Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Religion and patriotism, a caustic combination

This summer has been filled with hatred and intolerance. From protesting the proposed building of a Muslim community center near “Ground Zero” to threats of burning Qurans to hate crimes and rallies to “return the nation to God” to denying people the right to marry whom they choose, there is an unmistakable intolerance of different spiritualities, ideals and creeds. So much so that America, as a nation, is conveniently rewriting it’s own history and ignoring the founding principals of the country, to appease or incite those who are filled with hatred and ignorance. All of this is damaging to the nation's collective psyche, but also to each of us as individuals with our own spiritual needs.

We, as Americans, are allowing a few, vocal small-minded individuals to make us truly un-American by trying to restrict the free exercise of religion (if it is not Christianity) and by proposing to reintegrate the caustic and historically deadly combination of Church and State. Some politicians and spiritual leaders have publically stated that they support denying First Amendment rights to Muslims. The Texas board responsible for revising texts for public schools want to remove information about the historic separation of church and state (including Thomas Jefferson’s reasoning for it) as well as sections dealing with the history and accomplishments of Muslims (if you ever read a classic or used a technological device depending on mathematic theory or even read a map, you have partaken of Muslim heritage).

We are taking our freedom of speech too seriously, while forgetting that freedom does not come without a responsibility to use that right with care. You have a right to say whatever you feel like, but whether or not you should do so is an entirely different problem. Thousands of mothers in this country have been quoted as reminding us, “if you can say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s not a bad lesson for us to remember. Just because you think something, doesn’t mean you should say it, especially if it is deliberately cruel, offensive and caused pain to others.

America is being easily distracted from the work of creating and promoting social justice, equality for all and innate the responsibility to move forward and learn from the mistakes of the past. There is real work to be done here; people are hurting, life on our planet is being imperiled by our own disregard for it, and the law is being applied unevenly to people.  We, as a nation, are losing the very thing that could make the idea of America great: freedom of conscience.  Silence is complicity in this case.

Rather than celebrating the diversity of our nation, we are attempting to homogenize it to fit the ideals of a minority. This disrespects the experiences of others, whether they come from a particular region of this country or from far abroad. Rather than keeping at the work of the great men and women who came before us and tried to make this nation a better place for everyone, we are backsliding because money and power mean more to this country than it’s fundamental principles.

This hurts not only our country, but also the world. How can the nation that has for generations put forth the ideas of equality and freedom throw them away and not expect the rest of the world to do the same. Changing this begins in the hearts of each of us. Set aside your vision of reality and try to imagine that of a someone who is not you: maybe someone poor, maybe someone of a different faith, ethnicity or viewpoint. Try to understand where they are coming from. Now, where do you see similarities? Those are the places to start a new conversation about how to make this nation and the world a better place for everyone. If we all give up a little of our ideological ground and try to listen to one another, without hate or fear, we can really understand each other. It’s time to stop fighting about the particulars and the vocabulary used in the argument. It is time to stop screaming at each other. It is time to quietly and honestly try to hear what the people of the world need. Stand up for what is right and just, but try talking before you start screaming.  Your own freedom may depend on it.

“With malice towards none, with charity for all… let us finish up the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” -Abraham Lincoln

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