the fence across from the entrance, and our sound system echoing with a canyon-effect, there was no missing the challenge: “Hey folks! Lots of people come to these events from all over, feeling and hoping they can hook up with the way things will be better. But there’s a problem... god does not exist. We do, though, and can make this world better ourselves.”
Knots of 10-50 young people started gathering around and there was shouting back and forth with people in the lines going in. Debate raged on everything from evolution, to what happens when a person dies, to whether people should just “believe what they want to believe” or if in fact religion does a lot of harm.
Some people came out to pray over us. One woman tried to exorcize us. Some people tore up our flyers while others considered this “unchristian” behavior. Most of the youth were earnestly shocked and disturbed at what we were saying and wanted to “save our souls.” Many wanted to engage with us, and seemed interested in getting at the truth. Some of the adult “shepherds” tried to keep the youth away from us, telling people we were demons, but some of the youth slipped back to listen and debate. One disgusted kid snuck out for a smoke, bought a copy of Revolution newspaper and told us that he isn’t sure that there’s no god, but that we were making a lot more sense than the shit inside the stadium.
I asked people I talked to whether they would want to live in a world with the Bible as the law of the land, and even the parts of it that said slavery was okay, or that women who commit adultery should be stoned to death, and almost no one said yes. Some insisted the Bible didn’t say those things, and we pulled out the verses to show them. Then I would ask if they would want to live in a world where people didn’t believe in god, but worked together to make life on earth a beautiful and exciting thing, that emancipates all of humanity. I told them that this is communism, and it’s what the revolution we’re about is aiming for.
A lot of the proletarian youth said they were former gang bangers. One of them angrily asked, “Why do you want me to go back to living like an animal?” They saw this as taking away the “anchor” (Jesus) that keeps them from going back to the life they’ve broken with. We learned that there is a powerful support network through the churches and other missionary/social welfare organizations that holds these kids in this religious vice.
When talking with one group of youth from the inner city, I said it’s really liberating to cast off belief in a god or gods who have a plan figured out for us. One of the youth was trying to figure out why that would be liberating, and I said that rather than feeling like everything is out of your control, you know that it’s knowable and that you and other people can find a solution to whatever needs changing if you work at it. These kids countered that it’s liberating to not take that kind of responsibility.
Inside, thousands of young people held their hands up in the air in a jubilant religious trance as Christian bands—all kinds of music: rock, salsa, rap and hip-hop, bands like Kirk Franklin, David Crowder, Cross Movement, El Trio de Hoy, Unhindered, Truce, Nubian Gents—belted out lyrics praising “our lord,” about how each person is important to god.
Unlike previous BattleCry gatherings in recent years, there were no Navy Seals busting in, kicking down doors; no American flags adorning the stage; no calls to join “God’s Army,” or any praise for (or messages from) President Bush. The organizers of BattleCry took special efforts to reach Black and Latino youth, and they made up about a third of the crowd.
Most of the time when we talked to groups of youth, an adult would swoop in and tell the kids to go away for a minute while they tried to scold us for talking to the kids. One such time, a young Black church worker came by to talk to us. He said, “Why are you trying to take these kids’ faith away? They have it, and they’re happy.” We responded that a slave could feel happier as a result of religion, but still be a slave, and I challenged him to tell me how his ancestors first took up Christianity. A crowd started to gather around, which included youth who had been told to stay away from the debate but later came back. I asked one of the people arguing with us if he ever looks up at the stars, or at the complexity of human societies, and tries to figure out how it all works. He said, “No, god knows how it all works, I just need to live my life.”
That was when it hit me: religious and superstitious belief actually stands in the way of our sense of awe and wonder at the world and nature, rather than contributing to it. It answers that there’s a plan to all of reality and you shouldn’t even think about why things are the way they are. They just are. This not only obstructs and distorts people’s sense of what’s wrong with the world and how to change it, but it also stifles curiosity about some of the most interesting and exciting questions about physics, the universe, life on the planet... you could go on and on. I recently started to learn about the relationship between space and time, how they form a continuum and there’s not a hard-and-fast distinction between the two; the one can become the other to different degrees and under certain circumstances. That shit is fascinating! Would a view that tells you not to worry about it, we’re here for a reason and that reason has to do with serving something whose existence can never be proven, or something like karma, where you’re supposed to accept that “life is suffering,” and that if you happen to be suffering in this life, you won’t have to in another life—would those kind of views encompass my sense of fascination at space and time? Would they encourage people to search for the truth about the way the universe works, let alone why society is the way it is and how it could be different? And what bearing would that have on whether new discoveries are ever even made about the world, including things like cures for terrible diseases?
A friend made the point on the bus ride back to Manhattan that the youth who come to BattleCry are profoundly alienated from contemporary U.S. society with all its crass commercialism and its whole “me first” ethos. We both noted the large number of youth who had experienced some of the more horrific things that go on under this system: rape, drug addiction, abusive relationships, life on the street. These are the very ingredients that can drive people toward religion as a means to cope; even without being wild about the ruling class’s agenda, these youth could easily be manipulated to go after the forces identified as “anti-christs”—communists, “liberals,” the “’60s radicals,” pro-choice forces—that is, the secularists who “get between them and Jesus.”
BattleCry is recruiting these youth to take religion into their schools, their workplaces, everywhere, and around the world—and to make this set the terms throughout society. There’s a much better, revolutionary direction for these youth: to become emancipators of humanity, to become communists. And there’s a huge need for society-wide debate and rejection of this dark-ages anti-scientific method of thinking that locks people into oppressive and intolerable circumstances. I don’t think we unhinged the faith of any of these kids right on the spot, but we planted seeds of that process, getting many of them to question how they’re seeing things for the first time, and revealing the potential for much more at a time when busting out of mental shackles and getting real about what it’s going to take to free humanity is more needed than ever.
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