Different Worlds

“…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail


When I went to college, I took a course in African-American Literature.  The course covered African-American writers from colonial America to around the early 2000s.  When you really read them, you see the themes, the changing attitudes, and the unique world that African-Americans inhabited due to their circumstances.  I loved that course.  I could finally get an idea of what African-American leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were talking about and understand their anger and passion.  It could be a violent world from slavery to segregation, but the power of the human spirit and the will to stand against injustice always stood out.  I felt the deepest sadness at reading excepts of Frederick Douglass’s memoirs.  His standing at the docks and asking “Why am I not free?” broke my heart.  I could feel his suffering as a human being.  Yet, the most powerful story he told was of incident as a slave child.

 

When he was around 8 years old (I believe), Douglass was loaned out to one of his slave master’s family.  When he arrived, the white hostess welcomed and treated him with the same kindness she would any child.  She didn’t understand the concept of slavery or race.  She was appalled that Douglass was so poorly educated and she went straight to teaching him how to read.  Douglass loved her and was grateful for her kindness.  They saw each other as human beings.  They were in the same world.  Unfortunately, her husband learned of what she was doing and explained that what she was doing was “wrong.”  The husband “educated” her on how slaves like Douglass were to be treated, causing her to become a cruel slave master to young Douglass.  I would have understood if Douglass had decided to hate white people for his treatment, particularly towards the hostess who betrayed him.  What surprised me was that he didn’t hate her… he pitied her.  Douglass observed at that young age that slavery did not only hurt African-Americans, but white people like his hostess as well.  Slavery was a poison and harmful mentality that had to be destroyed for the good of not just black people, but all people.  It’s amazing how he could move past revenge and, instead, advocate for justice.  He wanted to save everyone from slavery.  I’m not sure if I were in his position I could push past the pain he endured and fight for something higher than vengeance.

 

Years after that class, I was writing my undergraduate thesis on a local labor strike in late 1920s, early 1930s.  I did not focus on race issues during that strike, but reading the local newspapers did give me some insight into African-American life in my community at the time.  There were three local newspapers at the time: the main newspaper and two distinct African-American newspapers.  Why three different newspapers?  In my Literature class, we talked about local Civil Rights and African-American history, and one incident discussed was an African-American woman who was beaten and dragged to jailhouse by the white sheriff.  The story never made it into the mainstream paper, but it was talked about heavily in the African-American community, particularly in the local African-American churches.  In the mainstream newspaper, I saw a small article titled “Negro killed by mob.”  The man had been accused of raping a white woman.  The police tried to stop the mob, but they were unsuccessful.  No one would ever know if he was innocent or guilty.  Even if he had been brought to trial, an all-white jury would likely have found him guilty no matter what the evidence shown.  It was either a judicial lynching or an extrajudicial lynching.*  What saddened me was how flippant the article was about the brutal killing of man regardless of his alleged crime.  I’m sure if I had searched the African-American newspapers or found old African-American church newsletters (I believe those were around), I may have learned more about the man.  Did he have a family?  Was he a good man?  Was he framed?  I realize now that I was looking at two different worlds: the White world and the Black world.  Two different communities that rarely discussed the other unless their worlds happened to cross… often violently.  These two separate worlds have existed in what is now the United States since the 1600s.  I thought the two worlds became one world by the 1970s, but recent events have proven me and many Americans wrong.  There is still a divide.

 

What is happening in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout the United States now depresses me.  When I was growing in the 1990s and early 2000s, I was told the Civil Rights movement was a great victory.  Yet, there are issues that still need addressing.  Racial profiling, poverty, violence, de facto segregation, and other vestiges of cultural racism remain.  The cries of “outside agitators” make my skin crawl.  The labor strike I studied had politicians and factory managers calling strikers “victims” of outside agitation when the local strikers did have legitimate concerns.  The quote I have on the top of my post from Dr. King shows the fallacy of this tactic.  We are all stakeholders in justice whether in Ferguson, the United States, or the World.   There are going to be those fighting for peace and justice with non-violent civil disobedience and dialogue just as there will be those wanting a physical confrontation.  I hope the former hold out and win.

