"Jesse, I won't cut fresh flowers for you," Carly Simon promises to the title character in the chorus of her 1980 Top Ten song, "Jesse." She portrays a woman who knows she's being used by a man who charms her into doing his bidding whenever he wills. She seems very determined to put a stop to his domination over her, but in the end he wins out; even her friends realize, "She's gone again."
Jesse, the governor of Minnesota, likewise has a certain charm. How could voters not like someone who "secured a permanent income-tax cut and made good on his promise of a sales-tax rebate to taxpayers" (56)? But he recently outraged the public in general and some Minnesotans in particular with his now oft-quoted insult against "organized" religion, which appeared in the November issue of Playboy. He later said that the statement was taken out of context, but the reader can judge for himself about that.
Before continuing, two qualifying remarks are needed. First, I neither bought a copy of Playboy nor solicited anyone else to do so; the article was photocopied and given to me (with all pictures removed). The second is that this is not a political article or a political attack. In fact, Jesse holds quite a few views with which I agree, but his politics is not the concern of this article. Since he brought up the subject of religion, we do not hesitate to analyze what he said. He thinks that voters are attracted to him because they "are searching for the truth" (58). Certainly that has always been the outlook of this publication. We have from the beginning always believed: "Buy the truth and sell it not" (Pr. 23:23).
Therefore, we will be very careful with the truth of his statement recorded in Playboy. Although the governor was elected under the banner of the Reform Party, his views on moral issues are clearly libertarian, or as he describes it "socially liberal" (58). For example, he thinks homosexuality is nobody's business (although he opposes homosexual "marriages") (60); he believes that drugs and prostitution "should not be imprisoning crimes" (60). He does make an interesting comment about abortion, of which he is in favor: "If you prohibit it, it won't stop. It will just go to the back alleys, and then two lives will be in danger" (60, 64).
Two? Obviously, he means the mother's life would be in danger. What other life is in danger? Does he mean the abortionist? Or does he refer to the baby? The baby's life is not in danger; the baby's life is taken--which is the whole purpose of an abortion. If Jesse refers to the child, that is quite an admission on his part. It would also be a callous view since he knows a life is being destroyed but seems totally indifferent about it. He might consider that if abortion were illegal, the number of babies' lives lost would diminish by hundreds of thousands.
It is in the context of discussing these immoral acts that the governor makes his oft-quoted statement. In the midst of his argument for legalizing prostitution, the reporter comments that such a position is not a very popular one in America. At that moment, the governor unleashes his infamous diatribe:
No, and it's because of religion. Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you'd want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live (60).
The reporter followed this outburst by asking what the solution is to the war on drugs; there is no further clarification concerning these remarks. Thus, the context is allowing people their freedom--to do drugs, practice prostitution, and to annihilate children through abortion. Legalizing the former two meets resistance because of religion.
Jesse credits the illegality of drugs and prostitution to religion. He may be right, but if he is, then these practices will soon become legal because the influence of religion seems to be waning. America is a far more vulgar and immoral nation than it was just 40 years ago. The moral values promoted by religion are what exalts and preserves a nation; sin brings upon it reproach and destruction (Pr. 14:34).
"Organized religion is a sham...." To a large extent this statement is true--but not for the reason the governor mentions. Organized religions are a sham because they do not exist by the authority of Jesus Christ. What Protestant denomination did Jesus establish? He promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18) and is head over it (Eph. 1:22-23). The Lord has but one body (Eph. 4:4) and will be the Savior of it (Eph. 5:23). All other religious bodies came into existence by the will of men, not God.
Many organized religions are a sham because they do not stand for the morality taught in the Holy Scriptures. Many of them would agree with Jesse's Libertarian views. How many object to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, gambling, homosexuality, or abortion? Any religious group that will not stand where the Bible stands on these issues is just a corporate dog returning to its own vomit (2 Peter 2:20-22).
Most organized religions are a sham because they do not preach the Gospel which will save people from their sins. They present a watered-down, "just accept Jesus into your life," "pray the sinner's prayer" kind of message, which cannot save anyone. Isn't it about time that Billy Graham and other well-known religious leaders explained to those who listen to them why they cannot bring themselves to say what Peter did on the day of Pentecost to those who asked what they should do? Why cannot these men echo the apostle's answer: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38)? Do the words get stuck in their throats?
