Friday, March 26, 2010

A World Gone Crazy

Last night, March 25th, a man was rammed by another car while driving with his daughter down Blair Blvd in west Nashville near Belmont University all because he had an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on his car. A man and his 10 year old daughter could have died because of a bumper sticker and another man's ignorant rage. While random acts of violence have increased because of the new health care reform bill, these acts are nothing new. Other people have been hit in their cars or hate tires slashed and windows broken because of Bush/Cheney or similar bumper stickers. The intensity of the political atmosphere in this country is getting worse and worse and more and more visceral. People have died because of politics. Two years ago a Knoxville man walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church and murdered 6 people. He did this in part because of a book written by Bernard Goldberg called 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Since he could not attack those 100 people personally he decided to attack a church that represented what he saw as a "liberal" mindset. This is not an isolated incident perpetrated by a single wacko. Instead, this kind of violence is become more and more prevalent.

I read an Op/ed in the NY Times that stated that

Studies have shown that people tend to seek out information that is consistent with their views; think of liberal fans of MSNBC and conservative devotees of Fox News. Liberals and conservatives also tend to process the information that they receive with a bias toward their pre-existing opinions, accepting claims that are consistent with their point of view and rejecting those that are not. As a result, information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs is often disregarded, especially if those beliefs are strongly held.

I know that I have been biased against Fox News, but it does seem that both Fox News and MSNBC purposefully provide news and commentary that lean right or left respectfully. There is no such thing as "fair and balanced", non-biased reporting. You have to dig through the spin to get the real facts if there are any real facts. A perfect example of this is the health care reform. The reason that people believe that this law will create "death panels" is because Fox News reported it. For some people, Fox News is gospel. The same for some people and MSNBC. We cannot allow our presuppositions and prejudices supersede our generosity and willingness to compromise. Our nation was built on compromise and peaceful debate.

I listen to both liberal and conservative talk radio on my Sirius. One conservative radio host, Mike Church, describes Democrats and liberals as "domestic enemies" of the Constitution and his fellow conservatives as "patriots". The Tea Party people have taken as their symbol the Gadsden flag and now have planned a Second Amendment rally on April 19 they say because of the anniversary of the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War, it also coincides with the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. I am not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but the Tea Partiers take a revolutionary themed flag as their symbol, they rally with guns on the anniversary of the American Revolutionary War, and they describe those they disagree with as domestic enemies of the United States. This sounds like a recipe for something bad. I hope I'm wrong, but it concerns me.

Now I am all in favor of freedom of speech and I am the first one to say that the First Amendment protects speech we hate as well as that we agree with, but when the people, who are not exactly mentally stable, take these words as marching orders to go and attack the "enemy" like good "patriots" those who speak those words are also culpable. I hear a lot of "well they [the liberals] do it, just look at eco-terrorism and anti-capitalist protesters" from conservatives. My response to that is two wrongs do not make it right. Someone must stand up and say ENOUGH!! The political atmosphere we are now engaged in is not sustainable. More people are going to die if we don't say enough is enough. I am reminded of the words from the greatest American president to hold the office.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stupid is as Stupid Does

*Note: I am using some information I read online earlier this week in this blog post. I searched for the original to no avail. If any of this information or opinion seems familiar then let me know and I will give proper credit.

I turned 30 a few weeks ago and so I missed the intensity of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements of the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. In my limited experience, the recent health care reform debate has been the more contentious, fear-filled, hate-filled, and intense political debate in recent memory. It seems that since the election of President Obama the anger over "government" is boiling over. How much of that anger is genuine and how much is redirected racism is yet to be seen. A new poll released today shows that 67% of Republicans and 40% of Americans believe that President Obama is a socialist. Also, 57% of Republicans and 32% of Americans believe that he is a Muslim. I do not know the reliability of this poll, but in my experience over the last 14 months I would agree with the statistics.

I live in a small town in rural Tennessee. I overhear people at the cafe, at the grocery store, and at church and for the most part their opinions seem to match those in this poll. On Election Day 2008 I overheard a conversation at a local diner that went something to the effect of "He(Obama) won't make it to January." and "There will be killings." At the time I blew these words off as racist rednecks running their mouths, but as Obama's presidency moves on I am genuinely concerned for his well being. I pray for him and his family. This new anger is not limited to coffee shops and hardware stores. I had a good friend from school block me on his Facebook because of my political views. I have lost friends because of the way I think and believe. I have many friends who have differing political viewpoints and I would never consider not being their friend because of it. There is no open-mindedness anymore. There is no compromise anymore. The political and sometimes theological mentality if today is "if you do not agree with me then you are my enemy."

This brings me to the breadth of my post. I truly see this new political atmosphere as a form of ignorance. *There is where that other bog post comes in.* There are two kinds of ignorance. One kind is simply a lack of knowledge. Imagine a child touching a hot stove and burning her/his hand. She/he did not have the knowledge that a hot stove causes a burn and pain along with it. I confess that I lack knowledge about a lot of things. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, but I am always willing to learn what I don't know. I try to be open minded to new and different viewpoints.

The second kind of ignorance is defined by its UNwillingness to learn and engage new and differing viewpoints. Some might call it stupidity or idiocy and it takes many guises; racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice. This form of ignorance can be defined by the phrases "I don't care what you think, I'm not going to change no matter what you say." The majority of this anger towards Obama comes from this kind of ignorance. You can tell people time and time again that Obama is Christian and belongs to the United Church of Christ, but they refuse to believe it. You show them Obama's birth certificate from Hawaii and they call it a fake. You ask people to define socialism, fascism, and Marxism and they call you a socialist, fascist, and Marxist. Many of these people go to church once a week, but listen to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh 5 times a week.

How then do we liberate people from this kind of ignorance? I truly believe that only the grace and love of God can break this wall of ignorance. The writer of 1 John says that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love." I don't want to sound too cliché, but love is the answer. We love these people in spite of their ignorant hatefulness. We show them love when they say hateful things. Most importantly we show the young people the fullness of God's love so that we can break the cycle of ignorance. I have witnessed the redemptive power of God's love. It does not always happen overnight, but love will win in the end. I am reminded of the famous words of the Apostle Paul read at many weddings including my own. "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."