October 25

The View from Indiana

I’m a Hoosier.

God help me, but it’s true. I was born and raised in this state, and I have lived 90% of my life within a 10-square-mile space on the west side of its capital city.

Indiana has little to recommend it. It’s mostly flat, at best, a little hilly down south. We have no mountains. It’s also relatively dry. We have some creeks (or as many of us locals call them, “cricks”) and a lot of retention ponds. The nearest lake is about 15 miles from my house, and it’s man-made, like most of the other lakes around central Indiana. Access to water for recreation costs money. A lot of money.

In the spring our weather is moody – bouncing from freezing to 80 – snow, thunderstorm and tornado. In the summer we have oppressive heat and humidity. Autumn is nice for about 20 minutes, and then it’s winter. No snow – just sub-zero windchills.

We do have sports (NFL, NBA, Triple A baseball, racing), if you’re into that. If you’re not, you need to learn to be because there’s really not much else to do.  We have an arts community that has been struggling like a tiny tomato plant in a weed patch for about 30 years. Our symphony orchestra is struggling to survive a union-management conflict. Dance troops and theater companies come and go. The same one or two thousand people frequent all the arts venues and keep them going.

And then there’s our government.

Republican.

VERY Republican.

But, as I have learned from my husband, Indiana does Republican differently from other states.

My hubby’s not from here (one of the things that attracted me); he’s from New England. And in the twentysome years he spent there, he was a Republican. When I first met him, he and I were both Republicans, though I’d started questioning some of the inconsistencies I’d begun to see (pro-life/pro-death penalty, Christian/anti-welfare, small government/legislate sexuality).

Indiana turned my husband out of the GOP for good.

He couldn’t believe what “Republican” meant here. In his home state, Republicans really were for small government. Really. People also believed, truly believed, in personal responsibility. In other words, they believed that EVERYONE had the equal capability to succeed and should, therefore, be treated equally. My husband is one of the most -ism and -phobia-free people I’ve ever met (another thing that attracted me). The concepts of racism, chauvinism and homophobia never enter his mind unless someone brings them up. Finally, you can be an agnostic or an atheist Republican in New England. They really get the whole concept of “separation of church and state.” I guess they understand the Constitution better than we Hoosiers do, which makes sense because their states actually drafted the thing.

In Indiana “Republican” has a definition my husband can’t fathom. Hoosier “conservatives” are all for small government unless you’re doing something they don’t approve of. Like being gay. Or wanting to terminate a pregnancy resulting from a rape. Or singing the national anthem wrong. Or selling Girl Scout cookies. Then they’ll legislate the $#*@ out of you.

Racism is alive and well in Indiana as one of my black friends pointed out just this morning after she perused the Indianapolis Star‘s comment boards. The Republican party doesn’t have a monopoly on racists, of course. But I can tell you that the only 4 people I’ve ever “un-friended” on Facebook were Hoosier Republicans using the n-word to describe President Obama. Most of the racists I encounter in Indiana these days figure out fast that they shouldn’t express their racism openly around me. They do it in subtle ways, though. Like being “nervous” about the Middle Eastern market that just opened down the street. (It sells “halal” meat! And Bill O’Reilly told us all about the dangers of THAT!) Or endlessly criticizing one of our very few black legislators for being…a Muslim! *gasp* And being on the side of the “welfare queens” (read: black single moms, working or not).

And just try to be openly atheist or agnostic in Hoosier Republican circles. Or Jewish. Or CATHOLIC!!! As one right-winger put it to me recently, “How do you get to Heaven with a faith like that?!” Indiana conservatives will be happy to take your vote, but you really need to keep quiet about your faith ’cause that’s an abomination right there.

So when an Indiana politician hits the national news, as Richard Mourdock did yesterday, I just sigh and shake my head. Hoosier thoughtlessness, dogma, ignorance on display again. And way too many of my Hoosier friends defending Mourdock: “I respect him even more for speaking his mind! Liberals are just twisting his words.” Right. This guy wants your daughter to have her rapist’s baby. She should be honored to give birth to the child of man who impregnated her violently and against her will because that child is a gift from God.

