On this holiday devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope that we do not forget his full legacy in the proper context. In Meeting yesterday, a Friend’s message rather bluntly noted that she is growing tired of the way that King’s life has been increasingly presented. Starry-eyed optimists have reduced the man to some sort of inoffensive Santa Claus figure. Gone is the edginess, the reformer threatening the status quo, and the leader who spoke out not just for Civil Rights, but also against the Vietnam War. And, like the Friend, for these reasons, I am beginning to dislike certain aspects of this day. King would want us to continue to press forward, not pass out rose colored glasses while we romanticize past struggles. It is true that winners write history, but be it known that I disagree strongly with the translation.
Jan 17 2011
Aug 17 2010
Those currently in opposition to the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero don’t seem to want to understand the whole picture. They will not even entertain anything other than views stepped in prejudice and fear, seeing an enemy in the face of every person of Middle Eastern descent. While in stuck in this merry-go-round that passes for substantive discourse, they are trusted supporters of a system that sees the sum of its parts as more important than the whole. Today’s believers in preemptive prejudice take stock in reductionism, a theory that justifies bigotry nicely. Indeed, their system of belief relies more on personal bias and illogical rationales rather than outward truth. The spread and growth of this, its own near-religion upsets me more than that of the genuine terrorists themselves.
Jan 21 2010
Recently I have been giving much thought to why Progressives and Democrats can’t seem to accomplish more than the bare minimum regarding desperately needed reform measures, even when they have the luxury of substantial majorities in both public favor and legislative representation. The answer may lie in the prevalence of pointless, unwieldy levels of stratification. With these comes an isolating sense of separation—individual elements of the base often have a problem pulling together with one voice, and, for that matter, do all who would deign to fit underneath the big tent.
To many liberals, life must be overly complicated: specialized committees, committees within committees, identity groups, splinter identity groups from larger ones, rules for the sake of rules, rules set in place when one unforeseen problem creates friction with anyone for whatever reason, exacting policies based on good intentions that soon become headaches for all, and many other examples. It doesn’t have to be this way. Overlap is sometimes a good thing.
As such, the true failing lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how structure ourselves and how we have in many ways forgotten how to communicate with each other. For too long, information and strategies that could be used for the benefit of all have been isolated within specific single-issue oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology. For too long, so-called experts carrying a briefcase, a PowerPoint slide, and a hefty speaking fee have been employed to enlighten other people of an unknown universe, when with major modification, we could easily understand the intersections and common ground which links us together, not the great unknown that keeps us at arm’s length from each other.
This sort of set up directly reflects the nature of academia, since the merits, weaknesses, and structure of pertinent concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted. Just as I have recently discovered that the health care system available to low-income and disabled residents of Washington, DC, was written to be understood and effectively managed by policy wonks and the highly educated, not the poor and under-educated, so do I realize that so many of our grand goals are thwarted when they are neither designed, nor framed so that all might easily comprehend them.
To cite a related example, when I am speaking within Feminist circles, I know that there are certain terms, overarching concepts, and abstract notions that one needs a thorough education, keen mind, and a willingness to research on one’s own time to grasp sufficiently. Much emphasis is given to an everlasting critique of Patriarchy and cultural practices which place women in a subordinate role, and from these comes a thousand deep conversations and leitmotifs. I can speak this language competently, with much practice, I might add, but I often can’t help but wonder if any of these worthwhile ideas and highly involved strategies ever get out to the working class battered housewife or to the sex worker standing on the corner of a bus terminal, prepared for another night of a dangerous way to make a living.
In my own life, part of the reason I have been able to keep my health from being as debilitating as it could be is that I had access through education and relative affluence to know how and where I could do my own research about the condition. Now, years later, I can hold my own with any psychiatrist because I know and understand terms like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, titration, GABA, dopamine agonist, and efficacy. However, these terms mean absolutely nothing to the average person, who must trust fully in a psychiatrist who then must translate their needs, their symptoms, and their expectations for treatment into a regimen of medications that is inexact even in the best of circumstances.
