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.

When God Hates the Same People You Do . . .

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
(from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott; on page 22 of Bird by Bird she attributes this quote to “my priest friend Tom”)

I went to the Tea Party rally in Pleasanton on Thursday.

Given that I was once accused (with humor) of being a pinko commie bedwetter, this probably sounds peculiar.

And, given that my brain can, without warning, switch from an accepting Zen state of being into my screaming-body-painted-blue-with-the-head-of-my-enemy-dangling-from-my-horse’s-neck Celtic warrior, one might wonder at the wisdom of my wading into such a gathering all by myself.

And yet, I did.

First, it was peculiar seeing all the signs complaining about being taxed so heavily when the headlines were stating that most people were paying fewer taxes this year. I shouted this fact as I drove by, but the sign holders were not amused.

As Pat Paulsen would say, “Picky, picky, picky.”

I decided (the accepting Zen part of me) that my goal there was to engage and try and understand where these people were coming from.

Carly Fiorina had a booth there. As did the Republican Women and Republican Party.

I stopped a couple on the way in. He was wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with a portrait of Reagan. Did you know Reagan grew government, I asked. Actually, I don’t remember his answer to that one.

He tried to tell me that corporations are individuals because they are a group of individuals who join together. I was so taken aback by his reasoning that I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind him that a corporation is a group of individuals who have absolutely no accountability for what that group does. Think of Bhopal, for example.

His wife said that she thought of every president as her president but this one. My Celtic warrior slipped out, “Oh right, this one is black.”

She told me I should be ashamed of myself for accusing her of being racist.

Someone shouted to me as the couple and I part ways, “You must be a Democrat.”

“I’m an American,” I replied.

I asked a man who carried an impeach Obama sign what Obama had done to meet the criteria for impeachment. The Constitutional requirement for impeachment was high crimes or misdemeanors. What high crime or misdemeanor had he committed?

“Who are you?” he replied.

At a booth that featured Obama Czar cards, I asked the man who was selling the cards why Health Care reform was unconstitutional. After a lot of stumbling I finally said, “I think that what you are saying is that the individual mandate is what you think is unconstitutional.”

He met my question with glazed eyes. A woman who was standing at the booth said that she had to listen to my kind of crap all the time and thought this would be a day where she wouldn’t have to hear any of it. I explained that I was trying to understand what he or she meant by Health Care Reform was unconstitutional. She ignored me and to show her defiance, bought a deck of cards.

The man at the booth didn’t thank me for helping him make the sale.

I asked another man why Medicare wasn’t socialized medicine. Because we paid into it with our taxes he said. We ended up shaking hands – he even hugged me.

There were those who said people were flocking here from Canada and places like England to get their health care because they didn’t like what they got in their own country. No one mentioned how he or she was paying for it.

And finally, on the way out I asked a woman who was carrying a sign that says that government is wildly out of control why she thinks that. Frankly, I don’t remember everything she said, but this was the most satisfying and also, sadly, revealing conversation I had all day. Another woman, wearing a red Tea Party tee shirt joined us.

Given that government intrusion in our personal lives was an issue, I asked if a woman should have the right to choose. The issue of partial birth abortions came up. I said I thought that decision needs to be between a woman and her doctor.

What if a woman says that after eight months she’s tired of being so uncomfortable and just wants to end her pregnancy, she asked.

Well, how do you answer that question.

The woman wearing the red tee shirt said that yes, a woman needs to have the right to choose.

Then the woman with the government-out-of-control sign asked whether teenage girls should be able to have abortions without their parents’ permission or knowledge.

Yes, I said, and before I could answer further the woman with the red tee shirt said, “Yes, because it could be a result of incest.”

What are you doing wearing that tee shirt, I wondered.

Then, I asked if Obama is a natural born citizen. And of course up came the why doesn’t-he-show-us-his birth-certificate-no-not-that-one thing came up.

The Muslim thing came up. That he was born a Muslim. Okay, he isn’t and I’m not sure that one can be born a religion, but I asked, “Okay, can you be a Muslim and an American.”

Neither was so sure of that one.

The sign-carrying lady brought up that Obama slipped and said he had visited 57 states during the campaign. “There are 57 Muslim states she said.”

Okay, that one blew out both my Zen and Celtic warrior brain, but I refrained from shouting “What the fuck?”

We spoke for a few more minutes. The sign-carrying lady accidently released some spittle while she spoke – not as in spewing spittle, but you know, one of those embarrassing moments. She worried that I would think she spit on me. I assured her I knew she hadn’t.

We all went our separate ways.

So here is my conclusion after being at the event:

I can live with difference of opinions about health care, the role of government, size of government, and so on.

But what seems to me to be at the base of this movement is fear and anger: fear of the changing face of America and the world, and anger that they their side lost the election. I am concerned that this group thinks that freedom means freedom from having to live in a diverse culture, a diverse world.

I came of age in the Sixties, when the Civil Rights Movement led to an interpretation of the Constitution as a protector of the inherent dignity of the individual. Informing that time, for me anyway, was World War II and how the Concentration Camps showed the depth of depravity prejudice against groups of people can be taken to.

To me, the brilliance of the Constitution is that it recognizes that darkness resides in the heart of human beings, and provides a mechanism for ensuring that laws that come out of the blackest of places – those places that are fueled by fear of the other – can be overturned.

For me, freedom and liberty are about respect for the dignity of the individual. That’s why I think health care is a right, not a privilege. We do not have the best health care in the world if treatment exists, but is rationed by ability to pay.

It concerns me that the Republican Party is embracing this movement. For too long, they have used fear – fear of the other – as their method for galvanizing people. Fear is one of the basest of human emotions – it makes one do crazy, irrational things as an individual; when it is used to amass people, it leads to cruelty.

Obviously, we all have a right to our own opinion. We do not, however, have the right to construct the world in our own image. We might want to, but that doesn’t give us the right to.

That way leads to the human equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits.

I believe we need leadership that show us a way around that.