Monday, July 4, 2016

At this time of year . . .

I began this bloggery on the 4th of July, 2013, with an essay on the origin of the idea of "American Exceptionalism, as seen in John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered (probably) on the good ship Arbella as his group of Puritans embarked on their journey to what would become "New England." The idea was that we were entitled, perhaps even divinely ordained, not only to take possession of land not ours but to unlimited exploitation of that land and its native inhabitants. I said, "That idea, taking off and taking over, the refusal to accept limitations, always wanting – and deserving – more and more, has had too strong influence on American history." Which was why I thought the subject appropriate for a blog calling itself The Slowdown Dirty Truth and starting up on the Fourth. 

I contrasted Winthrop's grand misconception justifying a surpassing national selfishness with the alternative and opposed Christian value of nonviolence, of love even for enemies, early on given voice by our African-American "founders," such as Frederick Douglass: “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land.” And brought to the forefront of our national political consciousness later by Martin Luther King, Jr. 
On this Fourth I notice that at least among the left-liberal-progressive-radical web sites some mention the timeliness of Frederick Douglass's 1852 speech on the meaning of the Fourth, in which he said, "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."

I especially recommend checking out Esther Brown's Facebook page:

So, on this fourth I return to this theme, but from a somewhat different angle. Following is a letter to the editor published in last year's Christmas eve issue of our local newspaper, the Valley Times-News. It seems to me also relevant at this time of year. Despite all that rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air. 

At this time of year . . . .

In this the darkest, coldest time, we are reminded, despite all the blood shed in the streets, in schools, even in places of worship here and across the world, of the possibility of better days, of peace and of love. 
What does it take?
Early humans, despite their relatively small size and really puny claws and teeth, apparently not only survived but began their domination of the planet in large part because they were smart enough to cooperate, both in defense against much larger and fiercer animals and in hunting, foraging, and farming. They learned, as Benjamin Franklin said to fellow American revolutionists in 1776, “Gentlemen, we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
“Hangtogetherness” thus creates group solidarity and some accompanying level of peace, at least within the group; and perhaps of love, too, as people begin to really appreciate those others they are hanging with.
The importance of hangtogetherness for group survival and success seems to be why some version of the Golden Rule has been adopted by all the world’s major religions and cultures, starting as far back as one million BC (if you count Fred Flintstone in one episode helping a stranger who had been robbed, beaten and left to die, Fred saying :”I’d want him to help me.”) 
Islamic and Jewish (along with Old Testament Christian) teachings emphasize relationships with kin and neighbors, but begin (like Fred Flintstone) to stretch toward including members of out-groups. Leviticus 19:18 says “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but Exodus 23:9 says “Don’t oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.” The Islamic Golden Rule, in verse 4:36 of the Qu’ran, declares: “Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer ye meet . . . for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”
The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount prescribed a revolutionary expansion of the scope of the Rule: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Jesus thus takes the Rule far beyond the Us vs Them perspective that was the evolutionary basis for its development. Making the Rule apply not just to the neighborhood or the clan or tribe, or even country, opens the possibility of achieving at least some level of peace and maybe even love across all borders and across all cultural and ideological divisions.
Jesus says about adopting his Rule, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So is this just a counsel of perfection to be paid lip service but having little practical application?
Robert Kennedy, speaking in 1966 to University students in South Africa opposing Apartheid about the battle for racial and social justice, said “Let no man think that he fights this battle for others; he fights for himself, and so do we all. The Golden Rule is not sentimentality, but the deepest practical wisdom. For the teaching of our time is that cruelty is contagious, and its disease knows no bounds of race or nation.”
Indeed, cruelty is contagious. And so is love. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
The bottom line: Make friends, not war.     
                                                                                    – Jim Allen
Afterthought: Admittedly, loving neighbors and even some kinfolk can sometimes be almost as hard as loving declared enemies. When I need inspiration, I turn to the most beautiful and moving expression of hangtogetherness I have ever seen:

“The economy of love is – the more you have the more I have. If I can make you feel happy or hopeful or beautiful I might feel more that way myself. If I want a society that works, then I need you to be powerful, I need you to be responsible, I need you to be fully engaged, and maybe I need you to be joyous. The more I can give you the better my society is, because we are actually in this together.” – Rebecca Solnit

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