So, I wrote this yesterday, and then today happened. I wrote it too soon, and may have been too optimistic.
It's been a damnably long time since I've written anything here, and it's not for a lack of things to write about. Nor is it entirely due to a lack of time to write (though free time to ruminate and write has been scarce). I just haven't been feeling very open lately. Why?
I can't say why this mood exists in me at this time, though I think some of it is due to the mood around me. I am reminded too often of the late craziness just over at UCC, and this community's (and this country's) response. There have been a few concrete actions hereabouts, local charities and the like--but the main response has been business marquees urging us to "Pray to UCC"* and like sentiments, and bumperstickers that are almost invariably sandwiched between an aging NRA sticker and a new "I support Sheriff Hanlin"** sticker. There is no hint of anything wrong with feeling a need for one's own second-amendment stockpile; there is an omnipresent tacit acceptance of the status quo, that things will never--must never--change; and that it will, must, happen again.
As this goes on, I am treated to the national spectacle of a presidential campaign. A lot of the country, including far too many of my neighbors, is aroused by candidates who have openly espoused hatred, racism, and something akin to fascism. There seems to be a need for someone other to hate and fear because they're different. One would think that we, as a nation, might have graduated from the Middle Passage and the Exclusion Act and Manzanar and gay-bashing, but now it's the Muslim's turn. Things will never change, and folks want it to happen again.
A while ago, I was forwarded an email about the Muslim threat, from someone who ought to have known better. I pointed out to the sender, with abundant citations and quotes, how one could replace "Muslim" with "Jew" and end up with near-perfect quotes of statements from leading Nazis. The sender's reply was kind of equivocal, that it was something a pastor had forwarded, maybe as an example? And now we have political leaders talking about barring refugees and setting up internment camps and getting applauded.
This gets me towards one of the things I have been wanting to write, and that is the striking abuse of a word and what it defines: courage. I was first made aware of the degradation of this word in a video clip approvingly linked to by a neighbor. In this clip, a pastor celebrated his own bravery, bragging that he had the courage to discriminate against homosexuals. His congregation burst into boisterous applause and cheering. I was immediately struck by his defining "courage" as something that involves hating somebody and getting rapturous applause for it. Did he have to confront injury to do that?
Then, our county's sheriff and Second-Amendment misinterpreters were hailed for their courage, wanting to hang on to as much lethal force as possible to defend against--what? their neighbors? Global jihadi terrorists with an unaccountable interest in small towns in rural counties? This was courage, needing a platoon's armory for defense against bogeymen? Do you have courage if you feel a need to go everywhere strapped? Against what threat do these folks stockpile ammo?
Courage, the word and concept, has been completely debased on a national stage in the aftermath of the insanity in Paris. I saw the governors of several states celebrated for their "courage" in rejecting refugees from Syria. That's "courage?" Really, has ever the meaning of a word been so thoroughly perverted? Courage, it seems, no longer means anything but fear, fear of "the other". I remember it meaning something different, a long time ago.
Folks in the humanities sometimes talk about the "axial age," a period in human history when religions and philosophers around the world first developed notions related to the Golden Rule--in essence, recognizing that another human being, an "other," had humanity equal to one's own. This is a stage in individual human development, as well as a stage in the development of humanity. It also takes courage, to expose yourself to the "other," and not belittle it.
However, it is a lot easier to hew to the Golden Rule in a society where everyone is like you. If one recognizes the humanity only in the other members of one's own group, as a child may only recognize the humanity of its immediate family, then there has been no challenge. There is no courage in hailing the humanity of a face in a mirror. And, for most of our history, a human rarely wandered far, and could live a life without seeing faces different from the one in the mirror. (This still holds for many residents of my county, who celebrate the perverted new definition of courage.**) But children, after growing up in a family and being warned against strangers, need to grow up and face the world, and so do we.
It would be really nice if we could get to the point of seeing a terrorism victim in Mali as having humanity fully equal to one at UCC. It would be great if we saw the ethics of an atheist or Hindu as being just as worthy as those of a fellow parishioner at the local Seventh Day Adventists, assuming that they all adhered to some expression of the golden rule. It would be swell if a woman on WIC, one generation removed from Guatemala, were regarded as being as fully a citizen as Donald Trump. Nice, great, swell--and seemingly impossible, for all those pols and preachers who celebrate fear and call it courage, to grow up and reach a basic level of humanity.
Writing this, I feel a bit like I've vomited; my apologies for barfing all over your computer. But, we vomit to get rid of that which is noxious, and it typically leaves one feeling better. I hope I will feel better, more open, and willing to write here in the future.
*Other choice signs include the context-free "Thoughts and Prayers," and too many "UCC Strong" or Biblical cites.
**This is the Douglas County Sheriff who approvingly linked to a YouTube video describing the Sandy Hook Massacre as a "False Flag Operation," and published an open letter to the Vice President (apparently because the President is not legitimate) saying that he won't enforce any gun-control laws.
***I am literally the first Jewish person that some of my neighbors have ever met. Doubtful that they've ever seen a Muslim in person.