Archive for October, 2013


Coexist – updated

When I was young and learning both world and US history, several things stood out to me.  Things that made me shake my head, in the purely black and white view that only the young can have.  That iron-clad certainty, that everyone should have seen things as clearly then as we do now in hindsight.

I was both horrified and ashamed, when I learned that we’d rounded up thousands of Japanese-Americans and put them into interment camps during WWII.  I could not understand why these people would be considered a threat; immigrants (62% were American citizens) who had come to seek the American dream and had committed no crime other than originally being from a country that we were (now, at that point) at war with.  I didn’t understand, but consoled myself with the thought – ‘at least we know better, now’.   (more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_American_internment)

I’m still completely amazed at the whole ‘Red Scare’ McCarthy era.  Actors, musicians blacklisted and refused work because they either refused to participate in the farce or had union or overly liberal leanings.  Seriously, Grandpa Walton (Will Geer) a threat to national security?  Burl Ives?  Pete Seeger?  Orson Welles?  Eddie Albert of Green Acres?  Enough of a threat to warrant being called before Congress and/or investigated by the FBI?  What the heck were we thinking? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_blacklist, also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism)

I also recall being heartened by reading stories of Christians, atheists, etc helping Jews hide or escape the Nazis during WWII.   I wondered to myself even then if I’d have been willing to risk my own life to try to save someone else’s, and with typical youthful optimism, decided I probably would.  Today?  I’d like to think I still would, but of course that’s something one can never know unless actually faced with it.  

Or the more recent story of Billings, Montana, in 1993; where the response by a community to a brick being thrown through a window of a house displaying a menorah, was to urge all people regardless of faith to display a menorah.  And hundreds did. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/menorah.htm)

But, on the flip side of that, how did so many Christians stand by and even endorse Hitler’s aims in the first place?  How many Christians objected to it at the time?  A somewhat enlightening quote (from this site: http://www.ushmm.org/research/the-center-for-advanced-holocaust-studies/programs-ethics-religion-the-holocaust/articles-and-resources/jews-and-christians-the-unfolding-interfaith-relationship)

“Thus, there were significant but isolated voices of protest. Many of these statements drew on church teachings about compassion and social justice, as well as church commitments to civil liberties. Yet, they appear to have found little resonance within the broader community of lay Christians at the time. And, although they did lay a foundation for Christians after 1945 to wrestle theologically with the reality of what had happened during the Holocaust, most of them did not yet confront the theological reality revealed in the Holocaust: that centuries of anti-Jewish teachings by the Christian churches had helped to create a culture in which the genocide of millions of Jewish men, women, and children was possible. Only after 1945 would the Christian churches throughout the world begin to confront the deeper theological challenges of the Holocaust for Christian faith and teaching.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Christianity at the time, is it?  Would you have felt or acted differently back then?  Would you now?

Some of you will already see what all the above have in common; Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, and few voices of protest during the rise of the Holocaust.  Fear, primarily.  And to some degree, misconception or misinformation.

I speak out about this because I understand, now, how they all happened.  And I can’t help but feel it’s happening again.  And I don’t want to have to be ashamed of what our generation might do, the way I was ashamed at what past generations did, in the name of fear.   I don’t want other kids in history class years down the road to shake their heads and say, ‘How could they have been so blind?  How could they have let hysteria run wild that way, to the harm of innocent people?  Why didn’t anyone speak up, why didn’t anyone try to stop it?’.

If you routinely speak out against Muslims, I would ask you – how many do you personally know?  What are you actually basing your opinions on?  What do you really know about that faith, that didn’t come from a news story about something terrible happening?  

Can you understand that *any* religion can be used to promote hatred and violence, or oppression?   How would you feel if you heard people asserting that Christians were oppressing women?  It’s happened right here in the US, more than once.  A more recent case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Jeffs.  Is that the true face of Christianity?  Or is it just a case of someone using it for their own aims?  And what if that was the only news of it you ever saw?  Wouldn’t that tend to make you believe that that was the aim of all Christianity and not just that one group?

