Jun 18 2009
Elvis Dingeldein asks a thoughtful question in a post called “Also, Don’t Blame Muhammad“, at bobcesca.com: what we can do to prevent the spike in violent religious extremism whenever the religious right is out of power in the US? His original post was further clarified in the last segment of his radio show here: (June 4 podcast).
I’m going to take my time answering, because I don’t want to come across as having “the answer” – I don’t think I do. But the question, now fully articulated, seems to suggest some immediate thoughts, and I wanted to share them.
I think, fundamentally – what CAN be done, is what IS being done, and we need to find ways to follow suit.
First – the beauty and challenge of American democracy is that it is predicated on freedom of conscience. As long as we reserve the right to our freedom of conscience (expressed in the 1st amendment jointly as a restriction on government making any laws that would seem to “establish” a religion and the freedom from government interference with the expression of religion amongst private citizens), we will always have religious expression in the public square. People hold ideas, be they religious or philosophical, and they reserve their right to act upon those ideas.
Second – and this is one that really hit me the other day – we need to remember that the howling of those who are now “out of power” is not just because they are out of power – it is because the foundation of their world is shaken.
That second one is a biggie. I had a small glimpse of it the other day, when I saw the headline “Yankees drop 8 in a row to Bosox.” Something in my stomach turned – and the world felt just slightly off kilter. Let me put that in context: I’m not a “fanatic” – I typically ignore baseball all year long, and only pay attention the the playoffs if the Yankees are in them. All the rest of the year, baseball goings on are background noise. So you see what kind of baseball fan I am. At the same time, I know a lot of Yankee lore. I know about the House that Babe built, and I remember Reggie Jackson as Mr. October, and I know about “The Curse.” In fact, I know enough about the curse to have been worried, when the Yankees swindled Alex Rodriguez from the Red Sox, that the curse would be broken. And sure enough, it was. As disinterested a fan as I am, this makes me feel a dreadful sense of anxiety. All is not right with the world. Perhaps the Yankees are the ones who are cursed now, I wonder. And I’m angry. I’m angry about the new Yankee Stadium (don’t like the idea at all). I’m angry about the Alex Rodriguez deal. I can’t stand Alex Rodriguez – never have liked him, and what little bit of liking I could have had for him dissipated when the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the pennant. All of this emotional investment over…. baseball.
Thinking on this slightly irrational reaction to a simple newspaper headline, I suddenly had a grasp of what the world must feel like to some people. I’m talking about the people who remember when abortion was illegal, and only “those kinds of girls” had them. I’m talking about people who remember segregation, and especially who remember when there just was no way a black man OR a woman could figure so prominently in national politics. I’m talking about those whose foundational understanding of the world includes white men on top, all the time. I’m thinking about how they must feel every morning when they wake up and think “WTF??” I’m thinking about how their knees must knock a little bit, and their stomachs roil whenever they have to hear on the news that there is someone called President Barack Hussein Obama. Irrational though it may be, I suddenly had a great deal of sympathy for these who history has left behind. I suddenly realize that for them, nothing may be more important than restoring balance and order to THEIR universe. What would it take?
Well – there are a bunch of very wicked people who are playing on their fears. Understanding that quaking sensation in the belly, these wicked people promote these fears, make it seem justified, for their own gain. But President Obama has chosen another approach – he’s created safe space for those fearful ones. He speaks in the language of faith to reassure these fearful ones that the world has not turned upside down. He invites the religious in – because religion is that last bastion of stability that they hold on to. In short – he reminds them that after all, they are NOT left behind – he’s bringing them along for the ride.
Many on the left decry these efforts by the President, but I think they are wrong to do so. The toxic atmosphere can only grow more toxic unless people predisposed to feel displaced are instead empowered – but to do good, and to contribute to, rather than be left behind by the march of history.
To the extent that we can, we who are in President Obama’s corner, need to be reaching out for these displaced people, and showing them how they are empowered by the changes happening, rather than leaving them to the vile intent of those who seek only to manipulate their fears.
I said in a comment on Bob Cesca’s site that I was glad that Pat Buchanan was so thoroughly embraced on MSNBC. He is one of those displaced people I’m talking about. Surrounded by people who want to hear his opinion, but who disagree, sometimes sharply, his voice can be a part of the change that is happening, a dialectic that propels us forward, rather than a disruptive and destructive force that pulls us down. I continually remember the anecdote of the campaign when a young canvasser knocked on a door of a poor white family. The woman who answered, had to ask her husband who they were voting for… and upon the husband’s reply, repeated for the canvasser “We’re voting for the n*gg*r.” You know what? I’m sure we were glad to have the vote.
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