On One Hand

February 16, 2007

It’s all about love

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:16 pm
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I can’t speak to ethnic minorities or small religious groups when I say this. I am not one of them, so to do so would involve criticizing what I don’t understand. I respect and consider any perspective that comes from them.

But I can speak to GLBTQ people, liberal spiritual people, and political progressives in general. I am one of all of those groups, so they can listen to me; criticizing them means being also self-critical, so is fair, and I beleive I can have an impact in those communities.

And what I want to say, is this: don’t make it your life to worry about what the “bad guys” are doing. Don’t worry about how they think or how they live. Instead, worry about what you can do. Worry about your morals, whether you’re doing the truly right thing, and worry about where the future of your ideological movement is.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve realized that I know as much as anyone knows, but that it is still almost nothing. And I realized that I don’t have the right, or any real reason, to sit here and condemn Evangelicals or religious conservatives or Islamicists or right-wingers for being what they are, Evangelical or conservative or right-wing. I can assert my own rights, and it is within my rights that Evangelical Christianity or right-wing ideology should not impede my right to marry, love, practice, or do what my beleifs guide me to do, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. But if they consider me a “sinner” or an “infidel,” if they hate me, if they teach their kids to hate me and refuse to cooperate me; there really isn’t anything I can say to that. We are powerless to stop them. And it isn’t very affirming to fixate on an issue on which we are powerless.

Liberals can win if they refine this message: we don’t want to change who anyone is. We don’t want to destroy “fundementalism” or Christianity. We don’t want to destroy the “upper class.” We don’t want to destroy small-town community, big buisness, or Wal-Mart. All we want to do is make sure that we, and also people who are persecuted, oppressed, disadvantaged, or suffering, receive their rights and receive help. We want to save small towns from Wal-Mart. We want to save diversity and the many variances in our society that make sure everyone has a niche, that risk encroachment from by the endless onslaught of commodification, suburbanization, franchization, consumerization, materialization, and so forth. But we do not achieve this by fixating on bad guys or bad messages. We save diversity by speaking highly of where diversity is successful, and bringing the world’s focus to that.

We are pro free-speech and pro-pluralism. If we hear something we find offensive, we do not shut it down, and if the message is ambiguous, both good and bad, we don’t even criticize it. Instead, we provide a counter-argument, or explain what it is in our enemies’ ideologies that we actually agree with, and stay positive.

There is a book called Gonzo Judaism, by Niles Goldstein, a well-known Rabbi from New York, about how American Jewish people can renew their faith. It speaks to one community, but can be applied to many others.

One section I found poignant was when Goldstein describes the reactions of Jewish leaders to Mel Gibson’s controversial film, The Passion of The Christ. The groups decried the film as anti-Jewish, and called for a boycott, or even outright censorship, of the disagreeable film. Goldstein was angry – but not with the Mel Gibson film; it was the hostile and defensive reaction of his own community that Goldstein condemned.

In agreement with Goldstein, lets assume for a moment that Gibson’s film was deeply anti-Semitic and that the film implied that this anti-Semitism is a necessary, inherent tenet of its brand of Christian faith. Then, as an outsider, ask what it really is about religious attitudes like theese that make them problematic. Is it that they have their own inherent, likely distorted views about an historical occurrence? Is that they consider a certain thing to be sin that we don’t consider sin, and are thus “puritanical” or “closed-minded?” Is it that they are “filled with hate” for us? Or is it, rather, that they turn their faith outward and are more concerned with what the outsiders are doing than what their own faith suggests?

I think the biggest clashes between religious ideologies – the ones that lead to violence, persecution, and strife – are caused by just what Goldstein points his finger at: it’s when the religious community is somehow more concerned with what outsiders are doing than the state of their own faith. It’s when we hear radical Islamic clerics and terrorist organizations base their actions on attitudes toward the “infidels” and “sinners,” that we see violent clashes between their cultures and the West. It is when we see Evangelical Christians in the United States suddenly fixate on what homosexuals and liberals are doing that we see them rise up against the interests of a minority class – in a same way that they have offended, and still offend, American Jewish people. And it’s when we see the Jewish community fire back with insults, as Goldstein describes, that people begin to turn a deaf ear toward the more authentic spirituality that the offended community can bring to the world. Ironically, these hostile, outward-facing attitudes are often in violation of the very heart of the religion they come from.

And, ironically, our outward-facing attitudes are often in violation of the very concept of diversity and acceptance that we preach.

America has won almost all of its wars. But there are two that it can be said to have lost, or is losing: Vietnam, and Iraq. How did we get in the war with Vietnam? It was by being worried about whether Vietnam was communist or not, because we are not communist and thought that communism was bad. But they aren’t us and can choose whatever economic system they like. We were in the wrong, and lost the war. Then, how did we get in the war with Iraq? It was by being worried about whether Iraq was democratic or not, and we now have disasterous problems because it seems we may have imposed something that wasn’t really wanted.

Disagreement between religions is an inherent part of religion itself – unavoidable – since almost every religion was itself formed as a response or reformation of the previous religious landscape it disagreed with, and will counter it directly. The same is true for political ideologies. But if one community’s obsession with what the people they see as “bad guys” are doing, becomes, almost always, a problem, why wouldn’t this be true for another community, in this case, Goldstein’s own? Goldstein sees faith as something best turned inward, where a person asks how he or she can become right with him or herself and God rather than how he or she can criticize or condemn, and he suggests that the best way to deal with ideologies so hostile to us that we cannot compromise with them, is to ignore them.

As a Jewish person himself, Goldstein is probably not going to change the views of the Conservative Catholicism or Evangelical Christianity. But he is in a position that he can improve the state of his own community, and that’s what he seeks to do.

How many of you sympathize with oppressed, embattled Arabs in the Middle East, or in Palestine, but then see a flock of Palestinian radicals burning an American flag, screaming “death to Americans,” and YOU are an American, and it gets to you – and for a moment, you think fuck those guys – for a moment, you waver in your concern. They almost turned you against them, and against innocent people, by hating. That’s what we do to our ideological enemies when we writhe in condemnations. We turn them even more against us.

Lets start celebrating life and celebrating our diversity, rather than worrying about it. Lets shut up about the bad guys and let them live how they live.

We can unite with conservative Christians in opposition to materialism and in the need to care for the poor. We can unite with pro-war hawks in the need to be an influence of democracy and pluralism to other nations that do not have it. We can unite with economic conservatives in the pursuit of free choice, and we can achieve many of our desired ends by using our own economic power to buy forrests and preserve them, to support environmentally-friendly products, and to do business with companies that are fair and friendly to their employees.

I’m beginning to realize that this is the argument I can offer the world. All other arguments I could make are already being made, against materialism, consumerism, militarism, and so forth. I can’t change right-wingers and Evangelicals. They beleive what they will, and by fixating on them I become what they are; obsessively worried about the behavior of others. But I can, however, show them what a better approach to the world can look like, and I can urge people on my own “side” to show them what a better approach to the world can look like. I like to unite people, and am coming to the realization that this is the only answer to our problems.



  1. Fresh m-service


    Comment by Anonymous — March 27, 2007 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  2. Jimmi song(and dance)


    Comment by Anonymous — April 25, 2007 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

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