With God on Our Side, Redux

 

This election night, as I watched MSNBC’s television coverage, followed a few liberals around battleground states on Twitter and read through an assortment of conservative blogs, I began to experience the equivalent of political vertigo.

As the evening progressed, two very different views of Barack Obama’s election began to emerge from the dizzying swirl of images.  One focused on the historic moment, not only celebrating a partisan victory and the election of our nation’s first Black President, but also reflecting on the journey of a nation that once accepted slavery as the norm.  In the opinion of others, Obama’s election betokened the erosion of traditional American values, the economic collapse of the United States, and perhaps the fall of Western Civilization itself at the hands of a nattily-dressed and smooth talking anti-Christ.

Several phrases I encountered last night distressed me.  One was that America is “getting what we deserve”.  It was meant to be a perjorative statement, implying that a misguided, stubborn, and possibly evil nation is being punished by God for our misdeeds and thoughts.  Quite apart from the question of whether God would punish an entire nation of Jobs for the political sins of a few, there’s a certain humor in the thought of Barack Obama as God’s chosen agent of destruction.  

But not everyone is amused.   Some express their frustration with the enormity of our problems and the rapidity of the changes overtaking our nation by saying, “This is not the America I grew up in”.   And they’re right.  It isn’t.  But our parents said the same thing, and their parents before them.  Society isn’t a museum but a living organism, constantly changing in response to the forces that ebb and flow around it.  Romanticizing the past is tempting, but re-creating the past is impossible.  Life moves forward, not back, and our destination is the future.

Different people envision different futures, of course.   In the heat of last night’s moment, someone said, “I  hope we can take back our country in the future”.  It may have been a throw-away line or a bit of political bravado, but I experienced a brief flash of anger at the words.

The last time I checked, this is my country, too, and I prefer no one take it from me - particularly on the basis of my political choices.  I was raised in this country’s heartland, and educated in its schools.  I’ve taught its children and watched over its babies.  I’ve traveled from its shores, and returned home to work in its hospitals, schools and churches.  I’ve invested in its companies, and run a business that has employed other Americans, paying them a living wage.

I’ve written to corporations and Congress, and I’ve marched in the streets.   I’ve picked cherries in New Mexico, harvested millet in Texas and detassled Iowa corn.  I’ve hiked America’s wilderness, and hung out in its bodegas.  I’ve worked the night shift in a nursing home and volunteered in soup kitchens.  I’ve voted Republican and I’ve voted Democrat, but I’ve always voted.   From my perspective, it’s one of the best ways to preserve our country and ensure that no one denies full participation in its life  – to anyone.

Despite my optimism, not everyone seems to believe our nation can be preserved.  Like a Greek chorus, the voices echoed through the election night coverage, a nervous counterpoint to the speeches and analysis: “The forces of godlessness have taken over.”  “God has abandoned America.”   “God has been expelled from our nation’s life.”  “God help us.”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the conviction that one group or another “possesses” God so clearly expressed.   It was chilling to encounter the clear assumption that no person of faith, Christian or otherwise, ever would have voted for Obama.  Obviously, I’d missed the memo telling me a vote for Barack Obama made me party to forces of godlessness, destruction and darkness.  In the midst of the evening’s celebration, despite my sense of hopeful anticipation and the wonderment of watching history being made, I felt stung.  Who were these people to doubt my love for my country or my desire to see her led responsibly?  What right did they have to declare me without faith, to question my interior life and dismiss my values?  Above all, I wondered, “Who are you, to claim God for your side, and your side alone?”

In the midst of my questions, time itself seemed to collapse.  I remembered other Democrats in Chicago, in 1968.  The VietNam war was raging, the nation had been ripped apart, and people were claiming to support policies of the Nixon administration “in the name of God”.   Some friends had gone to Canada, some already had died in Southeast Asia, and others were determined to put an end to policies they considered godless.  As both sides attempted to batter the other into submission in the name of God, or ideology, or imagined moral purity, it was Bob Dylan who finally gave voice to the anguish felt by so many.

With God on Our Side  may not be Dylan’s most memorable or popular song, but for many of us it perfectly captured the bitter realities of the VietNam era.  At the end of this Presidential campaign, “weary as Hell” seems a fitting phrase, worthy of the situation in which we find ourselves:

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God is on our side
He’ll stop the next war.

Several wars are consuming this country, and those in Iraq and Afghanistan are only the most obvious.  Last night, another war erupted into public view - the war between those who voted for a man they believe can bring needed and salutary change to this country and those who remain equally convinced that the slide to a godless, socialistic and morally bankrupt America is inevitable.