The likely outcome with anyone diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder is a tremendous amount of constant modifications, some slight, some major, and frequently a need to try an altogether new combination of medications, all of this in the hopes that one will stumble across the proper drugs in the proper proportion, eventually.
We humans are a peculiar breed. In the animal kingdom, one could argue that the average mammal attends to its own more readily and with less reservations than we do. Without romanticizing the primitive, it would seem that no other species on Earth usually has such profound reservations about reaching out to assist others. Though certainly other animals fight within themselves for food, mates, and resources, I often wonder if we are perhaps the most self-absorbed creatures the world has ever known.
We are given the gift, by God or by whichever belief or unbelief you espouse, to have the gift of a very complex, and very advanced organ at our disposal known as the brain. Yet, it seems to me sometimes that this supposed great gift can dispense evil and great suffering as easily as it gives rise to good and with it great gain for all.
As a person of faith, I sometimes wonder if this basic concept is a credible interpretation of the beginning of time as expressed in the Book of Genesis. So long as man and woman weren’t aware of the greater complexity of all things, they lived nakedly, blissfully in paradise. But once temptation arrived in serpent form, suddenly they recognized that reality was not nearly so simplistic and easy to swallow. Christianity and other religions teach that humanity was created in God’s image, and if that is the case, perhaps we are caught in some still unresolved eternal polar tension between our ability to sense and structure things in advanced shades of grey versus our relatively straightforward mammalian biological imperatives and compulsions. Some have even implied that the human condition is imperfect particularly because we have divine elements seeking to function within imperfect organs, namely our brain.
While on the subject, I am reminded St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. It seems that the church had fallen prey to smooth talk, false teachings, and a distortion of the faith itself. Much of the passage I am about to cite, as you will see, is written quite sarcastically, its target primarily those who deceive others, not those who had been unwittingly deceived.
However, I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by its tricks, so your minds may somehow be lured away from sincere and pure devotion to the Messiah. When someone comes to you telling about another Jesus whom we didn’t tell you about, you’re willing to put up with it. When you receive a spirit that is different from the Spirit you received earlier, you’re also willing to put up with that. When someone tells you good news that is different from the Good News you already accepted, you’re willing to put up with that too.
I do not think I’m inferior in any way to those “super-apostles.” Even though I may be untrained as an orator, I am not so in the field of knowledge. We have made this clear to all of you in every possible way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? (Italics mine) I took money from other churches as payment for my work, so that I might be your servant [at no cost to you]. And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!
Even those who do not believe in a higher power or in Christian terminology can understand the general message here. To get down to the heart of the matter, our own selfish goals, ego, and pride are largely responsible for the complications that separate us from others. When we throw up barriers for whatever reason, we cause others who might use our knowledge and insight as a helpful resource to stumble or to fail outright. The intent initially may not be to isolate information inside very specific spheres of influence or schools of thought, but very soon this is its inevitable end result.
If we were speaking of a purely Christian point of view, we would concede that no believer should be discouraged from taking an active role in the faith, nor turned away from membership in the body as a whole based on any perceived deficiency or lacking of any kind. Sometimes putting walls up is an unconscious decision made out of a desire for protection, sometimes it is a response to feeling unappreciated and discounted by society as a whole, and often it is a reactive measure that replicates itself a thousand times once established. Like some untreated cancerous cell, walls and barriers become duplicated a thousand times over, leading to factionalism within factionalism, specificity within specificity, and minutia within minutia.
The Left has adopted this formula time and time again under the pretense of being sensitive and accommodating to every possible group with a semi-unifying basic agenda. But what this ends up doing is placing the individual concern first, and ignoring the basic humanity that draws us together. The current generation in power embraced post-modernism with open arms, not recognizing that simply denoting a specific circle of influence means also that one ought to get to take the time to understand its core philosophy as part of the bargain.
