We seem to have arrived at the end of sanity. Fear, anger and raw political manipulation have become the new world disorder – at least in America.
Members of Congress trying to hold town hall meetings on health care reform are being shouted down by angry mobs of constituents. Attendees at these events are reportedly carrying weapons. Conspiracy theorists are awash with nonsense about President Obama being a socialist, not a natural-born citizen and intent on dismantling the American way of life.
Pure, unadulterated paranoia? No, not really. Actually it’s displaced racism. There is a segment of the population that will not accept that we have an African American president. Any notion that seemingly disqualifies him is embraced with the ferocity of a pit bull at a dog fight.
And that’s ironic if you think about it. Opponents accuse the president of not being a real American or of having an agenda to end America’s freedoms. Meanwhile, what could be more un-American than racism?
For a long time in our history, people of color have been denied full participation in the resources of our society. Even the founding geniuses that invented America did not have enough courage and vision to apply their ideals to African Americans and Native Americans. America for a long time was a whites-only club – but not anymore.
The full effect of “we the people” is finally beginning to be seen and felt. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. that we would eventually become one nation, instead of two families sharing the same house, could be within our grasp.
But sadly, not everyone wants it, and others will work passionately to make sure it never happens.
Making all this worse are shrewd political operators that know how to manipulate these deep prejudices for political advantage. They stoke the fires of fear and prejudice to advance a political ideology geared toward protecting the privileged ones among us.
Amazingly the angriest of the ones being manipulated are often among the least privileged of our society. They are the ones who are one paycheck away from bankruptcy or one hospital stay away from total financial meltdown. For years now these folk have voted against their own interests, against policies and programs that would help them, all because they are afraid – afraid of the dreaded liberal or socialist or some other bogeyman du jour.
Democracy has always been a messy affair. Former Alabama Congressman John Buchanan used to talk about the “the noise of democracy.”
And noise is fine as far as it goes, but I fear we are descending into something beyond mere noise. Mix the politics of smear with the paranoia of anti-government extremism, and what we end up with is anarchy.
For once I wish we would rise to the level of our own ideals – both constitutionally and biblically. The Constitution states that all human beings are created equally – all humans. And the Bible states that all human beings are created in the image of God – all humans.
Starting with these basic premises, we lay the foundation for real human community, one where everyone has a place and a say. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but it does mean that we disagree without being disagreeable. It also means we talk and listen to each other. Who knows where a good idea might come from?
But if all we do is shout down the opposition, a good idea might be hard to hear.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.