I love babies. Truly. I had two of the most beautiful babies in the history of the world. One of them is a girl. And if some $%& rapes her and gets her pregnant, I will NOT force her to carry that baby for 9 months if she can’t handle it. Sorry, but the mental health and well-being of MY baby comes before the rapist’s baby. And I don’t want some senator forcing my daughter to be an incubator just because he likes to impose his opinions on other people. The God I know and love is wise and realizes that the world He created is not black and white. Since He knows all, why wouldn’t He know that this embryo is not going to be carried to term? Hang on to its soul and bestow it on another child? He’s omiscient and ominpotent. He can do that.

Just not in Indiana ’cause that’s blasphemy. Quick! Pass a law!

But all this talk about abortion is a red herring anyway. It’s one issue of hundreds, and it’s an issue that Mourdock and most other Republican lawmakers may, but probably won’t, have an opportunity to vote on during their terms. Still, Hoosiers take that bait, hook, line and sinker. They vote based on a candidate’s abortion view. Never mind that they might disagree with him or her on every other issue. They never get past that one talking point. Dangle it in front of them, and they’re like Dory in Finding Nemo: “Look! Something shiny!”

My husband likes to remind me that if I lived in New York or California, I’d be considered a conservative. I’m actually very moderate. I don’t like guns, but I know they’re a Constitutional right; I would never support an all-out ban. I hate war, but I supported our going into Afghanistan. I support eliminating the US Post Office; it’s obsolete. If I have to choose between making a law and not making a law, most of the time, I’d say, “Let’s not. Avoid government overreach.”

But in Indiana, my conservative friends paint me as a ridiculous flaming liberal. I’m a Socialist, a liberal elitist with too much education.

I am almost embarrassed to say that, in two weeks, I’ll be voting a straight Democratic ticket for the first time in my life. When I voted in my first election in 1990, I voted a straight Republican ticket. But that Republican party doesn’t really exist anymore. Especially not here, where the conservative witch hunt against moderates has driven out even iconic public servants like Richard Lugar (for whom I voted in every primary and election). There are no moderate Republicans left for me to vote for. And I can’t vote for the extreme Righties like Mourdock.

I guess if there’s one good thing about politics in Indiana, it’s that Democrats here are not extreme. They can’t be. A Democrat in office in the Hoosier state is, by definition, a moderate liberal. So I am confident that my straight-D ballot will have no Socialists on it.

Don’t be surprised if Mourdock still wins, though. He’s the face of the Republican party in Indiana.

Maybe it’s time to move.

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July 9

Sit Down and Shut Up

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I can’t help wondering if the right-wing blogosphere/Fox News world has some talking point floating around right now. It runs something like this: liberals preach tolerance, but they won’t tolerate opposition; therefore, they are hypocrites.

Like I said, maybe it’s coincidence, but I’ve heard variations on this theme several times in the past couple weeks. Not that it’s a new line. I’ve heard it for years. In fact, I used it myself back in my own right-wing Republican days: “If liberals are so tolerant, why do they get so bent out of shape with people who disagree with them? Shouldn’t they practice what they preach?”

At first blush, this point has merit. If you’re going to talk about the benefits of tolerance, you should lead by example. A liberal who harps about racists and homophobes, but then angrily abuses Tea Partiers for their intolerance is being hypocritical, right? In a word: yes.

Yes.

Yes, liberals should practice what they preach and not scream in the faces of those who disagree with them. Yes, being nasty with intolerant people is hypocritical. Yes, rude accusations and epithets are not good examples of tolerance.

However…

My own experience with the liberals-are-intolerant-hypocrites line makes me smile when I hear conservatives use it. I know when they use it, they’re nervous. I know they use it because they’re trying to disarm their opposition. I know this because that’s when I used it.

It’s kind of a wimpy, whiny, anxious tactic. Basically, they are trying to end the argument before it begins by negating their opponents’ right to argue at all. It’s pretty clever, and when liberals lose their temper, when they engage in hateful, angry speech, this tactic succeeds.

