I write my blog and do my indexes and spend too much time surfing the net sitting at our dining table. Jim sits in the shadows of "la oficina," which was intended by the builder of the house to be the master bedroom. It's too gloomy for me as it looks out on the driveway, and back yard, not a bad view but nothing like the view from the dining-living room. The photo above is not exactly the one I see which is right now a bit busy with a clutter of plants, dog beds drying on the balcony rail, and brilliant sunlight bouncing off big leaves. The view in the photo above is just outside the front door. As you can see, it's a beautiful day, low seventies (which you can't see), bright sun, blue sky, puffs of clouds (which you can't see either.) It is the kind of day that makes it hard to get furious about much of anything though there are clearly events on the planet deserving of our fury.
Not deserving of fury, I think, is Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation or whatever it is at the Inauguration. I've been amazed at the reactions of some people I'm close to. For one thing, I think they've forgotten or never knew Billy Graham. Warren is a lot easier to take than Graham, an evangelical Christian if ever there was one, who was practically the US version of the Archbishop of Canterbury for years on end and no lover of gays.
I wrote about this recently, mentioning Juan Cole's blog post here. Another blog I like a great deal, The Edge of the American West, recently posted a YouTube video of Rachel Maddow shredding both Rick Warren and Obama's selection of him, with a second act of Maddow interviewing Katha Pollitt. It is followed by some lively comments including mine.
I've gotten mad at people on the right for demanding extreme moderation in how leftish advocates address issues. I got mad at my former mother-in-law many years ago for saying that Paul Ehrlich of Zero Population Growth fame would get further if he spoke more politely (or maybe she was berating Ralph Nader. Or maybe both. I don't remember.) And so here, perhaps uncharacteristically, I find myself saying, maybe we lefties could all quiet down about Rick Warren. This didn't soothe any troubled souls I know.
I think what people need to talk to Rick Warren and evangelical Christians about (and listen to them as well) is the relationship between church and civil law. What we don't have to do is use clever but misleading argument in ad hominem attacks, like the irresponsible (to say the least) members of the right wing do (more now than ever since they seem to have little positive to contribute). This is what Rachel Maddow did, and this is what a lot of lefties who wrote comments on The Edge of the American West and elsewhere have done.
At this point I would like to direct you to a memorial to Harriet McBryde Johnson written by Peter Singer in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine. If there are two voices much more diametrically opposed than these two, I can't think of them, because Harriet McBryde Johnson, disabled by a progressive degenerative muscle disease and a disabled person activist, would have died as a baby if Peter Singer, a philosopher who advocates (or at least used to, before he met Harriet) the removal of life support from, the killing of, severly disabled babies, had had his way. Peter Singer, in his own way, is capable of being as entrenched in his views as is Rick Warren. Yet these two, Harriet and Peter, talked and listened to each other. I was going to offer quotes from the article, but I wish instead you would all take the time to click on the link and read all of it and be moved. And see how people who listen to each other can come to see things differently.
So here we have angry lefties, especially among the gay community, on the one side and Warren on the other. Why shouldn't we all be furious that he is giving the invocation? Well, maybe after we hear it, I'll think we should, too. But we haven't heard it yet. So assuming he's not going to say something way too sectarian as Franklin Graham did at George W. Bush's 2001 Inauguration, we can hope that he will be building a bridge from evangelicals to the new president, and maybe bridges between all of us feuding groups. Maybe Obama, by choosing him, will be building the same bridges. Maybe as we walk on these bridges, we can learn that we can as they say agree to disagree.
Older people in this country did not grow up at all comfortable with the idea of homosexuality. I was lucky in that I had parents who mingled easily and non-judgmentally with all kinds of folks in that casserole that is New York City. But most people of my generation didn't. Many moderate and liberal folks, and not only old ones, are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of gay marriage. They don't understand that gays see it as a civil right, they don't see that the wish for commitment transcends sexual orientation. Rather they see gay marriage as something of an assault on their places of worship. Why assault? Because there is this loud demand to do something in those very places where they learned that homosexuality was sinful.
The "other" prayer-giver at the Inauguration doesn't support gay marriage either. Here's what he said on MSNBC. He supports civil unions and full civil rights, but he has trouble with the idea of marriage. Lowery, a pastor in the United Methodist Church, is a civil rights activist par excellence.
What Lowery accepts and Warren doesn't get is the idea of the separation of Church and State. That is, that laws should not be made to inhibit anyone's civil rights. And, one suspects Lowery also understands that this separation protects religion as well. He would not, I bet, favor a law which intruded on his church and told him whom he must marry.
The failure of the Rick Warrens of the world is the failure to understand Constitutional history. In fact, evangelicals who are home schooled often learn a very peculiar version of American history, one which is not based on the texts we have built our laws on.
Many on the left, too, are unaware of our nation's history. The country has always fought over issues of religion vs. the state. Some early state constitutions, notably that of Massachusetts, designated an official church. It is as we have passed through our history, in a zig-zag, sometimes one-step-forward, two-steps back kind of way that we have become more and more inclusive as a civil society.
Too few of us understand that history and precedent give us the means to talk to each other rather than throw stones.