 

It’s easy to point out the problems, yet it’s frustrating when there are no solutions presented.  These are complex problems requiring complex solutions.  I believe that education is key.  A well-educated society can lead us out of this.  We have to find ways to adequately fund our public schools and strive for excellence in creating a nation of critical thinkers.  Not long after Michael Brown’s death, one of my nearby county’s African-American community leaders, local politicians, and the sheriff began having meetings.  Meetings like these are a good start.  Police should be gaining technology (body cameras, dashboard cameras, etc.) and developing procedures to keep honest police honest and giving the dishonest ones the boot.  There must be outside investigations into police misconduct for impartiality.  The American public should be analyzing the issues and pressuring their local, state, and federal representatives to create laws solving these problems.  These are just a few possible solutions.

 

We must find ways to integrate more in our society.  We can’t live in different worlds anymore.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.   We can learn from and push past the pain for a higher purpose.  We can find that we are more similar than different.  It will be hard, but it is possible.  Ferguson, Missouri has shown us the problems we face as a nation, and we can now work towards solving them.  We can do it.  We have a chance.

 

Don’t blow it.

 

*Read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  See also “The Scottsboro’s Boys” trials.  I think the latter inspired Lee to write her novel.  There’s some eerie similarities.

Oxymoron: Affordable Healthcare

“He had had much experience of physicians, and said ‘the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d druther not.” -Mark Twain, Following the Equator


What is this?  What part of “affordable” does the United States federal government not understand?  How could this have happened?

I had a small health insurance plan my parents purchased for me after I graduated college.  I didn’t use it much until I had anxiety issues… which led to tests proving I had diabetic issues among other things.  The health insurance helps with haggling over the medical bills (I only had to pay $150 for a $1000 emergency room bill! Yay…. ?) and pays for all my generic drugs.  I wish it did more, but the premiums would be more outrageous if I “upgraded.”  Still, it served me well.  On December 31st, 2014, I shall have to lay it to rest.  The new plan that my insurance company has chosen for me is $70 more on the premium and, if I’m reading the plans correctly, $2000 more on the deductible!  This is not affordable.  The “Marketplace” where I can compare other plans doesn’t officially open until November 15th, 2014, but the estimated plans are out there and the plan my insurance company is planning to give me is actually the best plan possible with a low premium, but high deductible.  The average deductible for the “Bronze” plans are around $5000.  How on earth can I afford that?  I don’t think I met the $3000 deductible on my old plan even with all my health problems a few years ago.

I thought the point of universal healthcare was everyone got a version of Medicare or we had a health service like they have in Canada and the United Kingdom?  One could argue that such a plan is expensive, but it’s needed for the good of the people.  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid… we’ve done it before in the United States.  The Affordable Care Act looks more like a bailout for insurance companies than actually helping the average citizen.

And that stupid website!  It wants me to “verify” my identity, so it asks me a series of questions that connect me to my public credit report.  I answer the questions, it gives me an error code and no explanation on what I should do.  I Google around for the error code and it turns out to be a common problem.  Something about the verification contractor not finding my credit report or something.  It also likes to log me out of my account at inexplicable times.  I also thought that the “compare plans” function would place the plans side-by-side so I could spot the differences like you see on the car dealer websites.  Instead, the site puts them in a list and I have to click each plan individually to see the information which I could have done before without using the “compare” function.

Basset Hound Christianity (Part 2): Purity, Harmony, and Supremacy

Basset Hound Christianity is a series of sometimes random, sometimes coherent personal views of mine on Christianity.


“No one is without Christianity, if we agree on what we mean by that word. It is every individual’s individual code of behavior by means of which he makes himself a better human being than his nature wants to be, if he followed his nature only. Whatever its symbol – cross or crescent or whatever – that symbol is man’s reminder of his duty inside the human race.”  -William Faulkner, Paris Review (1956).


