"Our society is in crisis not because we intensely disagree, but
because we feebly agree."
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1907-1972
Rabbi Heschel was a
leading Jewish theologian who marched for civil rights in Selma,
Alabama. I don't know the context of the above statement, but it's
generally true and is one of the earliest items in my quote
collection. It came to mind this week amidst intense disagreement
over the health care bill.
Besides, it seemed
appropriate to reference a rabbi during this week of Passover. This
week also marks the fourth anniversary of the death of my college
buddy, Glenn Morris, the son of a Methodist minister with whom I
read Ayn Rand and discussed politics for hours in the office of the
Penn State campus newspaper.
Glenn later became a
Buddhist and a ninja instructor, emphasizing respect for order and
harmony using defensive, rather than offensive, martial arts. But I
recognized my old friend's attitude when I read the following
statement in his 1996 book "Shadow Strategies of an American Ninja
fail to recognize aggression that does not appear warlike, as they
are individualists and allow strangers a great deal of rope.
"This also applies to
government folly. When the government truly disgusts them and makes
it hard to believe in the sanctity of their chosen land, citizens
protest, march in Washington, and burn effigies and flags to attract
the attention of unheeding politicians, who forget that their place
at the trough is at the will of the people.
"During election years
bum listeners are voted out ... Outsiders often mistake this
behavior as not loving."
He seemed to be
referring to his opposition to the Vietnam War, but his words would
apply to this current revolution as well. In fact, he seems to
explain the election of Barack Obama when he talks about allowing a
stranger a great deal of rope.
Dr. Morris also wrote
that "if you are not paying attention to the political scene and
exercising your rights, you are missing part of your training
concerning living well. ... The weaker the central government, the
safer you are as a citizen."
Opening up the
conversation this week not only to religious, but to political,
diversity, I'll now quote Aneurin Bevan, socialist Welshman, who
said, "We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the
road. They get run over."
Bevan was a critic of
Hitler-appeaser Neville Chamberlain, and supported Winston Churchill
in going to war against the Nazis (whose horrors Rabbi Heschel
For me, that world is
divided not so much into liberals vs. conservatives, but appeasers
One of my favorite
Catholic childhood memories is of the Irish priest who was asked by
one of the boys in religion class, "Father? I know Jesus said that
if someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek. But what if he
hits the other cheek?"
"Ah", responded Father
Edgar, "then you punch him in the nose."
Though I was home in
New Jersey with a baby in 1965, I admired from afar those Americans
who marched at Selma. Earlier, as a child, I admired the Hungarian
revolutionaries we watched on TV news; and much later, the
protesters at Tiananmen Square. Win or lose, from the Maccabees to
all slaves named Spartacus to the patriots at Concord Bridge to the
European underground during World War II to students burning draft
cards during undeclared wars, those who intensely disagree keep
resistance alive in the world.
My generation of
Americans has been very lucky. Once it forced the end of the Vietnam
War, it saw its sons grow up without being drafted, in a country
where freedom has been taken for granted for too long. The
resistance of Americans now to the growth of the federal
government's power does not carry the risk accepted by earlier
revolutionaries in this and other countries. There are no invading
armies, no tanks rolling into our demonstrations, no midnight
roundups, no guns at the bridge.
All we have to put up
with is being called racists (if we disagree with the president),
homophobes (if we disagree with Barney Frank), haters, right-wing
wackos, and radical extremists who are, to quote Congressman John
Big Biden deal.
I live for political
debate. I have no problem with name-calling, whether aimed at me or
as my own response after, "They started it, Mom!" It may be
childish, but it's fun.
However, all of us who
intensely disagree need to draw some lines: No initiated violence;
no property damage. Protesters shouldn't be throwing bricks through
the windows of either pro-Obamacare congressmen or Republican Party
headquarters in Virginia.
And in the case of
verbal attacks, all statements should be the truth as far as we know
or imagine it, not deliberate lies. The names should describe
behavior, not attack inherent characteristics like race or sex.
I'd also argue it's
improper to make fun of anyone's acquired physical characteristics
that are not relevant to the discussion, e.g.; being overweight,
Botox faces, suntans.
But if someone wants to
redistribute the wealth, it's OK to call him a socialist. And if
tea-partiers want to intensely disagree with the socialist agenda,
it's OK to call them patriots.