The Raleigh Rant
Hymn to the Fallen
On the afternoon of Memorial Day, I was listening on WCPE to John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen from the score of the film Saving Private Ryanwhen I was moved to tears by the music. The haunting music struck a chord of memories of violence in this country. The media headlines today are focused on gun violence that has killed more people than all the wars since WWII. We see reports of shootings in the schools and of shootings in the streets. We are learning day by day of the intransigence of the National Rifle Associations that dwarfs that of the tobacco companies in their fight against regulation. Violence is all around us every day so that we become so numb to it that it doesn't even register anymore.
Over that weekend I read a book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre that told the stories of Britain's Secret Special Forces units that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war. Their tactics were adopted by the U.S. Delta Force and the U.S. Navy Seals in later years. Although their stories recalled a lot of derring-do bravado and the glory of war, they also revealed a surprising lot of personal stories of the individuals as human beings and how they accommodated to the nature of war. In our minds, murder is justified in pursuit of a "just" war. Of course, much of the past three decades has been enveloped in controversies of how "just" the wars have been in which the United States was the leader. But that's another story.
I wore my Navy hat to the Memorial Day luncheon of SAGE at the LGBT Center to demonstrate that I was a veteran and proud of it. Of course, I didn't have the time to tell everyone my story of how an intelligence spy was sent onboard my ship to have sex with the sailors and then report on them so they would receive a dishonorable discharge. At that time the Navy was extremely homophobic and regularly engaged in illegal entrapments to justify their actions about maintaining the purity of discipline and order. Those guys weren't physically attacked or murdered, but they were rendered virtually unemployable.
Of course, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks now can serve openly in the military and even get married at West Point. (By the way, the couple were later attacked after they left.) That doesn't mean that hostility or bias have gone away; it is openly practiced in the highest level of the U.S. Department of Justice. Apparently most of the abuse in the military now is applied primarily against women.
On Memorial Day again I was drawn back to the recollection of the cost not only in our wars of the past 100 years, but also to the wounded who continue to bear the scars of war not only on their bodies but also on their minds. We have a lasting legacy of wounds from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan that our veterans have borne selflessly and with honor. Unfortunately, we have not chosen to honor them by providing the services they need.
At the same time, I was struck by the hate crimes of racism and homophobia that are being promoted by our President, who is supposed to serve as Commander in Chief. Prior to writing this, I read several reports on the statistics on hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs data reveal that a substantial proportion of hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, are never reported to law enforcement authorities and thus are not reflected in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. This violence includes not only homicide, but also rape, and physical assault on persons. Some data also include attacks on property. If you burn someone's home, is that less serious than assaulting them?
If we are truly to honor the veterans of foreign wars, then we must do more than just salute the flag. We must honor them by coming to terms with the plain facts that we are a nation of internal violence fanned by division and hatred that only seem to be growing. We can become reconciled with each other, or we can let this nation come apart at the seams by our indifference.
People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender do not have a lifestyle, a choice, nor are guilty of an unforgivable sin. People who judge us solely on the basis of our identity use a false premise as the basis of their arguments. They interpret a few verses of scripture and social traditions to cast us out and insult us as being "the other."
I was accosted by a sincere young man at OutRaleigh who was convinced that it was his mission in life to save me from my sin. He did not invade my personal space at first or make broad condemnations. His manipulative plan was to engage me in conservation and slowly wind towards his statement of judgment. Unfortunately, my years of discrimination triggered a hostile reaction when he brought up the fallacy of "love the sinner but hate the sin" and got in my face. He claimed to love me but used his interpretation of the Bible to slander me with hateful statements of condemnation.
I can understand his belief. That was the way I was raised. It took years of Bible study, prayer, and life experience for me to accept myself for who I am. I also have come to realize that the great divide we have in this country today along the lines of sexuality, politics, religion, nationality, and race cause us to split into a mindset of "us" versus "them." Rather than unite as Americans to try to solve the real problems we face of drugs, inequality of opportunity, greed and immorality, we debate our differences. Our differences are what made us a great nation, the melting pot of the world.
The LGBT community is as diverse as the heterosexual community, and we do not seek special privileges or rights. We simply want to live as who we are without discrimination, hate, and violence imposed upon us by those who fear us. Yes, we're different than the majority in this country, but the majority of the people in this world are not white. If they were to impose their majority privilege upon those of us who are white, where would we be?
The United States was created out of division among the states and formed on the basis of democratic compromise. Our founders found a way to learn how to live together without killing each other about differences in religion that plagued Europe for centuries. Unfortunately, they did not address the issue of race, and we fought a great war over that issue, It was the only war within our borders even though we've fought many wars across the world.
When are we going to learn how to live together?
One reviewer summarized this movie that recently appeared on Netflix: “The preacher preaches that he no longer believes in hell, and he loses his church.” That covers the facts, but it misses a lot of complexities of the story:
- His ego was so strong that he was convinced the congregation would follow him no matter what he said or did.
- He challenged one of the fundamental beliefs of the evangelical church.
- He left no options open other than to follow down the new direction he had chosen or to recant.
- He made no effort to be diplomatic or transition this change; he simply said, “I have had a message from God,” i.e. he claims a higher power.
- If there is no hell, then there is no heaven - the basic promise of salvation.
In the movie he dramatically makes this statement from the pulpit without warning his staff or giving any indication that he had been considering this drastic change. In reality, it probably happened over a period of time even though he made not have been conscious of his doubts. He is portrayed as a hero for standing up for his new beliefs, but he may have just been stubborn in asserting that he was right and no one else was wrong. You can’t challenge people’s fundamental beliefs and not expect a blow-back. It was as if Billy Graham said you no longer need to be saved.
