Rand Paul, Libertarian candidate for Kentucky’s seat in the US Senate and son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, is set to take office January 2011 to replace Jim Bunning. During the election campaign, an article in GQ magazine “revealed” that while an undergraduate at Baylor (the world’s largest Baptist university) he was a member of a “secret society” called the “NoZe Brotherhood.”
A fellow member of this “society,” John Green, said the group “aspired to blasphemy” in response to the schools dogmatic Baptist religiosity. The president of the school at the time described them as “lewd, crude, and grossly sacrilegious.” According to one informant, a female student who was Paul’s teammate on the swim team Paul and a fellow NoZe Brotherhood member kidnapped her:
“He and Randy came to my house, they knocked on my door, and then they blindfolded me, tied me up, and put me in their car. They took me to their apartment and tried to force me to take bong hits. They’d been smoking pot.”
Paul and his friend then drove her into the country and stopped near a stream and forced her to engage in taboo religious acts.
“They told me their god was ‘Aqua Buddha’ and that I needed to bow down and worship him . . . they blindfolded me and made me bow down to ‘Aqua Buddha’ in the creek. I had to say, ‘I worship you Aqua Buddha, I worship you.’ At Baylor, there were people actively going around trying to save you and we had to go to chapel, so worshiping idols was a big no-no.”
Jack Conway‘s campaign took a literalist interpretation of parts of this story (at least for the purposes of the election), using the following image in advertising against Paul:
And during a debate, Conway attacked Paul saying:
“When is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call Aqua Buddha?”
Aside from the fascinating political questions (among them: does conway believe that? Is he calling him on his hypocrisy or calling him a ‘bad Christian’?), my first question was: what exactly is an Aqua Buddha? Paul, now senator-elect, hasn’t said much more than a statement from his campaign:
“During his time at Baylor, Dr. Paul competed on the swim team and was an active member of Young Conservatives of Texas.”
So, we’re left to try and piece together this “ritual,” and ask: was it a practical joke? a stunt? an act of violence or intimidation? or religious activity? While it’s easy to dismiss it as a stunt, a discordian game in the face of the pervasive Baptist dogma of their school, the choice of words, actions and the way they’ve constructed this “idol” speaks to their religious experiences and beliefs in a way worth noting.
So what is an Aqua Buddha? According to Conway’s ad above, it appears to be very literally, an aqua colored Buddha. But the informant’s interpretation of their motivation suggests it was a stand-in for the “golden calf,” an idol constructed in the minds of these two young men to represent precisely what they were forbidden to worship: Nature, in the form of water, and a figure from a non-christian religion, the Buddha. Read as such, and depending on the victims beliefs and the field of cultural and social factors involved, an act like this could be religious torture. Imagine the story from a different angle: a young Buddhist woman kidnapped and dragged to a creek by two young men and then forced to proclaim her faith in Christ.
In this instance however, the victim (now a clinical psychologist) doesn’t make that claim saying instead: “They never hurt me, they never did anything wrong, but the whole thing was kind of sadistic. They were messing with my mind. It was some kind of joke . . I never saw Randy after that—for understandable reasons, I think.”