Words From The Past – Words For The Future

Those who have read my blog or heard me preach know that I am a southerner and a 2nd generation military brat by birth.  Without doubt, where I was born and where I grew up in this world had a lot to do with how I feel and what I think of the world around me.

I was raised in an environment where the races were divided, in other words, segregated, and people were taught that this was the way that it was to be.  They held to the belief that the separation of the races was ordained by God and to breakdown this barrier was to go against the Word of God.

But over the years as I moved from Texas to Alabama to Colorado to Missouri and then finally to Tennessee I realized that segregation was not right and no matter how it was stated or what doctrine was applied to this belief (“separate but equal”), keeping people separate never made people equal.  In fact, all segregation seemed to do was make sure that those who have will keep what they have and those who do not have anything will never get anything.  Segregation was never about race but about economic status and the desire of some, mostly white, to keep power in their own hands and not to share it.

Those who sought to keep segregation as the status quo used fear as their primary means of control.  Listen to the rhetoric of those who proclaimed states’ rights and were so vehemently opposed to integration and you hear words of fear, fear of what would happen if children of the various races were allowed to go to school together or sit at the same lunch counter.  It was fear that allowed businesses in the south to keep unions out by claiming that through integration and union organizing, blacks would take jobs away from whites.

Fear is perhaps the most dangerous emotion because it provides the environment for hatred and violence to grow.  I am not old to remember the Joseph McCarthy era (I would think that for many of my generation, the only McCarthy they can remember is Eugene McCarthy) but I have seen pictures and old video tapes of what transpired during that time in the early 50’s.  If fear had a face, it was of a man standing before an audience and claiming to have the list of known Communists working in the State Department.   My wife was a young girl of ten when the McCarthy hearings began in 1953 and almost twelve when they ended in 1955. Though she didn’t understand the full scope of these hearings she knew there was a fear component in what was being said on the television. Out of this grew what has become the hysteria know as McCarthyism and anyone who once knew someone who may have been in the same room with someone who thought about joining the Communist party was quickly labeled the same. 

We get in an uproar when someone suggests that the phrase “under God” be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance but we fail to remember that it was put into the Pledge during this period of fear and hysteria.  And remnants of this fear and hysteria are still with us to this day; some people still have to sign loyalty oaths (see “Pledges and Loyalty Oaths”) in order to receive their paychecks.  Loyalty oaths are vestiges of that period.

So why do I speak of years gone by?  While the people who invoked such fears in our parents and older siblings may be gone, their descendants are still with us.  There is evidence that the election of Barak Obama will and has brought back those same attitudes of fear and hatred that so dominated this country in the 1950’s.

And understand this, fear works best in darkness and ignorance.  Those who use fear to incite others do so because they are only interested in keeping themselves in power and in control of what others do.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he said “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Fear is the product of ignorance and which results in the spawning of hatred.

Let those who would spread hatred and violence do so but make them stand in the light of truth and justice.  For in such light, they will wither and die.  Make sure that you understand what is going on and don’t let the so-called experts tell you what to think; do your own thinking and make your own decisions. There are people who refuse to look at the problems of the world with a critical eye. They prefer to believe what the pundits and talking heads spew because either they are too lazy to read, study and learn about “why” the problems exist or because the rhetoric of fear and hate fits in with their core beliefs. It was easier for them to believe that segregation fit in with God’s plan rather than look at the evils of segregation. They forgot that Jesus had given us the two Great Commandments –“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments rest all the law and the prophets.”

There are clear and visible economic and social problems in this country and this world.  To use the words and tactics of days past will not solve these problems.  The only thing that will solve these problems is a critical look at the problems and a rational discussion of possible solutions.  This requires an educated and informed people, not a group of self-proclaimed experts telling us what to think or believe and inciting our fears.  Some of the biggest challenges facing this nation and the world cannot be solved with fear. Words of hatred and fear will only exacerbate the problems that already exist.

Thomas Paine in his writings called the darkest days of the American Revolution the “times that try men’s souls.” These present times match that darkness; the success or failure of the American Experiment rests on our ability to move boldly and fearlessly into the future, even if it is not clear or certain what that future will bring.


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