Here comes autumn. With it come two holidays that remind me of a large part of our American heritage, for better and worse: Thanksgiving, celebrating the early American Pilgrims' gratitude, and Halloween to remind us of the Puritans' penchant for executing ungodly witches. This year, autumn also brings us a national election, and again I think of the Puritans. And I blame them.
Every society has its particular cultural psychology. Russians, for example, have been honed by harsh winters to be more amenable to working communally or face the risks of going it alone when the crop might likely fail. That trait, one could argue, would make Russians much more open to the Bolsheviks' notions of collectivization. The crowded Japanese crave privacy. In most Islamic countries, pulling from examples in the Quran and perhaps the hostile, arid landscape from which Islam sprang, a host has a nearly religious devotion to his guests. Here in America, the Puritans have a cultural legacy that continues today, easily seen in so-called ''values voters.''
While everyone votes based upon his or her values, the Puritans' progeny have established this myth that their values are somehow more substantial than, say, a secular humanist whose values may stress environmentalism rather than piety. Regardless, as an American, I've got a bone to pick with the modern Puritans as the United States stumbles along on shaky footing.
Once upon a time, circa 1776, America was recognized for a different set of values than a slavish devotion to whatever authority happened to be shouting at you. Those leaders who led the Colonies to cast off kings were the most progressive, revolutionary, anti-authoritarian force on the planet at the time. While their foreign peers were largely devoted to royalty and religions, the Declaration of Independence set the Colonies on a new and better path. Kings would not speak for God, leadership would no longer be determined by bloodlines (at least in theory), and people could align themselves with any religion they chose -- to include none. The United States of America was crafted as an intellectual expression. Thomas Jefferson was the ''cultural elite'' of his day.
Sometimes the American pendulum swings to one set of these values, sometimes to the other. For the sake of the country, I hope it's swinging back to the progressive side of things and away from the Puritans. Really, when so many of the Puritans seem to hold this belief that the end is near in the form of ''end times,'' how can anyone expect them have the country's best interests at heart? I'm nauseous at the thought that anyone anticipating Armageddon -- or even believing in ''prophecies'' of that sort -- votes, even if I would die for that fellow citizen's right to keep on casting votes.
Still, here we are, about to fight yet again over same-sex marriage as the economy crumbles and our troops are still in harm's way.
I blame the modern-day Puritans first for their support of President Bush. How this guy made it into office twice leaves me baffled. I know these values voters were a significant key to his success. What did they like about him? Is it because he talks about Jesus on and on? Is it his devotion to fetal tissue? Faith-based initiatives? His homophobia? None of these things help America in the slightest. It's just the opposite.
Opposition to same-sex marriage hurts us. It diminishes America's former reputation as a leader in human rights. Probably the water-boarding could've done that alone, but treating gay Americans like something lesser than their straight counterparts takes us back to segregation. Outside of South Africa, that didn't win us any friends, either.
But still, we are the scapegoat.
Take the dear-old-dead Rev. Jerry Falwell's warning: ''Homosexuality is Satan's diabolical attack upon the family that will not only have a corrupting influence upon our next generation, but it will also bring down the wrath of God upon America.'' Falwell's dead, but there's no indication the sentiment is.
The homophobic Liberty Counsel legal-advocacy group certainly still flies that banner, laying the financial gloom at our feet.
''Washington Mutual and Wachovia, both of which actively promoted the homosexual agenda, have come to realize that anti-family policies will bankrupt the bottom line,'' reads a cheery Sept. 29 statement from this bag of nuts.
I appreciate some of the values I see on the other side of the piety fence, such as humility, honesty, modesty. But look a bit closer and there's a voting bloc that appears to think treating gay Americans as citizens rather than sinners will lead to America's doom. But it's actually those voters with their fears and fables -- all their own, but credited to God -- who are killing America.
Science is challenged by ''intelligent design'' and some idea that stem cells are people. Any living cell in my body could theoretically be cloned to create a new person, so why aren't pro-lifers protesting me for scrubbing off some of those cells when I wash my hands or itch a scratch, snuffing out that potential life? Because it would be ridiculous to care about a cell!
Social progress is challenged by Proposition 8. Whether it's a notion that straight people are divinely designed, superior to their gay peers; or that not fighting equality for gays will lead to a cartoon version of God hurling lighting bolts and hurricanes, who can say?
You want to help the economy? Legalize and tax marijuana, though I doubt Pat Robertson will go for that. You want to help the poor? Have fewer kids and let in more immigrants from poor countries.
If we all find ourselves in an economic depression in the near future, our military still bogged down in Iraq, no light at the end of the tunnel on any number of fronts, don't blame the gays for incurring God's wrath on America. Blame right-wing fundamentalists for voting with their Bibles instead of their God-given brains.
Will O'Bryan, Metro Weekly's managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.