I’ve been keeping a low mental profile of late, primarily because work is pretty much sucking the life out of me. I think I’m dealing with the stress of it all OK, but I’m finding little to no creative energy to write or even think deeply about life.
Today, during my commute to work, was an exception. Reading through the current issue of Newsweek, I came across a commentary on the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, written by Howard Fineman.
I couldn’t help but to think about everything I’ve seen on Falwell since he died a week ago: sales at gay-owned businesses celebrating what many assume is Falwell’s ascent into Hell, images of distraught church-goers and students who attended the institutions Falwell founded, and editorials alternatively memorializing the role Falwell played in national politics and analyzing what is now seen as the Religious Right losing its grip on political power.
Then I read this:
What he did for—and to—America is harder to figure. He believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, and carried that absolutist attitude into politics, which could be a dangerous and divisive thing. Gays had invited the 9/11 attack by turning our country into a Sodom and Gomorrah; the antichrist was on his way—and was a Jew. Falwell could be a bully, lacking in Christian charity.
Yet there was a benign side, too, and a worthy one. There was never an ounce of scandal in his personal life. His large congregation was devoted; Wednesday-night sermons, full of complex diagrams about events in end-times, drew thousands. A college dropout from the rougher side of the Lynchburg tracks, he doted on Liberty University, a school he founded in 1971 with the aim of making it “Notre Dame of the evangelicals.” He told me not long ago that he was very proud of the science programs there. “We have kids accepted to graduate school at Harvard all the time,” he said. He could be a demagogue, but he was as much a P.T. Barnum as anything else.
While I’m not rejoicing that a fellow being has suffered death, I feel relief that one of the loudest voices supporting homophobia and intolerance has exited the national stage. But reading Fineman’s story in Newsweek, I realized for the first time that Falwell was a human being. Still, I found myself thinking, There’s no place for religion in politics, so I wish all of those people would just pack up, head home and get on with their day-to-day lives.
Then it occurred to me: I’m reading a book that is about nothing but inserting religion into politics. Granted, it’s not fundamentalist Christianity, but what does it say when I’m disgusted about one type of religious interference, yet I’m actively studying how to insert my views of spirituality into the political mainstream?
Reflecting on this thought as I walked out of the subway, it once again occurred to me how easy it is to fall into the routine of knocking one person’s beliefs while subconsciously thinking that yours are better than the other’s. The politics of division merely breeds more of the same.
The challenge, which I continually remind myself, isn’t to “rise above the fray,” which only reinforces the notion of one path being superior to the other. Instead, there has to be a deep mental shift whereby I see everyone as equals – friend, enemy or stranger. Through genuine compassion, almost experienced at the molecular level, I know I will see that we are all beings in search of happiness, regardless of what holy book we read or who we pray to.
I can’t think of a more difficult, or a more rewarding, task.
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