March 17th, 2007

The Other Two Americas

Someone or other once said that there are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two types, and those who don’t. You could say the same thing about countries.

John Edwards has summed up the divide between the haves and have-nots of the U.S. by describing two Americas, because the differences between these groups in terms of health care, education, housing, and other aspects of life are so great that for all practical purposes they live in different countries. As my wife and I drive home from brunch at our favorite restaurant, we may be physically only a few feet away as we pass a frazzled-looking woman in a fast-food restaurant uniform sitting at a bus stop, but we are living in separate universes.

But that’s not the cultural divide I’m writing about today. The one I have in mind is at least as stark and possibly more dangerous to our integrity as a society. Rather than haves and have-nots, this is the chasm between the thinks and the think-nots.

On that same two-mile trip home from brunch, we passed a church of one of the highly fundamentalist flavors, and the parking lot was full of people either coming or going. Their universe is much farther from ours than that of the woman on her way to her minimum-wage no-benefits job.

Some believe that reason and rationality are incompatible with religion, even with spirituality. I don’t – I know a number of people who are comfortable in both realms; my best friend is one. He has a graduate degree in electronics and works in a high-tech field, and he is a regular churchgoer. My wife is another – she is quite involved with her faith community, and is also a social worker with a background as a statistician and researcher. But in each of these cases, our mental functioning could be compared to what Christ told those who asked him about the worldly matter of paying taxes – we render unto each field that which belongs to that field. For many reasonable people, faith is the realm of values, and the world of facts is the realm of reason. The questions for which faith and belief provides answers are ones not subject to objective analysis. We don’t fall into the error of asserting that only what we can prove can be true; we know that the universe is big and complicated and every day we keep finding out more about it. But where there is data, we believe the data. Even for those of us who belong to organized religions, if the data we can see and prove conflicts with the writings of some person of faith, we still believe the data. Every holy book is the work of human beings, and reflects the beliefs, prejudices and areas of ignorance of the person or people who wrote it, and of each of those who translated, transcribed, or abridged it. Often enough, looking back with a historical perspective, we can see that these writings were created with agendas including recruitment of new believers, trashing or co-opting competing religions, and supporting established power structures. If this were not true, there would be no internal contradictions in these books, no human committees deciding which writings to keep and which to edit out, no schisms, no plagiarism of the stories of older religions.

The people who live in an alien universe are the ones who put belief higher than thought, who say, as did the now-famous Reverend Haggard in his spot in the film Jesus Camp, that it’s a great life because all they need to do about any decision or issue is see what the Bible says. Ironically, he used homosexuality as an example of how people don’t need to think, we don’t need to decide, we just need to see what the Bible says and do it. Or if the particular topic is not mentioned in the Bible/Koran/Torah/etc., what some self-appointed spokesperson for the Almighty says God told him/her.

These are the people who are anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-environmentalism, anti-gay, anti-women’s-rights, anti-free-speech, and in general anti-everybody-but-them. They’re the ones who burn books, and occasionally burn people. When they do discuss science, they do it backward: they start with a conclusion and look for evidence to support it and ways to discredit any evidence pointing in any other direction. They turn the word “freedom” inside out – they scream that their freedom is being infringed unless they are allowed to stifle the freedom of others to think, speak, or behave differently from them. If anyone dares to express a view different from theirs, they cry that their beliefs are under attack. When science or plain old everyday reality conflict with their dogma, they blithely insist that the science is worthless and the reality is a trick by God to test people’s belief – their God’s first name is Gotcha, apparently.

If these people were content to operate by their own belief systems and give everyone else the same freedom, there wouldn’t be a problem. That kind of freedom is what America is supposed to be about. But too many of these people are on a mission. They feel they have the right and often the duty to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, by any means necessary including stealth, force, and terror, and to persecute anyone they don’t like. That outlook is also, unfortunately, part of our cultural heritage, though our government was designed by very wise men to protect us from zealots. Take the Pilgrims (please!): contrary to the myth taught in our schools, they did not come to America for the freedom to worship as they chose. They had that in England. They were thoroughgoing Puritans and couldn’t stand living in place where other people were free to practice non-Puritan beliefs and values. They came here to create a Puritan theocracy, and when other religious groups like the Quakers also settled here the Puritans had a nasty tendency to murder them when they could get away with it.

Today’s Puritans live in a dark, strange, fear-dominated world. Their leaders tell them everyone else hates them, when the truth is that we just wish they would leave the rest of us alone. Their leaders tell them that God loves them infinitely and will subject them to eternal torture unless they do exactly what those leaders say; that they are made in God’s image and many parts of their bodies and minds are evil, ugly and disgusting. (That’s a basic technique for gaining and keeping control of people: tell them that some basic aspects of their humanity are unacceptable to God, and that only with the intermediation of the self-designated controllers can they overcome that unacceptability. Shame, fear, and subjugation as a formula for daily life, along with the stricture that to think is dangerous and to question is wrong.) They tell them that we are all God’s children, and God plays favorites.