We can advance LGBT rights, for example, but if we don’t really make an attempt to listen, really listen to LGBT citizens and to their reflections and concerns, we are wasting our time. Recently, a controversy has sprung up within Feminist spaces that criticizes men who make very ill-informed, very glib pronouncements of what the greater movement (and women themselves) needs to do. These forceful pronouncements are almost always set out in condescending fashion, without, of course, truly understanding where women are coming from and without much specific understanding their particular grievances. Some have denoted this as “mansplaining”.
I do know the resolution of this issue ought be a two-way street, since any exchange of information needs both a talker and a hearer. Though some may disagree with me, I also assert that Feminist circles would be wise to modify, but not water-down, nor soften their message to reach maximum exposure with the world outside of it. This might be accomplished by consciously seeking to move away from the complications of heady terminology and abstract discussions. This doesn’t mean voices should be silenced for any reason or that women ought not speak first and speak often in so doing. Nor does this mean that the dialogue must be dumbed down. What it does mean, however, is that that communication requires an equal sense of that which must be said and that which must be comprehended.
I sincerely believe that women’s rights have a relevance and a pertinence which needs to be added to the daily discourse, but I do also know that doing so requires that it keep the extensive cerebration within itself and the cut-and-dry to those outside. But lest one feel like I am picking on Feminists (which I am honestly not), this goes for every single-issue, shared identity, or niche group with liberal sensibilities. Just because we seem to enjoy making things complicated for perverse reasons as yet unknown, doesn’t mean that we should.
The true failing in all of these cases lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how we structure ourselves. To reiterate once more, for too long, information and strategies that could be to the benefit of all has been isolated within specific issue-oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology. This directly reflects the nature of academia, since these concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted. In that profession, segregated subject areas and ultra-specific foci are considered necessities within a field of study to encourage subsequent analysis. However, this particular structure is anathema to greater progress beyond the world of professors, scholars, and students.
Dec 27 2009
A few years back my depression flared up again, and it became necessary for me to make the long-practiced, but always demoralizing trip to the hospital to regulate my medications and in so doing stabilize my illness. The hospital close to my apartment had no beds available, but the law indicates that those who require hospitalization for any reason must be taken somewhere, no matter how far away that may be. After waiting for several hours, an ambulance arrived for me and I ended at a psychiatric hospital that I eventually came to discover was very badly managed and severely understaffed. Daily existence was trying enough, particularly when in such an emotionally vulnerable state, but I reached my breaking point when it came down to separate into groups for discussion. Substance abusers headed in one direction, and psychiatric patients went in another.
Before that instant, I had no idea I was about to have a spiritual awakening. This setting would seem the least likely of all regarding spiritual insight. To be taught a lesson with application well beyond the immediate was something I recognize now I needed desperately. The most potent image that stuck with me most was that of sitting in a room with ailing people, many of whom were clothed in the barest of scrubs, some of whom did not have their own clothes to wear. The nominal leader began a rambling devotional which then moved unskillfully to a denunciation of the sins of humankind. It was not until well after it concluded that I realized the leader was not a staff member, but was a fellow patient. As this delusional prophet spread a message of hellfire and brimstone, I saw heads droop lower and lower to the ground, believing that God must be punishing them for having mental illness. There was a time, and not that long ago that those with psychiatric disorders were seen as being either possessed by demons or being cursed by the Devil.
It took an experience that viscerally jarring for me to get the point. At that precise moment I vowed that I would never stand for such a thing ever again. The God I believed in then and believe in now was a God of love and a cool healing touch. I regret to mention how uncomfortable I had been in the presence of so many souls whose poverty and crippling condition rendered them a truly pathetic sight. Now, my heart was filled with pity and concern, as well as anger at the man who had encouraged them to curse themselves for a condition which they did nothing to create themselves. The world is full of much ignorance and much misguided advice, but since that day I have vowed that those who attack the most vulnerable among us for whatever reason must be challenged and ultimately defeated. That I had allowed my own prejudice to judge unfairly and harshly these people who had taken me outside of my comfort zone I regret to this very day. They lacked the intellect and the privilege I took for granted regarding how to advocate for themselves and how to even form the words needed to aid the doctors assigned to treat their case.