This is the first war that must be stopped, before issues of import to every American can be addressed. There should be no question that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans.  The fact that Blacks, Hispanics, gays, immigrants, the disabled, women, Native Americans, left-leaning academics, the homeless and even societal parasites are granted those rights may be distressing to some, but it is reality.  Democrats may hate the fact that conservative talk-show hosts and right-to-life advocates have those rights, but they do.  And no matter how much Republicans fuss and fume, environmentalists and conservationists have a right to oppose those advocating the rape of our world. 

No matter which side of this motley assortment of social, cultural and economic divides you find yourself on, today is a day to stop, and consider your own convictions as well as the new course our nation has set for itself.  No matter how vehemently we may deny it, each of us can be tempted to believe that God is on “our” side, ready to bless our cause and condemn to perdition those who disagree.  Bob Dylan understood that human desires will never set God’s agenda, and the activity of God in history sometimes is difficult to trace.  He understood, too, that those who “never ask questions, with God on their side” are condemned to exist without the answers that bring life, rather than death.

If you grew up with the song, remember it.  If you’ve never heard it, listen.  Consider the lyrics in the light of recent events, and remember this.  Those “others”, the people whose beliefs and values seem so foreign to you, those whose lives are lived so differently – they’re fellow citizens.  And Barack Obama - the purported elitist, socialistic, radical, left-leaning redistributor of wealth?  He’s your President, too, and he  just might have your well-being at heart. 

 

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Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 12:27 am  Comments (16)  
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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well said. Thank you.

    Nanette,

    Sometimes, it isn’t easy to be coherent about these things. But, I tried. It’s always a pleasure to know you’re skulking around, reading and thinking (and sometimes just poking fun!)

    Linda

  2. Linda,

    How eloquently you have written the thoughts I was having yesterday as I read through the posts left on WU.
    I had one thought going through my mind, “Only in America could emotions run so high as to turn politics into religion”.

    I was brought up in the 50′s when the politics of a very famous statesman, Winston Churchill were still fresh in everyone’s mind. He was known for his famous speeches and quotes, which were repeated to me on a regular basis by my Grandfather. (I think he knew most of them off by heart.) I decided there must be something he said that would be pertinent for this situation…. after all, nothing changes in this game of football we call life, the rules stay the same, just the team players change.

    “Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.”

    “If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another.”

    Just a few short months ago George Brown took over as the Prime Minister of this country. He was disliked. A dour Scot, a buffoon who lacked charisma. But how times change. Over the last few weeks his economic prowess has helped bring this country back from the edge of monetary self-destruction. His ratings are growing. He may not be liked, but he is respected. His dissenters having to bite their tongues, and acknowledge he is probably the “better man for the job”.

    Oh, dear, try as I might not to bring religion into this discussion there seems to be no getting away from it!

    … dissenter – (from the Latin dissentire, “to disagree”), labels one who dissents or disagrees in matters of opinion or belief, especially from an established church.

    Sandi

    Good evening, Sandi,

    I’m sure you’re “up the apples” by now, or nearly so. (I just learned recently that the expression is short for “apples and pears”, to rhyme with stairs, and that it dates at least to 1859 – Cockney rhyming slang, it is. I’m sure you’ve told that tale, but I missed it.)

    Your comment is full of rich fare. Two things especially cross my mind. One is that our American “cult of personality” has been our undoing more than a few times. When image is everything, there’s a lot of time spent in front of the mirror, fussing. For politicians, the mirror is the polls, and those who continually are adjusting their positions on the basis of what they see in that particular mirror are treading dangerous territory.

    It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a campaign where the difference between poll-watching and message-communicating were so clearly delineated. McCain ended by being called “erratic” because of his constant switching of positions and adoption of new proposals. Obama, who appears at least to have the virtue of speaking what he truly believes, seemed the more constant and steadier. I’m convinced those qualities helped elect him. Your George Brown may be benefiting that same preference for a solid footing.

    Your reference to Churchill’s sayings started me thinking – which U.S. leader, since JFK’s time, has been able to so engage the imagination of the public with words that his phrases became memorable? Martin Luther King, Jr.,of course, but as I try and remember others, I’m left with images of LBJ lifting his beagle by the ears, and Bush 41 jumping from an airplane. Hardly salutary.

    Many people have disparaged Barack Obama’s oratory, his facility with words and his ease with elegant turns of phrase. But it seems authentic, and if we discovered a Churchillian orator had taken over the White House, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

    As always, a pleasure.

