Agnostic Humanist In The South

God won’t save this country. But maybe empathy might.

Stick with me. Please. I have to speak from a place of experience in order to lay the ground to comment on something that doesn’t directly affect me.

Several years ago there was a story making the rounds about some guy taking legal action against his kid’s school because they were making his daughter say the Pledge of Allegiance which has the phrase “Under God” and he was an atheist. I saw so many Facebook posts making fun of the guy and criticizing this waste of time and many called him Un-American and there was also the typical, “PC POLICE!” outrages and just tons of dismissiveness about his efforts.

But here’s the thing…I’ve had a hard time explaining that one to my kids too.

Stop for one second and imagine if the pledge said, “One nation, under Ganesha, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I mean…really think about it.

Now imagine your child comes home one day, kinda realizes what she’s been saying every morning at school, and asks you about it. So you say what I say, “Well…that’s a God that is part of a religion of a huge group of people in this world.”

And of course your daughter will ask, “Is it part of our religion?”

“No.”

“Then why is it in our pledge of allegiance?”

I tried to explain how that God was part of the religion of most of the people in our country and that about 60 years ago one of our Presidents added the “under God” part in it because there was some bad stuff going on in the world and he thought it would help unite our country more to have that.

“Doesn’t seem very uniting when not everyone is that religion.”

It was a hard thing to explain to my daughter. It was hard to try to assure her that legally – religion and government are supposed to be separate – when every morning she has to pledge to a flag referencing a religion that’s not hers. Now, of course she’s legally allowed not to do it, but who wants to be that kid? She already has a hard enough time being one of the few damned non-Christians in a public school in Alabama.

My point? Every time someone made fun of that guy and his efforts to make that change, or if they dismissed his anger like he should just “get over it” or they did the WORST THING EVER: Say stuff like, “Losing God is what’s wrong with this country!” (Please. Stop saying that. It’s so offensive to the billions of non-Christians in the world to imply that your religion is responsible for all of the good and the rest of us are responsible for all of the bad.) All of those comments hurt and the dismissiveness pained me because many my friends or family didn’t understand the problem. Everyone was pledging their support and claiming, “It’s not offensive!” when they weren’t even part of the non-Christian group who was taking issue with the pledge. They were posting these support memes and claiming that those of us supporting the removal of the phrase “under God” (which wasn’t in the original pledge) were anti-American and therefore should not even be given the respect to be heard.

Dismissiveness is what is wrong with this country.

I understand how frustrating it is to live in a politically correct world. My first response was anger and shame when I had to be told 10 years ago to quit saying the word “retarded”. No one likes finding out that something they’ve been doing for a long time is offensive to a big group of people. And I’m not saying that we need to make sure that nothing we ever say is ever insulting to anyone. But – when large groups of people stand up and say, “Please stop using the word ‘gay’ as an insult.” Or, “Please stop calling things ‘retarded.'” then we need to listen. Dismissing a large group of people and their pain does more to divide this country than any lack of God.

But here’s the other thing…unless you are part of the group that is offended? You really shouldn’t publicly proclaim that something is FINE. If your daughter has Down Syndrome and you wanted to post on Facebook that the word “retarded” doesn’t bother you? Go for it. But don’t, as a Christian, dismiss my feelings and fight to keep that line in the pledge when the pledge existed for 60 years without the phrase even in it. Unless you are part of the group hurt by something, do not dismiss their pain. It is not your place.

Now…my point to all of this? Unless you are a black person living in this country you can not proclaim that the confederate flag is not offensive. You can say what it means to you, and you can fly it in your home and wear it on your belt buckle, but dismissing the feelings of a huge portion of our country just because you don’t have those same feelings…that is what is wrong with this country.

You don’t have to agree with them. But dismissing them entirely is what creates huge gaps between groups of people. Posting memes supporting the confederate flag to your Facebook page is like throwing a middle finger up to the black people on your friends list.

Am I equating the frustration a non-Christian feels saying the pledge to the pain the Confederate flag triggers in Black America? HELL NO. I don’t feel pain at all about the pledge. But I do feel pained by dismissiveness. When people post snarky comments about how annoying the PC Police are on the day of awareness to end the use of the R-word, I am pained for the person who told me 10 years ago to please stop saying “retarded” casually like I had been using it. Anytime someone dismisses the pain or frustration or efforts to make change of a large group of people, I am hurt.

A lack of God is not what is wrong with this country. A lack of empathy is.

We all want to hold our ground SO STRONGLY that we won’t even take small moments to adapt for the sake of our neighbors. No one is taking away your right to fly whatever flag you want at your home, or use the word retarded, or say the phrase “under God”, but know that those things are all going to offend LARGE portions of the population and by committing to those things, holding your ground as the un-offended majority, you are pushing away a large group of your neighbors.

God won’t bring us together. Empathy will.

Just stop for a moment and see that confederate flag as your African American neighbor sees it. As a visual proclamation against desegregation. As a symbol of support of the Jim Crow laws. As a flag of White Supremacy. You can not, as part of the white majority say, “THIS SYMBOL IS NOT OFFENSIVE TO THE BLACK COMMUNITY.” Because you are not part of the black community. Try for a moment to empathize. If it is removed from the flagpole on a government property, your rights to fly it at home are not infringed upon. Yet the removal provides a small (very, very small) sign to your African American neighbors that someone recognizes the pain the symbol causes them and the government will not be a part of inflicting that pain.

HERE’S WHAT WE CAN DO: If the latest news cycle is giving a voice to a large minority group offended by something that you do not find offensive, ask yourself:

AM I PART OF THAT MINORITY GROUP CLAIMING TO BE OFFENDED?

If the answer is “Yes” then speak up. Your voice might be needed in that group to play the other side of the discussion.

If the answer is “No” then really stop and think for a minute before you post some sort of proclamation of support of this offensive thing on your Facebook page. Do you need to vocally support something that you are now seeing offends someone in your community? Is supporting that thing more important than keeping a dialog and a connection open with those people in your community? Have you taken a moment to really see it from their side? Can you think of a way to put yourself in their shoes? (Like replacing “God” with “Ganesh” in the pledge.) Have you tried to empathize? How will stopping doing this offensive thing really affect your life? Will that affect have a greater negative impact than the continuance of it would have on the group in question? REALLY THINK ABOUT THIS before you post your dismissive status or meme that supports that offensive thing.

EMPATHY. Not dismissiveness.

It took me awhile to quit using the word “retarded” – I didn’t realize how prevalent it was in my language until 1- years ago. But once I got out of the habit? It was no big deal. My life was not negatively impacted in any way by making that change.

(Friendly reminder about the First Amendment: someone asking you not to use the word “retarded” is not infringing on your freedom of speech unless they are going to put you in jail for using it.)

We are living in a very divided country right now where politicians are scared to do anything that might anger their “base” so the conversations sway to the extreme sides of every argument. We need to keep from dividing ourselves further by dismissing the feelings of large portions of our communities. We need to be able to adapt to keep from burning bridges. We need to recognize the difference between infringing on civil liberties and just common decency. If someone tries to make it illegal to fly the confederate flag on your own property? Then we can talk “freedom of speech” but until then? I’m just talking about public land and common decency. I’m talking about empathy over dismissiveness. Stand in your neighbor’s shoes for a moment before you dismiss their pain in your next Facebook status.

11 thoughts on “God won’t save this country. But maybe empathy might.”

  1. Do you live in my head? You said exactly what I’ve been thinking for-freaking-ever. This is why I don’t blog–I couldn’t write that!! Thank YOU for writing it.

  2. I rarely comment on blogs, but compelled to thank you for this post!! So very well said – I’m going to share it.

  3. Very well said. Thank you. I like that: empathy is what will bring us together.

  4. I love this post so much! Big, squishy, borderline inappropriate internet hugs to you 🙂

  5. you’re on a roll, girl! i already wanted to tell you how much i really loved yesterday’s post, and then you had to go and post this…now i’m not sure which one is my favorite! 🙂

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