Two nations, under God, divisible

By Ashley P. White-Stern

I arrived back from Kent, Ohio in the wee hours of this morning, after two days of eleventh-hour activism to get out youth votes in an anti-Bush re-election effort. The six-hour drive gave me plenty of time to reflect on the vast number of Bush supporters—young ones—who I met on the Kent State campus. These were the white kids who tended to look at me askance when I passed by them, trying to place my mop of dreadlocks and narrowing their eyes at my “I’m voting Democrat” sticker. These were also the kids who tried to call the cops on us as we mobilized voters on campus. And the kids who had the bumper sticker on their cars that read: “Terrorists may be attacking America, but Liberals are destroying it.”

Around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, as I exited the Chicago skyway and entered the South Side, I wondered whether I hated the white, evangelical Christians who have so vociferously backed Bush in this election. Do I hate these white folks who oppose gay rights and the possibility of abortion? Not exactly. But do I fear them? Do I fear what their ideology will do to the fabric of the country, to international relations, and our world? Absolutely.

We live in a diverse but largely segregated country. As an African-American, Jewish, college-educated female, I am fairly sensitive to our social factions, and as I see it, I have plenty of reason to be wary of the white conservative Christian hold on electoral politics. Intellectually, of course, this ideology is offensively oppressive to me. The white, American, fundamentalist, Christian ideology as enacted by Bush pushes a nasty sort of machismo that forgives cavalier ignorance. This ideology forgives dumbed-down discourse about complex and unclear issues. This ideology forgives hastily made decisions if they appear to be uncompromising. It is a primitive ideology, one that more closely resembles its so-called terrorist enemy than the liberal ideology that endeavors to wrestle with difficult questions and talk through difference. “You’re either with us or you’re against us” is a part of the same structure that sees deliberation and discussion as weakness, rather than as an often-necessary first step in making strong, wise decisions.

Do I hate the white fundamentalist Christians? The folks who comprise 40 percent of Bush’s voting block? No, but how could I not shudder at those stereotypical Bush supporters? These are also the people who believe that the war in Iraq is a black and white issue; that the love between two members of the same sex is threatening to social order. In my world, both of these views are born of a delusional fear. It is a fear that cloaks itself in the necessity of maintenance of a God-sanctioned system, without the ability to look for truth in the world beyond the severely limited religious horizons.

In fact, only in this narrow religious framework do issues like abortion and same-sex marriage become moral issues. It is a choice to see abortion rights and gay rights as moral issues. There is nothing necessarily or predominantly moral about them. They can be seen just as easily as health or economic issues—in a sea of other health and economic issues. But the churches have taken hold of our human rights and decided to describe them to us. Perhaps the next job of the liberals is to take control of some of these apparently moral issues and recast them in other terms.

In the social circles where I run, the anti-Bush rancor runs deep. I wonder what will happen to this anger towards a president who has not yet been able to demonstrate competence with the delicate tools of diplomacy. Can the evangelicals and conservative Christians hold thoughtful discussions that embrace complex issues that lack clear moral resolutions? To them, their religion is the world. The problem is, the world is not their religion. I have a religion: it’s older than Christianity and I am proud of its heritage. When I die, I’m not going to a Christian heaven, but the only hell I may be bound to is the one that will take shape in this country once the new Supreme Court Justices are appointed. I don’t hate these white fundamental American Christians: I oppose them. Our country is divided, and we have a long fight ahead.