    Linda

  3. One of our (Swedish) stand up comedians said that everybody in the world should have the right to vote for President of the USA since it affects everybody.

    From my Swedish point of view I have followed the news surrounding the election with great interest.

    News are supposed to be neutral. Yet I sensed a feeling that Barack Obama was the guy everybody (outside the USA) hoped for and McCaine stood for “the stupid American” – no offence.

    There are so much that differs in culture and attitude between different parts of the world. A Swedish politician never involves God if she/he wants to get somewhere. And you never find the masses in ecstasy as seen on TV from political meetings.

    There is so much I would like to understand.

    Hi, Desiree,

    I just thought about that world-wide vote for our President, and decided that if the whole world voted, we’d have the same result. That just proves your point – there was great support for Barack Obama around the world, and great enthusiasm for his election.

    No offense taken, as far as “stupid Americans” go. We don’t need stupid people leading our nations, and I’m afraid we’ve had a few years of leadership by folks who were, as we say, “in over their heads”.
    I honestly believe the selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate was a last nail in Senator McCain’s coffin, and stupidity was one of her hallmarks. When the Governor of Alaska is asked to name an important Supreme Court decision and she can’t seem to remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill case – well, I rest my case.

    I do suspect part of the reason for Swedish politicians’ reluctance to bring God into the discussion is that the church plays a much different role in Swedish society. If all the Swedes started beating a path to the church door twice a week and asking your officials about their faith, I’ll bet you might see a bit more God-talk from those seeking leadership positions!

    Thanks so much for your comments. It is just wonderful to hear the perspective of people around the world about events in my country.

    Linda

  4. Thank you for saying this. I stayed away from all of the blogs and talk shows yesterday, just reveling in the fact that for the first time in a long time I had hope for the future. I was energized by the commitment I saw in the next generation, encouraged by the stories of those voting for the first time. Hoping that the momentum would carry through the next two months.

    Growing up on the left coast makes me somewhat an anomaly, belief wise, here on the third coast, but it hasn’t changed my fundamental views, just reinforced them. Despite everything I am very proud of our country and the fact that in 200 years we have come this far. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Unlike other places in the world we can speak, talk, write, and yes
    sometimes yell angrily about our differing views. We can go into a polling place and pull a lever, touch a block on a screen, or mark a paper ballot and have our say. If enough people pull, touch, or mark the same way a change will or will not happen.

    To quote our President elect, and every one else who has said it for the past 232 years, “God Bless America”

    Barb,

    I didn’t realize until looking through some photo collections from the campaign that Obama’s youth is far more striking to me than his race. I’m quite tired of old men of both sexes and every age – and ready to move on into the future. Beyond that, I see in him an intellectual curiosity, a willingness to engage issues, that has been significantly lacking in our leadership. If he runs his White House like he’s run his campaign, many more people are going to be smiling in a few months.

    I’ve particularly enjoyed the response from abroad. The first newspaper I saw wasLe Monde , and the famous French cynicism was noticeably absent. Now, if we can just reduce the fear response in the American public, we’ll be headed in the right direction. Like you, I’m feeling hopeful, and blessed to be seeing this.

    Linda

  5. PS thanks for using Joanie.

    I spent years listening to Bob Dylan sing. Of course I used Joanie.

  6. In 1968, I wrote to the Federal Governmment and asked how I, as a 15 year old, I could make a change/difference in this country. They wrote back…and I ended up as a volunteer in the South Miami Head Start program…my first “job”. Summer of ’68. As I walked the 3 year olds to the nearby park, I was shot at, hit the stop sign above my head, just BB gun, Im sure. Scared me, but I went back the next day and everyday after that summer…

    God Bless America and it’s infinate opportunity. Dreams do come true if you dare to dream.

    Good morning, Oshnblu,

    There was a lot of violence in ’68, and a good bit of it was meant to scare people away – away from the streets, away from confronting power, away from their own convictions. When someone takes a potshot, going back despite the fear is the essence of courage – even for a 15 year old.

    It’s a great story, and an even better reminder of the power of “keepin’ on”. Many thanks for dropping by, and thanks especially for the comment.

    Linda

  7. Well said Linda….not sure I could contribute anything else worthy enough. I do remember the song though. In the end we all had our ‘own’ candidate, but now we all have a (with an emphasis) president. Time to get behind him and work to bring this country back.

    Karen,

    It’s going to take work, but it can be done. Only time will tell whether the country as a whole is willing to give up contentiousness in favor of cooperation. We’ll see.

    As always, a delight to have you stop by, especially since I know how full your days are!

