Monday, April 14, 2008

Reprise: The More Things Change

(I posted this on another blog, two years ago. Now that the anniversary of Galileo's trial has come 'round again, I thought to revisit this entry, and see what's different... if anything...)

In 1543, Nicolai Copernicus formally proposed the idea that the earth revolved around the sun, thus giving the scientific finger to Aristotle and Ptolemy, who previously had a two-thousand year monopoly with their earth-centered universe theory. Nevertheless, almost 100 years after Copernicus’ controversial proposition, on April 12, 1633, The Inquisition (which nobody expected) put Galileo Galilei on trial and placed him under unlimited house arrest, which is actually very limiting, for supporting the theory of a heliocentric system. He died nine years later.

350 years after that, the Roman Catholic Church acquiesced, saying that Galileo had been right all along.

How nice and helpful of them. Now he can finally stretch his legs, go for a nice walk, meet a girl, get a job.

Presently, a mere 14 years after the Church’s shocking admission, and 373 years after the conviction of Galileo, the United States of America is sinking into an Inquisition-esque blending of government and religion that has just as many anti-scientific and inhumane possibilities. One does not have to travel to the formerly populist and once progressive midland state of Kansas to see examples of this—it seems to be popping up everywhere. The lens of fundamentalist Christianity is skewing so many aspects of daily American life that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Our current morphing of a medieval form of religion and a feudal concept of government is more cynical and subtle than such grandiose escapades as The Inquisition, though. At least, one wants to feel, those people back then truly (madly) believed in their cause, however hideous and brutal their actions. History will decide whether this rather forlorn leg of America’s journey will deserve Capital Letters. Far from being filled with a true evangelical zeal, which would be bad enough, the Bush Administration uses the Christian Lens to blur all other aspects of its activity. George W. Bush gets messages from God, he says. Aside from the obvious cries of “Bullshit” and “So?”, this sort of thing is considered DSM-IV code-able by many medical practitioners.

They use accompanying “social issues” to distract and obfuscate their true aims and deflect any organized attempt from the left to challenge them. They have our once socialist, rural, independent, and religious rabble-rousers of the Midwest abandoning their own economic and personal interests in order to rally around such “issues” as gay marriage, abortion, and evolution-in-the-schools, the latter making some of us wonder what decade we are living in. These are, of course, only issues if they are made into issues; only if they are given credence and attention. Since they cannot be ignored, it’s really quite brilliant strategy on the part of the neo-cons. South Dakota bans abortion even though a majority of South Dakotans do not favor the ban, and resources from civil libertarians, women’s advocacy groups, and progressive organizations simply must be diverted or raised.

The left and people who do not want the government involved in telling us what we can’t do, let alone what we can, really does not have a similar diversion to launch. We can’t respond with making something with an equally misguided religious fervor behind it EVEN MORE LEGAL in, say, California. Every once in a while, in Oregon or Massachusetts, they allow physician-assisted suicide or make gay marriage legal, but we can’t really seem to draw them away from their beloved Causes. Or not enough of them, at least. This is of course due not only to the zeal with which they pursue their causes, but also to the backing that they have from powerful and wealthy people who want them to continue to distract and cajole. This is due also to the fact that we don’t just have to worry about Jesus—we on the left have to worry about the deficit, the war in Iraq, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, energy policy, the decay of our urban centers, prescription drug plans, social security, the breakdown of biodiversity, our public schools, and where Dick Cheney is out hunting at the time. We can’t just cry “Fetus Down!”, blow our horns, and circle the wagons. Someone has to defend the homestead.

And the thing is, I don’t think Jesus cared whether or not the earth revolved around the sun, or the other way around; and I don’t think he cared whether or not Simon married Peter; and I don’t think he cared whether or not children thought that the earth really was created in seven days by one guy in the sky; or foresaw an age where these issues would be the purchase of a government. It seems to me that what really mattered to him was that people were good and kind to each other and especially to those less fortunate; and that a loving god, and a love for god, make people better and make them strive to be the sort of people who would be worthy of that love, and that people did not use that god for nefarious purposes. I understand that many of the abortion opponents have a deeply, truly felt need and desire to protect what they believe to be an individual human life. I get that these people have Christian/Biblical interpretations that lead them to believe that they are doing the “godly thing” by opposing gay marriage and disbelieving evolutionary theory. It’s where they cross the line laid down in America between their own personal moral, ethical, or religious convictions and the role of the government and the ensuing conflict with the rights of others. They get to have their beliefs. They get to raise their own children how they see fit. They get to do those things as long as it does not conflict with my right to do those things as well. They are not allowed to put me under unlimited house arrest so that their religio-political agenda can flourish.

Especially when one considers that it is part of an ingeniously concocted strategy on the part of the neo-conservatives to transform populist rhetoric and use it to promote conservative causes—when the very people that they have convinced on religious terms are the very people who benefit the least from their economic and political agenda. Were Roe v. Wade to be overturned, there would be much rejoicing in many parts of America. Were there to be a constitutional ban on gay marriage in every state in the Union, there would be celebrations of victory. Were creationism to become the rule in all public schools, they would have won. But what would really change for them? Their taxes? Their living expenses? The quality of their children’s lives? Their health care? Their access to government? No. None of these things would be improved for them. And once their focus was off of their emotional religious issues, would they finally notice?

But the lives of many Americans would be diminished. Their hopes and possibilities; their opportunities would be lessened.

To all of the other people who still continue to vote for this administration, support it and its cronies—the people who don’t have the same social agenda; or are opposed to the governmental and fiscal policies; those who are voting republican because they always have; those people who are neither harmed nor helped by the economic policies or the ever-further-reaching arm of government because they can afford not to be—the party has changed. And you should know better. I am not telling you to “switch sides”; I am asking you to hold that party accountable for the clash between its rhetoric and its actions. I am asking you to question your own actions and rhetoric and contrast them with your votes. To look at your morals and your beliefs, yes, even your religion—not perceived social issues, but actual humanity, and compare this with what is happening in this country and in the world as a result of current American policy. This is not the party of Lincoln. It is not the party of T. Roosevelt. It has become what Eisenhower warned us against. It is not a godly, Christian administration, promoting the causes of the downtrodden, the meek, and the disconsolate who have no other voice; it has become, in practical terms, quite the opposite.

And that is the sort of thing that would make the baby Jesus cry.

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