Most importantly, they tell them that it’s their duty to force everyone else to join them and live as they do, and that in that pursuit, the end does justify any means. That’s where they become enemies of the American system and way of life, a bigger threat than Al Qaeda or any other foreign enemy. Actually, they have much more in common with Al Qaeda than with the founders of the United States. The main differences are that there are a lot more of them than there are of Al Qaeda and that they’re stealthier and closer at hand.

In recent decades, these forces of coercion and darkness struck on the tactic of aligning themselves with the multinational corporations and their lobbyists and with the “Amerika Uber Alles” stripe of neo-imperialists. This enabled them to get their man into the White House for the first time with Ronald Reagan, and they’ve been trying to take over every level of government below that from the Congress and Supreme Court to your local school board and city council. Whenever they have managed to achieve power, they’ve followed up by trying to make their doctrine the law for everyone else – for our own good, of course, and they’re so much better qualified than we are to figure out what’s good for us.

The last couple of years have seen them suffer some significant setbacks – Tom Delay and Bill Frist are no longer running Congress, and the most openly radical of the other fundamentalists in those institutions are mostly on shaky ground. They’ve lost some court battles over creationism that they expected to win when some Supreme Court justices they thought were in their pockets turned out to have more integrity and loyalty to the rule of law than expected.

But it would be a big mistake to sigh in relief and stop thinking of them as a danger. They aren’t giving up, and those of us who believe in a non-theocratic America where everyone’s right to swing their arms extends to where others’ noses begin are working at a disadvantage. To be true to our principles, we have to respect their rights to believe, pray, and speak as they choose; we have to respect the rule of law. They respect nothing except their own goals.

Now that they’ve lost some ground, it’s time to take back more. We need to fight for our America by doing a bunch of things:
• Research candidates at every level of politics, paying special attention to school boards and community government – if they haven’t clarified their positions on issues related to separation of church and state, freedom of belief and speech, and the rights of everyone to live as they choose as long as they aren’t hurting others, confront them publicly with these questions.
• Contact our Senators and Representatives any time a critical piece of legislation is pending, asking them to vote in the ways we believe is right and briefly saying why.
• Contact legislators and demand an end to the federal government giving our tax dollars to fundamentalist groups under the guise of faith-based social service programs (every cent of the millions of dollars the Bush administration has disbursed via the “faith-based programs” initiative has gone to a Protestant Christian evangelical organization: Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, and others need not apply.)
• Write letters to our local and regional newspapers about these issues when they become news in our own areas.
• Raise hell any time we see school organizations trying to, or being pressured to, teach the religious doctrine of creationism (or “intelligent design,” or whatever other new name they come up with next) as a science, despite the fact that no reputable science supports it.
• Give your support to organizations like the Interfaith Alliance that promote tolerance and a way of practicing faith that respects the rights of others and the separation of religion and state.
• Buy and read books that any religious organization wants to ban; go to movies and patronize businesses that they criticize or picket.
• Team up with others who believe in the real America, the one the founders designed, to appropriately and civilly confront theocrats at public meetings and other settings. Example: one of my brothers belongs to a group of bikers who attend funerals of military people to shelter them from the Kansas hate church that’s been picketing those funerals and telling families God killed their loved ones because America tolerates gays. My brother’s group plants themselves between the mourners and the haters, and if the haters start making noise, they start their bikes and drown them out.
• The best way to write to a member of Congress is via fax. Mail gets held up in handling and due to fears of anthrax, etc., and e-mails are too easy to delete without even opening them. Write a one page fax, focusing on a single issue, with the most important part of the message in the subject line and first sentence, and avoid being abusive or aggressive. It doesn’t hurt to mention being an active contributor to a major progressive blog with a lot of readers. When a legislator does something we like, we should send him/her a fax saying thanks. This can be very quick and easy to do: on my computer, I have templates made up for faxes to both my state’s senators, my representative, and the White House – all I have to do is update the date, fill in the subject line and message, and send it off; since I work at keeping the messages concise, it takes an average of about five to ten minutes per fax.

Like a lot of others, many of whom contribute to BIO, I spent time in uniform to protect the freedoms this country offers. I took a lifelong oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. These are domestic enemies of what it means to be American. Whether you’ve taken the oath or not, as a citizen it’s in your interests to stand up to bullies and would-be tyrants of all kinds, including those who believe in a form of religion that they believe trumps your rights.

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Posted in General, Current Affairs, Religion, Education, Science, Right Wing Nut, Miscellaneous, DailyFeatured, Gonzo's Grab Bag, Environment, Police State, Terrorism, Patriot, Gay and Lesbian Rights





7 Comment(s)

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  1. steve Says :

    Whoa!!

