Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
I wrote this to get a sense of how long it would take my students to write an exploratory essay on an issue that they are passionate about. I had been thinking about this quite a bit. If you have a reaction (even negative) please engage me in respectful dialogue.
One (there were many) of the reasons why we have this current political environment in January 2017 is because “he whose name I can’t type” was supported by the Christian conservatives, or evangelicals.(pewresearch.org, November 9, 2016). The white evangelical vote was a major factor that contributed to the current president’s victory. 81% of white evangelicals voted for him. (The Nation, November 17, 2016) This bothers me and I want to understand it.
There are many articles attempting to explain this phenomenon. In an article written in Christianity Today, (November 4, 2016), based on a survey by the Pew Research Center, the top election concerns for white evangelicals are ranked: terrorism 89%; economy 87%; immigration 78%; foreign policy 78%; gun policy 77%; Supreme Court nominations 70%; health care 70%; Social Security 70%; trade policy 62%; education 59%; abortion 52%; treatment of racial/ethnic minorities 51%; environment 34%; treatment of LGBT community 29%. When choosing which was the most important issue to vote on: economy 26%; personal character 15%; Supreme Court nominees 10%; religious freedom 7%; immigration 5%; abortion 4%. The results of this survey surprised me because I had assumed it was abortion and the Supreme Court that were the decisive issues. I can almost understand that as it is an extremely divisive issue. You can’t convince pro-lifers that life does not begin at conception and you can’t convince pro-choicers that it does. Everything else seems, to me, arguable. For example, 9/11 happened during the Republican watch. There is no evidence that Obama made terrorism more likely, yet terrorism is high on the list of concerns. What this survey suggests is that the issues related to their religious practice did not seem to have been the reason for their vote. On the contrary, it is evidence that they were somewhat divorced from their religious tenets when voting.
Regardless of the reasons, the tenacity to which they cling to this man is astounding. Nothing else matters to the DT evangelical voters; nothing he could say or do would sway their vote, no matter how badly it conflicts with the values they have for themselves, for their children, and from Christ Himself. It is hypocrisy, but is it bigotry?
What is bigotry? “Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” (dictionary.com) So religious bigotry is to be intolerant of other religions. Furthermore, I have a suspicion that you become intolerant of other beliefs and opinions when your religion positions you as superior to others.”
It is not religious bigotry if you voted for and support DT if you do not claim to be a Christian, led by the teachings of Christ. It is religious bigotry if you claim to be a Christian, and yet are not appalled at the very un-Christian behavior of DT. At a campaign rally, he said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” (CNN.com, January 23, 2016). Yes, he was joking to make a point. And of course, they say, he wouldn’t actually do that. He also said, “ And when you are a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.” (New York Times, 10.8.2016, and other sources) And of course, they defend him saying, he didn’t actually DO that. But there are numerous cases of sexual assault being made against him (nymag.com October 27, 2016, among other sources). And of course, he denies them. And of course, his supporters don’t believe the allegations and don’t seem to mind his not quite squeaky clean marital history. They call us haters and promoting fake news for mentioning these verifiable facts.
I don’t know how they resolve this dissonance. Christians are very clear and even rigid about what is acceptable behavior, but they do not expect it of this man.
This is not about education or intelligence. They are not stupid or uneducated. It is about maintainance of your beliefs and world view, and how you take it what validates your beliefs and filter out what doesn’t. I know I can do the same. We all do. But I try not to only accept the facts that confirm my view of the world; I try to get the facts, and to know the difference between fact, opinion, public relations, and propaganda. I reject the notion that there is no objective truth.
For example, I like President Obama’s personality. He has a great sense of humor and he obviously loves and respects his wife. He’s articulate, reasonable, and a champion for women’s rights.. This doesn’t mean I like all of his policies. He has been atrocious in my field of education. At the NEA convention in 2011, I felt very much alone in being against an early endorsement of him for the 2012 election, even though teachers as a whole disagreed with his policies. I do try to look for the truth. Facts. If I am given a verifiable fact that contradicts with my assumptions, I hope to be able to adjust my thinking. This is what being open-minded is. You know what you stand for, and you fiercely advocate for that. If I find myself thinking that I am supporting a person or organization that goes against my core beliefs, I would hope that I can discern the truth.
Being open-minded means you are able to extend the boundaries of your beliefs. You are like a scientific experiment: adjusting your conclusions based on improved data.
But if your world view is shaped by your religion, and your religion promotes: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), then you are not likely to accept that there are many ways to God. When this is your world view - your gauge of what is and is not worthy, worthwhile and true - it is hard to be open and accepting of other points of view, other possibilities. I take this scripture to be referring to essence. If you see the truth of what Jesus stands for, you will see what God is all about. Non-Christians can agree that what Jesus had to say was about compassion, and that is how to access God.
I was once a guest at a Christian women’s meeting and their conversation was about how the Mormons must be saved, that they are a cult, and not true Christians, even though most of them are “good people.” Of course, they found biblical justification for their judgements, but imagine what they must be saying about Muslims, if that is what they say about Mormons!
