Alchemical Thoughts

Should I know better? Maybe not.

Posted on: March 19, 2009

I do know by now that trying to discuss anything with anyone who is tied to a certain belief system, and likely fundamentalist, is pretty much a waste of time. They are not going to change their minds no matter what facts and evidence you present, and more often than not, you end up upset. And yet, to be perfectly honest there are moments when you just have to confront, or at least say something, to people who pretty much espouse evil. Allow me to expand a little on the matter.

In some other social network that I use, a friend of mine posted a link to the recent story that President Obama was going to sign the United Nations' gay rights document. It is a good step, but as we all know, a lot of people would not agree with the notion of gay marriage. My friend ended up getting a long comment stream, which basically became a fiery debate on the issue of gay marriage. I am saying "fiery," but it was more like some people with certain religious values who feel they can pretty much repress anyone else who does not agree with them. I did say my peace, so to speak at one point, but at times I wonder if one is better off not saying anything.

Then I came across this story as I was doing my feeds scan. AmericaBlog pointed to a story about an Anglican bishop in Nigeria who is advocating prison terms for gay people (among other not so nice measures). If you follow the link, you can find the actual document from the bishop. The interesting for me is, if you replace "Africa" and "Nigeria" in the right places with "United States" and "America(n)," it could read like the screed of any fundamentalist, right winger in the United States. But what made me think was what John Aravosis wrote in his post for AmericaBlog,

"At some point, the leadership of the normal wing of the Anglican church had better wake up and realize that by appeasing evil, and bigotry, and hate, they are no better. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he didn't say to stand idly, repeatedly giving your blessing to the evil in your midst. The leaders of the progressive wing of the Anglican church have enabled this nut from Nigeria, and now his hate and bigotry, his evil, is theirs."

At some point, the "normal" people of this nation (and most other nations) better be waking up to the evil in their midst. Bigotry and discrimination, whether justified by politics or religion, are evils, and as such do need to be fought and confronted. For me, this tends to guide my thinking: "
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." By the way, a lot of people attribute the quote to Edmund Burke, but it is not found in his works; it is likely a paraphrase, albeit a good one. When one of the other commenters in my friend's post was all about taking away rights of gay people because his religious views said it was fine, it irked me to say the least. When he pulls the classic rhetoric of "it's not in the Constitution," well, I just want to laugh because at that point I just know the guy is not doing his homework, let alone read not only the Constitution but also other very relevant documents and history as well. Personally, to me, it is a matter of basic human rights and one of common decency. There is a reason there is a separation of church and state, and unlike that fellow's "it's a liberal myth" view (the church-state separation), the reality is that it is there precisely to protect everyone, the majority and the minority. If one takes the time to read the works of the writers of the Constitution, reading past the First Amendment (basis for the idea of separation), one sees that they did indeed intend for said separation. For example:

  • Thomas Jefferson, working on the then new Virginia Constitution, around the same time the U.S. one was getting done: "All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution": freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion." Ooh, did I just see that "freedom from religion" idea that certain person denied existed?
  • Jefferson, further writing in his "Notes on the State of Virginia:" "The legitimate powers of government," he wrote, "extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
  • Jefferson writing to his nephew Peter Carr, in 1787: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear" This may be worth reading in full.
  • A little something on the dangers of the majority oppressing the minority, here is James Madison writing to Thomas Jefferson in a letter of October 1788 as they were working on the Constitution: "Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents."
  • John Adams spoke of equality (granted, it was mostly for white landowners, but we have, thankfully, moved on the broaden the definition of equality) writing to a Dr. Price: "We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society."
  • And this one is pretty clear. It comes from Isaac Backus, "An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty," 1773: "Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state not because they are beneath the interests of the state, but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state."

I could go on with this for longer, but I think we can safely show that the Founding Fathers did intend for there to be a separation of church and state. They just figured that people would be smart enough to know it from things like that First Amendment. When some less well read people say, "we don't know what they intended," a little reading counters that right away. And that is just one example.

So why does this even make me wonder? Well besides the fact that I have no tolerance for bigots who use their beliefs to justify all sorts of atrocious behavior, being a librarian means I am an educator. And I am someone who takes the role of educating others seriously. Quotes like the one found in Boston's Public Library,


Maybe I am wondering due to my recent readings on library neutrality. Or maybe sometimes people of reason do have to say something. Sure, people may hold different opinions, and they have the right to express them. But at the end of the day, when they try to pass their opinion as facts, and they try to use them justify their bigotry, then that has to be confronted. If you tolerate it and accomodate it, it is just going along with something that is wrong. It is easy to simply go along on the false logic that, if you go along now, they may be nice to you next time. The hard act, and the just one, is to speak up and shoot down the bigotry.

Anyhow, food for thought.

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