God is not an American

I wrote the following piece about ten years ago. It is even more pertinent today with a few voices in the halls of Congress saying and acting out toxic things and behavior. We need our elected officials to represent our better angels, not our worse demons.

“And we pray to our Lord
Who, we know, is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middlemen

And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games”

Don Henley of The Eagles in “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture”

I begin with these song lyrics as they come from a tongue and cheek song about how we lose sight of the big picture with misconceived beliefs that make us focus more on our differences rather than our common problems. The provocative title of this blog is to state an obvious point that is oftentimes lost on people of strong faith in our country – God is not an American – he is bigger than that and so must we be in our thoughts and practices.

Our country has been taken hostage by a very ardent religious right whose intolerance is causing us to be worse citizens of the world and in our own country. The greatness of our country is our diversity and we should embrace our various cultures and coexist in our vast melting pot. There is a reason our founding fathers believed in a separation of church and state. Their parents and the founding fathers themselves left religious persecution in England to begin a new life in our country. So, it was imperative to them to grant the liberty of freedom of religion, but separate that from the state of government.

We need to be more tolerant and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have observed in my 32 years as an adult those who are the least tolerant of others, tend to require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. As we are human, we bring our imperfections to bear on every issue – we are all biased in some way, prejudiced to some degree and generalize when we should not. There is a body of people in our country who have tended to treat all Muslim Americans, for example, with a generalization based on the acts of a few who have imposed terror on the world.

The flak over Lowe’s and other sponsors dropping ads for a documentary about Muslim Americans is very unfortunate. The documentary is designed to be inclusive and show Muslims are not terrorists. The group who caused the issue has a mission of maintaining and improving the moral character of the US. To me, this group is hypocritical, as a key tenet of morality is treating people fairly and tolerating our differences. We teach our children this in our own home – respect people’s beliefs and treat people like you want to be treated.

The same holds true with other disenfranchised groups – such as gays and lesbians, immigrants or people of color who are still fighting an uphill battle. Or, even the Occupy movement. Each group deserves respect, the same freedoms and an attempt to understand their views. I am reminded of the WWJD bracelets asking “what would Jesus do?” From my studies of the bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised people more than He did the Church leaders. In fact, He had a disdain for the hypocrisy in some of the leaders of the day. I am not saying Church leaders are hypocrites as I work with many in our charitable efforts to help the impoverished, but I do believe we need to focus more on inclusion, compassion and tolerance rather than highlighting our perceived sins and imperfections.

When we witness intolerance, we should identify it as such and call it out. This is easier said than done. At a very minimum, we should not advocate such behavior or, if we can, help the person see the other side of the equation. That is the only way we can break down the barriers. If get people to see another’s point of view, that will promote greater understanding of our differences.

Finally, this is bigger than America. The world has looked upon us to be the “shining light on the hill.” They need us to be the moral compass we once were. That is one reason why those outside of the US favored Barack Obama 4 to 1 over John McCain. They saw him as a beacon of hope. That was an unfair burden to place on anyone, but for an African American to win the most important job in the world, showed many that we are a great country.

My wife likes to sing the old song when I make a comment about our lack of tolerance – “United we stand, divided we fall …” So, let’s relish our freedoms, embrace our differences, be inclusive in our mindsets and work together to solve our problems. And, let’s pray to God for help in granting us wisdom and compassion to address our problems and those of others. I hope He does not care who wins a football game.

Jingoism sells and the peddlers profit

Most Americans are exposed to jingoism on a routine basis, but many cannot define the term. Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Jingoism is the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries. While it is good to be proud of our country and support those who defend it, jingoism is as ugly in meaning as it sounds.

We are a people of imperfections, yet our forefathers were able to craft a government construct that is the envy of many. Our government construct lives up to and supports our ideals and democracy. The problem has always been we have imperfect people who lead the country and their biases and conflicts of interest cannot help from being exposed. Even though leaders try to hide their biases, with so much money influencing elections and decisions, their opinions will flip back and forth depending on who they’re talking with. *

However, many politicians, funders and pundits like to play the jingoism card to garner support and gain public sentiment on doing something that usually needs much due diligence. The reason is jingoism is sells. And, the peddlers of this naïve “we are the champions” mentality know this. It makes the peddlers richer or promotes a cause that will win votes. Jingoism is intended to influence people with simple concepts, when the issues are more complex. A few examples may help:

  • After 9/11, the White House portrayed anyone who differed with their plan to invade Iraq as unpatriotic. Although I voted for President Bush, this offended me. The band “The Dixie Chicks” were vilified for daring to speak out against invading Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Yet, they were representing what is best about our country, the right to speak up against our leaders. By the way, looking backwards with 20/20 hindsight, they were right to question the invasion.
  • We have many politicians beating on their chests to use more ground troops to fight ISIL. ISIL wants this as they can make it about “an us against the west fight.” Yet, this has to be a coalition effort where we support Muslim countries fighting these terrorists. One of the challenges for Americans getting involved is this is an extremely complex situation. Our troops are valiant warriors, but they have thanked others for speaking up against sending them to fight unwinnable fights. In fact, they would use a common military phrase, saying fighting in countries with so many factions is a “clusterf**k.”
  • The commercials that play on our competitive nature are back saying we are number one in the production of natural gas and soon to be oil. The caring and earnest actress notes how safe hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is. This is to combat the mounting evidence to the contrary. Our energy future must involve the growing renewable energy industry more than it is now. Yet, these commercials and similar ones tout our number one status like it is a football game. This is one game which we don’t necessarily want to win, so we need to think about the best path forward.

I will leave it at these three examples, but there are many more. We are a great country, but we are not perfect and it is more than OK to speak about where we have dropped the ball and where we could do better. This year will be the 50th anniversaries of some very ugly events in our country around denying blacks the right to vote, so we should never forget this history to avoid it from happening again. We must question things and protest when things are out of sort.

Yet, the folks playing these jingoistic cards want to gain by creating and playing on our fears. The issues are more complex than portrayed. Jingoism sells and the peddlers tend to profit. We need to listen, but ask many more questions and hold people to answers. This is the patriotic thing to do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

* Note: Please check out this excellent post by Roseylinn about Jonathan Swift who saw the lack of truth-telling in politicians  over four hundreds years ago. https://roseylinn.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/jonathan-swift/