I’ve been playing Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth.  In this game, you lead a civilization to a new planet after Earth has been greatly damaged by an unknown catastrophe called “The Great Mistake.”  The game’s opening trailer hints that religion is still around on Earth as a Russian Orthodox priest blesses a spaceship, but it is largely absent when you first land on the planet and lead humanity to a new dawn.

In the game, you can choose three philosophies called “Affinities.”  These include “Harmony,” “Purity,” and “Supremacy.”

Harmony – You decide that humanity needs to embrace the new planet.  This means being friends with the aliens and morphing yourselves mentally, socially, and biologically to your new environment.  Basically, you are super space hippies wanting to be the adopted children of “Mother Planet.”

Purity – You decide that humanity needs to embrace the old ways of living on Earth.  You want the new planet to become a Second Earth and that requires terraforming and changing the planet to suite humanity.  Aliens are to be killed and made into hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and BBQ sauce.

Supremacy – You decide that humanity needs to embrace technology as a means to evolve beyond humanity’s current existence.  Transhumanism, by becoming cyborgs or downloading your civilization’s populations’ brains to quantum computers via the digital cloud, will lead humanity to a higher plane.  Think of the Borg from Star Trek.

Not long after you settle on the planet, other civilizations land and, at first, are usually friendly towards you.  There are other factors determining your diplomatic stance with them, but civilizations are most affected by the Affinity you choose to follow.  As the game progresses, you choose your dominant Affinity and others will either be friendly or angry with you for your choice.  Given that each civilization believes his/her Affinity to be the best hope for humanity, they are highly likely to retaliate against “heretics” by economic, diplomatic, or military means.

What does this have to with Christianity?  I notice, particularly with the hard-core evangelical Christians, the concept of the “World” come up in theological arguments.  I was never a Deep Thought Christian, but the theological definition of the “World” basically means the secular, material, non-Christian world.  It’s difficult to explain to those who never had at least a foot in the Christian worldview.  Christians want to engage in thoughts and behaviors that are biblically acceptable and will lead them towards the Kingdom of God, i.e. that that is not “of the World.”

I will likely anger many theologians and cause my former college religion professors to have heart attacks, but I see parallels between the Beyond Earth Affinities and the Progressive and Traditionalist Christians.  Progressive Christians have the Harmony Affinity while Traditional Christians have the Purity Affinity.  Think of the “World” as the new planet chosen by a given civilization.  Progressives acknowledge that we leave in the “World” and thus we must embrace it harmoniously, while Traditional Christians want to stay pure with their biblical worldview and regret the “World.”  Very few, I would concede, are 100% Harmony/Progressive Christian or Purity/Traditional Christian, but I do see a comparison.  On every argument on Internet, such as gay marriage, I see these two camps going at each other, sometimes civilly, but usually confrontationally.   William Faulkner once saidThe last sound on the worthless earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarreling about where they are going next.”  I think he was right.

From the arguments I have seen, I have never come across a Christian theological equivalent to the Supremacy Affinity.  Since Supremacy is basically Transhumanism, I Googled “transhumanism christianity.”  What I saw made me start singing this.  Oh, boy… what madness is out there!  Christian Transhumanism!?  Hyper-Evolution!?  I think of myself as a far-far-far left Progressive Christian of the Harmony Affinity, but… I don’t know about this, Davey.  This is scarier than Time Cube, Davey.  I… I think we need to gather all the religion bloggers on Patheos and figure out if this is a good thing or not, Davey.  I don’t think it is good at all, Davey!

Uh oh…

Run, Davey!  The Transhumanist Christians with the Supremacy Affinity are coming through the gate!  They'l put our brains in jars for the Lord!  Get Brian D. McLaren to safety!  Save Dan Kimball!  Image Source: Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth
Run, Davey! The Transhumanist Christians with the Supremacy Affinity are coming through the gate! They’ll put our brains in jars for the Lord! Get Brian D. McLaren to safety! Save Dan Kimball!
Image Source: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth