Thursday, November 20, 2008

moving from anger to hope

by writerdd

I'm tired of being angry. Have I said that already? I'm sure I have. I am tired of the bitterness, the doom and gloom, the fear mongering, and the angry arguments that have been taking center stage in the national dialog -- and in the dialog between atheists and believers -- for the past 8 years.

I didn't pay attention during this election cycle. I already knew I would vote for the Democratic candidate, and I got so angry during the 2004 election that it almost made me sick. So this year I deleted all the political blogs from my RSS reader, I fast-forwarded through all the political ads on recorded TV, and I skipped the debates. But on November 4, I wanted to watch the election results come in so I turned on CNN and watched all night. All through the evening I could feel an electricity in the air. It was like a fog was burning off or after a long arctic winter the sun was about to rise. The anticipation was palpable. And when the results were announced -- Obama had won! -- and the new President Elect got up to give his speech, I was shivering with excitement. I wanted to shout along with the crowd, "Yes We Can!" I believed that change was coming, and it would be wonderful.

On Wednesday, I heard several Republicans say "Now we're in for it," "the country will be facing a rocky road for a few years," "we're headed for trouble," and "there goes the Constitution." Apparently many of my Christian relatives and friends were afraid and depressed about the election results.

John Marks, author of Reasons to Believe, noticed the same thing:

I wept for joy as I heard [Obama] speak in Chicago. Millions of Americans didn’t. Millions are scared and horrified. This may be sad and even disgraceful, but it’s also true and can’t be wished away. Let’s not get all self-righteous about these nervous Americans. Let’s follow Obama’s lead and see them as our fellow citizens in need of hope and inspiration.

After I recovered from wondering how these people could have missed the rocky road, trouble, and attacks on the Constitution that had occurred during the past 8 years, I found myself wondering how the negative reaction of conservative Christians was different than my reaction after the previous two elections. It also made me think back to my days as a fundamentalist Christian, when there was pressure all around me to be afraid of Democrats, of left-wing heathens trying to destroy morality and bring our culture to collapse. The peer pressure was intense, but having been raised in New York, mother of all blue states, and having been influenced by my teachers and my Jewish-atheist-communist grandfather, probably the most moral and upright person I have ever known, I knew the fear was unfounded. At least in part, the pressures of the fledgling religious right to force all born again Christians to conform to their political agenda pushed me away from the church. And the contemporary fear mongering of the mature religious right, married to the Republican party, gave me a sour taste in my mouth and made me feel that the majority of Christians today are judgmental, bigoted, fools.

Recently I've been in touch with several friends from my born-again days, some of whom are still devout Christians. I don't know what I expected, but they are the same nice, caring, enjoyable people they were when we were friends. They are not clones of James Dobson or Pat Robertson. And I am not a clone of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. I don't want to demonize my friends because of their beliefs and I don't want them to demonize me because of my unbelief. We are not red and blue states, we are the United States, as Obama said; we are not Christians and atheists, we are human beings; we are not believers and unbelievers we are friends and relatives; we are not holy and heathen, we are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and teachers and firemen and writers and computer programmers.

I still intend to do what I can to combat religious fundamentalism and bigotry in the name of God (and bigotry that has nothing to do with God). And I think that religion, although it is sometimes used for the greater good, has a tendency to decay into legalism and hate of anyone who is "other." Regardless of the good intentions of individuals, the movement of groups is more often inspired by fear than by love. This tendency can make religion dangerous and I hope that individual spirituality will someday replace organized religion. But in the meantime, I also intend to hold out the hand of friendship to people regardless of their beliefs about God, and to find a way that we can all work together to make this country, and the world, a better place for everyone.

I'm tired of being angry. I choose to reject fear. I choose to reject anger. I choose to reject division. I choose to embrace hope.

Cross posted on Sheep to Shawl.


Esox said...

Although I could easily be classified as a life-long misanthrope, your post reminded me of something I heard Johnny Lydon say once, (paraphrasing), “I’m not angry because I hate the world, I’m angry because I love it.” A little like the law of the conservation of energy, upon hearing that, at long last my anger suddenly felt a little transformed into a more positive form. Possibly my vestige punk ethos keeps me from completely abandoning anger, but I am completely tired of the hate.

I now live in a very red state, and work with a lot of people who are as culturally ignorant as they are hateful. Many are quite outspoken. It’s all very corrosive. But some have shown themselves ‘otherwise’ to be decent folks.
Eight or 10 years ago, when living in Jersey City, I was the only white guy for a few blocks. Outside my own street people would taunt me. Old ladies laughed when kids threw rocks at me from the roof tops. But one day my truck wouldn’t start. I was parked a short distance from a garage, so I just started pushing it. Out of nowhere, a whole crew of people showed up, all separate, grabbing a space to push my truck. No one knew me or one another, and everyone was different; a Phillipino-looking guy, a young Puerto Rican kid, an older Dominican fellow…I was almost waiting for an Eskimo in sealskins to show up. Everyone was grinning as they pushed. When we got there and I thanked them, they all walked away smiling.
Look around that old neighborhood and you’ll see many, many grand and now-crumbling churches built by every immigrant group you can think of. It was the first stop for many after Ellis Island,

And I think that religion, although it is sometimes used for the greater good, has a tendency to decay into legalism and hate of anyone who is "other."

…and like you said, no doubt those hallowed walls served as divisive barriers as well as to hold loving, valuable communities.
Hope this has some continuity from your post. Got me thinking anyway. I followed you out of Skepchicks because, separate from all those skep writers, your words tend to resonate with me.

writerdd said...

Esox, yes, thanks for sharing your story.

I hate to quote Rodney King, but sometimes I also want to cry out "why can't we all just get along?" Let's push the boundaries. Wouldn't it be ironic for atheists to become the ones who truly follow Jesus's admonition to love your neighbor? And in his example, the neighbor was the "other". I love the story of the Good Samaritan. Too bad so few Christians seem to be taking it to heart these days.

writerdd said...

Adding another comment so I can see any replies that may come in by email.