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We, The People

45th President

Our 44th President of the United States celebrated his (second) inauguration today. An African-American president (re)elected to the highest office in the land is something to note. That today is also a federal holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is poetic. Hopefully the overwhelming significance of this occurrence is lost on the youngest generation of Americans. But for some of us it is simply breathtaking. If you are old enough and young enough you were taught about the civil rights movement by teachers who were in the fight. You listened to a scratchy recording of the I Have A Dream Speech played by a teacher who had been there. You may have witnessed (through child’s eyes) the placards and marches for E.R.A. and the first stirrings of gay liberation. To have one’s first understanding of civics to be that of exclusion and assassination is profound.

Fast forward to today: a day when the Vice President of the United States was sworn in by Justice Sonya Sotamayer (an Hispanic woman), the inaugural invocation was given by Myrlie Evers (the widow of Medgar Evers) and the inaugural poem was written and read by Richard Blanco (an openly gay Cuban.) The master of ceremonies for this great event was Senator Chuck Schumer (a Brooklyn Jew.) Have we covered all hues of the rainbow?

It is easy and human to be frustrated by what often feels like glacially slow progress. We know what is right and grow impatient seeing it become a reality. But today, and perhaps only for today, all things seem possible. That a president of the United States of America would mention Stonewall in an inaugural address is simply awesome. That Stonewall is (finally) said in the same breath as Selma and Seneca Falls is remarkable. That it was said by a 51-year-old President is not surprising. My guess is that he too was taught about the fights of the 1960s by those who had fought. I’ve often wondered what happens to a generation born into a rash of assassinations, college takeovers, and fire hoses. Today I finally have the answer: they grow up to lead the free world.

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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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One Nation…*

church state

The minister selected to deliver the benediction at the 2013 inauguration has withdrawn. It seems that his well-publicized (and recorded) anti-homosexual remarks were creating a distraction. This of course is not the first time that a preacher who has expressed bigotry has been offered an exalted platform by (current and past) White House occupants. This may however been the first time that bigotry was acknowledged as potentially offensive (after the selection but before the event.)

The thing is, religion by its very definition is about exclusion. ‘This is what we believe in.’ There can be no ‘we’ without a ‘thee.’ Whether we personally engage with the philosophy of organized religion or not is somewhat beside the point. What is of significance is how comfortable we seem to be with mixing church and state. In most of our lifetimes we have never before seen the extreme polarizing and lethal effects of religion that are in play today. War is raged and terror acts committed by people citing a conflict of religious ideals. We know from our own recent presidential election how divisive religion has become in this country. It has been many decades since we considered ourselves a white Christian nation. Our language reflects that change. We are cautious in how we identify people, we use euphemisms and/or bundle all winter occasions in place of casually tossing about; “Merry Christmas.’ We can and do change. Yet, our public institutions are still decorated with Christmas trees (presumably paid with tax dollars.) Our government hosts prayer breakfasts and includes prayer in ceremonies of state. Why?

Religion is a private matter and personal decision. If memory serves, that was the motivation for founding America. So why do we unconsciously continue to allow religion into our government? Is it unconscious? Could it be that there are people in power who still have cold war tics? Are we afraid of seeming the very thing some accuse us of; godless? Could it be that there are people who do not trust strength of character, integrity and morality without clear and present doctrine? Perhaps it’s a little bit of habit, a little bit of superstition and just a dash of unconsciousness. At a time in history when we seem to go to lengths to seem inclusive and/or ‘tolerant’ it all seems embarrassingly anachronistic. Seeing a modern president (or any elected official) include religious observance into official state business is like seeing someone pat their secretary on the bottom. To my eyes anyway.

*In 1954, (during the McCarthy era and communism scare) Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, to add the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance. 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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