The story also highlights the shortcomings of our supposedly world-class health care system. The hospital upon which I was a patient had clearly seen better days and much of its dysfunction was due to the fact that it had close to twice as many beds as it did staff to manage the load. I saw a psychiatrist for no more than five minutes per day, at which point I had barely enough time to describe my symptoms and have my medication regimen modified. Those who could afford to leave did so, and those whose insurance or lack thereof would not pay for something better were stuck there. As for me, I claimed a miraculous recovery to escape after having been there a mere three days. For many, however, three days was but a drop in the bucket. Psychiatric hospitals are often merely a way station for the severely ill to remain until the court rules whether they should be committed to a state-run institution. Once there, a patient lingers for several months, upon which he or she is turned back out into society. Yet, few only manage one tour of duty in this whole sordid process. The homeless or the desperately poor spend years in and out of hospitals with such a variance in quality of care that it is no wonder this revolving door is the rule, not the exception.
I recognize how lucky I have been, but I know also that my role is to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Though whatever means I can manage, the indelible impression left on me by this story and others I have experienced in the course of several hospitalizations have allowed me to recognize that I have an obligation to serve those with limitations that would otherwise leave them worse for wear.
Some are fond of stating that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, but what often gets obscured is the original context in which this quotation is found. It is in Genesis, shortly after the the world’s first homicide. Cain intends the phrase as a childish retort full of scorn, but the phrase has often been taken literally.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
It would be just as easy then as now to refuse to look out for the vulnerable ones among us. Christmas, promising goodwill to humankind just passed us, a New Year yet to come, it is easy to forget high-minded ideals once the halls are un-decked and the time comes to roll up sleeves again and dive into work. If we are really to do the season justice, it would be for us to recommit ourselves to the process of reaching beyond our own selfish preoccupations. That it took my own direct observation to take into account the completely needless shame and fear felt by fellow patients only renders me exactly like the throngs of Doubting Thomases with whom I associate regularly. It is this gift I wish I could impart to those who have opposed reforming our broken health care system. It is this experience, horrible though it is, that opened my eyes and I feel certain it would do the same for many others.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Nov 17 2009
I am not usually a reader of magazines except when waiting in places like doctor’s offices or for routine car repair, but a particular column in The Atlantic fairly jumped out at me yesterday while running errands. Provocatively entitled “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?“, immediately I wondered what Christianity the author was referring to when making such a sweeping pronouncement. As it turns out, it’s a particularly curious hybrid strain that synthesizes radical optimism and personal gain at the expense of hard truths or self-awareness. In that regard, it could not be more indicative of the modern age, in all of its faults and promises of salvation through riches. Moreover, in this epoch where instant gratification reigns, perhaps it was inevitable that this petard preaching material gain was hoist.
Though centrally based around an emerging Catholic congregation catering specifically to recent Latino immigrants, in her compelling article author Hanna Rosin draws in disparate strains of different denominations to make an interesting and ultimately damning point.
America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture, and Casa del Padre is no exception. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity.
In Garay’s church, God is the “Owner of All the Silver and Gold,” and with enough faith, any believer can access the inheritance. Money is not the dull stuff of hourly wages and bank-account statements, but a magical substance that comes as a gift from above. Even in these hard times, it is discouraged, in such churches, to fall into despair about the things you cannot afford. “Instead of saying ‘I’m poor,’ say ‘I’m rich,'” Garay’s wife, Hazael, told me one day. “The word of God will manifest itself in reality.”
