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Moral Morass

It was the day after the election and travel felt like a good idea.

My plan was to go to Canada. Just for a day or so. Just to hear some French, sleep late. Just to amble away for a bit.

So I drove north slowly through the bowls of late afternoon light in Keene Valley. A few peaks were dusted with snow. The Au Sable River ran bright and fast. The chilly air felt honest. There was room to brood here—if that was what I wanted to do. But the bracing sense of being away from national and existential miseries, large and small, made brooding seem like a waste of time.

At least for a while, anyway.

I didn’t even make it as far as Plattsburgh before deciding it was getting too late in the day to press on toward Montreal. Duty beckoned. Besides, I didn’t really feel OK leaving my daughters home alone while I escaped, however briefly, however symbolically. After all, it’s their lives and their friends’ lives who will be most affected by whatever mayhem that could ensue.

I turned back for home. I got back to the Northway only to find myself in a long line of southbound traffic. Cars moved slowly past—or were stopped by—United States border police who had set up some kind of a check point.

I don’t know what they were checking for. Most cars cruised through; mine was stopped. The officer made some comment about how he always checked out a car with a pretty girl in it. Then he leaned in and asked heartily, “You folk United States citizens?”

I guess that was all he wanted to know. Because yes was all it took for him to sweep open his arm in a gesture of welcome.

I couldn’t help wondering why there was a check point the day after the election an hour south of the Canadian border. It gave me weird shiver, as if I had expected him to ask me more—what kind of United States citizen was I? Was I God-fearing, straight, anti-choice—in short, a proponent of “moral values?”

Those of us who supported John Kerry thought we supported “moral values.”

Now we’re told that the coattail George Bush rode to victory was “moral values.”

I’m confused. I thought it was a moral stand to believe that two people willing enough and responsible enough to commit their lives to each other ought to have broad civil rights—to say nothing of social support.

I thought it was a moral stand to believe in individual jurisdiction over one’s entire body rather than ceding parts of it—one’s womb, for instance—to governmental regulation.

I thought it was a moral stand to oppose the estimated loss of Iraqi lives and American lives (estimated by the National Priorities Project to be 100,000 and 1,100 respectively—before Monday’s Fallujah offensive onslaught began) in a war most of our citizens claim not to understand or wholeheartedly support.

I thought it was a moral stand to believe that investing in a war that has already cost over $143,785,479,679 is a high price to pay when at least some of the funds could be used to fund Head Start, insure health care for children, make higher education available to more Americans, fund research that provides the hope of a cure for a host of diseases.

I thought it was a moral stand to believe that a government so fervently committed to “faith-based values and morals” would also want to address some global concerns—but the cost of our war is certainly not going to help us also find money for global anti-hunger efforts, or AIDS programs in Africa or the immunization of children.

I thought these were moral stands, but now I’m told they were simply partisan stands. And they are wrong.

“There is no reconciliation between good and evil,” says Mary Ann Kreitzer of Les Femmes, an organization of conservative Roman Catholic women. “Voters rejected the party of gay activists, radical feminists, the Hollywood elite, pornographers, death-peddlers, anti-Christian bigots and apostate Catholics.”

That’s some pretty diverse company I find myself in.

Somehow, within the span of this post-election analysis, “moral values” have been telescoped down into only one area: sex. What’s moral—what is apparently also faithful—is to make sure that the right people are having sex in the right way and that, should pregnancy follow, the right response to that is governed by writ of law, even if the law doesn’t then extend health care and education to that child or economic justice to the mother.

Then these same “moral values”—opposition to homosexuality and abortions—have become synonymous with what defines religious faith. And religious faith is de rigueur for good citizenship. And good citizenship espouses a certain kind of religious faith—ideally Christian and evangelical.

Other voices need not apply.

The religious left in the country seeks to change that, chastising the Democrats for failing to talk about religion as a motivating force in social justice issues.

The Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches—a group I’m surprised is not included in Ms. Kreitzer’s list of troublemakers—puts it this way: “The religious right has successfully gotten out there shaping personal piety issues—civil unions, abortions—as almost the total content of ‘moral values.’ And yet you can’t read the Old Testament without knowing God was concerned about the environment, war and peace, poverty. God doesn’t want 45 million Americans without health care.”

The Rev. Edgar may be right about God. And by and large I agree that the Democrats lost a great opportunity to make hay with faith, as the Republicans did. But I find that, liberal Protestant that I am, once somebody starts making claims for what God does or does not want, I get nervous. I can’t get Gary Wills’ words out of my mind:

“Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.”

And yet, listening to the troops prepare for the attack on Fallujah, looking at the magnetic ribbons on every second car, it has apparently already been decided that God is blessing America and America’s troops and American’s efforts and America’s prosperity.

But even as I was driving down the highway, ushered in by the United States border police, I couldn’t help thinking, God help America.

—Jo Page

jopage@graceniska.org

 


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