Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should I Eat Pig Feet?

I wrote the other day about Perez Hilton and his questioning of Miss California.

I’m not sure I made my point as strongly as I would have liked. I wasn’t addressing the issue of same sex marriage; that is another topic for another day. I want to make sure that my thoughts are understood, because they regard what I think is currently an alarming trend in our society.

I see two issues here: the social requirements to maintain American democracy and the commitment that Christians have made to a faith that precedes and supersedes their national loyalty.

The second issue is what has always infuriated nations, kings, emperors and ideological narcissists against Jews. Jews are going to keep the Sabbath, refuse to eat shellfish, and circumcise their male children. The Jews that do not participate in these things practices nearly always begat children and grandchildren who no longer view themselves as Jews. Naturally then, the Jews who survive as Jews are the ones who “keep covenant for your children’s’ children and those who are afar off.”

Jews have often risen to the top of the social order in terms of advisory influence upon rulers and other cultural influencers. They have done this in Babylon, Egypt, Rome, England, and even the Soviet Union. They are smart. They give really good advice. So, they are useful.

However, there always comes a time when the Jew is asked to become a “real” part of the culture in which he resides. Joshua Wisenbaum gets invited to participate in some national religious ceremony or a ceremonially unclean social gathering. (Hey, come with us and eat some pork rinds with the boys. Afterward we’ll all bow to the statue of Bazabaheliah. Shucks, none of us believe that stuff either, Mr. Wizenbaum, we just do it to show our national pride! Come on; join us down at the temple. And why can’t you stop practicing that ancient barbaric ritual of cutting your little boys taliwhacker? Is doing that nasty piece of business really all that important? Isn’t it all just symbolic anyway?)

And so forth and so on.

They won’t do it. So they get disinvited to the culture.

Christians have faced this too. In ancient Rome, for example. In recent times, they faced it in the Soviet Union.

We have never faced this in the United States. The nation has resonated with some of the most cherished values of Christianity. This is because (as the Christian right continually points out) many of the colonies were established for religious reasons. However, there is another reason: the social contract implied by our founding documents and restated in our greatest speeches.

We form temporary alliances with people who have serious differences. Our economic system and political system has taught us to do this. We take for granted that you can make a business deal or broker a political agreement without agreeing in many other important ways.

Many societies have never learned to do this. It requires a system of habits called social graces and an attitude called civility.

The word “civility” is closely tied to the word “civilization.” A civilized people learn to treat another person with respect, even when in sharp disagreement if that person is an honorable man or woman.

A civilized man or woman does not purposefully expel gas in public, eat with his mouth open, or remind everyone at a party that the host’s father was a horse thief.

Civility means that we assume that a person’s political or religious views are honestly formed and sincerely healed. Once we have a relationship that allows a discussion on these topics, the assumption is that each person involved in the conversation is looking for truth. While the ideas under discussion are in mortal conflict, the conservationists are not.

Civility allows a Ronald Reagan and a Tip O’Neil to meet once a week for lunch. They respected one another as men – and as elected officials of a nation they both loved -- while maintaining sharp differences about what was right for the nation. They didn’t call one another names or call the patriotism of one another into question.

Christians should be civil, even with people whose ideas and ideas are deeply at odds with the gospel. This is not a compromise of the faith; indeed it affirms a central tenet of the faith: namely that all human beings bear the image and likeness of God. Our faith forbids us to humiliate others or to speak ill of our national leaders. We can disagree with them; we cannot rail against them or call them insulting names.

We remain civil in disagreement and treat even our enemies honorably.

But we do not bend. We do not bow. We do not conform.

The way Perez Hilton and Miss California have spoken of one another reveals this difference.

So far this has been true: one attacks; one remains civil. One speaks gently of her beliefs; the other demands compliance even of our private opinions.

What would a Jew do?

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