Saturday, February 18, 2012

War of the Worlds

I submit for your consideration that not every disagreement is a war.

But let's indulge a little parable:  One of the most adorable couples in my little burg we'll call Hank and Betsy.  They're autistic and met while working in a hospital cafeteria.  They've been married for roughly 20 years now and on their anniversary Betsy wears a taffeta prom dress for the day.  Every morning at 4 a.m. they go to a popular local diner for breakfast.

Ten years ago, they'd come in every morning and order coffee, then Hank would order a full breakfast.  He'd eat in silence while Betsy lustfully watched every forkful go from the plate to his mouth.  

One day the owner of the diner asked, "How come Betsy doesn't get breakfast? Aren't you hungry, Betsy?"

Hank looked up.  "We can only afford one." 

"So why do you always get to eat but Betsy doesn't?" asked the owner.

"Because I'm the man," answered Hank, and continued munching away.  It was clear that in his mind, this was a perfectly reasonable, logical answer.

"That's not very fair, Hank," said the owner. "Both of you work to get the money but only one of you gets breakfast.  Next time, how about I make two plates and split the food so you both get to eat?"

This was an arrangement that hadn't occurred to Hank before.  In his literal world, informed by the traditional culture he was raised in, the breakfast inequity issue was simply a non-starter.  He wasn't crazy about the proposed arrangement, even though he rarely finished the whole meal.  When quizzed, he liked the idea of being nice to Betsy, but the prospect of changing the established dynamic was unsettling just on the face of it.

The million dollar question, then: Did the diner owner's proposal constitute a war on Hank's worldview?

For those of you on the fence, the answer is no. Come on, now.

Likewise, there is no war on faith in this country despite indignant cries to the contrary.  This bears repeating: There is no war on faith in this country.

People of faith are largely unaware of the extent to which their worldview dominates the discourse. God casually saturates everything: our money, our oaths, our sneezes.  On the national "war on faith" stage (with "faith," by the way being code for "Judeo-Christian faith, preferably less Judeo but at least that Old Testament was a page turner") they like to point this out as though the rest of us haven't noticed, as though not complaining abut the little stuff somehow means that speaking up about the big issues is hypocritical.  We have, and it isn't.

I am generally a laissez faire atheist. I don't believe in god and I find it difficult to understand how and why other people do.  But they do, so okay. My grandparents were exceptionally devout and it brought them a measure of comfort, something I don't begrudge anyone.  Where things start to get problematic for 
me is when religious dogma creeps into public policy. Thing is, it's been creeping (and occasionally crashing around like a bull in a china shop) for years and is currently manifesting in a particularly unsavory way.  Protesting this is very different than executing an unprovoked assault.  In fact, unlike, say, evangelical Christians, the opposition voices aren't arguing that people abandon their beliefs, they're asking them not to use their beliefs as a bludgeoning tool in the service of ulterior motives.

Let's think of it in fun, retro-marketing terms: God-drunk politicians are all, "Hey, stop trying to get your peanut butter in my chocolate!" but everyone who doesn't share their faith is like, "Dude, your chocolate's been all up in my peanut butter for years now and I've tried to be accommodating, but dang!"

Yes, for a lot of people their faith informs their ethics, but when you start applying your ethical guidelines to public policy, you best make sure you have a better reason for espousing them than, "Because a bunch of long-dead or possibly never-living guys wrote a book that told me so."

As I watch the slow-motion trainwreck that is the Republican nominating process, it strikes me that the figureheads crying "War on Faith!" are purportedly acting on faith-based ethics, yet their positions are pretty wildly out of step with the ethics of many of the self-described faithful among the electorate.  The question of whether that portion of the electorate is apostate is for that community to decide, but it's more likely that they   find it reasonable to understand their faith in a contemporary context instead of blindly applying standards dictated thousands of years and half a world away.

So what to do when you're a politician who's such a wackadoo that you're alienating even your usually conservative and agreeable base?  Find a scapegoat and try to convince everybody to circle the wagons.  Doctor up a false choice.  Equate examined and thoughtful moral stances with godlessness.  Make sure they have to choose between their identity as a believer and their dirty, dirty modern ideas.  If possible, try to get people less polarizing than you to promote this idea so it has a patina of credibility and the debate winds up such a muck of hate and accusation that everyone's too tired to suss out who the real enemy is.


  1. This is radically reasonable, if that's possible. I'm glad to see you've not been silenced by the GOP war on women, hunkered down in your bunker, defiantly clutching your last dispenser of birth control pills-- oh, wait.

    This post has inspired me. Thanks.

  2. I can't recall if it was this post or another that we were discussing, but Jen and I had a very earnest conversation over drinks the other night about how great a writer you are. Keep it up.