But we’re only human. Even liberals lose their tempers. Good grief, even Jesus, the pinnacle of patience and tolerance, lost his temper with the merchants in the temple. (How interesting that the only example we have of Jesus’ being angry is with the very group conservatives are most concerned with protecting.)

Still, liberals should try not to stoop to the level of the conservatives. After all, isn’t the flip side of this argument that intolerant speech should be reserved for intolerant people? Evidently, angry, narrow-minded rhetoric belongs solely to the GOP because they are openly intolerant. So that would seem to mean that as long as you are obvious in your hatred, you can spew it freely. If, on the other hand, you are trying to tame your natural human tendencies toward prejudice and suspicion, any lapse on your part is utter failure. Liberals must be perfect or else they’re hypocrites.

I know the conservatives who use this line are not confused about perfection and tolerance. Nor are they confused about the difference between “tolerance” and “weakness.” They know that liberals are not perfect and will lose their composure from time to time; they know that you can be tolerant without being a silent doormat. But they don’t like hearing their own angry rhetoric coming from liberal mouths. They want to keep that tool out of the hands of the opposition. Agitated ranting belongs to them and them alone.

I actually agree with the right-wingers on this point: I don’t like to hear rage from liberal mouths either. It is beneath us. (Hear that, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann? Knock it off!) Let the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O’Reillys and the Ted Nugents have it.

But we won’t be quiet. We won’t be drowned out, talked over, silenced by the loud screeching on the Right. The only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Good people cannot be quiet, and we won’t be quiet when we see intolerance, unfairness and cruelty. We won’t shut up when Southern pastors call for “whites-only” conferences. We won’t be silent when Congressmen refuse to legalize gay marriage because it will jeopardize the sanctity of the institution they sully with their own extramarital affairs. We won’t stand by while women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same work.

We can be tolerant without being quiet. We can be tolerant without being hateful. We can be tolerant without being loud.

But hey, when we do lapse and lose our tempers and engage in the nasty rhetoric we learned so well from the Right, conservatives can take comfort in one way we liberals cannot: At least most of us don’t have guns.

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April 12

The Christian Left vs the Christian Noise

Unicorns. Dragons. Gryphons. Liberal Christian Americans. All mythical creatures. Well, maybe a unicorn could exist, but a liberal Christian? In the United States? Don’t be ridiculous.

For many years, I too believed that liberal Christians didn’t exist. I was a Christian; therefore, I must be a Republican. Frances Schaeffer, Jimmy Falwell and the Christian coalition had succeeded so thoroughly that for decades, many Christians just took it for granted: Christian=conservative.

Pro-life.

Pro-death penalty.

Anti-welfare.

Anti-tax.

Pro-gun.

Pro-war.

Anti-government.

I maintained my Republican club status through college, voted for George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. In fact, in the first 4 elections for which I was eligible to vote, I voted a straight-party ticket – all Republican.

Now my ultra-conservative uncle (who married into the family AFTER my escape from the GOP) always insists that it must’ve been grad school and becoming a college lecturer that turned me into a liberal. Those ivory-tower, academic elitists brainwashed me!

In fact, I kept voting for Republicans through most of grad school. No, it wasn’t the academics who turned me around. It was the ultra-right-wing conservative Christians with whom I worked at an insurance company.

When I left my little shrinking bubble of intelligent, fiscally-responsible Goldwater-type Republicans and entered the world of finance, I was appalled to see what conservative Republicans were becoming: greedy, homophobic, militant, theocratic, paranoid, hypocrites. The men I worked with had horrific conversations in loud voices they felt no need to keep down; they talked about how to avoid paying claims to people who’d paid their insurance premiums for 50 years. They talked about how to sell insurance policies to migrant workers who could barely buy food, couldn’t understand the contract in English and whose agents convinced them insurance was kind of like winning the lottery. They talked about adding questions to the applications so they could make sure they weren’t selling to any gay men who were going to get AIDS (because that’s God’ punishment for being gay, of course) and die before the insurance could make a profit. They worried constantly about what the government was going to do that might cut into their enormous paychecks. They passed company rules that no children could be brought into the office. They went golfing and went to Vegas and Hawaii and Orlando on the company dime and paid the women (the employees were about 65% female though all the VPs, CEO and board members were male) who actually did the work next to nothing.

