Friday, April 11, 2008

exaggeration: listening to barack and hillary, anticipating forth worth

I have come to believe that politics is inherently hyperbolic, which is to say, political rhetoric is driven by the exaggeration. For example, Elton John laments that America is misogynistic for its lack of support for Hilary Clinton's candidacy for the presidency. I would let this pass, but it is a comment I have heard in at least one other setting, from a person I respect. Yes, there are misogynistic people in the world (the abuses presently taking place in a religious compound in Texas and in the Congo being two vivid and horrifying examples). But it is possible that many people are not voting for Hillary, not because they are misogynistic, but because they do not wish to see her in the office of the president. The reasons might be her unwillingness to admit her mistake in voting to go to war, or her lack of preparatory study in making that decision, documented by the New York Times, or her stance on a particular issue. In the same way, one could withhold support for Barack Obama and not be racist. Racism is without a doubt a part of my heritage and educational experience. I happen to like Barack Obama, alot. But, that does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that I am not a racist. And, as for John McCain, I have long appreciated his principled stands in opposition to torture, in defiance of the White House and the Pentagon, and have sensed a moral authority in his stances that transcend political partisanship. Yet the campaign will surely place him in a box, the right wing alternative to the left-wing choice, whoever he or she turns out to be.

And so the exaggerations about policies and personalities become, over time, a bit absurd, for the benefit of our simplifying it all: one party is good, the other is bad, one person is racist, the other is not, one is misogynistic, the other is not. This all, of course, bleeds over into the church, and especially as we ramp up for General Conference in Fort Worth. One group does spiritual violence to gays, another group adopts a pagan perspective that marriage between a man and a woman should not be normative. The general agencies are disconnected from the realities of ordinary Christians who occupy the pews and fund the denomination, the local church is narrow-minded and parochial...I am only reporting the extreme perspectives, as they are often communicated, and of course the rhetoric serves the political gain of the group that seeks to gain visibility and market share in a slowly shrinking body.

Exagerration is, of course, our default culture, and the media (secular or ecclesial) is not inclined, by temperament or training, to find another path through it all, another perspective. It is not, finally rooted in the question "why can't we all just get along", meaning, the realities are at the polar extremes; those in the middle are in some sort of denial, having retreated to the role of pacifier. My hunch is that the reality is not primarily at the extremes, but this language shapes or structures our reality, and not, in my mind, to the good. If this were not so, if our speech were more truthful, if our judgments more measured, we might have a government that actually focused on the needs of people---an end to the war, a response to escalating energy and transportation costs, access to health care---and a church that re-focused on its mission--to make disciples, for the transformation of the world.


Blogger David said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:35 AM  
Blogger David said...

Great post, Ken, especially as we head toward General Conference. See you there.

David (first comment had typos, sorry)

10:38 AM  

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