Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Personal freedom vs. Having federal law support all your personal beliefs. Pick one. Only one.

Or at least put down the ducky if you wanna' play the saxophone.

I don't usually blog my political thoughts. Tonight's an exception. Stop now if you hate that kind of stuff.

I don't understand how some can insist they want government (especially federal) off our backs for the sake of our individual liberties and freedoms, but push so hard to amend the United States constitution and/or create federal laws and regulations that impose their particular beliefs on 100% of the population. 

But wait, I'll let you in on a not-so-secret that you probably ought to keep in mind when reading the rest of this verbose post: I'm a christian. You might think I'm pretty big-time, actually, if you gauge by how much time I spend "living" my religion and how much of my life is directed by my beliefs (even not-so-transparently in some ways). I don't thump bibles or say "Hallelujah" or predict the day of the Apocalypse or anything crazy. But it's safe to say that I'm super-duper Christian when it comes to the foundation of my faith. Sorry if you're disappointed. If you are, I can all but guarantee you it's because you don't actually know me. My great Atheist, Jewish, gay, Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever, friends know what I'm talking about.

There are many things that I believe very strongly. I even strongly disagree with those that openly oppose and antagonize my personal* beliefs, even if I ought not to sometimes. I admit, I'm known among my friends and family to appear hungry for a debate (on any topic, usually not religion, actually - I learned years ago how to talk about religion without debating) and even "like to argue" (which I like to deny, at least in the antagonistic, negative definition). However, just because I believe something -  and often because I believe something - I do not want to impose those beliefs on others. No matter how sure of myself I am. On the contrary, it is the freedom to believe whatever I want that has led and allowed me to find so much contentment and happiness in my beliefs. If I turned around and rallied to revoke that freedom from those who believe contrary to my beliefs, it would seem very hypocritical and narrow-minded, wouldn't it? (Because of my belief in this guiding principle, some of my peers are often surprised out of their gourd to learn quite late in our relationship that I'm - gasp! - an active, normal Mormon. But that is neither here nor there.)

You can't have one foot in the Atlantic Ocean and another in the Pacific. (Keep your Panama Canal and Cape Horn jokes to yourself, clever kid. It's figurative, leave me alone.)

I propose you try an exercise I played out in my head earlier this week. Follow these steps and don't skip ahead until each step is done:
  1. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. Fetch your favorite pen or pencil in your favorite color, just to make sure we're having loads of fun here.
  2. On the left list all your strong personal beliefs, whether they be based on theology, spirituality, patriotism, tradition or general principle.
  3. Now clear your mind. Take a short break. (This is optional, but I think it might influence the end. Maybe not.)
  4. On the right, list all the things you think every American in every single state should be coerced by federal law to do, or be prohibited from doing. Think about this carefully and make sure you understand that this is not a list of ways you wish the world were better or easier for you to live in. This is a list of laws and regulations you wish were in the federal law books and if not followed would make a person a criminal anywhere in the USA. These are principles you should throw someone in jail (or heavily fine or otherwise harshly punish) for believing and acting against anywhere in this country.
  5. Now, observe both lists. How much of your two lists are the same? Could you make a giant Venn diagram out of it? Why or why not?
That's all. 

You can draw your own conclusions from your personal lists. Here are some guiding questions for pondering: How many of your personal beliefs are just that - *personal, no matter how "correct" they seem to you and your friends - and how many of them do you wish were mandated universal behavior codes? Can you recall any stories where an individual or leader - even an individual with a ca. 33% approval rating and large following - also wanted to coerce 100% of the population to believe as he believed and do as he did?

Here's a related list exercise, if you want. Grab that favorite pen that makes your hand happy. List all your favorite musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, explorers, athletes and respectable leaders. 
  • Would they agree with everything on your previous lists? 
  • Does that bother you when you actually take the time to think about where you likely don't have the same beliefs? Why or why not?
  • Would you want to force them to comply with your beliefs if you could do so simply and legally?
  • If you could go back in time and snap your fingers to gently brainwash them into agreeing with your entire lists while they were still young and impressionable, would you like to have that chance?
  • If you did that, do you think they'd still grow up to become the musician, artist, writer, filmmaker, explorer, athlete or the same respectable leader you admire or enjoy today? What do you think the hypothetical ramifications of universal dictatorial coercion of polarizing beliefs are? Best case scenario? Worst case scenario? 
We're all different. While what you believe may very well be universal truth, it's a different thing entirely to want to forcibly blanket an entire country as large and diverse as the United States of America with your "truth." For example, if it means people literally have to choose between being American and being gay, or having an abortion. No matter how much I appreciate the divine inspiration and intervention with which I believe this nation and it's constitution were founded, that does not mean I or the federal government get to take away the right to choose. Even if I fiercely disagree with how you handled your choice. Live and let live.

Let's pretend for a moment that I felt very strongly about Bill Bryson books and Calvin and Hobbes comics. I think they're great for the human mind and spirit. Very uplifting and edifying. To not even give them a chance is to offend me personally. That doesn't mean I want the Dept. of Education to make them required reading, punishable by a failing grade or a federal tax increase or a fine if you fail to comply. Even if 65% of my fellow Americans agree. Even then. I think you catch my drift and I hope you see the principle behind it.

States, counties and cities on the other hand - go for it. Let democracy thrive, even if a polarizing opinion and crippling government regulation prevails every now and then in some communities. And if you can't stand living there after democracy has had its way, you have every right to move to another state, county or city where your neighbors don't make your blood boil (as much as I realize that's quite inconvenient). Or you could, of course, take part in the democratic process (could? or should?) and fight (civilly) for what you think is best for your community. You can even run for office. Who's stopping you?

In the meantime, I invite you to think outside the partisan bases - a place where otherwise good folks wander in and unsuspectingly (or willingly?) have their peripheral vision scratched out by stubborn bigots seeking a false sense of "community" in collective beliefs.

The larger, actual community is at stake. But you won't be able to see that far from a narrow point of view. The very freedom that allows you to participate and scream and yell (or not) is what's at stake.

This is how I'm thinking today. I may learn new things and think otherwise in a week or a year or a decade. Sometimes I chill with the ducky. Sometimes I rock the saxophone. But l'm having a hard time watching others try to do both at the same time. 

Posted via email from eric forsyth's posting place

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