When you believe you and your tribe (of Christian evangelicals) are the only ones worthy of salvation, your mind is primed to be judgmental. You can’t conceive of other possibilities. You are not open-minded because having an open mind is a temptation by Satan to get you off the path of righteousness. Any argument that attempts to change your thinking, to ask you to consider other possibilities, is seen as the work of Satan. To be fair, I do have Christian friends who are open-minded and non-judgmental. I am only trying to understand those who are not. I am trying to understand those who claim to be Christian but find a way to accept and defend this man’s very un-Christian, unjust, and dishonest words and actions.
I spent many years devoted to my Christian religion, which was Protestant, in the Episcopal denomination. I liked that denomination because they were not intolerant. They accepted the idea of many paths to the same God, and ours was but one. I was a member because I wanted to promote a church that was welcoming, thoughtful, non-judgmental. Because of my negative experiences in churches that were more conservative, I wanted to stand for open-minded Christianity.
I was inspired to follow Jesus Christ who was a social justice advocate, rising up against oppression, if ever there was one. I was proud to be associated with a church that would ordain openly gay priests, that had women priests. I eventually left though. We were generally of like mind, but I had a disagreement with a decision made there, and I thought if I felt called to go back at some point, I would. I never did.
Of all the Christian approaches to God, I resonate most with Sojourners. Sojourners is a magazine whose mission is: “... to articulate the biblical call to social justice, to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church and the world.” If there were a Sojourners church, would I be a member? I could still call myself a Christian and still be a social justice advocate. I read the magazine and the posts on social media faithfully. I try to live according to these values, yet I don’t feel a need to belong to a church at all. The question I ask myself now is, why should I?
Since I left the Episcopal church, I have continued my lifelong interest in religion. I have always been somewhat of a spiritual seeker. My paper in a high school Social Studies class was on the commonalities between all major world religions. I even included Zoroastrianism.
A few years ago, I wrote a story that was performed in one of the Honolulu Theatre for Youth productions of Christmas Talk Story about the conflict between family members of different religions (Christian and Buddhist). So my tendency, is to be open to ALL religions, to not claim that there is only ONE way to access “salvation” and to honor all expressions of connecting with a “Higher Power” or a spiritual entity of some kind.
If having a religion helps you to be a better person, helps you to be more loving and compassionate, helps you to be at peace with mortality, then it is valuable to you and to the world. I have problems with religions that claim superiority over other religions and belief systems, and that compel an imposition of their beliefs on others.
On a recent trip to Bali, my thoughts about the righteousness of all religions became clear. The areas we spent time in were mostly Hindu, though Indonesia is largely a Muslim country. There were offerings everywhere, little open baskets made with palm leaves and including flowers, possibly a little treat, and a stick of incense. There is something about this practice, whether it is to appease or praise their gods, that is up-lifting. The offering that incorporates beauty, color, nature, and scent, evokes calm and an acknowledgement of a spiritual dimension in their daily lives. Imagine a missionary coming in and trying to convince them that there is a better way - their way! This is what happened throughout history and is happening to this day, outside forces attempting to usurp indigenous claims to the value and sacredness of their land and their beliefs. The Dakota Access Pipeline comes to mind, as does the effort to protect Mauna Kea on my island in Hawaii.
If we acknowledge that there is a God, and this God wants us to love one another and care for our Earth home, then we need to consider if our beliefs and ensuing actions are consistent with this belief. If you are an atheist and also ascribe to a belief to love one another and care for our Earth home, we are on the same page. Any belief system that promotes the superiority of one religion over all others tends to also lend itself to beliefs and actions that are narrow, and possibly oppressive, if you desire to impose your beliefs on others. The illusion of superiority also gives you a sense of “righteousness” as you do things that are destructive, even criminal. For example, the murder of a doctor who performs abortion is seen as a righteous act if you believe you are saving babies, and you believe that abortion is also murder. Of course, there are extremists in Islam who also believe in the superiority of their religion over others. If we condemn this kind of domination theology of other religions, surely we should condemn it also in Christianity. Many of our current president’s supporters fear Muslims and the threat of their imposition of “Sharia Law,” if they come to the United States. If you believe you have the ONLY path to God, you can feel righteous about depriving other religions of their civil and human rights. Therefore, you are okay with a Muslim ban.
Evangelicals may like the idea of a unqualified billionaire Secretary of Education because of her goal to “advance God’s kingdom” by providing vouchers to all students to attend the schools of their choice, especially religious schools. They can feel righteous about this decision if they also think they are helping to “advance God’s kingdom” in this way. The consequences don’t matter. The mission of a secular public school system that prepares an educated citizenry becomes unimportant. This is seen as victory for the evangelicals, but as a defeat for a pluralistic, healthy democracy.
Jesus was a crusader against oppression, against the abuse of power. Those who are using power to gain more power and ability to advance themselves over others, whether it be for money or for “points” in Heaven, are at odds with the Christ message. Jesus teaches us to open our hearts to how we treat each other. As in Matthew 25 … “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Evangelicals could say, he means His family, us Christians. Having a “we are better than you” is the seed of bigotry, oppression and war. We need to pray that we can find a way to go in a more peaceful direction; we all need to pray for the "peace that passeth all understanding."
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.