    Linda

  8. It’s still sinking in that we did it on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I still see the sort of doomsday postings you’ve written about so eloquently. Fear and loathing is alive and well, sad to say, and willful ignorance is here to stay. But so is change!

    Hi, ella,

    Yes, and unfortunately it isn’t a Hunter S. Thompson-like fear and loathing, which at least has moments of delicious absurdity to recommend it. It isn’t even a thoughtful fear and loathing in many cases, but a simple parroting of the screeds flowing through the airways these days.

    I can’t prove it, but I have a sense that in the end, many people simply said, “Enough”, and voted for an end to vitriol. In any event, I prefer policy discussions and pragmatism to personal attacks, and we may be headed in the right direction in that regard.

    It’s always a pleasure to have you drop by – and Juan should be proud of that chicken of his!

    Linda

  9. [...] to read the perspectives of folks all over. But let me point you to one post in particular: “With God on Our Side, Redux.” The title refers to a little-known Bob Dylan tune, a performance of which, by Joan Baez, [...]

    Vivian,

    My gracious. I’m honored to have you link to my piece. Thank you for that, and thank you again for a blog that’s teaching me about blogging and politics in nearly equal amounts!

    Linda

  10. Am just now getting caught up with my online reading, after being AWOL most of this past week.

    Can’t add anything, except to repeat, “Well said.” And hope that more folks would take the time to read this.

    No matter who you voted for in the national election, we have a new president. If you’re still not happy, there’s always the next election. That’s an option we in America have, unlike many other countries. Be thankful for that option and count the other blessings of living here.

    Keep in mind, too, that it’s not necessarily the man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office that we should respect and support, it’s the office, itself.

    Bug,

    Good to see you up and taking nourishment. It’s always a pleasure to know you’re reading, and thank you for your comments.

    I’ve lived through a Third World election, and the experience was instructive. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that, even when we have problems with our system, the system itself remains intact. If reforms or revisions are needed, they can be accomplished. In the meantime, our right to vote remains, one of our most critical freedoms.

    And, as you so rightly point out, it is the Office of the Presidency – as well as the Legislative and Judicial branches of government – which need to be respected and protected. Like any structure, if they’re solid and cared for, they’ll be strong enough to withstand some storms.

    Linda

  11. Hi Linda,
    Your post was thought provoking and well thought out. Thank you.

    As a political conservative, I did not vote for President Elect Obama. On the other hand, I was not thrilled with John McCain, nor his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. So, the election did not go my way. The people have spoken, and that’s the beauty of our system.

    However,it does concern me when any candidate stands in favor of abortion, gay marriage, etc. Issues such as these are moral issues to which I apply a moral absolute. I do not hate other people who are in favor of these things or practice these things. I am no better than they are. I simply must stand up for what I believe to be right, and sometimes that influences my political opinion. I fully understand that there are those who disagree with me. And that too, is the beauty of our system.

    As a Christian, I am certainly not engaging in any hand wringing. I will pray for my new president and support him the best I can. We do not live under a theocracy in the U.S., and thank God for that! God is not a Republican. And, the last time I checked, He is still Sovereign.

    Thanks again, Linda. I do not mean to be polemic in my response. I believe that it is a good thing to have a conversation and try to approach these things with a grain of understanding and calm logic lest we render our point of view in vain.

    Hi, tee,

    Nearly every time I vote, my ballot looks like a patchwork quilt. I’ve never voted a straight ticket in my life, and part of the reason is that I also have issues that are important to me. I try, as best I can, to evaluate the candidates on their positions and persona rather than party identification, and I’m happiest when I find a candidate who comes close to representing my views.

    It can be difficult. Sometimes, a candidate is completely at odds with something I hold dear, and then that single issue has to be balanced against the totality of a candidate’s positions. Sorting through the accusations and foolishness only makes it more difficult. There was a brief time during this campaign when I was wandering around muttering, “Where is Harold Stassen when you need him?” Eventually, I sorted things out and voted for President-Elect Obama.

    I don’t think Barack Obama is the Messiah, but neither do I consider him the Devil. For that matter, John McCain doesn’t fit in either of those categories, either. One of the difficulties of political discourse in this country is that we tend to demonize or deify our candidates. If I have any hope for the coming years, it is that we can move beyond that to the same degree that we seem to have moved as a nation beyond race, and begin to work together as human beings to solve some very, very difficult problems.

    It’s always a pleasure to have you stop by and express your opinions. Besides, I’ve seen polemical – and you’re not it! Enjoy the day.

