Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of racism, protestors, and the greatest virtue

Much has been made of the role of racism as the motivation for the "Tea Party" protests. My position has been that of course there are racists; it is a human failing and all the protestors are human beings (to the best of my knowledge, but that's a different conspiracy theory), but the opposition to healthcare reform is genuine, as evidenced by past opposition when Presidents Nixon and Clinton tried it. Others, from Janeane Garofalo to President Carter to a number of UU bloggers believe that race is THE motivation of "the overwhelming majority" or even "That is racism straight up."

I noted in this post that President Obama also believed that opposition to healthcare reforms and his other political projects were the motivation, not racism. It was suggested that this was a political position, that he knows that demonizing the opposition is not the way to win hearts and minds. This is a reasonable supposition, as it's quite true- something that many people never seem to get. Now President Clinton has also defended (at least as far as the charge of racism) the protestors. From an article in Politico 44 : "Asked for his response to former President Jimmy Carter's statement that Obama critics were motivated by racism, Clinton walked a careful line. "You can't — but if you're president, you have to be exceedingly sensitive to the fact that not everybody who disagrees on you on health care has a — has a racist bone in their body. Some of the extremists do, but most of them don't. This — let me put it this way: If Barak Obama were a white president, I believe virtually 100 percent of the people who oppose him on health care today would oppose him on health care anyway." A longer video clip is here

Perhaps he was only being political; again, it would be a reasonable assumption. But something about the way he said it, and the way it agreed with things he has said in the past, (I've followed him closely for the better part of two decades), makes me believe he was sincere. Call me naive and Pollyanna if you wish, (it wouldn't be the first time ), but I find that touching. Here is a Southern Baptist- a faith most UUs would call "judgmental"- possibly the most skilled practitioner of a profession even the most generous would say is rife with cynicism, a man who has taken more personal attacks than any President in history save Nixon... and he still has more faith in the goodness, dignity and worth of his fellow man than many UU bloggers- including some ministers.

In the past, I have often said, "Conservatives believe Liberals are wrong; Liberals believe Conservatives are evil"... when and where I formed my political beliefs, that seemed to be the mindset. I have learned over the years (hat tip to CC) that this mindset is not the exclusive province of Liberals, but if you substitute "my side and their side", it most certainly applies to the assumption that Tea Party folk are racist. The belief that the opposition is evil is a dangerous mindset; it shuts off debate, (why listen to evil?), it hardens the heart, darkens the vision, (a large percentage of mankind is evil!), it stops examination of your own beliefs (why pay attention to the arguments of evil?)

One could easily believe it to be the mindset of an extremist- but that's not necessarily true, either. I have studied the writings of many extremists, both political and religious, and many concede the sincerity and good will of the opposition. There are even terrorists who believe in the sincerity and good will of the opposition- they only use violence because they believe the stakes are so high; the consequences of the opposition's errors justify it.

If extremism is not the source of this mindset, what is? For some, (cough, cough, Garofalo), it's seems to be sheer ego- "I am a superior lifeform; I cannot be in error- even the dimmest bulbs must realize that I'm their better. Therefore, they must be evil" But there are many who are modest and self effacing who still hold that mindset. I have known those who not only tithe to their church, but spend the remainder of their disposable income on charity, and all their free time on social justice work who hold that mindset... and therein lies the clue: this mindset is the result of absolute conviction.

Note that absolute conviction is not the same thing as faith. Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven. The scientist and the theologian alike have faith; any honest scientist will tell you that many things are taken on faith, in that they are assumptions not yet disproved. But any good scientist or theologian has a measure of doubt... a scientist will accept new discoveries, even if they run counter to lifelong beliefs; a theologian will accept new revelations- the Mormon church, just as one example, has had many. Someone with absolute conviction, however, will not accept anything counter to those convictions. A scientist with absolute conviction will not accept new discoveries, claiming instead that there is some error in the methodology- there were those who went to their grave denying atomic energy because it violated the laws of conservation of energy. A theologian with absolute conviction will deny a new revelation as a ruse of Satan or a hallucination, even if they realize the irony that many believed their convictions were a ruse or hallucination.

The world's religions have long debated the greatest virtue; courage, faith, hope, love, charity all have their proponents. I wish to add doubt as a candidate. Not enough doubt to cause analysis paralysis, (all virtues become flaws in their extreme), but enough to make you pause when the stakes are high enough... enough doubt in your rightness to not automatically call your opposition racist or fascist... enough doubt in your Biblical interpretations to call a doctor for your child if faith healing is not working... enough doubt in your faith to not push the button on your suicide bomb vest... enough doubt to constantly revisit your conclusions to see if they still make sense.

Doubt, in that measure, may be the greatest virtue.

No comments: