Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Politics in Religious Instruction

High Priests Group Leader
High Priests Group

I feel it is necessary to make a case for my actions Sunday, September 14, 2014 in High Priests Group. I've been contemplating whether I need to apologize or not, and I'm not to that place yet. Maybe I never will be. But maybe I will. In any event, I want to make my position clear for doing what I did. I'd love to hear contrasting positions.

I only attend High Priests Group every other week since I have a primary calling that I do with my daughter. (Those poor kids have to suffer the likes of me. [Sarcasm]) Of course, opening exercises for priesthood is held in the gymnasium and includes opening announcements, an opening prayer, an opening song, announcements by kids serving in the Aaronic priesthood, announcements by adults, etc., etc. Then, eventually, we go to the High Council Room to meet, presumably for instruction. Then we have some more announcements and whatnot before things get started as to learning. This often leaves very little time for a lesson.

Scott Hennessey was the instructor. I have nothing personally against Scott. He is my brother in the gospel; I do and shall do my best to love him. He has always, as far as I'm aware, supported me and my family. I will never forget how, when my son, Mike, left for his mission, Scott came to the airport to see him off. Plus, he's given some great lessons.

Brother Hennessey began his instruction on September 14 by trying to play an audio clip from Paul Harvey. He said it was, I think, from around 1965. He had difficulty getting the audio to play on his device but after some fussing around with various speakers he got it to work. I was at the very back of the room and heard it with clarity. It was from a broadcast by Paul Harvey, a famous newspaper columnist and a radio personality, and it is known by the title, "If I Were the Devil." Scott eventually played the clip through to its end and we all listened. At least, I did. I estimate that it took approximately eight or nine minutes to do all of this, set it up and play it. It took about three and a half to four minutes to play the audio presentation by Paul Harvey, who is now deceased, was not a Mormon, but who was a very conservative, right-wing expositor of politics and of society.

I graduated from high school in 1966. I was acquainted from youth on with both the writings and broadcasts of Paul Harvey. I enjoyed him very much --- his perfect broadcaster's voice, his timing in his delivery, his subjects --- as did my wife. In earlier years, conditioned pretty much by having very little knowledge and the company that I kept while growing up, I agreed with much of what Harvey said in his presentations. Then, with more education and after delving more into the world and its nuances and reading accounts counterpoint to Harvey's, I began taking issue with many of his positions. But overall, I enjoyed Harvey very much --- he was quite entertaining, if nothing else --- and he was a very able and capable human being, one in many respects to be admired.

Anyone can find a clip of the audio or the video of "If I Were the Devil" on the Internet.

After Scott played the audio and made a comment or two, I raised my hand and when he called upon me I challenged him. I objected to his selection of "If I Were the Devil" for the beginning of the lesson. My comment more or less tried to convey that to begin the lesson with an ultraconservative's exposition wherein he imagined himself as the devil didn't seem balanced or fair. Actually, I was also concerned with the amount of time it took in the little time left for a lesson. Truthfully, I don't remember the particular words of the verbal interchanges between us. One had to do with his observations about not being able to build religious statues or perform religious rites and whatnot on government properties. One of Scott's observations was that someone had recently been arrested for saying, "Bless you!" to someone on a government property. I challenged Scott by saying that in Mormonism we revere the U.S. Constitution as inspired by God, so we shouldn't complain when that Constitution requires a separation of religion and state. Truthfully, like probably everybody else in the classroom, I thought an arrest for saying "Bless you!" was over the top. But, if it was, our laws and judicial system would provide relief for the person being charged and, hopefully, the enforcer would stand corrected and change their attitude. (See, there is some optimism in me.)

My impression is that when I had interrupted Scott, which I clearly had, he didn't like it. He made it sound, at least to me, as if I did it to him all the time, and he didn't want to be bothered with my concerns or my tangents, no matter what. It was very evident that a number of men in the room during our exchanges back and forth agreed with Scott's position, because something occurred which I have never experienced in all of my life in attending priesthood meetings. He took me to task, verbally, and, as a consequence, a number of the brothers in the classroom, mostly at the very back of the room, applauded what he had said, thereby also joining him in chiding me. Well, not, perhaps, chiding me for being me, but getting after what I had said, for interrupting Scott and perhaps speaking in a higher tone of disagreement. They applauded and continued until Layton Smith, the Group Leader, mildly scolded them for doing so, saying, "Brethren" with that certain tone.

Thereafter I sat silent. Not much time remained. Scott more or less kept to the lesson manual after that, but continued harkening back to the Harvey presentation, as if he were some authority.

