And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
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9. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
I, like a lot of people, were offended by the attention paid to exit polls that seemed to show that fundamentalist ďvalues votersĒ handed Bush the election. Democrats didnít win, they try to tell us, because they didnít have God, or at least morality, on their side. The implication was that people had voted for Bush because he was going bring fundamentalistóI hesitate to call them Christian--so-called morality back to America, eliminate ďactivist judgesĒ and maybe even find some way to disband the Satanic, anti-Christian ACLU. When someone uses the phrase ďactivist judgesĒ you can be assured that they know their agenda is illegal and unconstitutional and they are aware that the law will stand against them. It is an inconvenient reality they hope George Bush will eliminate for them.
I donít think Bush is going to give them what they want, radical extremists of from both the left or the right almost never get what they want. But I am afraid, that liberal and progressive politicians are going to decide that they need to pander to these people who, when they say the words ďmoral values,Ē are referring to a laundry list of oppression, cruelty and outright superstition such as prayer in school (they assume Christian prayers), creationism instead of science, gun rights, banning sex education, birth control and abortion, and, of course, restricting gay rights and the rights of anyone else they donít approve of. Those things, to me, donít represent morality, they are morality stood in its head.
I donít want to hear any of that stuff out of the mouths of ostensibly left-leaning politicians. I donít want the Democrats to start larding their speeches with phony sermons as if to say ďsee? Weíre almost Republicans!Ē If they do, they will earn nothing but my contempt just as the right wing moralists do.
As liberals we donít think much about our moral. We just do them. We donít preach them much. We donít have a list of thou shalt nots. The religious right thinks we are an ďanything goesĒ crowd and a surprisingly large number of liberals think the same thing. Because I enjoy my many gay friends and because I think they should marry whom they please, the fundamentalists think Iím depraved. I assure you the feeling is warmly mutual. They think they have true morality. I donít think so. My morality will not permit me to condemn a fellow human being to a life of misery and shame. Iím not going to try to find common ground for the next while. I think there is some, but Iím not interested in it at the moment.
Right now I want to pull my attention away from the fundamentalists and talk about the ďanything goesĒ idea. Itís true that we liberals do not have a sonorous list of forbidden activities, but our morality is not about punishment and guilt. It is about respect. If fundamentalists wish to live lives bound by artificial rules and restrictions. If they wish to allow fear and hatred to guide their lives. If they wish to believe twelve impossible things before breakfast, that is their right. I would not respect them if I tried to force them to live the way I live and to care about the things that are important to me. They believe that secularists wish to destroy their religion. Secularists want no such thing, but fundamentalists of all kindsóreligious, economic, left, right--donít understand respect. They only understand power. One of the ways we can tell creationism isnít scientific is that the fundamentalists are attempting to use political power to inject it into public schools. It canít compete in the marketplace of scientific ideas. They donít care, thatís not important to them. All that is important is that you believe it. The lust for power is why they want the 10 commandments in the county courthouse and not on billboards along the highway. They donít want their ideas out there competing with all those other ideas, they donít care whether God is acknowledged in the public square, they want power. They want their religion to seem to have the trappings of power.
I want to mention here, that I am not talking about Christians. I know several wonderful Christians who donít see what the fundamentalists see in the Bible. I heard a Methodist minister once remark that he couldnít imagine which Bible the fundamentalists were reading, because it didnít resemble his.
Respect is the core and the center of liberal morality. If I do not respect the inherent worth and dignity of other people, then I have no right to ask for it in return. I think that allowing others to live in peace and dignity is not just a moral issue, but utterly pragmatic. If I allow my neighbor to live in peace then I live in a peaceful place. If I allow my neighbors to live their lives as they wish, then I live in a free society.
Arianna Huffington wrote shortly after the November election:
ďThe progressive vision must be a direct challenge to fundamentalism in all of its forms: political, religious and economic. It must match fundamentalismís power without replicating its authoritarianism. It must appeal to the values of liberty, equality, community, justice, unconditional love, shared prosperity, and ecological restoration, among many others.Ē
Obviously I agree. I believe that the vast majority of Americans have a genuine morality founded in those values. It is these values upon which we must focus. The right wing looks really big right now. They have won political power on almost every level. I consider their agenda immoral. I think the immorality of that agenda needs to be highlighted, but thatís not enough. We must say what we believe, not what we donít believe. We must talk about the things we value. Liberty. Equality. Community. Shared prosperity. Respect.
Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. All other values flow from that one. We care for our neighbors without controlling them. We feel that the poorest and weakest among us share equal dignity and therefore deserve our help. Income reallocation, a phrase that causes libertarians and economic conservatives to twitch, is something that we need to face directly into. Iím not advocating stripping wealth away from the rich. Rich people generally work hard for that money and they have a right to keep the vast majority of it. But reallocating some money allows the most vulnerable among us to share in the vast abundance of the world. It sounds idealistic, and my personal morality requires it, but itís also imminently practical. The poor do not lock up their money in off-shore bank accounts. They spend it. Income reallocation therefore pumps money into the economy. It takes moneyócapital if you willófrom where it would be locked away and puts it back into the economy. Capital is the blood of capitalism and it must circulate for a healthy society to work.
Mother Teresaís nuns would at one time--or perhaps they still do--go out early very morning in Calcutta and collect the dead bodies in the streets. A few would have died of violence but most would have died of malnutrition, exposure or diseases that we Americans would consider trivial.
I donít want to live in that world. Iím going to do everything I can to make sure I never do. My morality requires that the society I live in cares for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. If the conservatives were smart, they would require that also, because itís not just the morally right thing to do, but it serves our own personal self-interests.
When I was 9 years old the poverty rate in the US ranged from 20 to 25 percent. My oldest granddaughter was 9 this year and in her lifetime the poverty rate has ranged from 11 to 13 percent. You will note that is half what it was when I was 9. When I was 9 what poverty meant was you watched your children die of curable illnesses for want of health care. You and your children suffered from malnutrition and malnutrition-related diseases. My granddaughter is 9 this year. Poverty means you donít have health care but your children have Medicaid. Neither you nor your children will ever know malnutrition because of WIC and food stamps (which are no longer stamps.) We have come a long way. I want to go further because everyone should have access to health care. Everyone should have a place to live and enough to eat. True morality requires it and thatís the world I want to live in.
True morality requires a living wage be paid to workers. The great advantage of capitalism, when it is working correctly, is that it is a win-win situation. The employer can produce goods, I can pay my bills. Everyone goes home happy. If the employer is not paying enough, though, for the employee to meet the basic needs of life, then nobody is winning. The employer has short term gain in larger profits, but must live in a world where someone can work full time and still not afford food and shelter. The poisonous philosophy of scarcity frightens people into thinking that they can win at the expense of others. But in reality they are equally losers. Albert Einstein once said ď. . . looked at from a simple human point of view, moral conduct does not mean merely a stern demand to renounce some of the desired joys of life, but rather a sociable interest in a happier lot for all men.Ē
Barack Obama was the only bright spot in this dismal November election. He is the only black member among 100 senators and only the fifth African-American to serve there. Obama ran against Alan Keyes, a right-wing demagogue that you would think, judging from the exit polls and the fundamentalists, is exactly what Americans want.
During a debate, Keyes argued that Jesus Christ would oppose Obama because he supports abortion rights.
Keyes said: "Christ is over here, Sen. Obama is over there: the two don't look the same." Keyes spread his arms far apart. A clearly perturbed Obama said he didn't appreciate being lectured about Christianity by Keyes. 'That's why I have a pastor,' he said. 'That's why I have a Bible. That's why I have my own prayer. And I don't think any of you are particularly interested in having Mr. Keyes lecture you about your faith. What you're interested in is solving problems like jobs and health care and education. I'm not running to be the minister of Illinois. I'm running to be its United States senator.'"
I think a clue to Obamaís success is his focus on morality. What I consider to be true morality that does not limit and oppress people or deprive them of the joys of life. It is a genuine morality that lifts us up. This is a portion of Obamaís speech at the Democratic National Convention:
"Alongside our famous individualism," he said, "there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. . . . It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. 'E pluribus Unum.' Out of many, one."
Liberty, equality, community, justice, unconditional love, shared prosperity, ecological restoration and respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
This is the foundation of a morality I can live with. Permissive? Yes, it is permissive. You are free to choose your own path. To fundamentalists, Iím sure it looks like a license to run wild in the streets. Thereís not a ďthou shalt notĒ in sight. Not everything the fundamentalists espouse is bad. If you are unfaithful to your partner, for example, you will be doomed to extremely short-term gain. If you covet your neighborís ox, you will live unhappily. If you commit murder, society will rise up and strike you down. I have another entire essay on the fact that only 3 of the 10 commandments are foundation for the rule of law and the rest really are just good suggestions.
The question in Genesis chapter 4, verse nine, ďAm I My brotherís keeperĒ is famous. The answer to that question, verses 10 and 11, are less famous.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And God said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
Am I my brotherís keeper? The answer sounds, to me, like ďyes.Ē
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