Probably, however, none of these points crossed Jesse's mind, in light of the remaining part of the sentence: "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." Really? One wonders if "The Body" would care to wrestle with Samson (before his hair was cut). Actually, however, Samson could correctly be termed weak-minded; he was only strong physically.
Unfortunately, the governor has reversed the truth of the matter. Many of those who possess faith do so because they have reasoned through the evidence and come to the conclusion that God is and the Bible is His Word. They understand that the world did not come into existence by accident and that order did not result from chaos. Weak-minded souls do not generally waste their time thinking; they are more likely to act on the basis of, "If it feels good, do it." They come up with such shallow thoughts as, "It can't be wrong when it feels so right" and "Nobody has a right to tell me what to do with my own body."
Weak-minded people do think there is safety in numbers; for that reason most sinful people like to think everyone else does what they do. The interviewer asked the governor about the time he spent in the Philippines; did he indulge in the decadent nightlife? Jesse answered: "Plenty. Just as any 19-year-old would" (66). No, governor, not all 19-year-olds would immerse themselves in fornication and drinking. Those who had been trained to think for themselves instead of going along with the crowd would resist. Some would refuse because moral values were taught to them; others might resist on practical grounds (disease and sickness). But in either case, how much mental toughness does it take to give in to temptation?
Religion is a crutch? Hardly. The rejection of true religion is a crutch. It is the means by which a person enables himself to do whatever he wants. "I can smoke, drink, gamble, be unfaithful to my wife, and treat other people as fools to manipulate because there is no God to make me accountable." Christianity deals with reality: it demonstrates how to get rid of the sins we have committed, which are an offense to a holy God, and which will separate us from Him forever. That's not a crutch; it's a necessity.
Does religion tell "people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business"? This is an irrelevant and loaded statement. Do atheists try to stick their noses in other people's business? If not, what was Mad. Murray O'Hair doing when she sought to get prayer out of the public school system? Did she not stick her nose into a practice that was commonly done by God-fearing folks and tell them, "You can't do that because it offends me." There are usually two opposing sides to any issue. It can be charged equally that each side is trying to stick its nose into somebody else's business.
Christians are commanded to be evangelistic (Matt. 28:18-20). To carry out this command Christians must in a sense invade someone else's "space," but no infringements occur because persuasion is our only means of converting others. The decision is theirs.
But he explains further: "The religious right wants to tell people how to live." This charge is not true. We do not want to supervise people's lives. We will admit that we would like for all to repent of their sins, be baptized for the forgiveness of them, and live righteously because such actions are in their own best interests. But none of these things would do any good if they were forced upon someone. God gave us the freedom to decide what to do, and we would not infringe on anyone's liberty.
But there are certain things that are harmful to society, that have been proven to be harmful influences, such as beverage alcohol, homosexuality, and abortion. How many people have been killed or maimed by drunk drivers? If innocent people were not continually made to suffer as a result of this product, there would be no objection. Likewise, homosexuality can not be contained, either. It may begin in a consensual way, but sooner or later participation becomes mandatory, as many who reside in prisons will testify, as well as do the Scriptures (Gen. 19). Abortion destroys an innocent human being, and over 99% of the time because of the guilt of the mother. When we oppose pornography and other social ills, it is not a matter of wanting to run somebody's life; it us usually of matter of keeping them from running--even ruining--ours.
The governor says he lives by the golden rule. Really? If a bridge were washed out, would he interfere in the lives of motorists enough to warn them? Sin has washed out the bridge to heaven. Wouldn't it be irresponsible not to warn people of the problem and show them the solution?
If a neighbor is gambling his house payment away and his wife and children stand to suffer as a result of his compulsion, would it not be "golden" to get him to try to come to his senses? Or should we just shrug our shoulders and not stick our noses into somebody else's business for fear they will think we are telling them how to live?
At one point in the interview, the governor said, "God works in mysterious ways..." (185). Does this allusion to Deity mean that he believes in God, or is he just using a common expression? We cannot say, but one thing shines through this interview: Jesse has his own ideas about politics, religion, and society. Although he claims to follow the golden rule, it is evident that he makes up his own rules. Some of them are good; some are questionable (to say the least). Christians will want to travel the narrow road and leave Jesse to travel "Ventura Highway" (a song by America, 1972).
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "'JESSE' CREATES HIS OWN 'VENTURA HIGHWAY' (11/14/99)."