Monday, September 08, 2008

collective wisdom vs. t he local bully

Like many of us, I have experienced a real trauma over the past week regarding the Palin pick and the subsequent fright fest of the RNC. Perhaps the most morbid piece of political theater I have ever witnessed in my short 36 years. To say that Palin brings up all kinds of ghosts and shadows from my past is an understatement. The Bush years have taught me one thing, that I continue to have scars from my experience with an evangelical upbringing. If you grew up in a rural place - particularly in the South (and now the SWest) - then you know what I mean first hand, or at least second hand which is bad enough in itself. You are familiar with the local politics of the Sarah Palin's of the world. You've known them in your schools and most likely your church. They are the bullies that seek to overthrow the board of ed. and by extension your city council. They annex the bleachers at middle school and high school sporting events and make sure a kind of unspoken religious bigotry gets conflated into sports competition and adolescent class warfare in school hallways. They have a way of belittling kids that seem "unsaved" or "unchurched" in the proper way. They are your local bully and hypocrite where the only rule is double standards and a vehement hatred of accountability and the common good.

The great thing about this week has been finding some kindred spirits on this subject. The Mississippifarian who does a great service in not only cataloging all the Palin links you need to read but discusses some of the feelings I have expressed above.


The Sarah Palins I dealt with in my youth weren’t beauty queens. No, back in my day Catholics were still Catholics, and not converts to the pentecostal movement like Sarah Palin. Where I grew up Catholics tended to stay Catholic because of the profoundly anti-Catholic clique that ruled my world: my Lutheran church’s “100 widows.” With the exception of those elderly busybodies, my hometown was still pretty egalitarian.

But my church was the largest in town, so big we had to split into two softball teams (just like the Catholics). So large we made our own rules, which is why our ALC church sounded more like the Missouri Synod on most Sundays. Like any large group, there were differences of opinion among the parishioners. Some realized that in the ’60s the church needed to reach out to its young people, and our Sunday school classes (which didn’t end until you graduated from high school) started to become more “relevant.” (Younger readers should be advised that relevance was “the” buzzword of the late ’60s.)

Art and Char, two of our more liberal congregants, took responsibility for teaching World Religion to my just confirmed peers (we were mostly sophomores). It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken in my life. Art and Char didn’t teach us what was wrong with these religions, they taught us what these other people believed, and in so doing helped us to better understand how differently people think in other parts of the world. But the 100 Widows were not amused, and shut us down. Art and Char, as I recall, didn’t even get to finish out the school year. The next year we had to take a class from the leader of the 100 Widows, a well-intentioned older woman who, when challenged, would always say something to the effect of “the devil is here among us, prompting you to ask that question.” And that would be that. She single-handedly pushed most of us away from the church.

Myrtle (that was her name), taught me about power, and how a small group of like-minded individuals could take over a much larger organization like our 1,400-member church (that may not sound large now, but there were only 10,000 people living in the entire county). For me, it was all Mark Twain and atheism after a year of Myrtle. If she was right, then I wanted to go to hell.

Women (and men) like Myrtle were a necessary precursor to the Sarah Palin generation. I have no clue where the power lies in today’s churches, but then it was with the older women. Men didn’t live as long back then because contrary to whatever the liars tell you, hard work will kill you. That and men didn’t used to be quite so churched. I had to read history books to learn how godless the Old West was, but my Dad’s generation still knew families that were defiantly unchurched. By the time I came along it was safe to say that anyone who didn’t go to church didn’t advertise that fact. Not being churched was the next worst thing to being a Communist in my part of Iowa, and I think just about everywhere else in the Cold War U.S.A.

And so countless millions of young people like myself left rural America. Most of us had to because there were no jobs, but in fact it was mostly the “hippies” who left, and the conservatives who didn’t, or who came back after college. Small towns like the ones I grew up next to became more and more conservative, and the evangelicals started showing up in greater and greater numbers.

I think the change came about with Reagan in the early ’80s. Rural communities in the north finally began to see what the South had been living with for so long. Which church you belonged to again became a big deal. For a while, in the ’70s, the old divisions had started to fade away. The evangelicals put a stop to that.

It started with the school boards. The thumpers grabbed a couple of seats and suddenly all the usual crap started: Creationism, anti-evolution crackpottery, book banning, wog bashing, etc. And it wasn’t just old women anymore, these movements were led by male pastors and by working women who subordinated themselves to male leadership. They scared the shit out of my hometown and the majority eventually made it a point to vote in the school board elections so they could be rid of the yahoos.

But they came back. They allied themselves with the jock culture that sprang up with an Eastern German fanaticism in the wake of Reagan’s goalpost-worshipping America. Football was a better wedge issue than Jesus. I had a “braniac” nephew with a fast mouth who put up with a lot of bullying despite being on the football team. (My experiences were much the same but I’m glad to say the bullies didn’t scar my nephew anymore than they did me thanks to good parenting and the fact that our bullies weren’t total braindead steroidal psychopaths li


CAP said...

A sobering (but kind of amusing) summary of what has happened over the last 40 years or so, as Amerika has grown more polarised.

There is always a religious dimension to politics - and it could hardly be otherwise in a country founded by fundamentalists. And it seems that when push comes to shove, there is no separating some church from the state, contrary to what The Reformation may have insisted.

The final appeal is always to God (Our God)and those best placed get the power (of God).

It's ironic (and tragic) that for all Amerika's wealth and sophistication, at heart it regresses to a medievel absolutism and fanatic intolerance. It doesn't really want a President, it wants a King or Queen - blood and land, wealth and followers. It wants to be led from ABOVE, not to answer to those beneath.

The veneer of democracy only conceals as long as there are enough benefitting. That's not happening anymore.

highlowbetween said...

technically, private enterprise founded US - Jamestown....but I get your point. I guess we're becoming like Australia circa the '70's???? ;)

CAP said...

I wasn't in Australia for most of the 70s, but The CIA certainly made it's presence felt there. (there's this film - is it The Eagle and The Snowman, or something? Another sobering demonstration of Amerika's respect for freedom, democracy and the rights of other nations)

But constitutionally Australia belongs to a much later and very different political philosophy. It's federation and constitution were only realised in about 1910 - after about 30 years of haggling by 'the finest legal minds in Britain'. It is an intensely legalistic document, rather than a muddled declaration of enlightment principles.

So features like proportional representation, compulsory voting, free collective bargaining (Australia became the default bastion of radical British trade unionism toward the end of the 19th century, but this Presbyterian/Oxford 'Greenism' rather than Marxist variety - the 40 then 38-hour-week for tradesmen first legislated in Melbourne in the 1880s) and lastly an implicit alliance with the British Commonwealth and its nations. All these make it a puzzling, if not incomprehensible option to Amerikans.

From this point of view, I don't think there's much likelihood of the US becoming like Australia - anytime.

Australia's flirtation with fascism apparently came in the 30s (see D H Lawrence Kangaroo for a novel take on the inclination).

Amerika's implicit allegiance to authoritarianism only accelerates with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's the old, old story - power corrupts... and the absolute power the US then inherits, corrupts - absolutely!

That sums up Amerika really from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 but the long sad and disgraceful tale of manipulation and exploitation through Latin and South America, South East Asia and The Middle East - let's face it, everywhere! confirm that the one thing that Amerikans can never do, is stay at home. They have none. They never did. They never will.