The Problem We All Live With
painted by Norman Rockwell
I’m going to pull back and look at the large systemic problem we have in this country, observe what its components are, then zoom in on one part to suggest a solution for it. This is not to isolate that one component as the only / most important component, or say that others shouldn’t address the problem in the other components, but this area is one where I have special interest and insight, and as such the one I can best address.
First, my bona fides: I was raised in a strongly religious-bordering-devout Southern Baptist family. I went thru my crisis of faith, did a lot of research and examining of every major religious belief system and numerous Christian denominations, have moved from SBC to Presbyterian to non-denomination / leaning Quaker.
My faith informs my outlook on all other things, but it does not confine or define it. By nature I’m somewhat conservative and am one of those people who say they didn’t leave the GOP, the GOP left them.
We have a particularly toxic stew in this country that can be traced by to a few key ingredients: Anglo-European colonists laid claim to a continent they had no right to, and used their culture (which included their political make-up plus rationalism via the Enlightenment and strict dogmatic religious beliefs) to justify persecuting / killing / enslaving / exploiting anyone the least bit different from them.
And, yes, that same Anglo-European culture laid the groundwork for our constitution, did wonderful educational and charity works, greatly increased productivity and wealth and on a level of improved goods and health care left many of the exploited better off than they had been before being exploited.
Occasionally we read about burglars
who fix themselves a sandwich and
carefully wash the dishes in the sink
before departing with the silverware.
They still used biological markers of skin color / gender / sexual orientation / ability as a scientific (read: “objective”) reason to justify excluding as many others from full participation in their culture as possible. They cited religious teachings — specifically Judeo-Christian teachings — as a moral justification for this exclusion.
Science, however, considers new evidence and changes its opinion based on the validity of that new evidence. Most religious denominations are loathe to engage in the same kind of self-examination unless absolutely forced to (i.e., their membership rolls are imploding).
(History gets stuck in the middle with objective historians willing to consider and evaluate new evidence and new interpretations, and hagiographers of varying stripes refusing to change from an interpretation they find comfortable and reassuring, no matter how dubious or false.)
In this country, the issue of race relations remains the most complex problem to resolve if we aspire to a better, more just union (something which both Christians and humanists claim to want).
Slave-owners were extremely wealthy people, and they defended that wealth with every tool at their disposal. They encouraged racism among poor whites so as to deflect examinations of class oppression (“I may be poor but at least I ain’t black!”). They misquoted Darwin to claim African-Americans and others were biologically inferior. They encouraged literalistic interpretations of the Bible (literalism being long since discarded by mainstream European and Eastern Orthodox theologians) to justify the institution of slavery with a few cherry picked verses.
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed specifically to help the slave-owners do the latter. The SBC was founded on a theology of exclusion: If slaves were good and obedient and went to the churches their masters told them to attend, then they’d get to go to heaven and obey to their masters in the afterlife as well; if they rebelled and demanded freedom and justice, well, they were instruments of Satan who were doubly damned because they were also little more than monkeys to begin with.
part 2 / part 3 / part 4
[1/1] I count at least 5 professional pastors + pastoral spouses in my generation of siblings and cousins.
[1/2] I’d probably join a Quaker church if I could find one anywhere near where I live.
[1/3] In fact, until the suffragette movement, one could argue they consciously excluded the majority of human beings occupying this country from full participation.
[4/1] That whole “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” bit getting shunted aside.