I find this belief system, if one could truly call it that, particularly troubling and problematic, considering that there are any number of verses of Scripture and words of Jesus I could invoke to directly contradict it. The most obvious citation and one that likely jumps out to those with a strong Christ-centered background is, of course, from the Gospel of Matthew.
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
I am surprised certainly at how unapologetic is this emphasis on personal finance and wealth, since the model used by many churches is a much more insidious one. The most flagrant perversion is found within conventional Protestant Christianity and is known as the Edifice Complex. In it, individual salvation is closely linked with coughing up enough money into the collection plates to buy the brand new multimillion dollar building being pushed by the minister and certain well-connected committee members. A singular focus upon a new house of worship takes precedent, is set into motion, and is awaited with a kind of rapturous Messianic zeal. Plans are drawn up, each stage is announced with much fanfare, updates are frequently provided on how much money has been donated to cover the expense, and it is implied strongly and frequently that all problems will be easily solved by more square footage. The tactic is almost always justified by stating that unchurched people will be drawn into the fold and as a result souls will be saved. Of course, paying for it all over time, in addition to such matters as an notable increase in monies devoted to utilities, mortgage payments, and routine upkeep would certainly require greater participation and increased numbers in the pews, but these are often vulgar, cynical conclusions few dare to draw openly or, for that matter, vocally.
It is not all that surprising that the prosperity gospel persists despite its obvious failure to pay off. Much of popular religion these days is characterized by a vast gap between aspirations and reality. Few of Sarah Palin’s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they’ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce. As Garay likes to say, “What you have is nothing compared to what you will have.” The unpleasant reality-an inadequate paycheck, a pregnant daughter, a recession-is invisible. It’s your ability to see beyond such things, your willing blindness to even the most hopeless-seeming circumstances, that makes you a certain kind of modern Christian, and a 21st-century American.
At times I have found criticism from those who are not people of faith a little annoying and self-righteous, but still do try to give credence to their concerns, many of which are well-founded. If, for instance, one assumes that religion, or for that matter, Christianity is little more than a panacea of positive thinking or a snake-oil curative based on this example, I can hardly fault them for it. True believers have always had to contend with distortions of the truth formulated to suit the ends of those who manipulated followers to advance their own ends, which often involved material gain. It is unfortunate that tunnel-vision suffices for real faith in the eyes of the deluded, though I fault those who advance it, not those who cling to it.
Later in Matthew,
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, not sacrifices.’ For I have come to urge sinners, not the self-righteous, back to God.
I remember that when I was in high school I had a friend who grew up in a very conservative Evangelical family. Underneath the piety, however, was a kind of dysfunction utterly at odds with the stability which they espoused. The mother and father had been long divorced and so my friend lived with his mother in an always cluttered house packed floor to ceiling with junk and unorganized possessions. She used divine revelation and divine direction as justification to leave the country for long periods of time. No matter whether or not she had the money or the need to engage in weeks-long mission trips to remote corners of the globe, her rationalization was that God meant for her to go and since she wanted to go, He would provide for the messy details like funding or making sure her son had the support he needed. Upon reading this article, this anecdote from my own life entered my mind and I am saddened to think that what I considered delusional eccentricity might be far more commonplace then I had ever dreamed.
The Atlantic article focuses on a member of this Charlottesville, Virginia, Latino Catholic congregation by the name of Billy Gonzales, whose requisite devotion to the Prosperity Gospel raises some major red flags in the eyes of this reader.
By many measures, Billy Gonzales does not have it all. He lives with his wife and three children in a tiny apartment on the back side of a development at the edge of town, where people hang out on the stoop until all hours. He works 45 minutes away and his car has been broken down for three months, and he does not have any money to fix it. Every day at work he is faced with a vision of what he does not have. He works for a man who just built a $4 million house-one of four the man owns. Gonzales’s job is to make sure every wine glass, garden statue, and book is dusted and in its proper place. Yet when I talked to Gonzales he was like a child hearing the ice-cream truck, or a man newly in love. “I’m crazy! Just crazy,” he said, meaning crazy for the Lord, and giving little jumps out of his chair.
