By Judith Gayle | Political Waves
Now that the swine flu is proving to be something of a pig in a poke, surely to be revisited in the Fall flu season, we will need another emergency to keep the networks in the race for May ratings. I suspect that the situation in Pakistan
will provide one, and we'll find our TV news alerts accompanied by martial music and dire projections. FOX News will likely posture that we must go Rambo on the Taliban, which is not only predictable but ironic since it plays to the very religious authoritarianism for which the Taliban is infamous.
FOX represents the school of thought that seldom, if ever, examines the 'mote in its own eye.' It sees no problem with American soldiers charged with fighting for Christian converts
in the Mideast; it does not recognize its own Christianist fatwas. It defends the vengeful God of the Old Testament, extends hate speech as political punditry and gives the Right a place where -- as a blogger recently said of ex-evangelical bigwig, Frank Schaeffer's post
on hate mail from the Religious Right -- Christianity isn't safe for Jesus.
And now, keeping the religious wars amped up, Justice David Souter's resignation from the Supreme Court has given the GOP culture-sweats, and the networks a partisan extravaganza to hype with months of coverage. In the conservative view, the Constitution is not an adaptable document and must be protected from 'activists' that 'legislate from the bench.' That would be any progressive you could name, mind you; Republicans have already launched an attack on Obama's pick, without having a name to attach it to.
While the country itself has moved Left by steady increments over the last several generations, the Court has continued to move further Right; Bush accomplished very little for his party in eight years, but he did give them two radical ideologues in Roberts and Alito, and salted the lower courts with similar. Due to the lifetime tenure of the Supreme judges, this will be the first Democratic placement on the court in almost 15 years.
Souter was a pick of George H. W. Bush and disappointed the Right by staying true to principled Conservatism
. In that regard, he eventually joined those on the Left as a moderate; leaving an Obama replacement unable to change the ideological makeup of the High Court but perhaps to lay the groundwork for further appointments. Only Scalia, on the Right, is of an age to speculate about; Roberts, Alito and Thomas are relatively young men. It will be Obama's pleasure, I expect, to attempt to bring the court back toward center.
Obama, believing the Constitution a living document open to interpretation for a new century, has called for water in this arid desert. Said our president, "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old." Obama, himself a constitutional law professor, wants a candidate with the ability to walk a mile in another's shoes; he envisions not a sterile court but a full-hearted one, a court relevant to a diverse nation and progressive future. A court reflecting this new century.
Alas, the word 'empathy,' say the Republicans, is a code word for activism; a strike at the heart of conservatism and an assault on American values. Chris Kelly, who writes for Bill Maher's Real Time
, wrote an article about this response, from what he calls the 'crankosphere,' that includes an amusing and revealing quote: "I can't imagine how it feels to be against empathy. I try to imagine feeling the way a person without feelings feels, but that itself is an empathetic act, so I'm right back where I started."
Being highly empathetic myself, I fully understand what frightens the leadership on the Right. The more empathic you become, the larger your intellectual/emotional world grows. You understand what motivates faulty decisions, and recognize those same vulnerabilities in yourself. You begin to embrace the bigger picture and the larger view. You lose the divisions between yourself and others. You stop relying on authoritative models to give you easy answers and you begin to think for yourself. Yes, I understand; and as for Obama's intentions, I say -- GOP, beware! This could begin what Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday
called, "A reckoning."
Indeed, the Republicans have been working steadily
to impede Obama's legal nominations since his inauguration; being faced with a Supreme candidate, the Holy Grail of jurisprudence, is their worst nightmare. During the Bush years, you may remember, The 700 Club's
Pat Robertson called for prayers from his faithful that some of the older, and liberal, Supremes die; I expect he rescinded that order sometime around November of last year. Like the GOP itself, the evangelical community is currently without viable leadership, having dissolved into schisms, and suffered defections
. Their time has come -- and not in a good way.
I mentioned that any Supreme Court nomination continues the religious wars; and that's because you can clarify the Republican fear of activism in one legal precedent: Roe v. Wade. This is all about abortion. It's also about gay marriage. It's about the 2nd Amendment. It's God and guns and women in their natural subservient place; with the queer among us taking their proper position, vulnerable and disenfranchised at the edge of the herd. This is about reluctance to move beyond the Old Time Religion of Puritanism, politics and economy; about protecting an institution that possesses the whole of authority over a nation, too long driven by the influence of anachronistic patriarchy and prejudice. In a time of great change, no wonder the GOP is frantic.
We wouldn't need a Paycheck Fairness Act
if we passed the Equal Rights Amendment that has been quietly and deliberately shelved for decades. We wouldn't need so many abortions if we gave children accurate sexual information and counsel, and created the social networks that gave impoverished women access to birth control and opportunity. We would have little tolerance for a gun trade that includes assault weapons if we felt more safe in our neighborhoods; we'd promote reasonable rules for gun control if we had more effective and enlightened laws for criminals, including less incarceration and more rehabilitation, more social networking and opportunity to escape the prison of poverty.
