Sunday, January 6, 2013

I'm Not Only One Talking about Straight White Men in Politics and Religion

But as a contrast to the hopeful statement I just posted: here's why we still have a great deal of work to do in the U.S. As Frank Schaeffer says flatly in the opening of this recent article at his Patheos blog site,
The American political process is being hijacked by a reckless, whining dangerous gang of psychologically damaged white men who are far right ideologues.

And then he goes on, noting that if you take a map "with the safe gerrymandered congressional districts that sent us the tea party Republicans hijacking our country," and overlay it with a map of the old Confederacy, you'll find it's virtually the same map (though, as he notes, the mainstream media consider it impolite to talk about these issues of race, gender, and sectionalism in any overt way):

The anxiety of losing white long-held power at the expense of minority and marginalized constituencies like women and gays has metastasized into outright hatred of everything and anything the president Obama would suggest. Racism has combined with fear.  
The fear is of a world in which white (mostly) evangelical Republicans lose power… forever.  The country has moved on but the safe Republican gerrymandered districts have not. These folks are literally living in a fools paradise whose time has come and gone (emphasis in original). 

Then compare this with Andrew O'Hehir yesterday at Salon on Lincoln's unfinished war: O'Hehir maintains,

So even though it’s a truism of American public discourse that the Civil War never ended, it’s also literally true. We’re still reaping the whirlwind from that long-ago conflict, and now we face a new Civil War, one focused on divisive political issues of the 21st century – most notably the rights and liberties of women and LGBT people – but rooted in toxic rhetoric and ideas inherited from the 19th century.

And then he explains,

While the Civil War of the 1860s really was about slavery first and foremost – it was the foundation of the Southern economy, and had concentrated immense wealth in the hands of a small landowning caste – the true subject matter of the new Civil War is much less clear. Abortion and same-sex marriage play a crucial role, to be sure (and we may soon see guns and marijuana enter the picture as well). Those are symbolic issues that reflect larger social tensions around gender roles, sexuality and the “war on women,” but they are not just symbolic issues. Many people on the neo-Confederate side see abortion and Adam-and-Steve marriage as moral outrages or offenses against God, to borrow Lincoln’s phrasing, which must be stopped at almost any cost.  

As I read Schaeffer and O'Hehir, I think of Nathan Englander's characterization of the Orthodox Jewish world in which he grew up on Long Island as "a complete universe." Eric Alterman discusses Englander's upbringing and work in a recent article in The Nation.

This phrase strikes me as extremely insightful, after I've spent the last several days sparring to no good end with a contributor to this NCR discussion of Cardinal George's attempt to gin up opposition to marriage equality among Illinois Catholics. My non-conversation has occurred with a Catholic man, EdwardHu (about whom I've previously posted), who reads the gospels and the life of Jesus to be all about obedience. And gender complementarity. And sex. All about a world of obedience in which, strangely enough, heterosexual men like himself end up being endowed with divine power and privilege just because they're heterosexual men.

Since God is, you understand, some version of himself and other heterosexual men writ large in the skies. God is as intently concerned as is Mr. Hu about issuing peremptory orders and commands and assuring that everyone in the world--but especially women and gay men--knuckle under and obey. Our salvation as good Catholics is all about obedience, and the imperative to obey is issued most specifically to refractory women who want to usurp male places, and to gay men whose perceived alignment with the feminine puts the (heterosexual male) universe out of kilter.

As I've carried on my non-conversation with Mr. Hu (since who can have a real conversation with someone who already has all the answers and is intent not on listening or considering alternative viewpoints but on subordinating, demeaning, and putting others in their places?), it has struck me very strongly that the notion that one inhabits "a complete universe" is an extremely damaging notion to carry around on one's back.

And it has also struck me that this notion is particularly alluring to the kind of people who imagine that they occupy the top of the global evolutionary scale or stand at the centerpoint around which the universe revolves--that is to say, to white heterosexual men. (I suspect, by the way, that Mr. Hu is, in fact, a white man, though he has cleverly chosen a username which suggests otherwise.) What a burden it has to be to imagine that the world is a closed system that just happens to be designed to put one's own kind at the top of the pyramid of power and control--and that the God who arranged things this way is a version of oneself.

What a damaging thing it is to inhabit a universe that provides one with such unmerited responsibility--and such unchecked power and privilege. When the rest of us have long found that the universe is a quite unfinished and incomplete place, in which our attempt to figure things out, to interact with others, to recognize the limitations of our own perspectives, and to build collaboratively towards something greater than ourselves is exactly what finishes the universe. What brings it to completion.

And so I'm starting 2013 with the same strong sense I had as 2012 drew to a close (and here)--that we Americans (and perhaps people in some other parts of the world) have a serious straight white male listening problem on our hands. As I reflect on the past year, one of the key experiences that leaps out at me is how persistently my white male heterosexual brothers have considered it their duty to email me or leave messages in the combox here to set me straight about just how wrong I am when I read the bible or think issues through as a gay Christian. And how unkind and sassy I am, in their view, to white straight men when I try to engage them in discussion at Catholic blog sites.

Perhaps the healing of the world depends on all the rest of us subordinates of the universe starting to disabuse many straight white men of the idea that the world revolves around them? It's in our power to lift that heavy burden from their shoulders . . . .

(And I know and am deeply grateful for the fact that there are some wonderful straight white men in the world. Some of them are among my best friends.)

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