Not all change is good but it is inevitable and some of it is necessary. The political and Christian right in this country risk appearing backwards as they dig in their heels to fend off 21st century changes.
I have been guilty many times in the past of labeling most extremist on the right as ignorant slugs whose grasp of reality, history and many facts often reflect some levels of mental deficiency. But I have come to the conclusion that such people, though at times poorly informed, are not always ignorant. In fact many of them are just as intelligent as the liberals they attack for being intellectual elites. There are of course those who still hold to debunked notions of global cooling and the President being a practicing Muslim, but these do not make up that larger population I want address this post to. Liberals are not without their ideologues but unlike their conservative counterpart, change is not something to dread but to embrace and rebuild with.
So what I am finding then is not for lack of a brain from those on the right wanting to “take America back” to a period in our history that has long ago disappeared or who proclaim God is punishing this country with terrorist attacks and mass murders by madmen because we have strayed from some earlier set of values. It is, I honestly think, a conscious decision they have made to limit their contemporary views to only those notions they locked into at a more immature age, with perhaps some childhood anxiety disorder holdovers. It’s as if they have gotten a glimpse of a future that resembles nothing like their accustomed to and have made a conscious decision to freeze time in their mind and refuse to allow it to take its natural course. They then proceed to create an apologetic culture over time to confront the reality of inevitable change.
When you look at the language of Tea Party types and fundamentalist Christians you see notions spelled out in ways that sound more familiar in a junior high school setting; having a more sophomoric argot to them. Ideas are expressed in more simplistic ways that accommodate an adolescent view and seem trivial in light of broader experiences. Their mental faculties have not been diminished physiologically and they are quite capable of expressing an intellect with high IQs in most areas. But in their socio-religious view of life their growth appears stunted and all too ready to reject a social dynamic that develops layers of knowledge over time. The concept of WASPs – white Anglo-Saxon protestants – comes to mind when considering many on the right today as they try to deal with the changing make up of American families in the 21st century.
The simpler, broader concepts of “mom, apple pie, God and country” still holds a pleasant but narrow image from a past era for today’s hardcore right-wing contingent within conservatism. To such people however, mom is never a teenage girl who had an unwanted pregnancy, diabetes from too much apple pie is beyond comprehension, the Judeo-christian concept of a universal creator remains the only acceptable view (orthodox interpretations primarily) and many still see the country as it existed for many years as the domain for white male property owners. Capitalism has been woven into biblical scripture and wealth is nearly universally seen as the ultimate end to one’s pursuit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. To discredit those who have vast fortunes is to engage in a social blasphemy of sorts.
This state of mind is, I feel, an intentional choice because it preserves a familiarity of the bygone era. We all harbor this to some degree. We also all tend to resist most changes. But for many on the Christian and political right in this country today, the magnitude of change we are inevitably experiencing as a democracy with its emphasis on freedom is change that cannot be tolerated. No amount of critical thinking seems to be capable of altering this dogmatic stand either.
When it comes time for us all to go out into the world on our own, beyond the control of those who have filled our minds up to this point, we inevitably run into challenges to those perceptions that were narrowly defined in our subconscious during the brain’s formative years. By the time I was seventeen I was sure Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, was the one true religion. Americans, especially Texans, were the greatest people ever and the envy of the world and that equal economic opportunity was there for everyone who expended the right amount of energy, no matter what your gender, religious beliefs or race were. Naturally I heard this from the authority figures within a paternalistic white American, christian culture and since I was a physically white male American born in Texas and raised in the Catholic church, I failed to see how women and other people of differing races, cultures and belief systems seldom shared this view. How could I? I had never interacted sufficiently, if at all, with such people.
But then somehow the mechanisms of control lost sight of me and allowed me to gain a higher education and this, to the shock and dismay of many, opened doors that had heretofore been closed. Some of them had in fact been nailed shut. Perhaps this was the dread of former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum expressed in his campaign about higher education.
I found that these countervailing views that grabbed me at a young adult age seem to fit in areas that my traditional upbringing could not quite reconcile. Not everything I began to absorb satisfied a hidden hunger. In fact I found some objectionable, at first. But there was enough there that allowed me to see that perhaps I had in fact not been given all of the information that was out there to make an informed decision. Just coming to the realization that an open and honest debate on issues was an option was something of an awakening for me.
Deeply held views that demonized and rejected gays, held minorities and women to an inferior status and saw all other manifestations of religious faith as broken and even corrupt, began to fragment. As this became more unsettling to me, my parents and others would try to assure me that though some customs and tradional views they raised me with were not absolutes, I was not to concern myself with such doubts because the older notions had been around “forever”. Surely, they presumed, this must carry greater weight that time often honors. To think outside this preset mold I was warned was to invite Lucifer and Stalinists thoughts into that world that had been carved out for me.
It took about two-thirds of my life to finally accept that much of what I was taught as a child and young adult was subject to debate and some of it, not all, was unlikely to stand up to scrutiny. I had what I call “a road less traveled” epiphany. Rather than view this as a failure of family upbringing or a conspiracy of some sort, I found it beneficial to accept this as part of the maturation process in life. Those adolescent ideas and ideals that got me through my young life served a purpose that allowed me to focus on less complicated matters that tender young brains were better able to handle. The real failure I have discovered comes in believing too deeply that much of what we are taught are absolutes and are inflexible. It takes a certain amount of courage to step outside that box we have become too familiar with where pushing the envelope was often discouraged. The status quo was held up as my security blanket.
Think of the temper tantrum young children throw when their notion of getting a toy is altered because the condition of good behavior gone bad has effected this outcome (provided you have a parent willing to enforce discipline). Your world is momentarily shattered and you engage in a kicking, screaming fit to re-established that happier moment before Mom or Dad enforced the conditions that prevented you from getting what you wanted. Such behavior seems harmless at such an early age but when such mechanisms carry over to the adult world, especially regarding critical matters that will effect long term outcomes for ourselves and others, it can create some conflicts that lead to acts of aggression on local and even a global scale.
When immature christian thinking sees Islam as nothing more than an evil based upon their view of what is or isn’t a “true” religion, then the positive aspects of the Muslim faith are ignored and even twisted to suggest some hidden agenda exists with the consensus. When immature heterosexuals claim that the legality of marriage was only intended to be between a man and a woman, they ignore the vital element of relationships that strengthen self-esteem and make us productive members of society. When immature patriots think only older, narrowly defined traditions masked as “original intent” have greater value than those conditions that the social dynamics of today present us, they blind themselves to modern reality and pigeon-hole all cultures to fit out-dated concepts. All of these reactions limit the gifts and talents that others can bring to the table in making this a more just and free society.
By using the language and promoting the notions that had meaning for us as an adolescent and expecting it to always bear fruit as an adult is a trap that is easy to fall into. The failure to allow new and varied experiences to refine what was thought to be chipped in stone is a trait that will prevent the human race from advancing and sustaining a quality of life that ensures ours and the other species’ survival. Not all change is good and we need to move cautiously where angels dare to tread. But the converse is equally true and we need not be afraid of expanding views once deemed sacrosanct.
We need to take with us into the future those elements that have and will continue to serve us as the needs of a 21st century confront us. All others need to be either respectfully laid to rest or disposed of in the unceremonious manner that we take out the daily trash with.