Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pissed At The Post

I don’t know if you have seen The Book of Mormon, but it has one of the best musical scores that Broadway has seen in years.  That doesn’t negate the fact that at the end of the day it just a foul rant on religious faith set to some really great tunes.  God bless those Mormons.  They took this attack on their beliefs and practices on the chin, pretending it didn’t hurt.  I think they took it too well.  In fact, I think we have all taken it too well because it is not just violence against the faith and intellect of the Latter Day Saints, but a vulgar slur on believers of any stripe.  Readers of this blog will certainly know that I am no religious wing-nut sounding the tocsin against those who are forcing America into godlessness, but “ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.”  And seventy-six trombones ain’t goin’ to fix it.    
I mentioned the other day in posting that Tom Toles, the political cartoonist for the Washington Post, published a particularly malevolent “cartoon” scorning the canonization of John Paul II.   Now as I said in several previous posts, I think the recent canonization of popes 261 and 264 was ill advised and for a number of reasons.  Maybe I expect too much of an “heroic degree of sanctity,” so sue me, but while each of these popes was truly remarkable from a historical perspective and each was certainly extraordinarily pious, I just don’t see either of them as a Teresa of Avila or an Augustine or a Francis of Assisi.  And in my blog entries I have had some particular criticism of John Paul for his poor handling of the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church—but I also had some particularly good things to say about him for what he had to say and—more important, what he did—for human rights and for his role in bringing down Totalitarianism. 
Now I know that the essence of cartooning is succinctness in caricaturing, but Tole’s cartoon wasn’t succinct, it was vilifying.  Removing a subject from his or her context is not succinctness, it turns the cartoon from a caricature to a lie.  The problem is not Toles, of course, it is The Washington Post.   It’s sad because the Post could be a first-rate paper like the Times.  It used to be.  It has good writers.  It’s “opinion page” most often presents some of the best and most thought-provoking columnists.  It certainly beats out The Dallas Morning News, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Arizona Republic, The Saint Louis Post Dispatch, or the Newark Star Ledger.  But the Post has just gone on the rag about religion these last few years.  Like the South Park crew that wrote The Book of Mormon, the Post just has no respect for people, including its readers, who still have religious views. 
We have lived in a Christian culture for a long time—far longer than any of us can remember.  What I mean by “a Christian culture” is a culture whose myths and stories, whose art and music, whose philosophy and value systems, have been shaped by the Christian religion.  This is nothing new. It goes back to Constantine.  Our “Founding Fathers” who were—for the most part—agnostics, wove this Christian culture (though not the Christian religion) into our national identity.  (Our Founding Mothers, by the way—far wiser than our Founding Fathers—tended to be Unitarians north of the Mason Dixon and Episcopalians south.  And Unitarians in those days were non-Trinitarian Congregationalists, not the sort of “make it up as you go along” quasi religionists of today.  But that is for another time.)  We could afford to have a Christian culture for the last two centuries+ of our nationhood.  Just about all of us were Christians.  And we left enough wiggle room in just how Christian our culture is that Jews didn’t have to feel uncomfortable, at least if they had an open mind.  (An open mind was optional for us Christians since we held all the cards.) 
Much has changed over the last half-century and our culture has for the most part lost that distinctly Christian catch.  Christmas is now “the holidays.” Church bells, if they ring at all, only ring at noon.  Ten Commandments and Christmas crèches no longer stand in public places.  Bible reading is banned in the schools.  And the clergy all know how to offer some vague aspiration that passes for a “prayer” at Memorial Day observances.  The situation is that we are no longer a Christian populace with a relatively small Jewish minority.  It’s not just Jews and Christians in bed together any more. Today we are Buddhists and Sikhs and Muslims (lots of Muslims), and Wiccans, and Hindus, and a smattering of anything and everything else.  And we need to make room under our American cultural tent.  We have to become a secular culture.  It is painful, I know; it is like when once you were the rich family in town and then Daddy lost the factory in a poker game and you go to public school now and live in an apartment.  But put on your big-boy pants and get used to it—that is the way it is and the toothpaste doesn’t go back into the tube. 
The thing is that there are two kinds of secularism.  There is the secularism that wants to ban any and all religion from the public square.  That is the sort of secularism that fed the Marxist/Leninist regimes of Eastern Europe and Asia.  And there is the sort of secularism that insists on a level playing field for everyone—whatever their belief or non-belief.  That sort of secularism—the level playing field—is something we can live with. It is built not just on tolerance, but on mutual respect.  The former kind—the kind whose ideology provokes the sort of Cartoon Tom Toles published—poses a grave danger to us individually and collectively.
Religion speaks up for human rights in societies where individuals are seen as having less worth than some vague “collective good.” The eugenics of a Margaret Sanger or an Adolph Hitler were both threatened by religion because it stood in the way of their desires to create a world in which their ideals of human perfection could eliminate the flesh and blood realities of individuals with Downs Syndrome, same-sex attraction, or who had Roma or Jewish or African bloodlines.  It was religion that after chafing for four decades under communist totalitarianism brought down the Soviet client-state of Marxist Poland, the first domino to fall in the “evil empire.”  It was the combined efforts of the Churches that eventually cracked the apartheid in South Africa.  The Civil Rights movement in the United States and the anti-war movement of the ’60’s and ‘70’s were led by ministers and rabbis and nuns.  It was religious voices that cried out against the American-client military dictatorships in El Salvador and Nicaragua and Brazil and other countries of Latin America.  Tens of thousands of Protestant Ministers and Catholic priests were imprisoned at Dachau, and Auschwitz, and Sachsenhausen for their resistance to National Socialism.  Tens of thousands more would disappear into Siberia or be shot under Stalin.  Priests and ministers played key roles in the resistance movements of World War II and while not nearly enough was done to save the Jews of Europe, nearly all of those “righteous among the nations” who risked—and sometimes gave—their lives sheltering the hunted were religious believers.   Religious faith deserves more respect than either The Book of Mormon or Tom Toles and the Washington Post are willing to give those people who root their lives in a religious belief.  Shame on you Book of Mormon and Shame on you Tom Toles and the Washington Post. 

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