White Men Behaving Badly

I have watched and listened to the real-life drama unfolding as a discussion about contraception has morphed into first, an accusation against President Obama, that he is waging a war on religion, and now, into a war on women and women’s rights.

And what I am seeing is white men behaving badly in an all-out effort to “take back” America.

At first, the cry heard from Republicans to “take our country back” seemed squarely aimed at President Barack Obama. Though nobody wants to admit it openly, there is a fair amount of resentment from many Republicans that President Obama, a black man, is in the White House. South African playwright and writer Athol Fugard said the same in a recent interview with Charlie Rose on March 1, 2012: “Much of what President Obama is going through is because he is a black man in the White House,” Fugard said.

The resentment against President Obama was predictable, but this war on women, and a crude one at that, is a bit of a surprise.  Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Georgetown University Law School student Sharon Fluke are no less than sickening and repulsive. To call this young woman a “slut” and a “prostitute” is childish, but one wonders, listening to him, if many Republicans are angry that women, as well as blacks, have gotten just a little bit too much freedom in this country?

Much of this got started, or the hot embers were ignited by, GOP candidate Rick Santorum. He began the tirade that there was and is an attack on religion and religious freedoms being waged by the Obama administration. With deep passion he has argued that secularism is on the rise, the fault of this president and his administration.

To make it possible for women to get contraception is a part of a war on religion and religious freedom, Santorum has said. The waves from his passionate sharing of his beliefs has grown into a tsunami that is revealing just how deep is bigotry against anyone who is not white and male, and, ironically, Protestant (though Santorum is a Catholic) in this country.

In a 2008 speech, Santorum said that “this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism – and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is a shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.” (italics mine.)

Santorum moved from attacking the president and his “phony theology” to observations on women and their place in society.  In an interview with John King on February 8 of this year, Santorum said that he had “concerns” about women in combat, saying that in such a situation “it could be a very compromising situation where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”

His apparent disapproval of the freedom of women to “choose” came through loud and clear when he said in 2006 that he didn’t think contraception works, and said “I think it’s harmful to women. I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated.”

Only, apparently, if that sex is engaged in by women…

Santorum is gaining support in his bid for the Republican nomination for president, and there has been no outcry for the voice of Rush Limbaugh to be stilled; this is America, after all, and we have freedoms.

But what is becoming increasingly clear is that a great number of Americans are apparently very resentful that too many people have too much freedom!  Politicians of the past have said in the open, and now I suppose they say it in private, “this is a white man’s country.”  Indeed, when the words of the Constitution were fashioned, saying that all men were created equal, there was no thought or understanding that that phrase included or was intended to include blacks, women, or even all men. The phrase was specifically describing the freedom of white, Protestant, property-owning, men.

It appears that what Conservatives want to conserve is their idea of what America was always intended to be.  They understand that freedom, or premium freedom, was never meant to be for the masses. “We the people” are confused.

What is used as justification of their views, and even of their treatment of some people, is the U.S. Constitution and, alas, God. Those who do not believe as they do are condemned as “secularists.”  Santorum blasted a 1960 speech by fellow Catholic  and then presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, who said he believed in total separation of church and state.

Kennedy was trying to assuage a nervous  American society about what they might expect if a Catholic got into the White House. Would the pope have the ultimate power? Kennedy’s speech, it seemed, sought to calm their nerves.

But Santorum, trying to conserve an America that was formed by people seeking freedom but which systematically denied freedom to blacks, women, and so many others, blasted Kennedy’s speech and appealed to a yet again nervous America which believes that the wrong person is in the White House and that women have gotten beside themselves, out of line with the divine will.

The word “Christianity” is being thrown around like a hot potato, appealing to the fears of some under the guise of religious righteousness. Being crass and rude to a young woman cannot be in the will of God, who in the Hebrew scriptures decried how badly people treated each other and yet thought they could appease God by pious religious services.  “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies” God says in the book of Amos (5:21)

It feels like this God would not like what is being done to people, or said about human beings with rights, including women and blacks. Freedom of speech notwithstanding, it seems that God would not approve of Rush Limbaugh’s crude and tasteless comments about a young woman who is seeking to help protect the rights of all women.

In this election cycle, white men are behaving badly, using the Constitution and God to justify their actions and their words. It is very, very sad to watch.