But they all went to church.

And they encouraged all of us to do the same. One VP’s standard Monday morning question to everyone in his section was, “How was church yesterday?” I sat outside his office for four years. He never bothered to learn my name.

So I left. Not just the company, but also the political party. For a while, I tried being an independent. I voted for some Green Party candidates. That felt hopeless. Then I thought I’d try Libertarian. I read Ayn Rand. She made me nauseous. So I tried being a *GASP* Democrat. That was certainly easier than any of the others, but the Democrats did (and still do) stupid things that upset my need for fiscal responsibility. Plus, I felt like I was abandoning my faith. As my Republican family and friends reminded me, “Good Christians are not Democrats!”

And I think they’re right. Good Christians are not Democrats. Nor are they Republicans. And CERTAINLY not Libertarian! (Have YOU read Ayn Rand?!)

Good Christians try to follow Jesus. And Jesus didn’t belong to a political party. So neither do we.

But Jesus did have some things to say about many of the points on the political agendas of our two major parties:

Forgive each other. (Matthew 18:22)
Love each other. (John 15:9-17)
Heal each other. (Matthew 10:1)
Pay your taxes. (Matthew 17:24)
Let God mete out the punishments. (Matthew 5:39)
Don’t be violent. (Luke 22:51)
Politics and government are necessary in this world, but this world is temporary. (Mark 12:17)
Don’t be greedy.(John 2:15)

None of those things were coming out of the mouths of any Republicans I knew. The Christian Right (and it’s a fairly new phenomenon whose advent has been brilliantly chronicled by Frank Schaeffer, one of its founders) is full of angry people. Militantly angry. They have guns. They love their guns. They hate abortion doctors and women who have abortions. They don’t like gays. They don’t like Democratic politicians (somehow their hatred of the government dials WAY down when their party has power). They don’t trust anyone with darker skin with theirs, especially if those people can speak Spanish! (Never mind if they’re bilingual – it’s the Spanish they hate.) They don’t trust anyone with more education than they have. They want their money – all of it. Taxes are a criminal imposition on their hard work. (I guess they don’t drive on tax-funded streets, ever need help from a police officer or care if we’re invaded by another country.) Their voices are loud. If you try to point out an inconsistency in their logic (and there are many) or an hypocrisy in their faith, they’ll just talk louder.

And there’s the rub.

They’re loud. They talk in cute, glib little sound bites that are easy to remember. (And they have guns.) So they get the microphone. They get heard, and everyone assumes that the people in the Christian Right who are making the most noise must represent all Christians. They say they do. Actually they shout it. And wave their guns. Better listen.

Those of us on the Christian Left tend to talk more quietly. Sure, we get angry too. But because we really are trying to follow Jesus (you know, the guy who let people treat him terribly and never lost his temper except that one time when he got mad at – who was that? Oh, yeah! Moneylenders!), we try to keep our tempers. (And most of us don’t have guns. Jesus didn’t either.) We don’t get much attention in a loud, garish American society where loud, garish people like Donald Trump and Ted Nugent gobble up the spotlight.

But we’re here. Liberal American Christians do exist. We love everyone. We want to help as many people as we can. We don’t want to hurt anyone, even if they disagree with us, speak a different language from us or worship differently than we do.

We’re quiet, though. You may have to come close to hear us over the noise.

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March 2

The Rise of “Generation Me”

I ran into one of my favorite former students on campus a couple days ago. It was an unnervingly warm day for February in Indiana, so we sat outside in the Quad, eating our lunches. After a while, our talk turned to politics.

ME: Are you following the GOP debates?

HIM: No. It’s a freak show.

ME: I thought you were a conservative.

HIM: (shrugging) More of a libertarian, really. I like Ron Paul, but there’s no way the GOP’s going to nominate him. Gingrich is an a**hole. Santorum scares me with all his Jesus-speak, and Romney’s okay, but he keeps moving right to cater to the base. Plus he’s inconsistent.