In "If I Were the Devil," Harvey takes the role of the adversary. In my estimation, that's never a good place to be or a role to assume, but it certainly was an interesting twist. Harvey intimates therein that America --- the United States --- was once a great nation but it has declined and is on the road to ruin. His argument, which was basically adopted by Scott and many of the subsequent commenters, is built upon sand and should be washed away. "If I Were a Devil" is an exposition by one who possesses a racist and, to a lesser extent, sexist mentality. My dictionary defines racism as the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. It includes discrimination or prejudice based on race. It defines sexism as discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women. A second definition includes attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender. It is more of the former --- racist --- than the latter ---sexist, but both were/are present and problematic for me.

Common overt manifestations of racism and sexism occur when those in power prevent social interaction between members of different races; when they utilize race or sex to determine who can or cannot buy, sell, or rent real estate; when people utilize various methodologies to discriminate in public schools or higher education; when they deny free access to private, public, and commercial facilities based upon race or sex; when they commit acts of violence motivated by race or sex; and when they use race or sex as a criterion for hiring. In "If I Were the Devil" overt manifestations of racism and sexism aren't necessarily manifest. It does, however, demonstrate a more harmful and passive type of racism and sexism, one more hidden and difficult to detect and challenge.

Consider this analogy and I'll explain its significance. When the lifetime supervisor of a slaughterhouse dies and is eulogized before being buried, no one eulogizing mentions the savage killings, the brutal murder of hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent animals that he has overseen. That is not part of his eulogy; it's not of import. Why? Because those eaten animals are not considered as important as the people who ate them; they were something lesser, inferior. The people who ate them considered themselves superior.

Paul Harvey in the audio clip is like a person eulogizing the slaughterhouse supervisor, however, but on a much different scale. America, or the United States, as it was in the distant past, Harvey asserts, was certainly much better than what it is today and what it will be tomorrow given the deplorable direction we're going because of the devil's machinations. America is in decline. However, in the case of the slaughterhouse supervisor, we are dealing with slaughtered animals. On the other hand, in the case of the American past, to which Paul Harvey alludes, we're not talking about slaughtering animals to eat, but we're talking about the slaughter and deprivation of human beings. Given the historical record, only a racist would glorify the American past, while complaining about its descent into hell in 1965 or now.

When Europeans invaded the North American continent they ended up killing over 100 million indigenous people, either with weaponry that was more advanced than the indigenous peoples' was, or with biological weapons, like smallpox. Upon realization that the indigenous people had no immunity to smallpox, the royal families of Europe along with the churches of Europe, primarily the Catholic Church, didn't stop there immigration, which essentially was killing the indigenous people. In fact, they distributed blankets infected with the virus among them.

Harvey, as the devil --- his take, not mine --- overlooks entirely the fact that Americans historically enslaved Africans along with many of the indigenous peoples. In those early days, and subsequently, atrocities compounded themselves for well over 500 years. Even after the Civil War evils continued. In 1965 there was still blatant segregation in the U.S. It is an ugly, morbid history over against what we have now. Furthermore, in those early days women had few if any rights. They were property, they didn't couldn't vote, they could be bought and sold. Compare that with today and you'll find that things have improved. They have improved considerably.

For Paul Harvey in "If I Were a Devil" the indigenous and African Americans were of no consequence. Neither were the women and girls of American society, who through the years made many, many advances, which continue to the present time. In Harvey's mind and in the subject essay, they were like the animals in the slaughterhouse which were murdered, sliced up, and distributed to be consumed. Lesser than. Not important. Inferior. What's clear, however, is what's important to Paul Harvey, after a careful reading of his essay: materialism. He likes the advance of materialism.

Do we have problems here in the U.S.? Are some aspects of our lives as citizens of this country on the whole declining? Perhaps so. I didn't see any statistics given in the lesson. Do I think that's the case intuitively? Sometimes. However, I've learned that my intuitions often fail me.

Overall, my actions in this case stemmed from my frustrations with the notion that so much of the little time left to teach was turned over to an ultra-conservative, non-Mormon, journalist, who was, in my opinion, a racist and a sexist in the audio clip that Scott played to begin with, a contrasting point of view to the one I was trying to present. I received, however, that you-are-not-as-important as me (us) message.

I grew up a redheaded boy with freckles, the son of a non-member father and a jack Mormon mother. I tasted thereby from society the mildest form of discrimination, nothing comparable to what others have suffered. During most of my adult life, as a member of the church, my leanings have been to liberality rather than conservative. Again, in attending church services, including in High Priests Group and whatever else, I have experienced and do experience discrimination because of it. The primary teachings which guide my life, however feebly, are love of God with my whole heart, mind, and strength and loving my neighbors as myself.

Judge for yourself whether this makes my case. Please don't hesitate to let me know what you think. It won't be the first or last time I hear a contrary view. I like to hear from all sides of questions (although I don't put myself in the role of the devil). Wasn't it the Lord who said to ask, seek, and knock? Not for naught.

No comments: