Monday, September 22, 2008

Hey, "Real Americans," Suck on This!

This week’s column is an attack on white people identity politics -- using religion only on their terms, and only as they approve, and only by people whose politics they like. We attack other groups for playing this card; when these guys do it, it's evil for us to point it out.

The Thomas Friedman reference in my suggested headline above wasn’t appreciated by my editor, so he redid it. Also, “pulp” in the last line was the editor, not me; I had something stronger, but I’m going with his edit to attempt to avoid filter programs. I did get one email with a home address from a sarcasm-impaired 'winger, but otherwise I heard a lot from those whom the Republicans have read out of the religious community. They were righteously angry and appreciated the column.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 14, 2008

Hey, Republicans, tell Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani: Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

But I’m not allowed to make that joke. You see, I’m Jewish, so I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. He’s one of yours, not mine, and apparently there really isn’t anything universal about his teachings. Instead, you must belong to the club, and I don’t. So, say certain ‘wingers, I have no business trying to find common ground by talking about Jesus.

These same people complain that we’ve driven religion out of the “public square,” but they actually have very specific and exclusive ideas about just how public that square should be. I can visit the square, but can’t speak. Somebody not of their religion has no right to talk about their religion, or any religion other than his or her own. When they talk about universal civic values, or the moral underpinnings of our culture, they’re not really trying to find common ground. It’s their ground, their yard, and you kids get off my lawn!

Religion has less to do with the moral teachings of Jesus and more to do with the rally-the-base, 50-percent-plus-one political teachings of Karl Rove.

The Republicans have distilled religion down to its pure essence. They’ve gotten rid of the parts that aren’t, shall we say, supply-side, like ending poverty and promoting social justice. Instead, being religious means (1) opposing abortion and (2) attacking gays you don’t know. (This latter refinement is a recent development; you now can be decent, even protective, toward homosexuals whom you know personally, like the vice president’s daughter. You’re only required to bash total strangers, which helps avoid those oh-so-awkward moments at social and family occasions.)

That’s what the attacks on Barack Obama as a (gasp!) “community organizer” mean. It’s not just that those same community organizers used to be part of the “thousand points of light” that 20 years ago a different generation of Bush told us to applaud and emulate. Current Republicans now mock anyone who doesn’t rush out from grad school and try to amass as much money or power as quickly as possible.

Because that’s what Obama didn’t do after law school. Instead, he spent three years working the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the south side of Chicago. Churches in the area were trying to help their parishioners. As the steel mills closed, the unemployed needed help getting job training, housing, and assistance. The Catholic Church tried to help -- and Obama tried to help the churches help the community.

This is obviously scandalous, self-indulgent behavior in the extreme. When John McCain talks about serving “a cause greater than yourself,” he certainly doesn’t mean helping people who need it (if you don’t know them personally). Instead, the only cause that today McCain thinks is greater than himself, is himself. Why else would he and his allies now scorn community service, and the Catholic Church’s efforts to help serve the poor, heal the sick, and comfort the afflicted? Why else would McCain’s campaign wallow in the trivial, the divisive, and the out-and-out falsehood – just like George W. Bush?

But can I point this out? Not to conservative bloggers and their ilk. Because when Republicans talk about religion, they really mean their religion, their stripped-down, anti-abortion and anti-gay “real American” religion. It’s not just Jews who can’t play in this particular sandbox because of that whole divinity of Jesus thing, but now Catholics are suspect, too, because too many bring along suspect ideas like opposing the death penalty and helping the poor.

Because “real Americans” don’t believe in that namby-pamby stuff. “Real Americans” are white evangelical Protestants who live in small towns. The rest of us may think we’re Americans, but we’re not “real.” And if you really do believe that, then send me an email with your home address, so I can show up and beat the pulp out of you.

Because isn’t that how "real" Americans are supposed to settle these things?

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