ME: So who’re you going to vote for in November?

HIM: No one. I mean, Obama’s cool. He’s a great speaker, and I think he probably has good intentions, but he’s tanking the economy. I can’t vote for that. And I’m not voting for anybody the GOP’s got right now. Maybe Chris Christie will jump in. That’d be good.

ME: You could always write in Ron Paul.

HIM: Waste of my time on a perfectly good Tuesday.

I like this student a lot. He is smart. He thinks for himself and looks at things from multiple perspectives before he comes to a conclusion. I actually enjoyed reading his essays. And our conversation yesterday summarized a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of the smart twenty-somethings I know.

Neither current political party appeals to them.

The generation that is currently in college is intriguing. Despite the bad press they get, I like them. Generally speaking, they are savvy in many ways that previous generations have never been. They read and write constantly, even if it is only in Facebook posts and text messages. They have high expectations of everyone, including themselves. They recognize hypocrisy and inconsistency pretty quickly. They are comfortable with technology, but they truly appreciate frank, one-on-one interaction. In fact, they lap it up like thirsty Labradors!

Now they certainly have their flaws. They are impatient. They are jaded. They are distracted. But they know they are. Almost to a man, they are highly self-aware. In my freshman composition classes, I use a book by Dr. Jean Twenge called Generation Me that is basically a 300-page criticism of these students, and they readily admit that most of her points are completely valid. “Yep, that’s us. We’re a hot mess. What’s next?”

Personally, I will be fascinated to observe what this generation makes of the world they will inherit. Many of them do not remember a world before 9/11. In their minds, the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall and Ronald Reagan are equivalent to Prussia, the War of the Roses and Henry VIII, historically speaking. They have grown up on the Internet. Many of them have never looked anything up in a printed encyclopedia. Where will these kids take us? What changes will they make? Perhaps more importantly, how will the rest of us adapt to THEIR world?

One thing is for sure, the current two-party American political system leaves them cold. Here is a summary of what I hear from them:

DEMOCRATS=high taxes, high debt, empowering lazy people

REPUBLICANS=Bible-thumpers, bigots, homophobic war-mongers

In short, neither party offers these young people the things they value. This generation will likely have the largest percentage of college graduates in history. They will be educated, and they will expect to be financially independent. And as I said, they have high expectations of others too. They have been raised by Reagan Republicans who taught them that poor people are just lazy and don’t deserve help. So this generation has little to no appreciation of public subsidies, certainly not welfare. But here’s the rub: they also don’t care much for Social Security. They know they’ll never see a dime of it. Why should they pay taxes so the Baby Boomers can retire in relative comfort? If the Tea Party heard my students talk, they’d be quaking in their boots. These kids will yank it all: Medicare, Social Security, disability, welfare, food stamps. You want to talk about Death Panels? These kids will pull Grandma out on the streets: “Hey, she should have saved while she was young like we are!”

So they’re ultra-conservative, right? Good news for the right-wing Republicans! The next generation will usher in a new GOP majority!

Not so fast.

These kids hate the right-wingers too. Especially the Christian Right.

A dwindling percentage of my students have ever attended a church with any regularity, and they resent being told that they live in a “Christian nation.” They’ve been raised by working moms who make less than men in the same positions, and they’ve heard all about gender inequality. They’ve grown up with “Will and Grace,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and Ellen DeGeneres as a Cover Girl; gay people are cool. They’ve idolized LeBron James, Jay-Z and Shakira. They’ve seen a black Secretary of Defense, an Hispanic female Supreme Court justice and a black president; racism is passe. These young people also aren’t big on the idea of being sent off to fight and die just because old white guys in suits tell them, “Those brown people are bad!” What’s more, these kids don’t really trust the Republicans’ claim of fiscal responsibility and small government. They grew up watching George W. Bush blow that myth sky high.

They are libertarians, although some of them may not know it yet. And it will be very interesting to see which party blinks first, but one thing’s for sure: something is going to change in our political system. Maybe the Democrats will stop their tax-and-spend nonsense to cater to this upcoming voter bloc. Maybe the Republicans will back off their aggressive, outdated, social fascism to bring these kids into the GOP.  Or maybe we’ll end up with a viable third party. (Which would be HEAVENLY to most of us in the middle!)