Take a look at the breakdown by country in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_by_country

I bet there are countries on there that you have never even *heard* of, that are 80% or more Islamic.  Some of them, I have been to myself (as a woman).   If you truly believe that Islam is about oppression, why haven’t you heard about all of them, not just a select few?  If you truly believe in the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, then why aren’t we hearing about all of them, not just a select few?  Why aren’t ‘Muslim terrorists’ coming from *all* of these countries, and not just a select few?

Perhaps because it’s not the religion itself, but instead the use that some leaders/countries are making of it?  The same way that Warren Jeffs, the KKK, Jim Jones, and Westboro Baptist Church are and have with Christianity?  You can separate those out easily and not take them as ‘representative’ because you *know* other Christians, even if you’re not one yourself.  You’ve lived and grown up in a society where you knew lots of them, where you were exposed to it routinely.  You also know how many and how varied the different sects of Christianity are; even an atheist can typically tell you that the practices of Catholicsm aren’t exactly the same as the practices of Baptists, even though they’re both “Christians”.  Do you even know how many different sects of Islam there are?  Or are they all the same to you?

I’d like to think that I’d have put a menorah on my door if I lived in Billings in 1993.  But how many of us would show the same sort of solidarity to a brick thrown through a Muslim’s window?  How many of us might stand by and allow (or even actively support) the rise of a charismatic anti-Muslim leader who convinced us that eradication would be for the good of us all – creating the next Hitler?  Would you stand by and let it happen?  I would hope that no-one I know would, but I despair every time I see hatred poured forth on a religion for the acts of individuals or hostile nations that are *not* representative of an entire faith.  The media is partially responsible, for dragging religion into every violent act these days – including noting that the Navy Yard shooter was Buddhist.  

There is nothing wrong with being opposed to terrorism or oppression.  We should all be opposed to that.  But recognize it for what it is.  Recognize that terrorism and oppression are purely human traits that have nothing to do with any particular religion.  Any religion can be used to further the aims of people in power or seeking power.  *ANY* religion.   And also recognize that fear leads us into bad places, even with the best of intentions.  

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I recently commented on a friend’s Facebook post that there is no political party that represents me; there are things I agree with in both of the major parties, and things I disagree with in both.  Rarely is *anything* as black or white as either party tries to make it sound.  Rarely is it the case that the things that are being denounced do not also have an element that their side would or could favor, that isn’t even being looked at by the people doing the denouncing.

For example, if you’re on the liberal side, you might see the military as a waste of money; without realizing that it also serves a lot of liberal aims too.  What college or social program will actually pay someone (and house and feed them as well) to learn a highly technical skill, provide their healthcare (and their family’s) 100%, and then give them college money on top of that, for as little as a 3 year commitment?  Granted everyone does not qualify for or is not cut out for military service, but for those who are, it’s a very good alternative path to an education and/or a marketable skill that they otherwise might not have had.  It is in one way one heck of a social program, and there is a definite human factor to the military that is often overlooked completely in the denouncement of military spending.

On the other side, a conservative may not see the value of education, social programs, environmental concerns.  What they may not realize is how much we can all reap the benefit of them.  Better education and a healthier population result in more productivity and creativity, which ultimately makes all of our lives better.  It might seem counter-intuitive for a workplace to give employees a paid hour for the gym three times a week for example, but employers who have done it have found that their employees take fewer sick days; which means the employer benefits as well as the employees.  Some things it’s a bit harder to see the cause/effect, but just because it’s not readily visible doesn’t mean it’s not there at all.

Those are just random examples, but nearly everything that one side or the other denounces, there’s also a benefit somewhere in it that they aren’t seeing.  Few things actually break out neatly into if it’s good for one, it’s automatically bad for the other.  In a lot of cases there are good and bad for both sides in anything being discussed.

