Monday, October 06, 2008

Sarah Palin, What Becomes A Beacon Most?

Hey, Sarah Palin, What Becomes A Beacon Most?

A Beacon Doesn't Scream

We've all heard about the Shining City on a Hill and many people, upon hearing the phrase alone, think of former President Ronald Reagan because he expertly employed the rhetoric that borrowed the phrase, attempting successfully to recreate an image of an America with beacon-like potential. It was actually John Winthrop, founding governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, who wrote the words so often co-opted by the Religious Right and their too-often-willing GOP partners. The words had deep roots in the Christian faith and in the fear of a vengeful God. They're words that likely inspired Manifest Destiny, where the unbiased eye of history has witnessed a collective turning of the head away from human rights as Native Americans were dehumanized to make room for the New Jerusalem.

In 21st century Catholic churches, we still sing the hymn based on Matthew 5:16. The "We" in the song is the body of Christ..the Church...which is not made solely of American citizens as I'm sure I do not need to tell you.
"We are the Light of the World.
Let our light shine before all,
That they may see the good that we do
And give glory to God."

Contrasting 17th-century Puritan Plymouth (before Ben Franklin) where the Bible was then the basis for the new land's society...and where tolerance and equal rights did not have center stage and where the new society's wilderness survival based upon religious principles was paramount, Andrew Bacevich analyzes VP candidate Gov Sarah Palin's words:
"But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain. That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights."

In my view, Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. She's borrowing the rhetoric from President Reagan at a time that is hardly befitting and, to boot, in hoisting American exceptionalism as a main sail with no honest eye on how the United States is currently viewed by millions of world citizens, she causes the ship branded "America" to appear as an oddly foundering vessel searching for a beacon rather than being a lighthouse.

Dr. Bacevich says,
Today no doubt, the eyes of all people are indeed on the United States - what happens here affects the world. Yet many of those who observe us don't like what they see. The question for Governor Palin and for other believers committed to the concept of American exceptionalism is this: have we kept the Lord's covenant? If not, perhaps the time has come to mend our ways before it's too late.

My question would be:
"We aren't apologetic here? My God, why not?"
I am a Christian citizen of a nation with a shorter history than most developed nations on the face of this small planet spinning around the sun. I believe that we are..and were from the beginning..a nation of well-intentioned and hopeful people who, through a decidedly misplaced sense of religious triumphalism and worldly-intentioned leadership all-too-often disguised as pious guidance, have lost a sense of fairness and empathy and decency....who forgot that their non-Christian brethren have been human beings fully deserving of equal treatment...who've lost track of the faith-based Golden Rule, and that is to love your neighbor as yourself because it's equal to loving God with all your heart, mind, and strength...

We all know what a beacon is, in a literal and figurative sense. It's a source of guidance or inspiration.

If we can't apologize for hiding our Native Americans away off the dusty reservation roads in our pursuit for the shine, we aren't a beacon.

If we can't apologize for bringing chaos, destruction, and war with no clear strategy or exit plan to a nation that had nothing to do with an attack upon America in pursuit of the shine, we aren't a beacon.

If we can't apologize for mistreating, torturing and even killing war prisoners who were in our care in pursuit of the shine, we aren't a beacon.

Personally speaking, my God is not an angry God. My God is a forgiving God who expects me to be the beacon. If our government actually worked the way in which our Founding brothers (and sisters) had intended, we'd each be individual examples of light and love and our democracy would reflect it without having to brag or even to lie about it.

My faith is personal, but I cannot keep it private in a world where a I see so many misguiding influences, either directly in the name of God or spoken with inference to religious influence for ideology's sake.

This is really quite simple when it comes right down to it. Fulfilling our personal responsibilities as Christians can only compliment our effectiveness as citizens if we bring our faith to the public square with the complete realization that we come, one by one, with common purpose, with respect, with empathy, and with humility. If you asked a neighbor if he or she thought our nation should be unapologetic and still expect to be "the beacon" as we move away from the past eight years as Governor Palin suggests, I'd wager that they'd have something to say that would surprise both her and John McCain.

Pursuing a foreign policy grounded in traditional American principles doesn't have to mean American exceptionalism. We can be far more visionary than that. We credit our Founding brothers with their ability to see beyond the years. Would they apologize today, if they were here and able to look back, for the scourge of slavery that ended up being a major issue in the bloody U.S. Civil War? Would they express regret over what happened to the people who originally lived on this land when the white men came to claim it as their own? Sweet Jesus, I hope they would.

America should BE exceptional without having to crow about it. A beacon doesn't scream. In the foreign policy of our best vision, we can encourage sustainability, a guard against climate change, global health issues, and development in poorer countries while creating markets within our own country to make the world sustainable, more secure, and filled with more fairness and opportunity for all of our children. To my way of thinking, this kind of foreign policy incorporates my Christian sensibilities as well as a worthy national goal where there will be no need for reconciliation after years of iniquity or a need to say we won't ask for national forgiveness later on while expecting others to have to search for the shine we're claiming as our own.


GreenSmile said...

Your god, Jude, is one that even a doubter like myself can approach with questions and attempt to understand ... and most important, trust to have constructive followers.

I am always going to remember that you said this:
I believe that we are..and were from the beginning..a nation of well-intentioned and hopeful people who, through a decidedly misplaced sense of religious triumphalism and worldly-intentioned leadership all-too-often disguised as pious guidance, have lost a sense of fairness and empathy and decency

this whole post is a beautiful essay on the proper role of religion in America's political life: It could give us each our conscience but not dictate our laws.