As the Baby Boomers die off, though, this group is eventually going to be the biggest voting bloc, certainly bigger than my generation. And change is coming. It will be fascinating and scary and, perhaps, a very good thing for our country.

Or not.

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November 27

The Merry Christmas Kool-Aid

It’s that time of year again.

Time for viral Facebook statuses repeating the Fox News talking point that the liberals have declared “war on Christmas.” Time for angry letters to the editor claiming that the writer’s right to freedom of religion or freedom of speech has been infringed upon, and they have somehow been stopped from wishing everyone they encounter a “Merry Christmas.” Oy vay.

I’m only going to say this once: There is no war on Christmas.

To claim such a war exists is to betray such an ethnocentric blindness as a sane person would be ashamed to admit. If you could convert to Judaism, Islam or Buddhism for the month, you’d see just how ridiculous this claim actually is. For example, off the top of your head, do you know when Hannukah is this year? I bet your Jewish friends know when Christmas is.

So the “victims” of this “war” seem to suffer from an inability to keep government, business, and religion separate.  Not a surprise, since they usually want to combine the three when it’s convenient to them. But government really has little to do with their complaints. Sure, every year a few local governments run into opposition to a Nativity on the town square. Overall, though, governments have traditionally said and done little to address, let alone limit, expressions of Christmas spirit.  The federal government, to its credit, has kept its nose out of the debates as best it can. I’ve yet to see a law anywhere to prohibit anyone from saying “Merry Christmas.”

The Fox News crowd’s real anger should be directed at corporations.  Every year, the issues that honk off the Religious Right arise in big companies, those darlings of American conservatives. I always get a kick out of the righteous anger Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target can drum up when they ask their employees to say “Happy Holidays” (or when they publish ads in Spanish!) from the very same folks who claim to want nothing but free rein for these job-creators!  But big companies know their customers. They know not all their customers are Christian, and no good capitalist venture wants to offend any of the people who spend American dollars in their stores! “Happy holidays” is not meant to limit employees’ right to free expression or religion; it’s just smart business (much like these companies’ decisions to open at midnight on Thanksgiving, despite the inconvenience to their employees). Hey, folks, if you want your big companies to make lots of money and be unregulated, they’re going to do whatever it takes to keep their customers content.

One of the things that really disturbs me about these “war-on-christmas” claims is the ignorance it reveals about Christians’ own religious history. Christmas is, and always has been, the greatest outreach program ever devised by the Catholic Church. True Christian conservatives, however, did not like the idea originally. When Christmas was initially established by church leaders under Emperor Constantine in 336 AD, conservative church leaders such as Origen, cried foul. To celebrate the birth of a deity smacked of Egyptian polytheism, conservatives claimed. Christmas was derided by conservative leaders as a contrived holiday, a cheap means of pandering to pagans so they would convert more docilely. More liberal Christian heads prevailed, arguing that, by celebrating Christ’s birth around the same time as the pagans already celebrated the solstice, the Church could make Christianity more appealing. It worked beautifully, and it will continue to work if we don’t try to shove it down everyone’s throat.

So my fellow Christians, here’s a radical idea: Think before you speak.

Say what’s appropriate for your situation and audience. If you’re talking to me on Christmas Day, say “Merry Christmas!” Please do. I’ll return the sentiment whole-heartedly. But if you’re a Wal-Mart greeter working on December 21st, saying “Happy Hannukah” to everyone isn’t going to go over well. Neither should “Merry Christmas” simply because you don’t know what every person walking through that door celebrates on that day. I’ll be saying, “Happy Holidays” to my students when they leave campus on December 12. Not just because I know some of them are Jewish and Muslim, but also because I’d like to include Christmas Eve and New Year’s in the equation. And if I see you and know you share my faith on December 24th or 25th, I will greet you with a very hearty “Merry Christmas.”

[Need more info? See Christianity Today,The Catholic Encyclopedia, The God Article, The Fat Pastor, or my previous entry on the topic.]