“I want to buy a house,” he confessed to me one evening this summer. It turned out his lease was almost up, and he needed to move in the fall. “Not a small one but a really huge one, a nice one. With six bedrooms and a kitchen and living room. I know, it’s crazy! But nothing is impossible! God, you saved my life,” he said, no longer speaking to me. “You saved my life, and now you will give me a gift. Now I’m crazy!” Last I heard, he and Garay were house-hunting together.
The narrative that has been advanced in our society since roughly World War II is that religion is detrimental and thus it ought to be jettisoned and disregarded. This has found favor particularly in liberal circles and continues to be pushed hard, since it is easy to provide a new example of how religious intolerance holds back progress or controls people to maintain its own power. When riding the bus yesterday here in DC, I came across a very visible ad for Humanism. It fairly dripped with optimism, smiling faces, calm colors, and good cheer, stating that it is possible for a person to be good without having to have a belief in God or a higher power at all.
In my opinion, I believe that it is entirely possible to be a model citizen without a belief in a higher power, but I suppose I simply have a hard time entertaining the notion that humans when in groups are capable of staying grounded and remaining focused in their efforts to assist everyone. One needs only look at the artifice we have created in government to see the confusion, the inequality, and above all, the needless complications that resort when peoples’ stated agenda at the outset is egalitarianism which ends up by the end nothing remotely like it. What often starts with the best of intentions concludes with a finished product that pleases no one.
Going back to Gonzales, what strikes me as a supreme tragedy is this particular passage, which flies in the face of much biblical teaching and, to be fair, much teaching of other religions.
He told me he feels pity for his employer. He assumes the man must have been close to God at one point, or at least his family must have been, “because the rich are closer to God.” But now the man has lost his way. He laughs when Gonzales talks to him about Jesus, and he wastes his money, buying $500 birdhouses and hiring Gonzales to clean them.
This story begs to be contradicted and my selection of the passage below should come as no surprise.
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them intently and said, “For humans this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
The long and short of it is that religion isn’t meant to be a consistent warm fuzzy. That’s not the point. Jesus called out the leaders of his day and age, which directly led to his death on a cross. All or nothing thinking transforms religion either to a nonstop bummer trip of hypocrisy and thought control or a kind of willing Utopia adopted by believers desperate for a break from the travails and stressors of the world. We are taught, poetically, that to everything there is a season. Sometimes we need encouragement, sometimes we need to be aware of our own frailties, sometimes we can delight in joy, sometimes we need to be held accountable for our transgressions, but we don’t need a retelling of the bootstrap mythology based on a oversimplified interpretation of scripture.
A notable criticism of all of the monotheistic religions is that they are Paternalistic and at times needlessly meddling. I admit that the intention of the Gospels has been twisted to state “I know better than you do”. Still, focusing specifically on what Jesus taught, the ultimate intention in the beginning was that of empowerment, not subordination. No teacher desperate to be worshiped or admired would have stated that whomever exalts himself or herself will be humbled and whomever humbles himself or herself will be exalted. It is a corruption of original intent that leads many away from faith and towards a gospel preaching riches, while in the process forsaking the Golden Rule. The American Dream as realized begins with the Protestant work ethic, but takes a sharp detour along the way.
To conclude, a message for false teachers and corrupt politicians.
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant.
Oct 10 2009
Democrats, particularly Progressive Democrats, have been collectively incredulous. The motives and tactics driving the rancor and bile spewing forth from Republican politicians, Fox News, talking heads, pundits, entertainers, and conservative citizens seems so unjustified and so irrational. Looking back to what we recently came through might be the best way to understand this reactionary response. We must believe that one election cycle or one President can undo the blight upon the human psyche or the sustained abuse upon our sacred institutions, sense of safety, and peace of mind. President Obama has been Chief Executive for less than a year, but what we’ve all learned, much to our chagrin, is that change that you can believe in is slow and incremental.