    Linda

  12. This is a fabulous and most unbelievable post as you got so very much in there in such a logical fashion! Boy, do I admire that writing skill. Yes, it’s not the world I grew up in. (And that’s a bad thing? Maybe sometimes, but it is what it is.)

    And the part about claiming God — exactly. That so gets to me. My God is out there for everyone, no matter what they do, say, believe. And he’s in there in me, too. And you and everyone else. And to have him claimed by those who sometimes seem so narrow confounds me. But I digress… splendid post.

    Jeanie,

    Oh, my. Thank you for the kind words, and especially for the comment re: structure. I posted an entry some weeks ago called “Purity of Prose is to Write One Thing”. Sometimes I have a little trouble keeping to my own rule. I started here by considering only the issue of “claiming God”, but when I redefined the “one thing” as response to the election, I could tuck in a few more thoughts.

    That kind of decision demands editing, that’s for sure! Thanks again for stopping by. I appreciate it very much.

    Linda

  13. Linda,

    Excellent. Fear mongers will continue to exist. For many, there is always a ‘they’ to blame. Even after choosing sides, and being chosen by a particular side, some will complain about the player choices.

    Evening, Daniel,

    Exactly. And there are days when I can’t find an inch of daylight between those who say, “You NEED this can opener (computer program, cell phone, floor mop, paper shredder) and those who say “You NEED to be afraid of this person (group, program, nation, world view). Each has something to sell, and each is hoping we’ll buy.

    Personally, I’m not buying.

    Linda

  14. If only B.O were republican, then if only the reps would espouse some dem social policies. I wrote a haiku on election night.
    *
    chessboard turns around
    same rules apply
    different viewpoint

    Hi, Gentledove!

    Terrific! I just printed it out so I could tote it around with me and ponder it for a while. I think it manages to get at an important truth without being cynical. That’s a tough one to pull off!

    I’m working out of town and eager to be home – Monday is the day I’ll get there. I miss my desk, my cat, my own monitor and coffee pot! Are you like that – liking your writing routine and etc?

    Thanks much for the haiku. I like it.

    Linda

  15. Linda, I expect racism will dissipate over another few generations, the minority of die hards who will be left will soon feel too odd to speak with any conviction. I saw it on the faces of so many young people as I watched the coverage of the election, and I sense it now from your voice of wisdom.

  16. Linda, this is probably a dead issue now but I have just a couple of thoughts.

    There is a very real threat, and I hate to offend anyone here by using this concept, but here it is…reality. We have an enemy. And this enemy is truly the one which believes God is on their side. And this enemy is truly the one that women, gays, and societal parasites should fear. I refer to the death culture of Islamic fundamentalism. Not all Muslims. But the radicals. No amount of smooth oratory will appease these folks. They want back their ancient homelands and they want Infidels-that’s you and me-dead-period.

    Many, many people who were once, “Imagine-It’s easy if you try”, liberals now have adopted many conservative values. Namely, keeping a reign on how much of our lives are taken over by big government, (we too didn’t trust the government back in the day and we sure don’t now) a strong national defense, personal responsibility and Capitalism as the surest way to raise living standards, etc. I could go on.

    However, conservatives will pray for Obama. Pray that we are wrong about him, and that his governance will be good for the U.S. and the world. Unlike the embarrassing, juvenile, and vile antics of the left the past eight years.

    adagny,

    With time to take a breath now between Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, I have just a thought or two about your comments.

    To designate a specific group as “the one” group which believes God to be on their side is to ignore another reality: that such belief can be found across human society. Conservatives and liberals, Christians and Muslims, gays and straights, anti-abortionists and pro-choice advocates – all have proponents who are more than ready to consign opponents to perdition because of their certainty of divine favor.

    It is a fact that individual Muslims and factions within Muslim societies are willing to chant “Death to the Infidel” at a moments notice. It is also a fact that in this country and abroad, there are Muslims who are religously observant, deeply loving and open to encounters with other cultures. I have been in their homes, eaten meals with them, transacted business and traveled with them without a moment of fear. Just as the four-car pileup always makes the news while the normal commute does not, the suicide bomber beats the placid neighborhood every time. It’s the nature of the business.

    Finally, I hope that everyone in the nation who is prayerful does remember President-elect Obama and the new government, just as I hope those who live less religious lives will set aside suspicion, hyper-partisanship and cynicism in order to join in righting so many wrongs that afflict this country. We don’t need more finger-pointing, we need some hands that are willing to do some work.

    In any event, thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it, and invite you to continue reading and commenting.

    Linda


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