February 6, 2008

Conform to Christianity or Else

United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., east ...
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., east front elevation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anyone who has successfully navigated their own adolescence has some understanding of peer pressure and related phenomena which compel many youth to try to fit in with the crowd. In adulthood, the pressures change a bit, but many people continue to experience them to some degree, especially in the workplace. So it should come as little surprise that our elected officials are not immune to the demands of conformity. What may be surprising is the degree to which these pressures influence their decision-making.

Sally Quinn's article in the Washington Post appeared back in December and has been in my queue of to-blog material ever since. Sally opens by describing some disturbing childhood recollections involving a "born again" teacher who took advantage of childhood pressures to conform and fear of punishment to push her beliefs on his pupils.
As a child, I went to a small school in rural Alabama near an Army post where my father was stationed. It was a very Christian town, and our teacher was "born again."

This was decades ago, but I remember clearly how she used to tell us that we must accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Then she would ask for hands to see who had. By age 11 I had become a nonbeliever. My father was in the Army and had fought in World War II and Korea; I concluded quickly that no loving God could have allowed those atrocities to be committed.

But we had all seen our teacher, when crossed, call an unlucky member of our class up to the front of the room, make the student lie down on her desk and be paddled. The humiliation was worse than the pain. So, when she called on us to admit that we had accepted Jesus as our savior, I dutifully raised my hand.
The anguish of being expected to accept a set of beliefs we know to be false is something with which many of us can relate, even if we never personally experienced something quite as horrific as what Sally endured. And yet, I was still caught off guard by where Sally headed next: H.Res. 847.
Among those voting for the resolution was a Jewish member of Congress who has asked me not to print his name. He was outraged and appalled by the bill, he told me. But he was also afraid. He thought it would hurt him with his mostly Christian constituency if he voted against it. He told some of his colleagues about his anguish. They advised him not to be stupid. It would be better for him politically if he voted for it.
I do not envy this individual, and yet, I find myself wishing that more had been able to stand against this absurd resolution. I understand the pressure. Standing up for reason here may well have cost this individual his job. In fact, I think we can assume that it almost certainly would have. And yet, we need our elected officials to be able to stand up for what is right and to make tough decisions.

I agree completely with Sally's outrage that something like this could happen in present day America. This resolution had no "teeth" and was one of many symbolic gestures Congress passes. Still, Sally's words ring true:
This resolution was as anti-American as anything Congress has ever passed. It disenfranchised and marginalized millions and millions of men and women, reducing them to second-class citizens.