"I know of no tale that takes the side of the tyrant against the disenfranchised."
-Eric Christian Hogart, modern translator of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.
Yesterday, after family festivities, I went over to Chance's parents to see he and his family on Christmas. I've been friends with Chance for 13 years or so now, and his family is, in some way, sort of like my second family.
During my time there, conversations devolved, as is so often the case, into a strange mix of religion and politics. Nancy, Chance's mom, and I have had some notorious knockdown drag-outs over the years, and it can be maddening to talk to her. She is a very right wing, very religious person. The best way that I can put it is that, during our conversation yesterday, it came out that she thinks Jerry Falwell is a great man with important things to say.
Other high points is when I was told that what I said was wrong and that such statements come from the pits of hell.
But the most interesting part of the conversation, to me, was when Nancy told me that she believes our government (yes, the Bush-led, chosen-by-God government) is oppressing its people, that we will turn our backs on Israel and that will be the beginning of the end, and that it doesn't matter what we do in Iraq, Iran, Syria, or anywhere else, because our country really only has 7-9 years left before it is destroyed.
Now, Nancy is pretty extreme, I admit. But we have these conversations, and they've become more and more difficult over the years because, increasingly, we are speaking two different languages. I don't believe that the majority of Republicans have such fervently religious and simultaneously fatalistic ideas. I am not a church-goer anymore, either, but I'm still fairly dialed in to the tenor of what, especially evangelical, Christians are thinking.
They think, at this moment, God has chosen Bush to be in the White House, and this is their opportunity to push back the barbarians at the gate. The barbarians are not, however, the terrorists or even the Iraqi insurgents, but the homosexuals and the liberals. From their point of view, the liberals have allowed a mass holocaust of the unborn and the rampant decay of morality in society by elitists in academia and media.
And we on the left largely see the single-mindedness of the Religious Right as missing the broader issues. On issues like abortion, life is the catch-phrase, but they are more than willing to support capital punishment. We also fail to see how such concern for life seems to stop when it comes to issues like welfare, with refrains of "why should I give to someone who won't help themselves."
The RR sees a liberal establishment that is attempting to remove all things God from the country. That we view the doctrine of Separation of Church and State as a way to stop the practice of Christianity in this country.
The left sees the RR as attempting to diminish the ability for other religions to practice freely by attempting to impose Christianity into schools, courts, and legislation. I learned on the Chris Matthews Show today that the Left Behind books sold more than 30 times the number of copies what the Bill Clinton blockbuster sold. These books espouse such theories as a day when God opens up the earth and swallows up all those who don't believe into pits of fire and brimstone while the believers are elevated to heaven. The left sees this as exclusive and condemning, lacking the best parts of Christianity that we all strive to live by.
There is this great divide between us, and this election cycle helped crystallize and ferment the resolve of both. But there is a conversation we should be having, and it would require each side to let down their defenses and actually engage, debate, and be critical without shutting down or being offensive.
David Brooks, in his NY Times article today, names several well-written essays of the year. One of them he mentions is William J. Stuntz at Tech Central Station's article "Faculty Clubs and Church Pews" His point is that there is too much similarity between the two sides to just continue in a locked-horns pose, battling in their own little story in which each side believes they are the disenfranchised party, and therefore must be the protagonist.
Churches and universities are the two twenty-first century American enterprises that care most about ideas, about language, and about understanding the world we live in, with all its beauty and ugliness. Nearly all older universities were founded as schools of theology: a telling fact. Another one is this: A large part of what goes on in those church buildings that dot the countryside is education -- people reading hard texts, and trying to sort out what they mean.
There is a place in this world for thoughtful, introspective, engaged people from both sides of the spectrum. You can bring your religion to a national policy conversation without insisting that the doctrine must be the basis of the policy, and you can bring progressive ideals to the table without insisting that any inclusion of religion is a deal-breaker, because, in the end, we are all just people with real ideas about what we, as a nation, do right, do wrong, and could be doing better or differently.
I suppose it is hopelessly naive to think that there can exist some sort of Algonquin setting in which the best and brightest minds of the generation, from both sides, can sit down and discuss the real issues facing the country without having to first put on the record just how much each side deplores the other's lifestyle. But in a country that is so divided by these issues, there is a changing mood that threatens it, and we owe it to ourselves to appeal to each other and have real discussions with real exchanges of ideas.
And each side deserves to be heard.