Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

We are so fortunate to be able to personally witness this day that will end up in history books centuries from now. This day is momentous on so many dimensions. We are finally being told by our new President that we are one nation with one purpose for one people. Divisions have divided our country for too long. We have had a decade of bickering and polarized ideology undergirded with fear.

If our nation were a family, psychologists would look upon us as a highly dysfunctional family. We have been encouraged to take sides and demonize those who disagree with us. We tryed to expel family members whose opinions differ from ours. We have believed that we are so weak that we need the strong hand of government to tell us what to think and believe. We were supposed to accept with reservation any outrageous policy or idea put before us. Fighting and quarreling among us has reduced us, as a nation family, to our lowest common human denominator.

Highly effective families have problems and tensions just because all people are different — even those who are genetically similar. Families who do well listen to one another and encourage disagreement and different points of view. However, underneath all the emotional maneuvering is an underlying sense that inclusiveness trumps fear and judgment.

Becoming a healthy national family will not be easy. From eons of development, the human brain has learned that fear can be a powerful survival mechanism. The attack on 9/11 instilled a fear in the nation that few had yet experienced. Our survival mechanism began to determine who we were and we began to splinter as a nation.

Harnessing fear by knowing the difference between rational and irrational fear is one of the hallmarks of emotional stability. Dysfunctional families and nations begin to fall apart when they let fear be the guiding principle for action.

Our nation has had many fears from our very beginning. One of the rational fears that exploded into the drive for independence was our fear of being a world empire vassal. The Enlightenment, more than any other concept, drove our founders to respect the dignity of each individual and the importance of freedom from tyranny by others.

As we became a nation, irrational fears began to be added to our original rational fear of dominance by a nation that did not have our best interests at heart. The early colonies began to experience and display fear of anyone who had a different religious viewpoint. Some Christians think that only one religion (conservative Christianity) settled on our shores. Actually, many different religions came here in order to be free to practice their religion: Quakers, Dutch reformers, Puritans, Anglicans, Catholics, German reformers to name a few.

The irony of this drive for religious freedom was that each religion only wanted freedom for themselves and were highly intolerant of anyone else's religion. Religious freedom had a different meaning to the colonists than it does to us today. Our nation now believes all religions (including atheists) are free to hold and express these beliefs without interference from others. The original settlers only wanted freedom for themselves and no one else.

This can be illustrated by the Maryland Act of Religious Toleration of 1649. This "enlightened" policy offered religious toleration, but only to those whose religion subscribed to a dogma called Christian Trinitarianism. The Act was tolerant of any religion that subscribed to this ideology. Nevertheless, it also excluded many religions such Jews and other non-European religions. The reasonable consequence for violating this act (reasonable only to the signers of the MART) was death to everyone who was not a Trinitarian. This makes us cringe today. Even though this would be highly unconstitutional today, there are those on the ideological fringes of our current society who would not mind reinstating this kind of prohibition.

As we struggled with the principle of religious inclusiveness, we added another irrational fear to our collective psyche, slavery. Many people in our country were afraid of anyone with skin coloration including Native Americans. As early as 1619 we believed that people of color were to be used and treated as animals.

Our first irrational fear, religious toleration, spilled over into this fear of skin color. People who condoned slavery used religion to justify its existence. A Reverend Alexander Campbell, with a straight face and absolute conviction said, "There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral."

Supporting this religious bigotry were many politicians. James Henry Hammond, US Senator in the middle of the 19th century, also used the Bible to declare that "The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined." Everyone who supported slavery believed that the Bible sanctioned it. The Bible taught, we were told, that slave owners were permitted to severely beat their slaves even if doing so killed them. In other words, the holy book condoned all aspects of slavery and the treatment of "Negroes" as property.

As if this were not bad enough. Women were also seen as male property. Gender inequality was strongly supported by, you guessed it, the Bible. Those who came to this country supposedly for religious freedom used their religious beliefs to dehumanize over half the population. The Bible continued to be used to promote personal irrational fears. The underlying fear was that the "other" would somehow undermine the convenient lifestyle of society's barons.

Today we not only have our first African-American president. He is supported by female politicians at every level of society. Women permeate professions that were off limits to them only a few decades ago. Women make up the majority of students in many graduate schools. The message of hope that Barack Obama used for his campaign is meant to help us all dispel remnants of those remaining fears that inhibit our national family from becoming healthy and functional. We have been told that the barriers dividing us are coming down. Divisions based on irrational fear can no longer be tolerated.

In his short speech in Baltimore prior to his final stop in Washington, D.C., Mr. Obama named some of the barriers that must be broken including those between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Sexuality has been our slavery/gender issue far too long.

Some religious people (fortunately a minority) have continued to use the Bible to justify their own homophobic fears. The vision that President Obama has given to we ordinary Americans is that we must do our best to be a productive and stable family. We need to learn out to communicate more effectively, live with our differences, support one another who cause us pain, and become a nation that shows the rest of the world what possibilities exist for everyone.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like you are anti-Bible is this post. Is that your intent?
I thought this program was meant to be Bible based.

Dr. Terry Sandbek said...

Steve - I'm not really certain what you mean when you say this post is anti-Bible. Could you be more specific?