One of my favorite movies is Mr Smith Goes to Washington. It is a story about a man who believes in a process (democracy and the constitution) and is given an opportunity to serve that belief he holds precious as a senator. In short time he learns the power brokers that represent the ideals he holds dear are corrupt and will do anything to silence him for their own selfish interests. In the movie you see that they will even hire thugs to hurt children.
When I was in high school I learned swiftly how popularity and cliques work to harm people. I would learn this lesson again as a minister. I would learn this lesson again in the secular world.
When I was a progressive pastor I used to argue with my skeptic friends about a great many things. I have recanted and redacted many positions I used to hold to in those arguments save one. If we eliminate religion from the face of this earth, we will experience a better planet. One without humans hurting others. My contention is that we will not and this position is incorrect. It is not the religion that makes good men and women act in ways that harm others. That is often just the excuse used to harm others. Remove that justification and we will replace it with a new excuse. We will call it logic and reason if we have no deity to justify our avarice. I still hold to that and I am seeing it happen almost every day in the atheist blogoshere and podcast arena right now. I see people in power circle the wagons and harm others.
I have heard many secular people say so many beautiful things that have been their draw toward humanism and parts of the atheist community. I have heard many christian converts say the same about their traditions. These people who are looking for something find it in promises and belonging and they see hope. The thing that often shatters that hope every single time is when they are given a seat to the table on a board or in a group. When they try to live those ideals, they see the corrupt leaders who enjoy ruling their little fiefdoms react poorly. Should they do something that those “leaders” feel threatened by, men and women like Jeff Smith and Clarissa Saunders will feel the wrath and power of the Jim Taylor’s of the world and feel the harsh betrayal of Senator Paine (Characters from Mr Smith Goes to Washington).
When I was a taxi driver I saw this hit me in the face once. Well, more than once, but this is the story. I was picking up a couple at a country club. It was a husband and wife. The husband was a local hero. A high profile figure. He was drunk and I saw his true colors. He spoke of his volunteers in horrible ways. These were people I knew. He spoke to his wife in what is clearly an abusive manner. To take the heat off her for a few minutes I engaged him in discussion. With his guard down he spoke of all the advantages he and his inner circle get and he bragged about how he shut out some “boy scout” that got too close to and did not understand how things worked. This was not a church or a government or a humanist affair, but it is an organization that helps people who are vulnerable in society and have needs that deserve better than this man. I do not know what his faith or philosophy is. I can tell you he is greedy and betrays the ideals of the group he is in charge of. His kind is common and they are almost never found in the audience, they are usually found on a board or trying a little too hard to get on the board.
As a parent of a GLBT teen, I have seen the excuses people who say and do horrible things that affect him and his rights hide behind. Sometimes it is their understanding of god and other times it is their understanding of reason. As a friend of many women I have seen the misogyny that exists and the excuses used to defend the horrific behavior that threatens the safety and equality of women.
Towards the end of the aforementioned movie, you see Mr Smith making his final stand. He is a good man and he is losing and the tough as nails streetwise reporter Clarissa screams for him to stop. She can no longer bear to witness a true believer in a system suffer at the hands of the corrupt any longer.
In life I have been the puppet to the corrupt. I have also served as the true believer in an ideal standing alone until I fall. Finally, I have also been the one who watches someone making their stand helpless to stop the bludgeoning.
These roles have happened as conservative christian, a progressive christian and as a secular humanist. The song remains the same and it is discordant.
I will not write directly on some of the goings on currently. Some readers know the minefield I am tap dancing near and others do not. Just know this, the boy-scouts and girl-scouts of the world need us. The ideals they reflect are the best of us. The power-brokers that would silence them are the worst of us and betray the beauty of what we try to embrace.
In every ism I tried to embrace, I was compelled by the beauty and repelled by the ugly corruption. We are all common stardust. That is not only true, but it is beautiful. When the powerful call some of us less, they are wrong. Their reason is flawed and corrupt.
Personally, I need Mr Smith to stand strong. I need Cool Hand Luke to not be broken. I need Neil Carter and Gretta Vosper to not fall under the weight of the corrupt and the small. That is not the world we live in, but it should be. If you believe in principle. If you believe in equality. If you are inspired by your ism or ist or ology to be better, then do it. Know that the opposing ism or ist or ology is not the only hurdle, it will also be the discordant and the corrupt within your tribe that will oppose you as well. Stand anyway.