    First off…  Edwards is a hypocrite.  For a guy like him to express an opinion on the haves and have nots is ludicrous.  THe guy owns a what, six million dollar home.  I have no faith in that message.

    You didn’t come right out and say this LJ, and I am in no way implying that you think this, but it is tiresome for me for me to hear that someone is somehow a “better human being” because they had the courage to join the military and defend this country.  I honor and respect someone that does that with their lives but I hate having it shoved in my face to make a point.

    As far as the religious people, particularly the Protestants in this country getting some play through some “faith based initiative”, I don’t see it.  It is well known that any church, whether it by a mosque, cathedral or synagogue etc.  gets it’s fair share of tax breaks if you simply look at property ownership.  We don’t tax the real estate holdings.  And if you really want to know who gets the biggest advantage, it is probably the Catholics in this country with their enormous buildings and cathedrals as well as schools.

    THe last thing I can say, the have’s definately pay the way in this country.  I am not gonna get into some tax fairness argument here but it is proven over and over that what the top- 5% pay the vast majority of taxes in this country.  Taxes make the country go around.  And if Edwards is going to make an opinion regarding the have’s and have nots then I have questions for him:  Is he willing to pay more taxes?  And how much more is he willing to pay?


  2. Ron Says :

    HOOAH, you fucking jarhead.

    Regards,

    SGT Battista-Army Puke

    Seriously, you are really talking about the divide between what is known as liberal and conservative. Innovators vs. traditionalists. It is still a haves vs. have nots country-the haves are afraid of losing their standing and prestige. Straights vs gays, whites vs(insert color here), christians vs atheist, poor vs rich. The fact that the haves are not “thinking” is merely a function of them not giving a shit.


  3. Jersey McJones Says :

    Steve, Edwards is a rags to riches story that people like you should hold up as an example of American success.  As for the wealthy and taxes, if you include all taxes, as only a moron would not, you’d note that they pay far less a percentage of their wealth in taxes than does the Middle Class.

    JMJ


  4. Liberal Jarhead Says :

    Steve,

    You’re right, I’m not saying that it makes someone better to have served in the military.  I do have a problem with people who go to great lengths to avoid military service when they’re young, then turn into John Wayne when they’re safely middle-aged.

    As for the divide between the haves and have-nots, that is not what I am writing about here - I’m looking at the divide between the rational and the superstitious. But as for taxes, as JMJ points out, the middle class pays more than the rich in taxes both in absolute terms and in percentage of per capita income.  The rich also derive more benefit than the rest of us from the spending of our tax dollars, so they should pay more.  I’m not rich, but my wife and I are above average in income, and I think it’s fair for us to pay a larger percentage of our income in taxes than our kids who make a lot less than we do.  Anyway, I don’t hear Edwards objecting to paying the share that goes with his wealth - if he was trying to evade carrying his share of the load, then he’d be a hypocrite, but nothing he’s saying now is hypocritical.

    As for the church thing, while all religions do get tax breaks, the Bushies are going far beyond that for the evangelicals and for no one else - not only giving them tax breaks, but paying out huge amounts of cash to them - your tax dollars and mine - cash that should be going for nondiscriminatory and non-religion-based social services - and allowing them to use it to proselytize and to practice discrimination in hiring and providing services. That’s illegal, but they’re getting away with it because they aren’t enforcing the laws that they themselves are breaking.

    But back to the original point - I merely mentioned Edwards’ metaphor as a lead-in to a different discussion.  The bone I’m picking here is with the SOBs who want to set themselves up as the Taliban in this country and tell me what I can read, write, watch, think, and do when it doesn’t affect them and is none of their business.  I’m damn well not going to let anyone do that, whether he’s a Wahabi’ite or a so-called Christian.


  5. Liberal Jarhead Says :

    Ron,

    Oorah to you!  And I wasn’t saying that the haves and have-nots are the same groups of people as the thinks and think-nots.  They aren’t - some thinkers are rich, some poor, some middle class; same with the zealots.  Totally different breakdown.  It does seem to match up more closely with the red/blue divide; a lot of Republicans are indeed reasonable people, including the friend I mentioned, but very few liberals or Dems are fundamentalists.  We’re unherdable cats, and that means we aren’t so good at chanting dogma with glazed eyes.


  6. Jersey McJones Says :

    Ron, you’re a PUC?

    JMJ


  7. Ron Says :

    “We’re unherdable cats, and that means we aren’t so good at chanting dogma with glazed eyes. “

    This is true, but put these issues on the national stage and those dramas I mentioned get played out-and bad and good law is made upon them. Mostly bad. I suppose there are exceptions…but by and large you can draw the lines of battle on a given issue using a major prejudicial fault line.

    Jersey…uh-oh…do I not know what a PUC is? Presidential Unit Citation? I’m lost. I was in a unit that got one, but no biggie.



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