The reaction of conservatives is directly proportional to the massive amount of fear-mongering, manipulative tactics, and irresponsible governing perpetrated by the Bush Administration. That we on the left are not as affected by this steady barrage of fear and loathing is merely a reflection of the fact that we were hardly the ones to believe in it in the first place. We were the target of scorn, not the targeted audience. One cannot discount for a second the combined evil we were all exposed to for eight long years and that this degree of emotional torture cannot be whisked away with the stroke of a pen, an award, or a sizable agenda. It did not arrive overnight, nor will it depart like a thief in the night.
The old adage of how to cook a frog comes to mind. As the story goes, one doesn’t place the frog immediately into boiling water, else the animal would jump out. Instead, one places the frog in lukewarm water and incrementally increases the temperature, allowing the animal to slowly adjust. Eventually the frog is tricked into staying in water hot enough to kill and then thoroughly cook it. This is what has happened to the conservative movement and why we face such a challenge in reversing course. They have been subtly and not-so-subtly manipulated by the doctrine of opportunist neo-conservative thought to the point that conservatives cannot see any common ground with the left. What made this strategy particularly effective and insidious is that it was implemented little bit by little bit until the combined evil was much greater than any individual part.
It should surprise no one then that we’ve seen this degree of nonsensical, uncompromising, petty, sheer hatred of liberals and President Obama. The Bush/Rove Doctrine might as well have been a a commandment to despise that which opposes you, forsake common humanity for single-minded gain, use any means necessary to win, and never accept the blame for mistakes. We on the left have mentioned this battle plan upon the American public in oversimplified, outline form so frequently that it borders on platitude, but we haven’t gone much deeper. For Republicans and conservatives, however, Bush Administration tactics have left a devastating legacy than will not easily be corrected. We need to ask ourselves if there is anything much we can do to refute it. The GOP itself must recognize the damage and make ends to reverse it. If they do not, then this perspective will further calcify and we ought to expect more of these ridiculous nontroversies and petty partisan attacks. Shelving our skepticism for a moment, we need to understand that humans are much more impressionable and easily duped than our frustration with immediate results will allow. We are clamoring for systemic change, but that comes with time. No President ought to have to clean up messes he or she didn’t create, but that’s the foremost challenge facing our current President, and one that has and will continue to impede what he wants accomplished.
The Ancient Greek fable of Pandora’s Box is an allegory to explain the paradox human nature. Simultaneously blessed and cursed with the gift of curiosity, Pandora opens a particularly tempting box and unwittingly unleashes a plethora of ills upon the human race. However, it must be mentioned that what is last to leave the box is the gift of hope. A more Biblical illustration would be that of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and in so doing were banished from the Garden of Eden. I find a Jewish interpretation to be most instructive in this instance.
According to the Jewish tradition God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that was to give free choice and allow them to earn, as opposed to receive, absolute perfection and intimate communion with God at a higher level than the one on which they were created. According to this tradition, Adam and Eve would have attained absolute perfection and retained immortality had they succeeded in withstanding the temptation to eat from the Tree. After failing at this task, they were condemned to a period of toil to rectify the fallen universe. Jewish tradition views the serpent, and sometimes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself, as representatives of evil and man’s evil inclination.
Perhaps each of us must toil to rectify our own sin or even take the time to rectify someone else’s sin. I believe this to be a function and a role we must all take on as part of being human. It might not be fair, but life is rarely just as we would wish it to be. In this instance, the President, the Congress, and we ourselves are going to have to first reverse trends that have now become entrenched. Some of them have their Genesis eight years prior to today, some of them came into being in 1980, and some of them date back to the 1960’s. The hope lies, I firmly believe, with a strategy of persistence and steady pressure that ought not to be perceived as a failure if it does not garnish immediately discernible results. Sometimes it doesn’t take an Act of Congress to make a major impact on someone or even on the debate itself.