But to look at Congress, you’d think that everything is actually (and only) that black and white.  This article from last year foreshadowed today’s issues; that Congress just votes party lines at this point, rather than each member coming to their own conclusions about the things that are before them.

http://www.pressherald.com/news/analysis-shows-congress-shifting-toward-extremes-_2012-03-04.html?pagenum=full

From the article:

“We are becoming more like a parliamentary system, where everyone simply votes with their party and those in charge employ every possible tactic to block the other side,” Snowe said Friday. “At some point you have to develop solutions for the country. You have to talk to people with whom you disagree.”

Snowe’s retirement has highlighted a trend that University of Georgia political science Professor Keith Poole has been tracking for 30 years. He helped create a computer program that shows Congress is more polarized now than at any time since Reconstruction, the result of issues such as race, morality and economics that have pulled the parties apart in recent decades.

“The country is basically becoming fundamentally dysfunctional due to this polarization, and people are finally starting to notice,” Poole said. “It has to stop at some point. It has to break. I think we’re getting close.”

Fundamentally dysfunctional…I’d say that describes the current situation pretty well.  Doesn’t matter what side of it you happen to be on, who you happen to blame; both sides have their valid points.  But even more troubling to me than Congress being divided so solidly along party lines, is seeing my entire Facebook feed divided so solidly along those same lines.  People on both sides who are intelligent and well-educated, yet who don’t seem to consider or even want to consider any middle ground whatsoever.  If a Republican said it, it’s automatically wrong or automatically right, no matter what ‘it’ is – agree, or GTFO.  Or if a Democrat said it, it’s automatically wrong or automatically right, no matter what ‘it’ is; agree, or GTFO.

Also from the article:

“This is being reinforced from the bottom up. Americans have become increasingly well-sorted into their proper parties,” he said.

And that, I think, is the basic root of the issue.  Can we really blame Congress for being so divided, when we ourselves seem to have also become so divided?  I see very little moderate views anymore; everything is solidly Red or Blue.  It seems lately as though there’s no room possible, ever, for a Purple blend between the two; even just between us as individuals.  No room for either side to look for any potential benefit in something the other side has proposed; it’s automatically got to be bad for US if it’s good for THEM.  And there also seems to be little consideration of the drawbacks of any given proposal.  If you don’t agree with it, you’re [insert appropriate slur on your thinking/parentage/whatever here].

What the heck has happened to us?  Have we completely stopped thinking and evaluating things on their own merits (or lack of), but instead rely on the party we most identify with to decide what’s good, and therefore anything that benefits the other side *has* to be bad?  If we can’t see any side but the one we believe is always right, and will shout down even our friends and family to defend it, how can we possibly blame Congress for doing the same?  Aren’t they ‘representing’ us pretty faithfully, if they’re basically doing the same thing in DC that we’re doing with one another via social media, or even face to face?

I’m not ‘well-sorted into my proper party’.  There is no party that represents me.  Because I don’t think there is one right answer to every issue.  One size does not fit all no matter how many times you try to tell me it does.  Businesses are not always right.  Social programs are also not always right.  Both are not always wrong either.  But the number of people I see anymore, who automatically reject anything to do with one or the other lately seems to far outnumber the people who are willing to look at the merits and drawbacks of any given thing, to actually take the time to look at it from all sides rather than just follow a particular party line on it, whatever ‘it’ may be.  So, can we really blame Congress for doing that, if we’re doing it ourselves?  Their job is to represent us; and it seems like they are pretty well representing the lines we’ve drawn between ourselves.  They seem to be the reflection of what I see around me every day; especially via social media.  It’s disheartening, to say the least.

We are never going to get out of the situation we’re in, either in the near term or the long term, without some middle ground.  What we need is not more Democrats or Republicans; what we need are more people willing to find that middle ground.  People who can look at *both* sides of a given issue, rather than only looking at their party line on it.  People who can see the benefits and the drawbacks to an equal degree, on any given issue, whether that issue is traditionally left or traditionally right.  People who understand that anything to do with business also has a human element, unless that business is a business of one.  And that social programs can also have an impact on business.  People who understand cause and effect, who can see the total picture and not just ‘their’ slice of it.   I think we have lost that ourselves at this point, and I think the people we’ve elected reflect it.  Probably too accurately.

 

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