In a comment on my previous post, Barbara said (among other things): “I, too, am dismayed at the outpouring of vitriolic messages from the right. To me those messages speak of a deep seated fear. A fear of living life as it comes; a fear of their neighbor (in the widest sense of the word); a fear of their faith being challenged. A question for you: What are your thoughts on this fear being racist based?”
Barbara:Thanks. I always appreciate hearing from my (and Uni’s) long-time friend. I recognize that you have “had some practice” in facing whatever life sends your way. And I believe that practice has given you some discernment.
I totally agree with your summation of fears quoted above. I’ve heard these fears expressed in many ways: through conversation, through reading, through listening to commentary on radio and TV (though I can’t take much of that at one time). And I believe that all of these fears are, as you seem to imply, facets of the one deep-seated fear, “A fear of living life as it comes.” So here are some of my thoughts.
Life has been coming at all of us pretty fast. Most older Americans, I suspect are going through what Alvin Toffler wrote about decades ago when he coined the term “Future Shock” – a continual state of culture shock, due to constant change in our environment, whether it is in the areas of technology or other aspects of our culture. Change seems to occur more rapidly than we are able to assimilate it.
Most of the people I rub shoulders with – my neighbors, family, and fellow church people – look, behave and even think a lot like me. We’re all part of the largest sub-culture in America and in Oklahoma where I live, we’re the majority. We’re white, “Christian,” middle-class, hard-working and patriotic and we’re afraid because we see that our group is rapidly shrinking in relationship to other groups. And so we’re afraid of losing control.
Please note: I write the following as a member of a group. When I say “we,” I am trying to speak as one of the members of this group would, even though in much of my thinking I have separated myself from them. And of course, I am speaking in generalities.
There are two broad areas of change that I believe have drawn the greatest negative reactions and have moved many of my contemporaries radically to the right. Of course, these changes and the fears they engender overlap. One of these two is the vast change in the religious makeup and thinking of our country.
Barbara spoke of the “fear of their faith being challenged.” I hear this all the time. “The trouble with America is that we’ve forgotten God” or “we’ve lost our Christian heritage” or “This all started when we eliminated prayer in school,” etc., etc.
This fear is fed by a number of sources. One is the threat of science. Many of the current scientific theories call into question our religious theories and biblical interpretations. Instead of recognizing that all truth is God’s truth and attempting to understand and reconcile truths, we have declared war on science (even though we describe this war as science’s war on religion).
Another feeding source for this fear is what is perceived as “revisionist history.” Historians, both popular and scholarly are calling into question our mythology about “Christian America.”
Another perceived threat to our faith is the huge influx of immigrants who don’t worship as we do. Our new neighbors may not be “Christians.” They may be Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or something else. They have different religious symbols and wear different garb. And even some of those who are Christians, don’t worship God in the same way that we do. (Isn’t it great that God brought the mission field to our own country? Now we don’t have to go abroad to do “The Great Commission” – Uni)
And, of course, these new neighbors don’t look like us, which brings up Barbara’s question about my “thoughts on this fear being racist based.” Yes! This I believe is the second area of change that threatens.
Whites (males) have always been the dominant group in our country. They were our Founding Fathers. They wrote our great documents and fought our early wars. While there were those in America of other races, they “knew their place.” It mattered not that some were in this land before we were and others were here because we brought them here to serve us; we were still “top dogs.”
But now things are different. This past year there were more non-white babies born in the United States than white, for the first time since white people took over. The majority of immigrants (documented or undocumented) is non-white. In many of our major cities whites are a minority and it is projected that by mid-century, if not sooner, whites will be a minority in the entire U.S. It doesn’t require a great knowledge of math to understand that one day we will no longer be the ones in charge.
And now we have an African American president! I recognize that not all opposition to him is race-based, but I know that racial fears have much to do with the downright hatred expressed toward Barack Obama.
The racism sometimes slips out in some of the rantings against him. The ideas that he was not born in the USA or that he is a “secret Muslim” are not simply the contentions of a few kooks like Donald Trump, they are actually held by many ordinary people. The accusation by the Republican presidential contender that more people are now on food stamps is not simply a statement about the economy, it is a subtle implication that the President is doling out our tax money to his lazy Black friends.
And, of course, there are the facts that white-supremacist hate groups have multiplied dramatically in our country since President Obama was elected and that gun sales have increased dramatically. My acquaintances on the right would, of course, sincerely and honestly deny any connection with the extreme edges of right-thinking, but at the same time little is spoken of this evil. Muslim terrorists are feared and hated, but “Christian” terrorists are ignored.
Again, please note that I am speaking in generalities. I am not speaking of particular individuals. I recognize that there are many sincere Christians who are Republicans by conviction. I am not accusing them of sinning. But I am asking that they recognize what is happening in our country.
And I must confess that I too have fears. I fear for my country. I fear that the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow and that the economics being advocated on the right will contribute to that growing gap.
I fear the racism that lies beneath the surface which rears its ugly head too often.
And I especially fear for the church. As great portions of the church become associated with right-wing politics our witness to the gospel of Christ becomes more and more compromised.
I recommend “Racial Politics” by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, 11/2012.