As a Christian who has attended church regularly for my entire life – minus a few years in college – I have a strong relationship with God and I know Christ as my brother and savior. I generally don’t mind getting into spiritual discussions with friends or strangers about my beliefs because I am secure in the knowledge with which the Lord has blessed me in my life. My journey was a chance to examine and defend these beliefs. My journey was a chance to go beyond my basic level of spiritual understanding and to prove with my words and actions that I was confident in my ideologies and I inhabited the principles to which I claim to subscribe. I was prepared to be challenged by what I saw. I was prepared to expand my own definitions by what I learned. The challenge I was perhaps unprepared for was the task of defending my nationality and patriotism.
Cultures outside of one’s culture – “And the one thing I would really like to tell [children] about is cultural relativity. I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first-grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society… But [cultural relativity] is more than fashionable – it’s defensible, attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it. ~Kurt Vonnegut Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut
I am blessed to be an American. I know this and I feel it in my heart. But it was not until I was watching the State of the Union address with a non-American for the first time that I recognized how deeply embedded in my psyche being “American” truly was. I found myself trying to explain the subtle and not-so-subtle digs on the GOP. Trying to explain why the supreme court justices do not react. Trying to explain the reverence with which we hold our military and veterans. Trying to defend our nation’s choices in military action and inaction. Trying to protect my country’s honor during an interesting primary campaign.
The two men with whom I was discussing the address – one German, one British – began to go off on the evil and greed of former President George W. Bush. Blaming him for leading the charge into many wars which begot more wars and created countless deaths that the world still blames the US for. The British bloke equated the broken US government to the corruption he saw in the Torrey party in England. A “good-ol’-boys” club made up of elitist bastards who had nothing but their own interests at heart.
The conversation got heated as I sought to defend my nation’s decisions even when I did not necessarily agree with them. My friends were angered that I would not condemn my former president as a hate monger and a bad man.
Eventually, I was able to get my friends to understand that, though they may not agree with the outcome, President Bush was doing the best he could with the information he had available to him at the time. Of course he was not seeking to kill millions. Of course he was not seeking to create wars. As President of the United States, or as Prime Minister of England, these men are most likely not seeking to protect their own interests. They are men seeking to make the best possible decisions in very shitty situations. And unless we are in that same position with the same background and same set of circumstances, we can never claim to know better or that we could have done better.
In this discussion on American politics, I felt the most patriotic and defensive of America as I’ve ever felt in my life. I loved my country. I loved the office of President. And I thanked God that I was born in the USA. But it was also an important lesson for me on the importance of forgiveness, giving the benefit of the doubt, and believing in the goodness and kindness of humanity.
In the most heated moments of the discussion, I excused myself from the room and walked out to look at the stars.
I learned something valuable about myself and about my passions that night.
I think we are often taught to hate, blame, and find fault because, when there doesn’t seem to be a logical explanation, hatred and blame is the easiest route to take. When it is hard to see the other person’s point of view, we are taught to not only disagree, but to discredit. This can perhaps be seen most readily in how the world is reacting to the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee race.
But a person’s blind hatred of “the other” is not ok with me. A person’s inability to see humanity is painful for me. I feel compelled to defend the human nature of even the worst the world has ever known. I’ve been known to say, “Even Hitler had a mother.” This is to say, even those with whom we associate the evilest of acts are still human. They were still created on this earth and loved by someone.
And I will stand in defiance against anyone who proposes evil as the compelling force behind anyone’s actions. I believe in love and I believe in an absence of love. But I do not believe in evil. Perhaps this makes me naïve or romantic. But it also gives me interminable hope. If we are all made of love, then we are all the same. And if we are all fueled by love, then all obstacles are conquerable with the same.
Hatred gains us nothings.
Love is what conquers all.
Feel free to disagree. I will love you just the same.