The past week of newspaper reading and NPR listening has offered me a window into two new and forming cultural paradigms: one on politics and race, and the other on religious tolerance.
1st Window: According to the New York Times, “Newt Gingrich has suggested that Tea Party advocates and the N.A.A.C.P. hold joint meetings.” What??? Now I’m all for getting people to talk civilly to one another and his plan to focus on an economic agenda and “bring all Americans together” has merit, but as the article goes on to say, “…by ‘all Americans’ he means predominantly those who are old enough to remember when cigarettes were harmless and Strom Thurmond was a Democrat.”
I am, truth be told, old enough to remember both of those. Those were the years when I joined the newly burgeoning feminist movement, glorious memories. But I also remember the ugliness of fire hoses turned on civil rights demonstrators; and I remember the night I participated in a non-violent protest against the Viet Nam war and barely avoided clubbing by a policemen. My memories and experiences of those days are very different from most who have joined the Tea Party movement. They are, I suspect, the very people who opposed the civil disobedience in which I was involved.
Which leads to the cultural paradigm change: a generational divide also marks this time just as it marked the years when I was a young woman in my 20s. The ones who are angry during this time of change were, for the most part, also in their 20s, then. The 20 year olds today, the Millennials, who will grow and change, and even in some cases become more conservative in their thinking, will not go back to the thinking of post WWII.
The article goes on to say, “According to the Pew Research Center in June, 34 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 – and 29 percent of voters 65 and older – say they agree with the movement’s philosophy: among Americans 49 and younger, that percentage drops precipitously.”
Which tells me there’s still a good percentage of people my age who did as I did: we grew and changed and developed from the thoughts and experiences of the 60s. And as we grew and changed, many of us became more pragmatic and willing to make changes one step at a time, one person at a time. Many of us exchanged beads for suits. The young people today are the leaders of a different kind of revolution, one that is more balanced than their elders. Ergo, the photo above of a young man named Lee Tockar, who, while I don’t know him, looks very much like many of my young college students.
The majority of those in the Tea Party do not have the luxury of years to grow from these days, their time of civil disobedience.
2nd Window: Yesterday in the car, I listened to NPR as I often do while in the car. I heard Terry Gross, on “Fresh Air” interviewing Richard Cizik, a leader in The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. For many years he was the vice-president for governmental affairs in the National Association of Evangelicals. He was fired in 2008 for saying, on an earlier Fresh Air, that he supported civil unions for gay couples.
As I listened, I found him to be a compelling speaker as he detailed how the Religious Right, which included many prominent Evangelicals, had become so enmeshed in the politics of the Republican Party’s “moral majority” ideas that they lost track of the message of Jesus. The New Evangelicals, for example, believe in social justice, oppose the Arizona anti-immigration law, confront Glenn Beck’s stand as pouring “contempt on a central concern of God…,” and promote Muslim Christian dialogue.
I found further evidence for this change in Evangelicals from a Frank Rich column in Sunday’s NT Times, titled “The Good News About Mel Gibson,” (love Rich’s play on “The Good News”) and detailing Gibson’s fall from grace, as it were. As recently as 2004, Gibson’s film, “The Passion,” was hailed as revelatory.
Frank Rich writes, “During the ‘Passion Wars’ [the president of the National Association of Evangelicals] tried to blackmail Gibson’s critics by publicly noting …that Jewish leaders would be ‘shortsighted’ to ‘risk alienating two billion Christians over a movie. That Evangelical leader was Ted Haggard…since brought down by a male prostitute.”
Since then, Jerry Falwell has died and James Dobson has retired. “What remains of that old guard is stigmatized by its identification with poisonous crusades…”
Frank Rich ends this column by saying, “The death throes of Mel Gibson’s career feel less like another Hollywood scandal than the last gasps of an American era.”
Revolution is, indeed, in the air. And while I know the pendulum swings back and forth in our not-very-old-culture, I am also grateful to have lived long enough to see some of the values for which I participated in civil disobedience coming to become the norm: social justice for women and for men and for children; a willingness to bridge racial divides; tolerance and non-judgment.
That doesn’t mean we live in a perfect world. It does mean we are evolving. Many years ago when I was reading almost everything George Bernard Shaw wrote, I came across one of his thoughts that struck me as portentous – it may have been in his play, “Methuselah.” And he said (paraphrasing) that the next human evolution will be an evolution of consciousness. I see that evolution today.
Evolution doesn’t go backwards.