Heretic and Hero: H Words

Today, I read that Corpenicus has been reburied as a hero.

He had been buried in an unmarked grave 500 years ago because he was a heretic. His heresy? He postulated that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than it being the center around which the universe revolved.

I imagine that was upsetting to people: being told that they were not the center of the universe. Rather they were but a part of a larger whole.

For some reason, I find comfort in being a part of a larger whole. Oddly, or maybe not, that’s what makes me feel immortal in a very mortal kind of way.

I have no idea if I will be able to take you on the leap I am about to make, but I’m hoping that by the end of this post it will somehow make sense.

Rand Paul says that private businesses (such as the now defunct Woolworths counter) should be allowed to discriminate according to whatever prejudices they might have. That he would not patronize that business, but that the business has a right to have its prejudice.

Fox news has several pundits who agree with that point of view. Government has no business interfering with private business on this matter. Each one of the pundits claimed that they themselves would not patronize any business that discriminated like that, but that government should not pass any laws regulating such things.

Clearly, these are not people who lived through the Civil Rights struggle.

Here’s what I learned from that time period: I learned to value the Constitution as a document that could mitigate the dark side of the human heart.

To me, one of the darkest sides of the human heart is when fear of the “other” – fear of based simply because of its otherness – provides license to behave badly. When this is done in large groups, it becomes horrific – it lead to genocide.

I grew up in the shadow of World War II. I grew up believing that we had triumphed over evil – which was personified by Nazi Germany and the Death Camps. How, one wondered, could it have come to that?

I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned that Black American soldiers had to ride in segregated train cars behind cars that carried white German prisoners of war through the South. But I remember how devastating it was to me to learn that.

In the early sixties, in Livermore, California, it was common “wisdom” that selling a house to a black family would lower the property values in the neighborhood. The only Japanese American student in my high school was paired with the only Chinese American student at the freshman dance because they were the same – non white. A sophomore from my high school became one of only a handful of people to survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He did so because he was taunted for being “queer,” the proof being that he carried his books clasped in both arms across his chest, rather than by his side.

All of this was perfectly acceptable – without regard to the humiliation it caused to the individuals involved.

I have no proof of this, only some deep lurking intuition, that my generation – the post WWII generation – somehow put together the Final Solution with what was the then acceptable wisdom and came to the realization that holocausts don’t start with the Death Camps. Its beginning lie in small acts of humiliation that are socially acceptable.

I’ve felt for a while that underlying the cries for freedom and liberty espoused by followers of the Tea Party is the notion that their freedom and liberty is dependent on a world where (metaphorically) the sun revolves around the earth.

They certainly have the right to believe that the sun revolves around the earth, but they don’t have the right to shape the world in their image for the simple reason that the world cannot be shaped that way.

I believe that government not only has the right, but the responsibility to declare these streets free of unkind behavior. I think it is absolutely legitimate to take the stand that one has a right to one’s opinion, but not to ones own facts.

We live in an interdependent world. Oil gushing out of the floor of the Louisiana coast will eventually make its way to the Arctic, decimating people financially, threatening species, and altering forever a delicate balance upon which we depend.

What happens here, does not stay here. That’s why offshore drilling is not the answer to our dependence on “foreign” oil.

We cannot afford, nor do we have the time, to tolerate burying heretics in unmarked graves so that those who cannot tolerate being a part of a bigger whole, feel special – feel safe.

They reburied Corpenicus today – buried him as a hero.

What is heroic is a willingness to live in the world as it is.  Which, in my mind means, learning to live with the “other.

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