The Moral Universe – Be Fearless

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It strikes me that those who are doing most to spread fear about Ebola, gay marriage, black people, poor people, and non-Christian people (mostly Muslims and especially Presidents) are the very people who are best suited to isolate themselves from all of these scary things.

It is unlikely that Tom Cotton, for instance, or Greg Abbott, or Mitch McConnell or Mike Huckabee or _____ (fill in the blank) from Fox News Network will ever be near enough to someone who has contracted Ebola to catch it from them.

It’s also unlikely that they’ll be invited to a gay marriage any time soon, that they know any black or poor (or poor black, yikes!) people, or that they regularly associate with Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Shintoists, Buddhists, etc. And since they have all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made a ton of money without any help from anyone else, they can hide away in their luxury homes and be pretty certain that none of these groups of people are going to come knocking on their door on Halloween (which they also reject because it’s got something to do with devil worship even though it’s really All Souls’ Day, a Christian holiday).

It must be horrible to live in such fear all the time (though isn’t this ironic: They don’t fear global warming.). Yet I don’t feel any pity for them; their fear is in their own heads and at some point they decided not to educate themselves. They seem to prefer to live in ignorance, make lots of money and decide how everybody else should live (or not live, as the case may be).

I wonder what the response would be if one of these people asked someone with Ebola what they might be afraid of.

Or if they asked a gay person commemorating the crucifixion of Matthew Shepard what they’re afraid of.

Or asked a black person who gets up every day wondering whether this is the day the police will decide that they are acting suspiciously and pull a gun on them.

Or asked a Middle Easterner in the path of ISIL what scares them.

I made a decision long ago, around the time I received a threatening phone call from an anonymous person who didn’t like the fact that I wrote a lot about Nelson Mandela in my newspaper column (he asked me what I knew about self-defense), that I was not going to be afraid of the world. I renewed that decision when I returned to my faith and put myself into the hands of Jesus Christ.

But these people scare the shit out of me. Yet, because of my faith, I have to learn not only how to not be afraid of them, but also how to love them as fellow human beings and children of God.

I heard a story recently about an astronaut who was sailing into outer space with people from other countries on board. At first, everyone was looking for their country, then their own continent, until they suddenly realized they could only see one planet, “this fragile Earth, our island home” (Book of Common Prayer). It affected him strongly, giving him a new view of himself as a citizen of Earth rather than a citizen of a particular country with its own patriotic self-importance and prejudices.

These lines are taken from An Act of Reconciliation and Sharing of the Peace at a National Service of Thanksgiving in South Africa in 1994:

“We struggled against one another; now we are reconciled to struggle for one another.

“We believed it was right to withstand one another; now we are reconciled to understand one another.

“We endured the power of violence; now we are reconciled to the power of tolerance.

“We tried to frighten one another into submission; now we are reconciled to lift one another into fulfillment.”

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu

The prayer comes from An African Prayer Book; the prayers were selected by Desmond Tutu. I look at his picture on the cover and my own fear recedes. If he has not been afraid, how can I be?

 

 

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The Moral Universe – By Cynthia Pease

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By Cynthia PeaseI wept with joy the night of November 4, 2008, when Jon Stewart announced that Barack Obama had been elected the next President of the United States.

Stewart himself had tears in his eyes. I called my sister and she too was crying. Together we celebrated the vision of an African-American holding the highest office in the country. The United States, we thought, had begun to redeem itself of the shame of slavery and Jim Crow and lynching and institutionalized racism.

It did not take long, though, for forces of opposition to band together and begin a virulent campaign that, in my opinion, has bordered on treason to unseat the President. At first I thought it was a passing fad that would die a natural death after a while; instead, the Tea Party grew shriller and more vitriolic in its pronouncements, and members now stop at nothing, including outright lies, to smear the President.

During the same time, we’ve seen the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis for breathing while being black. The James Byrd lynching was not all that long ago. The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, and the vote was very obviously based on party lines. With states moving forward to gerrymandering voting districts and in other ways restricting minority voters’ access to the polls, I decided that I had to do more than just gripe about it on Facebook.

We are going backward as a country; the Tea Party has hijacked everything I loved about the United States on 11/4/08 and, like the anchorman on “Network,” I’m mad as hell.

I’ve spent the past two years reading almost exclusively about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and lynching. I see what has happened to President Obama as cultural lynching and what happened to Trayvon and Jordan as physical lynching; denying people the right to vote and putting them through rigors that other people do not have to endure is a form of lynching as well. This blog will address the history of lynching as well as other aspects of racism in an attempt to revitalize the fight against any form of discrimination, any law that restricts full access to the rights of citizenship.

When I pondered an appropriate title for this blog, the statement “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” came up several times in my reading. Martin Luther King Jr. used this aphorism to paraphrase a 19th-century abolitionist, Theodore Parker. Parker said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Then I came across this statement in Christopher Waldrep’s book, Racial Violence on Trial: “For decades white southerners argued for states’ rights, insisting that neighborhoods and local communities had a right to punish malefactors free of supervision by the wider society. “Such powerfully entrenched localism has long hobbled reformers, who base their appeals on universal, moral values.”(Page 104)

And there was my title. I do believe that the Tea Party as a political organization opposes President Obama and voting rights for reasons that are peculiar to their own special interests. I do not believe they can really be concerned about what is best for this country as a whole and indeed the wider world. They are holding the best that the US can be hostage to narrow ideologies that go against the grain of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Why would a white woman in her 60s in Massachusetts be so concerned as to start writing a blog about lynching and civil rights? As a newspaper columnist on Cape Cod, I wrote extensively about social justice issues, such as apartheid, homophobia and equal opportunities for youth of all backgrounds. I attended many diversity trainings. While knowing that I have been as infected by institutional racism as much as any white person, I have spent many years working on rooting it out of myself. By my faith and all that I profess, I do believe that I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure that the horrors of the past do not happen again.

An important note: In all that I will be writing, I do not intend to portray the African-Americans of today as victims who need me to fight their battles for them. I am fighting for the country I so loved that night in 2008, for the redemption of wrongs sometimes too horrible to contemplate, and for the most profound belief I hold: that we are all children of God and therefore all brothers and sisters. I cannot enjoy, and do not want, any privilege that any of my brothers and sisters does not have.