May 12th, 2004

America the Terrifying

Last night we had a meeting of our homeowner's association's Board of Directors in which we once again discussed the difficulty of getting our money's worth from landscaping firms and also decided upon a course of action to take with a homeowner who refuses to remove the weeds from his front yard. It sounds awful, but was actually a pretty friendly meeting by our standards. There was a surreal moment when I was asked to explain my book project. Humor was had at my expense, but I also had some at others' expense. And I pushed through a resolution to buy a $25 welcome gift basket for newcomers to the community.

My fundamentalist neighbor across the street was in a good mood, brightening when his wife walked in to observe the meeting. I almost deluded myself into thinking that the worst of our interactions were over. So what does he do this morning? He forwards me this apparently genuine, but totally insane "poem" by the "Ten Commandments Judge," Roy Moore:
American the Beautiful

America the Beautiful or so you used to be,
Land of the Pilgrims' pride, I'm glad they'll never see.
Babies piled in dumpsters, Abortion on demand,
Oh, sweet land of liberty, your house is on the sand.
Our children wander aimlessly poisoned by cocaine,
Choosing to indulge their lusts, when God has said abstain.
From sea to shining sea, our Nation turns away
From the teaching of God's love and a need to always pray.
So many worldly pastors tell lies about our Rock,
Saying God is going broke so they can fleece the flock.
We've kept God in our temples, how callous we have grown,
When earth is but His footstool and Heaven is His throne.
We've voted in a government that's rotting at the core,
Appointing Godless Judges who throw reason out the door,
Too soft to place a killer in a well deserved tomb,
But brave enough to kill a baby before he leaves the womb.
You think that God's not angry that our land's a moral slum?
How much longer will He wait before His judgment comes?
How are we to face our God from Whom we cannot hide?
What then is left for us to do, but stem this evil tide?
If we who are His children will humbly turn and pray,
Seek His holy face and mend our evil way,
Then God will hear from Heaven and forgive us of our sins,
He'll heal our sickly land and those who live within.
But America the Beautiful if you don't then you will see,
A sad but Holy God withdraw His hand from thee.

-- Judge Roy Moore
I used to think that big-time corporate malfeasance was the world's most pressing problem. Now, though, I'm starting to wonder whether the Left should ally with the secular free-market zealots in a war against fundamentalism of all stripes. I know that most believers come from the poor and downtrodden and that they turn to religion because it provides the only cognitive map that makes them feel secure in an era of unprecedented insecurity. I'm down with the argument, eloquently expressed by my friend Joel Schalit in his book Jerusalem Calling, that we need to recognize fundamentalism as a social theory, however misdirected. But when I look around the world and see all the horrors being wrought in the name of religious conviction, most of them undertaken without a trace of cynicism, I can't help but feel that we will not make progress towards greater global stability until we find a way of recontaining the energy unleashed when religious groups not only exist outside the state's aegis, but are expressly seeking to perform a coup-de-tat. Maybe the European solution -- make religion bland by making it official -- has merits after all. Clearly, the American approach is in dire need of revision.
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Dialogue With the Right

I wrote my neighbor to complain about his forwarding that poem -- see the entry before this one -- to me. He responded with a short note:
Hi Charlie, I am sure that you know of the former Judge, Roy Moore and the
reason's for which he was removed from his position. I am sorry that this
kind of news is offensive, to you. This is not saying anything more, than
that our country is in very sad shape, from a Biblical standpoint. I
received this from a friend of mine, and all I did was try and share it! I
shared it with practically my entire e-mail address book. Just a sharing os
issues confronting each and every "Red Blooded American" that lives within
the boundaries of the USA. That's all that it is....

No offense meant, sorry again my friend.

[NAME WITHHELD]
Here's what I sent him in return:
Hi [NAME WITHHELD],

I know who Roy Moore is. I'm offended by the message of the poem because it suggests that the problems in the United States can all be blamed on people who disagree with Moore's religious beliefs.

Many people do wonderful work on the basis of their religious convictions. I have great respect for what you do in our community. And I have great respect for what my parents do through their church to help the homeless. But to suggest that America is literally and figuratively going to hell simply because we aren't all conservative Christians seems incredibly simplistic and unhelpful. Once we throw out the idea that this is a nation where people of DIFFERENT beliefs can live in peace and tolerance, once one set of beliefs is imposed on everyone else, this country will not be the United States we have been brought up to love and honor. It will be a totalitarian regime not unlike the Taliban or Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

Doesn't it bother you that statements like this one from Roy Moore make so little allowance for diversity of opinion?

Your own experience of living in our neighborhood and interacting with me and my family should suggest that, although we may have very different political views -- I have never voted for a Republican, for example -- we can still agree on lots of things that matter, such as mutual respect for our community, for nature, for God's creation (or whatever you wish to call it). That's the beauty of living in a free country.

I'll be the first to admit that terrorism scares me. But what scares me more is that the people of the United States will let their fear of terrorism destroy the freedom and love of democracy that made our nation great and that continues, despite all of the missteps of recent years (such as the prison abuse scandal), to make this country a beacon for all those who experience overt oppression in their homelands.

The people who are working so hard to make the United States and Britain leave Iraq, the ones who are plotting to commit terrorist acts against Americans at home and abroad, the ones who hate us enough to kill themselves in order to kill us, these people are not lacking in religious conviction. They BELIEVE in their god with staggering intensity. And they even believe that our god is their god, though Jesus is for them a prophet like Moses and not the son of god. But their belief doesn't stop them from wanting to murder. In fact, it's their belief that MAKES them want to murder.

What these people lack is not a foundation in faith. Indeed, I'm willing to bet that the members of Al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups would AGREE COMPLETELY with everything Judge Roy Moore says in his poem.

What they lack is the experience of life in an open society. What they lack is the concrete taste of a freedom that matters. What they lack are precisely those characteristics of American society which we, in our deep-seated insecurity as a nation, are in danger of destroying.

Think hard about what you value, [NAME WITHHELD], as a "red-blooded American." Would you really be happy living in the sort of theocracy that the Iranians suffer under?

With best regards,

Charlie
If you recall my debate with knicolini a few months back about whether it made sense to engage with neighbors like this one directly, you'll know that I was hesitant to speak out. That hesitance is disintegrating as fast as our moral credibility in Iraq.
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