Posts Tagged ‘America’

America, land that I love

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

A few people have asked me recently why I love America and why I want to live there – given that I have (several) other choices. It’s a good question, and recent events such as those unfolding in Ferguson give it more weight.

Fundamentally, I believe that despite the problems, the basis on which the country is formed – a secular constitution with a legally binding commitment to equality and freedom – is a good one. That it doesn’t work in practice, or that there are many clear problems caused by the failure to actually apply that equality to all, simply makes me wish to be a part of changing that.

There are those who say they want to “take back America”, and sadly they tend to twist the meaning to be “take it back to the 1950’s where everyone knew their place and good men where white and women cooked and cleaned” (I’m paraphrasing).

But the real America has never been lost – they would not be taking anything back, they would be stealing it. Stealing it from those who fought so hard for civil rights. Stealing it from the LGBT communities who have fought for the justice the constitution promises them. Stealing it from those, like me, who have come for the economic or employment opportunities, made their homes, raised their families and paid their taxes here.

The real America is sometimes obscured by the fog of political partisanship and the failure of the media to do its job of objectively reporting news. It is obscured by greed, and big money, and by those who would wish to control the bodies of liberated women. It is stained by poverty, a failing educational system and a systemic disdain for science and reason. It has been clouded by the injustices that indeed are often too real and continue to affect the daily lives of black, latino and LGBT youth. It is scarred by racism, religious zealotry and xenophobia. It is obscured right now by tear gas and burning buildings in Ferguson.

And yet, the real America persists, and it drives forward. It is revealed in the solidarity shown to those in Ferguson in cities across the country. It is revealed in the Pride marches that every year grow and gain wider acceptance. It is revealed in the votes against punitive sentencing for minor drug offenses. It is revealed most of all in the lives of ordinary Americans who care for our homeless and our downtrodden, despite the barriers that society presents.

A year ago, I could never have believed that more than 30 states would have marriage equality, with more likely to follow soon. I would not have dreamed that California would start the slow process towards ending the hopeless and utterly destructive “war on drugs”. The American dream is tarnished but it still exists, and I am still dreaming it, despite the efforts of some to turn it into the American nightmare. It’s a country I love deeply, with an ideal of a classless meritocratic society based on secular ideals of equality, liberty and justice for ALL.

The words of the Reverend Martin Luther King are still absolutely relevant today, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”” Dr King died in the pursuit of that dream, but he was not, and is not alone, and there are some dreams worth dying for.

America can’t be taken back, only held back.

Sometimes change is just not fast enough

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Today brings the terribly sad news that, once again, a teenager has taken his own life because of bullying about his sexuality.

http://www.shewired.com/soapbox/2011/10/17/gay-teen-jamie-hubley-commits-suicide

So much has changed in the last 50 years or so; we’ve moved (here in America at least) from a country where slavery was legal and black people were considered sub-human, to a better world where slavery is a receding memory and we can have an African American (in the truest sense of that descriptor) president. That is not to deny that, sadly, racism is still found in some measure.

However, we still have so far to go as a society (globally) in our acceptance of diversity. We need teachers and schools to adopt a positive attitude towards LGBT individuals, and to help them support such young people as Jamie (whose lives are hard enough just with going through their teens). We need to be tougher on bullies, and we need to teach more positively around homosexuality.

But, school reflects society as a whole. Children have all the biases of their parents, in concentrated and unfiltered quantity. Therefore, a big part of the change that is needed is going to have to be the decline of traditional religious attitudes towards homosexuality. Teachers can only do so much, but much more needs to be done in churches, synagogues and mosques around the country (and world), to help to build a more tolerant and accepting environment. Parents need to teach their children that slurs like ‘faggot’ are simply unacceptable, no matter their private beliefs about the subject. Surely if you truly believe in ‘god’s love’ you should teach your children to love others without judgement – lest you be judged yourself?

Of course, I’d rather that nobody felt the need to cling to any religious dogma at all; particularly where it impinges on the freedoms and safety of others; but recognizing that many people of belief are essentially good, and sincerely believe while wishing no ill to others, I have to accept that change will be slow, and that perhaps it can only come from within the belief systems themselves. Most ‘true believers’ will not accept the pleas of an atheist, but perhaps if their pastors/rabbis/imams and other leaders begin to teach a more welcoming religion, one tolerant of the natural diversity in our society, then perhaps there will be hope that we won’t have to see another Jamie.

My sincerest condolences to Jamies friends and family, he was a truly brave young man.

Penn Jillette

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Penn & Teller are my favourite magicians. I love many magicians, especially Derren Brown (ok, so he’s more of a mentalist, but whatever), Lennart Green, Jerry Sadowitz and Paul Daniels, but Penn & Teller are my absolute favourite. I’ve seen their show in Vegas live more times than I care to mention and I’ve watched almost everything they’ve ever done on TV (Collection of some rarities here).

So what? Well, it just so happens that Penn & Teller are also well known for their atheist (anti-theist?) stance. Penn, the larger and louder half of the two (both by volume), is especially outspoken on the subject, and has now written a book “God, No!” which is doing very well in the NY Times bestseller list. It’s on my Kindle, along with about 5 other books I’ve yet to get to, but I’m saving it, like leaving the best part of a meal until the last moment.

However, Penn also writes on a more ad-hoc basis on the subject of atheism and religion. As I live in America (but am not yet a citizen), I have noticed the increasingly bizzare antics of American politicians (not just on the right), who constantly ‘namedrop’ god. Penn’s latest article is a really excellent examination of why it is that, since Carter, almost every presidential hopeful has had to have god on his (or her) campaign trail.

I agree with many of his points, and would only add that it seems pretty likely that politicians are also reflecting the national mood of worry about identity and the threat of terrorism (the new communism). People, when they are scared, flock to the familiar, retreat in into xenophobia and nationalism, and the familiar arms of a comforting religion where no thought is necessary. That, coupled with the rise in scientific thinking, the increasingly vocal atheist community and a suspicion of all things middle eastern and Islamic, has brought out the very worst in the religious right – a large and motivated portion of the voting population. Expect things to get even stranger from here out.

By the way, if you’ve never heard Penn in full flow, you should check out this appearance on PBS some years ago. His incredible oration and flawless delivery is really wonderful to behold. He’s a giant of a man, and has a brain to match. Did I say that he’s half of one of my favourite magical duos?

Sorry if I’ve neglected Teller in this post…I’ll make up for that in a future blog, he surely deserves it!