Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Injustice of Misdirected Conviction

Two stories in the New York Times caught my eye this morning. One tells the story of anti-abortion activists' journey to the streets. The other tells a story of an environmental activist disrupting the process of auctioning off federal land for oil and gas leases. These are seemingly unrelated articles until you think about it.

I guess I'm being affected by Micheal Sandel and his Harvard University lectures on Justice. Right or wrong is not obvious. Invariably, the anti-abortion crowd are born-again Christians, usually uninformed and ignorant. They cherry pick from the Bible to support one cause or another, and ignore the rest of the Bible. What's more, the Bible they use is invariably the King James version, the worst of the worst translations. They haven't read it, and if they have they didn't understand the archaic English. It's the most difficult Bible version to get meaning from, so why use it? Instead, they listen to pastors who interpret it for them but who are just as ignorant. Any sound and reasonable teaching is lost on them.

In my humble opinion, the entire Bible is about Justice... period. The famous Rabbi Hillel said this about the The Torah (The Old Testament to us), “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That's the whole of The Torah. The rest is explanation. Go and learn.” It's all about justice.

What meaning would we get from the Bible if we read the best translation and thought about what we read from Hillel's point of view? Would we be so convinced that it is literal, historical fact? Or would we learn the philosophical and metaphorical teachings? Well, there are historical events in the Bible, but that's not the point. The point is whether we can learn to be more just from reading the Bible. Many more people of Earth read the Bible than any other book of philosophy. In fact, it is the only book of philosophy that most will ever read or be exposed to. It is my observation that most take a fundamentalist, literal meaning from it than a more just, philosophical meaning and, in the end, create more injustice and harm than good.

For example, what are you going to do with the mother when you make her a criminal by making abortions illegal? How did she get in that predicament in the first place? There are many causes: From the young teenager who accidentally gets pregnant because she was ignorant of contraception to the abused child raped by her father to the young woman who was raped by an assailant. It seems to me that the anti-abortionist picketing the clinic are the very same people who shout the loudest against teaching contraception in school Biology classes. It's the same crowd that condemn a young, unmarried pregnant woman as a sinner in their midst, shaming her into doing something regrettable and avoidable if she had somewhere to turn. It's the same crowd who claim the poorest in our society should fiend for themselves, without society's help, in high-crime neighborhoods or in incestuous homes. It's the same crowd who, in the end, created the unjust circumstances that drove the woman to abortion that now wants to make her a criminal.

They, “that crowd,” do more than that and it's an old argument but one I can't get past. What do you do for children after they are born? What do you do for the young man or woman you send off to unjust wars? Do you set up your pickets when an over zealous prosecutor charges a twelve year old as an adult for a particularly heinous crime, but never the less is still a child? Or, even for a lessor crime when a court sends a young person to prison for an extraordinarily, inappropriate and even criminal long period of time? It seems that it is the same crowd that shout the loudest for unequal treatment in courts of law and corporal punishment that, it turns out, sends many more innocent people to prison or to death than we ever thought.

And then there is the false outrage in our media. One case I keep repeating to anyone who will listen concerns a young 17 year old who earned Eagle Scout merits in Washington State. He let it be known one day that he was an atheist and he was kicked out of his Boy Scout Troop. He filed a lawsuit and it made national news. Fox News invited him on Bill O'Rielly's “No Spin Zone” for an interview; at least that's what they told him. But, it wasn't an interview and was never intended to be. Instead, Mr. O'Rielly, in a fit of false outrage, figuratively assassinated the young man's character on national television. To his credit, they young man stood up for his beliefs in the face of O'Rielly's attacks as best he could, but he was no match for O'Rielly. Until that day, I watched O'Rielly's show out of curiosity and entertainment. That was the last episode I watched. As far as I was concerned, O'Rielly's behavior gave me a more horrifying picture of his own character than it did of the young man's character.

It turned out that the young man, Darrell Lambert, was a good and decent, well adjusted young man and did not deserve the treatment he got from O'Rielly. I doubt, at 17 years old, whether he had any long-lasting conviction or belief. But, after a national dressing down and humiliation, how likely is it that he will ever consider God or even respect the beliefs of those who believe in God? Not likely. The community of scouts would have been better served to have kept Mr. Lambert in the scouts. His exposure, over time, to others' beliefs may have changed his mind more than any other approach.

In the end, all of the outrage expressed by the anti-abortionist and the Christian fundamentalists' views of education and justice defeat their own causes. It's all the same thing. Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. Your Christians don't behave like your Christ.” Well said.

The other story is about 27-year old Tim DeChristopher who bid on oil and gas leases in a federal land auction. He had no money nor resources, however, to produce oil or gas from the land. He never intended to. His intention was to prevent the oil or gas from ever being used. His cause was to do his share to fight climate change and global warming that will cause millions of deaths, cause his future children to suffer and world suffering. His dilemma is having to prove whether his fraud will actually save lives, in which case he may get off. He committed his crime in the last “drill-baby-drill” year of the Bush Presidency when the Bureau of Land Management was practically giving away federal land for destructive development by big land developers and oil and gas corporations without the slightest consideration for the environment. There is no end to greed. There's also something about the Federal Government nearly giving away, sometimes for as little as 5¢ an acre, to a corporation that makes billions of dollars from the lease. There's something unethical about that. I'm on DeChristopher's side, but that probably won't help him.

I believe Hell is the profound knowledge we will suddenly get at the end of our lives that causes profound regrets for all of the wrongs we did in our short lives; by doing nothing or being unjust. A way around the Hell of profound regrets are for the anti-abortionists to sit down with those on the side of pro-choice and begin to repair our society where both a child, unborn or not, and a mother are wanted and loved in this world. And, DeChristopher has done no harm except to himself and may have saved lives; let him go.

There is a scene in the movie “Gandhi” that I've heard is a true account of an incident in his life. Gandhi is fasting in protest to the Hindu-Muslim war, a war that eventually split Pakistan from India. He was near death and Hindus from all around are trying to convince him to eat and to live. A Hindu stood in line waiting to talk to Gandhi and, when he eventually was able to see him, he said (my paraphrase) in great distress, “I have done a huge wrong. I have killed a Muslim child and I am going to Hell.”

Gandhi's reply was, “I know a way out of Hell. Find an orphaned Muslim child and adopt him and raise him as your own. Except, you must raise him as a Muslim, not a Hindu.” The look of terror on the man's face was enough to describe his aversion to Gandhi's suggestion; a Hindu raising a Muslim child as a Muslim would make him an outcast to his own people.

It doesn't matter whether that is a true account in Gandhi's life, it is still profound wisdom to walk justly and speak against injustice.

A way out of the Hell is Justice, even if cast out.


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