Blogger’s Note: I’ve been absent a long time, partly because I’ve been crazy busy this fall, and partly because I’ve had a terribly long and curmudgeonly blog post brewing in my head for months, and no time to write it. So I’ve settled on the “Rant-A-Day” format. My intention is to post a portion of the aforementioned terribly long and curmudgeonly blog post, in rant form, each day until the election, at which point (hopefully) they amount to something.
At Mass on Sunday, Deacon Steele shared the observation that, while saints in heaven are wonderful, saints here on earth can be tough to stomach. You know the type: always polishing their halos and making a point to love the smiles right off their neighbors’ faces.
To a certain extent, in college that was me. Not growing up in the Church, I didn’t consider myself a saint, per se — but my upbringing was quite different from that of most of my college friends and, I thought, clearly superior. Some of this was defensive: I was surrounded by very different expectations and standards of behavior than I was used to, and I watched the beliefs of like-minded classmates crumble around them at the hands of the better-informed and the sharper-tongued. So I bolstered my arguments to support my beliefs — and in the process, polished my halo.
I remember the moment a close friend finally called me on it. We were talking about the death penalty and prison and to what extent a convicted criminal’s environment and upbringing should be taken into account when sentencing. Apparently, I was arguing not very dang much because my friend said, “You think you’re better than them, don’t you?”
I paused for a moment, taken aback by the question (because, let’s be honest, when you hear that question, you’re almost programmed to respond with an indignant, “NO!”). Then I said, “Yeah. Yes, I guess I do. Don’t you?”
“No,” he said. “I think we’re the same. I got lucky to be born into the family I did, and to go to the school I did, and to come here, or I might be in the same situation as they are.”
I didn’t back down at the time, but he gave me food for thought. How much pride could I take in my parents, whom I did not choose, and the solid home and upbringing they provided? How much of me was me, and how much them? I began to listen to myself speak, and I could hear the squeak of the rag on the halo. And I didn’t like it.
Shortly thereafter, I embraced agnosticism — and not just religiously. I started to build a world view on the notion that there was very little we could know for sure about anything, and it’s best to just get along.
Thank God I met Jodi.
See, self-righteousness is ugly. Smugly counting your blessings and crediting yourself for them all won’t win you friends or favor, and clinging blindly to beliefs that keep you safe and comfortable won’t get you to Heaven (or even across the street).
But pretending that nothing is certain — or that you don’t believe in anything for sure — so as not to offend or be caught in error, is as cowardly as it is false. And yet recently — within my 35 years, it seems to me — it has become arrogant to express confidence in or adherence to your personal convictions in public, unless your underlying worldview is neutral. This approach can be summarized by three insidious words: It’s All Good.
“It’s all good.” This is how we summarize freedom and love of neighbor. It’s how we avoid conflict; how we justify ourselves and avoid condemning others; how we let everyone know we’re on their side without taking sides. It is without meaning — and when we live accordingly, so are we.
We cannot and do not live our lives in unbelief. We might keep our beliefs secret, and even act in opposition to them on occasion — but we all have convictions, and we should have the courage of them. We should act, speak, and vote accordingly. We should absolutely vote for like-minded candidates who support our way of life and our values and morals. That’s the only way in which “government of the people, by the people, for the people” can function. If we do anything less — if we decide by our actions, our words, or our ballots that any one candidate, position, or decision is as good as another — we cede our authority to the government, and all priorities and decisions become the state’s.
In this week prior to the elections, the first thing I want to say — the thing I want to shout from the rooftops, really — is this: It is NOT all good. Decidedly not. For God’s sake, and our own, believe in something and make a stand. If it’s all good, as they say, why get out of bed a week from Tuesday? How will you choose, anyway?
It’s all good will be are downfall.
We should come to the polls believing that we’re right — each and every one of us — and if we don’t believe we’re right, we should spend a little time contemplating a new direction before November 2nd. I have a set of beliefs, some of which stem from my upbringing, some of which stem from my experience, and many of which stem from my faith. Not only is it decidedly not arrogant to bring these (faith included, even in America) with me the ballot box, but it is required in order to have a functioning democracy. Our ideas and our ideals must do battle.
So next week, I will vote and do my level best to impose my own belief system on our local, state, and national governments. Why? Because I believe I’m right. Of course I believe I’m right. Don’t you?