"Oops," said Texas governor Rick Perry during the Republican primary. He couldn't remember which vital branch of our government he would flippantly trash. Now, such…
Announcements for November 2
“Religiously Political” with Rev. Brad Carrier
(See also accompanying newsletter entry “Religiously Political prep” in Editorials)
We inherit the responsibility and opportunity to tend to our own government. We should vote, but that is the minimum we can do. Citizens can more importantly speak their truth in community discourse. Authenticity and honesty are the fruit, flower and seed of democracy. Let’s remember our founder’s intent and evaluate our political directions according to our religious values and aspirations.
We’re so inundated with ads and advice in this year’s  political process we easily miss our larger role in history. We tend to laud the days of yore, be they in Athens or Philadelphia, forgetting we are the incarnated ones now. Just as they fulfilled their role in their day, so should we fulfill ours now. We living earthlings, citizens of a still-young form of democracy, inherit all the benefit, challenge and opportunity of our time. The fate of our economy and our world-wide ecosystems rides with our votes. We are not just political; we are religiously political, bringing the best of our thought, values, and ideals to the fore at this historic crossroads.
In a couple of days we’ll know whether the American people have voted for a new America in the 21st century. At stake is whether we will follow or repudiate the vision foisted on us in 2000, called by the neo-cons around President George W. Bush “Project for a New American Century.” In it, they outlined the call for war in the Middle East, claiming it was to spread democracy while actually securing strategic basing for region-wide war. Our old puppet government in Iran slipped away as the Shaw weakened. Islamic people resented our presence there and in the region at all. At stake is the world’s oil supply, crucial for running the world’s engines, and soon to be exhausted. To do this the neo-cons not only read the book, Shock and Awe, advising total domination and terror on whoever is invaded and occupied, they named the planned invasion of Iraq by the same title. We Americans didn’t know of this behind-the-scenes plan to launch ever-wider wars, but we’ve come to inherit some of the consequences of their being launched in our name. History will be steered on Tuesday. What sort of a new American century will we vote for, the Bush push for wars, or the American people’s long-neglected desire for peaceful prosperity?
Two days after the Supreme Court delivered the presidency to Bush in 2000, financial wizard (and chief advisor to John McCain) Phil Graham slipped a 262 page rider called the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act” into the 11,000 page budget appropriations bill. It led directly to the establishment of armies of bureaucratic middle men making millions in the abstract, leading to both the collapse of Enron and our recent major banking meltdown, a world-wide crisis casting all into sudden scarcity and stress. In two days we’ll find out if Americans want more middle men, debt, and trickery, our government serving the privatized elite, or if we want to see our government protect and further the common good.
The 20th century started with great hope that science and technology would usher in an artful age of progress and plenty. In many ways it did. Diseases that regularly killed us off early were mostly eradicated. Conveniences of plumbing and power came at the flick of a faucet or switch. Transport zoomed from horse to space travel. Communications went from letter to the World Wide Web. But science and technology also brought us horrible bombs that were quickly dropped on civilians in a deliberate campaign of annihilating whole cities, terrorism on whole civilizations. Progress also brought massive pollutions into our air, water, soil, and bodies, from soot to thousands of exotic chemicals bound to wreak havoc for thousands of years. Our media moved from mere photographs and radios to satellites in space, beaming down a distracting story of infinite consumer products sponsoring feel-good narratives that all is well and America is only noble and heroic.
But America was never only noble and heroic. From Columbus to the Puritans to Custer to Westmoreland to “The Decider” we have used patriotism and loyalty to mask all manner of cruelty and injustice. We want to have reason for pride, but often, ours has been the shallow pride of “us over them.” The dynamic is persistent: fear and hate those you are attacking. Invade and occupy, and if any dare fight back, call them “insurgents” and thus justify an ever-expanding front line to sacrifice our soldiers (and theirs) at. Those who raise moral and economic objection to this form of empire are ignored, scorned, and undermined. No matter how rational and wise their arguments for peace, prophets from Jesus to Einstein to King are praised while plunder continues.
I wonder what the American people would do if they were simply informed as to the rationale and cost for war. If we had to see what havoc we cause would we still OK it? What surprised me in the 2006 mid-term election and in this one is how principled and savvy Americans are despite the across-the-channels coverage of rah-rah support from our corporate-owned media. Similarly, if Americans were told how the economic system we feed our lives and resources to generates fantastic wealth for the few and systematic scarcity for the many, would we vote to keep fueling it with our time, talents, and treasures? What if instead of electing a party whose philosophy it is that “government is bad for us,” we elected one that saw government as “us taking care of ourselves”? If ever there was an election that airs out the shadowy tragedies hidden on the inside of the shiny armor of glory, this is it. Americans are better than their government. Or at least, we have the chance to show that this November 4th.