The Supreme Court, more than any other institution, defines our cultural norms. It is responsible for allowing or disallowing the rules by which we experience our lives. The culture wars can never end until people begin to put themselves in someone else's shoes; and while religion still dictates what we can and cannot do, those who have not learned to think for themselves, won't. By definition, religion is theocratic; it is headed by its Deity and subject to its laws. Religion cannot co-exist with government; the two do not serve the same master. The Founders knew this and wrote it into law
. In the last thirty years, we've allowed those early protections to be reinterpreted by clever politicians who knew how to use the religious inclination to their own purpose.
The old models of authority are quickly going the way of the Dodo. They still play themselves out on our cable channels and in churches across the world as they work their dark mojo, but they're fading because they must: they don't work in this modern world. Anything designed to intimidate is not useful to an enlightened public. The Capricorn Pluto will be testing these waters for years to come, illuminating the outdated power structures of a fading age so that we can replace them. In the changing consciousness of this new era, we can have confidence that the way forward is being shepherded by so many of us; willingly involved and active, some newly awake to the possibilities.
As to religious authority, I think it's time we had an adult relationship with whatever notions of Deity we choose to embrace. Fear of punishment is a childish preoccupation that has earned us eons of social control by opportunistic world and religious leaders. Notions of unworthiness have driven our relationships and emotional health too long. Disdain of our own bodies has created a culture where shame is the norm, denying us the celebration of our natural instincts. We are loved -- and loving -- with or without the Book, baptized or not, 'saved' or not; there is no one, no thing, outside of us that has the authority to determine our lives more than do we, ourselves. And we are deserving of the best we can conjure, green and growing only as long as we offer it to the whole of us, together.
This issue of deservedness is a tough nut to crack, given our socialization. For a great many folks, it's much 'safer' to have God to rely on than themselves; that's why they never try to find Goddess within. They put God far from themselves; somewhere out there, with only rules and regulations to rely on. They have no direct revelation of spirituality. And that's why, for reasons as illogical as they are human, we attempt to make God some Father-figure to grant us boons like Santa or punish us like the school principal. It's time to grow up, and embrace the God-ness of our spiritual capacity. Decisions are not made for us; they're made by us.
Journalist William Greider
made this comment, discussing the social and political changes he's seen in the last months:
People at large, I don't care whether they're middle class or upper class or working poor or union, non-union, have to find ways to come together themselves, perhaps in very small groups at first, and talk about their own stuff. Their experiences, their ideas, their convictions, their aspirations for the country, themselves, their families, and then broaden out a bit, laterally. And have more people in the discussion. They don't have to become a giant organization, but they have to convince themselves that they're citizens. That's kind of the mystery of democracy. People get power if they believe they're entitled to power.
The mystery of democracy; the mystery of spiritual awareness. Very similar, I think, if not quite the same. During the Bush years, I thought we were getting just what we deserved; as well as what would be necessary to take us to the leap. What we deserve is the result of our actions, the very thing that will lift us up, even if it's a painful process; we must choose to act upon the information in a meaningful way. What we're entitled to is different; that has to do with how much good we will allow into our lives. Too often, that decision is a result of old religious training; it's worth examining our belief system to see where we're standing in our own way.
In every major religion, there is a thread of transcendence; in every instance, it will sound and feel like inclusiveness, lovingness. It will make us bigger than we were; not smaller. Great numbers of people -- especially the young, identifying religion
with Republican politics -- have left behind formal observance of religion because they cannot find that energetic signal in their church or synagogue. We're looking for bigger concepts; we're ready to grow into our God-ness. As for me, the authority that I recognize and value above all others is love; the opposite of love is not hate -- it's despair. If we're to move into a new era, we must leave despair behind.
As we embrace new dreams for our planet, it's time to grow into a new concept of God/dess. We must learn to trust ourselves. There's plenty of great wisdom out there, if we're prepared to open our mind to it. Some of the channelings say that in due course, the Space Brothers will show up and throw a monkey wrench into the religious discourse. That would be interesting; and chaotic. Remember how many of us on this planet are willing to kill to defend their notion of God -- and if there was ever an irrefutable argument against misplaced faith, there it is, there.
As to Obama's Supreme Court pick, it would please me if he would select Brandeis University law professor Anita Hill
-- anything that would make Justice Clarence Thomas think twice ... or think at all ... would satisfy me. Thomas believes that this nation is too concerned with its 'rights.'
Since his oath to support and defend the Constitution is, itself, a promise to protect those rights, he seems to me the poster boy for self-loathing
and murky emotional baggage. He is not an authority figure I want on my Supreme Court bench; a closed mind gathers no Light. I am trusting the new energy that leads us forward to mend this court, and this government; it is the mandate of a people whose hearts are opening.
The worst thing that religious dogma, hand in glove with politics, does is separate us, one from another; we deserve to live in the awareness of our mutual commonality. In order to do that we must find our empathy; it gives birth to compassion. To my mind, that's a definition of peace. If we go within ourselves, we will find the authority we're seeking; a higher authority, if you will. We will understand that safety is a state of mind, kindness is a path to peace and that an awakened heart leaves no room for despair.