A wide spot in my imagination.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The American Way?

Yesterday, the newspaper here in River City published a Letter to the Editor that was written in response to an earlier letter. I missed the first letter, but yesterday’s follow-up was a doozy. Almost every sentence is wrong, simplistic, or wildly biased. The letter writer was a fellow from a town north of here a few miles. The paper captioned his letter, “Gay is not the American way.”

Let me offer some feedback to that letter.

First, the letter writer says, “Our forefathers did come to America to avoid religious persecution, but not to avoid religion.” True, some came to avoid persecution. Others, it seems, may have come just to avoid religion. In a 2006 “Wall Street Journal” article entitled, “Sunday,” Craig Harline says that “at the founding of the Republic, not even two in ten American belonged to churches.”

The letter writer next wrote, “Look closely and you will find God mentioned in every document this country was founded on.” Not exactly true. The United States Constitution does not mention God. (However, the Liberian Constitution of 1984 mentioned God in the very first sentence. That was written right before they began to hack each other to bits in a brutal civil war.)

The letter writer went on to say, “The basic premise that marriage is a union between a man and woman was first given to us in God’s word." God’s word is heard in many ways: in Quaker silence, in hymns and songs, in religious traditions. I’m guessing the letter writer meant the scriptures Bible of the Jewish and Christian traditions. And true, marriage is mentioned in the Bible. But marriage seems to pre-date the written scriptures. The Code of Hammurabi mentioned marriage when it was written about 1790 BCE. Even the most conservative Bible scholars would say the first Jewish scriptures weren’t written until 300 years after that. Many biblical historians date the Bible as much younger. So, marriage was around before the Bible.

And, even if we assume the letter writer’s argument that “straight” marriage is the only way to go because it’s in the Bible, we have to be honest: Polygamy and concubinage are in the Bible as well, along with orders to stone children, not eat shrimp, and give all your money away. The Bible is a complicated, remarkable book. Doing something because “it’s in the Bible” can create a big mess.

Then, the letter writer leaves the Bible and goes back to our national documents. He says, “All of our founding documents were written with God and his moral teachings in mind.” This sentence makes me wonder: How, exactly, does this fellow in Texas in 2010 know what the writers had in mind as they wrote in the 1770s? Again, the Constitution does not mention God. Sure, the writers could have had God in mind, or they could have been thinking about English common, the Code of Hammurabi or pumpkin pie for all I know.

Then, referring either to the Bible or to our national documents (his antecedent is somewhat unclear) Mr. Lambert wrote, “These teachings held no place for same-sex marriage.” He’s probably right. Same-sex marriage seems not to have been on the radar of the psalmists, the Apostle Paul or James Madison. But they “held no place” for football, air conditioning, or televisions either.

The writer then says we should toss gay marriage: “It is the American way.” Again, his unclear antecedent makes you think he might be saying gay marriage is “the American way.” But I think he actually means tossing it is “the American way.” He’s entitled to his opinion, and he’s entitled to speak it and to write it to the newspaper. But claiming something is “the American way” is tricky. Slavery was once “the American way.” Not letting women vote was once “the American way.” Locking up citizens with Japanese and German ancestry was once “the American way.” Not having child labor laws was once “the American way.” “The American way” seems to be ever-changing.

Seems to me that respect is a more needed American way. Respect for the facts, respect for changing customs, respect for all God’s children. And more than “the American way,” that should be “the human way.”

1 comment:

  1. Tim, have you ever thought of turning this line of thinking into a book entitled, "The American Way?" You could address a multitude of things that folks like to classify as wholly "American" and cover some terrific ideas like these.