Do you ever feel like the government and the media lie to us? Astonishing events occur right before our eyes. In broad, bright daylight we saw our president’s brains blasted out and our tallest buildings billow into dust. We see wars launched in irate anger only to discover later that the excuse for the war was a lie, such as the Gulf of Tonkin event. We see a candidate rise from that war having endured the agonies of torture, forgetting his function was to deliver agony to those people. We see heroic stories of young, blond nurses being rescued and square-jawed football stars becoming war heroes, only to later discover the former was simply handed over and the latter was killed accidentally by his own unit. We see a whole generation’s savings suddenly vanish amidst the scurry of trillion dollar bailouts to the perpetrators of the crash. We wave the flag of democracy and go through the motions, but does our government represent and care for us?
We have been befuddled by a religious world view that informs conservatism yet is more basic than it. Stuck deep in the western religious tradition is the belief that we are born flawed, wicked in body, mind, and soul. This view goes on to speculate that we need redeeming, and that by believing in certain postulates, we will be magically made right in the future. Punishment is appropriate for wrong doers. Life is fallen, fit for suffering. Only by checks and balances are our government and economy balanced out by competing self interests. It’s all against all. Those few who by birth or effort rise to the top deserve to keep all they’ve earned; they need not care for the lost souls in the various hells below, and they don’t care. There’s the chosen and the damned. There are winners and losers. In the game of investing and lobbying, winning at the expense of the losers is a sort of sport. Winners show that they’re chosen; losers are “left behind.”
So perverse is this common view that it mistook the Gordon Gecko’s sinister line “greed is good” as gospel. Persons and corporations making millions of dollars from our society do not then support our society. They wave the nationalist flag, but bank in the Bahamas. They pride themselves on exploiting the society that supports them. Similarly, politicians drill in the “taxes are draining us” line to keep us from realizing how much the corporations are making off of us for energy, medicine, war, and banking. Less taxes further weakens a lap-dog government, assuring it remains beholden to lobbyist support and ready to do their bidding.
Because critical thinking and science are held to be part of our fallen nature, while belief and religion are supposed to help remedy it, a distain for thought and science pervades our society from the PTA to the White House. Exxon’s top lobbyist was brought in to run out all scientists who believed in global climate upheaval. All the education and cross-checking of the science community meant nothing and they were cast as elitist snobs trying to insult Joe Sixpack. Critical thinking means you’re “not one of us.”
We wince at the illogic of this approach, missing the point. The point is to go below the thinking brain to the reactive and mammalian brain. Stir up fear, get high on hate, declare affinity, demean the different – these are powerful tools in swaying votes. The astonishing thing is – it isn’t working like usual. Americans are smarter and kinder than Rove and his ilk. Somehow, despite the miserable level of our religions and media, Americans are finding in their pre-frontals all the wisdom and compassion needed.
Maybe it isn’t so much that Jesus, Einstein, and King got through to us so much as that the quality they exemplify is being activated in us. We are better than our leaders have been. Democracy has erupted from the bottom up and the media and leaders are starting to catch up. We put up with “trickle down” long enough to realize it served to water only the surface weeds. The deeper roots of community, compassion, and creativity have found other nourishment and are poised to reorient the watering system.
We have spent about a trillion dollars on an unnecessary, illegal, immoral war. Divided by 50 states, that would have meant 20 billion dollars per state could have been invested in our society instead of invading Iraq’s.
Imagine how many ways we could use government to invest in ourselves and relate creatively with the rest of the world. This world needs clean, renewable, diversified energy, housing, transport, food and community. We needn’t start the 21st century with the same old losing ideas that brought havoc and ruin to the 20th. We need smart people heeding the interdependence of nature informed by the best of science valuing the seamless bonds of community. We don’t need obligatory flag pins and shallow prayers of “God bless America” if those pins and prayers favor only the few at the abandonment and exploitation of all others.
God bless America only if that includes all of America and if America moves with respect and creative cooperation for this entire world. Deeper than patriotism is guilt and grief, and deeper than those is fear, and deeper than that is love. Imagine if America becomes as generous and ingenious as we’ve had it in us to be. Can we dive deeper than shallow patriotism with its fearful hate to move from out hearts to actually love ourselves and this world? Can we rise higher than our stingy clinging to private advantage to serve again what we once called the common good? Can we activate the compassion and creativity in our brighter minds? Yes. We’ll see the beginning of it this Tuesday, we hope.
Reverend Brad Carrier
For the UUs of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
November 2, 2008