Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Weddings, happiness and human nature

My apologies for the dearth of posts this past week. Budget season is upon us and so I have little time for lunch, much less posting.

I went to a wedding in Corpus Christi, TX, this weekend. It was a Presbyterian wedding, and it was just lovely. I enjoy weddings. I've never been to a wedding where everybody wasn't smiling and happy and full of joy. I especially liked this wedding because, apart from the fact that the couple getting married are great, I thought the minister truly captured the best aspects of religion (and Christianity) in his ceremony. There was none of the dull (and archaic) pedantry in his sermon that one occasionally hears at religious services; none of the "though shalt be like a servant to your husband" bullshit. Rather, it was an inspiring, aspirational ceremony, in which the minister exhorted the couple (and the audience) to strive to be good people in all their actions, both public and private.

As I sat and listened to the ceremony, I was reminded how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that religious extremists in this country and their endless supplies of hate represent the mainstream of Christianity. I call it a trap because I think the extremists want people to believe what they preach, and want people to believe that it's either evangelical fundamentalism or satanism with nothing in between. They want to divide the world into us vs. them, and they want to be the ones to define that division. They understand that black and white is easy to grasp and easy to manipulate. If they can convince enough people that the world lacks any shades of gray, they can play upon their fears and biases and create political and cultural systems that incorporate such a manicheistic worldview into their very structures and which they control.

As I listened, I thought about this, but I also thought about the millions of Americans who do not share this nihilistic contempt for reality, political and religious moderation, and democratic governance. I felt hopeful that Americans (left and right) will eventually reject the destructive ethos of modern politics and move towards a system where politics is more than a zero-sum conflict. For a moment I was able to believe that many (if not most) Americans, regardless of their religion, understand that different religions and non-religions can co-exist in a pluralistic democratic society, and that the role of the religious believer is not to seek to assert dominion over those with whom s/he disagrees.

Maybe it was the scent from the flowers, maybe it was the joy of being at a wedding, maybe it was the fact that I wasn't at work; whatever it was, I sure was being uncharacteristically optimistic about the state of our nation this past Saturday.