He starts out as the pastor of a bi-racial megachurch in which his associate is white. This is hard to accept given the chasm in the cultural experiences of the races. He was a protege of Oral Roberts, and this public split makes Roberts look bad. The movie plays up the idea that Roberts had a gay son. The preacher ends up as a part-time pastor in a gay church. This implies that he also has come to accept homosexuality, which is another hot button issue in the evangelical church. The two issues in theology do not necessarily coincide. One is left wondering how much of the story is biographical and how much is fiction. If you claim that homosexuality is not a sin, that does not also claim there is no heaven or hell or that you do not need the salvation of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some theologians debate what salvation really means. Is it more than just a one-time public declaration of faith? The teachings of Jesus are simple but not direct; they have been open to interpretation throughout the centuries. He lived in another world with a very different culture and tradition. In fact, he was a Jew.
The basic premise of the movie is not theological but demonstrates the fact that so many of these mega churches become cult followings of a personality who is only human. The church is “his” church and not the creation of the congregation or a part of the Christian tradition. When some expectations are not met, the magic disappears. The services are more entertainment than worship so when the theme is changed, the “experience” is lost. Some focus on a gospel of prosperity, and others on a gospel of a wrathful God. Are they really churches or just a TV show?
For several decades, the expansion of the world economy and the growth of multi-national corporations led a trend toward globalism. Not only were nations connected economically through trade and business connections, regional partnerships such as European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and others created a more stable world order. We've had regional conflicts that killed and displaced millions of people, and we've had proxy wars between the super powers. But we haven't had a war that reached world-wide in 70 years.
Even though the United Nations has had limited success in containing these regional wars, it has set up functions to help refugees of these wars. The media has focused primarily on the Middle East and ignored the conflicts in Africa and in Central America that also have produced a flood of refugees.
The nationalism of the 19th Century that created the British Empire, and to lesser extent the colonialism of the other European nations, was more limited in the later 20th and 21st Centuries with collapse of these empires. The broader sweep of history saw the decline of the significance of the political and military power of nation states and more on world-wide economic growth and stability. Nation states were just larger and more complex tribes. The United States was the dominant world power following the break-up of the Soviet Union, and only recently is being challenged by China. We were a stabilizing force for peace until we started disastrous foreign adventures in VietNam and Iraq.
In addition to serving as an economic power, the United States is a nation of immigrants, we (or our predecessors) all came from somewhere else. The growing problems associated with immigration, i.e. maintaining national boundaries (the EU has none), and integrating immigrants into the local economy and social structures have created flash points. Unfortunately, in this country the prejudice has been primarily against Mexican and Central American immigrants who are not white. Thus the issues are compounded by the racial divide. Racism is still a major issue in this country where white supremacy lingers on. The African slave trade to Western nations ended a long time ago, but segregation, discrimination, and bigotry against African-Americans is still evident in our judicial system as well as our politics.
The Islamic terrorists and so-called Christian right-wing terrorists are two sides of the same coin. Their beliefs in a theocracy where religion dictates civil policies of governments (as well as promoting the use of violence and intimidation) are reverting back to the tribalism of the Dark Ages. The tribes may be larger now, but the philosophies are still the same. The primacy of a particular Klan (based on race, religion, culture, or geography) are the social cohesive forces that override all other in forming tribes. This fear and hatred of the "other" leads to conflicts, wars, and power struggles that have continued on through history. We're just turning backward to a new form of tribalism after a generation of progress.
Until we come to terms with the real issues that drive refugees from their home, such as poverty, war, and disease, we can never have peace. Of course, there are those who profit from war, such as the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against. They not only get a majority of our resources and national budget, they profit by selling armaments to other nations. Some have called the 20th Century the American Empire, which is now declining in the 21st Century. But we're still the strongest, and most expensive, military power in the world. Unfortunately, we're not matching that with moral authority.
It's taken the anger of a bunch of high school kids to embarrass some of the corrupt politicians who have been bribed for decades by those who profit from the sale of guns or gun violence. The inane justification that "guns don't kill people; people do" is laughable in the lack of logic in the statement. I won't cite the statistics of mass shootings in this country in recent decades, but I will note the comparison with other countries. Most other developed nations have regulations and effective enforcement of gun laws, and when you compare the level of violence in those countries with the US the contrasts are striking.
Assault rifles were designed for use by the military to kill people quickly and effectively. They have no place in civilian society for any purpose, including self-defense. We had a ban on assault weapons that was lifted, and with it came the accompanying spike in mass shootings. The issue is a moral question more than a legal one although better laws and enforcement of who can get guns are parts of the solution.
Yes, we have a mental health crisis in this country, but that encompasses a much broader scope than simply gun violence. Because we also have failed to deal with this other issue, we have millions of wasted lives, a significant drain on our economy, and broken families who receive inadequate support or treatment for those in need. Those who are mentally disabled need treatment not judgment after they have committed a crime. We need preventive measures, not retribution or revenge.
It seems ironic that the American people can accept the need for laws regulating alcohol, cars, dangerous drugs, and fraudulent products but cannot rationalize the need to regulate dangerous weapons. We're not talking about second amendment rights - just read it. It is quite explicit. We're not even debating the need for self-defense. No one is considering outlawing the possession of guns for sport or self-defense. The debate is about the irrational and fear-mongering propaganda promoted by the National Rifle Association in defense of gun manufacturers from any liability over the use of their products. The automobile manufacturers for decades fought the requirement for seatbelts, and eventually they lost that battle in favor of common sense safety requirements. The tobacco manufacturers lied for decades about the cancer-causing addictive effects of their products, and eventually they also lost but not before millions of people had died of cancer.
It is a simple question of profit before people, and there is no moral or economic justification for the continuing debacle of gun violence in this nation.