Tuesday, March 08, 2005

American Values

You happened to tweak my interest with your topic of American Values. I can’t possibly answer your question in 1,000 word blurbs. So how about a post:


In exit polls, 22 percent of US voters named “moral values” the most pressing issue of the day, a greater percent than the economy or even terrorism. Three quarters of Americans call themselves Christian. Finally, a 2003 Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of all Americans believe in the devil.

I would argue that it is religiosity that lies at the heart of so-called “American Values.” This country has a collective societal ideal in which everyone stands before God as an individual, free to pursue his or her own material happiness. This was the perfect ethos for conquering an untamed frontier (never mind about all those pesky Native Americans) and it’s remained that way to this day.

A majority of Americans believe that God shines His grace on our shores, that we are an exception, that America is the earthly promised land, that God looks out for the U S of A. Think about that for a moment. Imagine if you believed that you are God’s favorite person and that He shines his light upon you because of where you live. Not only that, God is also guiding your actions, so even if you are bombing cities and starving countries and polluting the whole planet, it is really God’s will.

I can’t help but juxtapose that to how these suicide car bombers think: God is on their side. He is watching over them and condones thier actions to defeat the evil oppressors from the country that is known to many in that region as the “Great Satan.” Go ahead and destroy the World Trade Center. Sure, a lot of people will die, but God will sort it out post hoc. God is on their side, too.

The fact is, if you believe in literal evil, which the majority of Americans including our President clearly does, there is no such thing as compromise. You need a strong military and a just military hand. Americans believe you have to have the righteous might on your side. You certainly aren’t going to compromise with evil terrorists. And they aren’t going to compromise with the Great Satan, that’s for sure.

Perhaps the saddest part of “American Values” is that they are based on ignorance. Some of this ignorance is fed by lies, some by general laziness, and some by simple genetic disposition—like it or not, some people are just stupid, plain and simple. Most of it, I would argue, is learned. You grow up in an environment where gay people are considered evil fags and people who don’t believe in Jesus are lost. It’s up to you to “help” them.

And don’t give me that moderate crap either—organized religion lends itself to these sort of values and beliefs. Frankly, I have more respect for a self-bludgeoning Islamic fundamentalist who isn’t afraid to die for his or her beliefs than an American Christian who wouldn’t dare risk even their own material belongings. For example, how many of these so-called believers in the “Sanctity of Life” volunteer to transplant fetuses into their wombs? How many of them adopt? And how many would support increased social welfare for the millions of single mothers who will end up needing it should abortion be illegal? I guess stopping abortion isn’t that important after all…

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t support religious zealotry. That Islamic fanatic ends up turning himself or herself into a fireball with the explicit intent to kill. The Catholic priest who takes a vow of celibacy ends up taking advantage of kids with the hope that they are too young and naïve to understand. The Zionist Israeli ends up creating an environment for Palestinians in Gaza that is so dumbfoundingly ironic I don’t have to mention why.

I don’t know what the answer is. Stalin’s Soviet regime proved the point that banning religion doesn’t stop people from killing other people (more people died at the hands of Joseph Stalin than 2 Hitlers). What I do know is that American values are no different from most of the rest of the world—they aren’t real.

Read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Then talk to me about values.

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