A candid observation …

No Outrage Over Poverty

How come it seems like nobody gets outraged about poverty in the United States?

I ask the question on the heels of the outrage expressed by Catholic bishops over the Obama administration’s policy that would have required Catholic institutions (churches excepted) to cover birth control in the health insurance coverage for their employees. Catholic bishops and others protested, calling the requirement an assault on religious freedom.

The furor has somewhat died down, as President Obama has announced a compromise that will require insurance companies to require contraceptive coverage directly to women. While some are skeptical of the new policy, others say the compromise is on target.

But I found myself shaking in my boots as I wondered why there seems to be so little outrage about poverty in this country? In the United States, there are 46 million people who are officially “poor.”  Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote this week that the disparity between rich and poor is making hunger in America more and more real for more and more people; for as many as 14 million children, free food programs provide some with the only food they get. She reminded readers that hunger due to extreme poverty has been an American reality for a long time by recalling a visit Robert Kennedy made to the Mississippi Delta in the 60s where he saw for himself children who were literally starving. Ironically, today, while some children are becoming obese, many others are losing weight not because they want to, but because they do not have enough food to eat.

One thing is clear: we as humans tend not to empathize with the plights of people unless we see with our own eyes what people are going through. The stark pictures of people’s suffering after Hurricane  Katrina mobilized the nation and the world to do something; in the 60s, the nation and world, again, were both outraged and provided the impetus for Washington to do something. When I have visited tropical islands, West and South Africa, my privileges as a tourist seemed less palatable after I traveled into the territory beyond the posh hotels, including the shanty towns in Cape Town, South Africa, and saw how awful living conditions were for so many of the people.

The lack of a deafening outrage from religious and non-religious leaders makes me wonder if people really know how bad poverty is in America, and how many it is affecting. Sabrina Tavernise wrote in Friday’s The New York Times that poverty is affecting education as well. While the big gap in educational achievement used to be that between white and black children, Tavernise wrote that “the achievement gap between rich and poor children is double that between black and white children according to a study done by a Stanford University sociologist.”

We already know that poverty has resulted in people not being able to get health care, which was a major impetus for the push for health care reform. In this, the richest nation in the world, people are dying from illnesses that are treatable. Just last month, I learned of a woman who contracted a cold which didn’t get better, but the woman couldn’t go to a doctor because she had no health care, though she was a full time employee at a fast food restaurant. Her cold developed into something more serious, landing her in an emergency room, then in intensive care. She died after two weeks on a respirator.

How come there are no religious leaders, no political leaders – somebody – screaming about poverty in America?

A person attending my church one time took me to task for talking about poverty. Her statement still troubles me. “You are wrong to talk about poverty,” she said. “The Bible says that the poor will always be with us. There are supposed to be poor people.”

I was stunned at her comment.  It is true that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can always help them, but you will not always have me.”  The statement came after a woman came to anoint him with expensive oil from an alabaster box.  Those surrounding Jesus were angry at the apparent waste of the oil. Some in Jesus’ presence said that the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Apparently the oil the woman used was so precious that it could have been sold for 300 denarii! (One denarius is said to be worth about $20)

Were the oil that valuable, I rather doubt money garnered from its sale would have been given to the poor …but the point is, the woman who approached me had apparently read that scripture to mean that there are supposed to be poor people.

Interestingly, she didn’t mention Deuteronomy 15:11 where it says that there will be poor people and therefore “I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

There is nothing fun about being poor; it is far easier to avoid the poor sections of town, and to complain that the poor are poor because they want to be, that they are lazy and want to live off the wages of others. It is as easy to do that as it is to go to Cancun and stay protectively cooped up in the luxury hotel and banish the real world out of our minds.

But the luxury hotels are not the norm. The people who serve us in the luxury hotels and on the cruise ships, many of them, are horribly poor. While they serve us the best of foods, many have little to eat themselves.

Why isn’t there more outrage about poverty? It is OK for the Catholic bishops to be outraged about contraception and a perceived imposition of a federal policy on religious liberty, but where are their collective voices – in fact, where are the collective voices of religious leaders, period, on the subject of poverty?

It seems we have it confused; we honor and reach for prosperity. The poor, who should have a voice through us, are ignored largely because of us.

A candid observation …