Thursday, April 11, 2013

No State Religions: Separation of Church and State, Part 4

Yesterday, someone who reads my blog (it's very exciting, that somebody reads the blog) sent me this link to an article about a North Carolina state representative who equated praying to Allah, as Muslims do, with terrorism.  She said this while being questioned about a bill she co-sponsored, which was an attempt to establish Christianity as North Carolina's state religion.

No state religions, folks, got that?  It's against the First Amendment.

The representative in question, Michelle Presnell, is a first-termer from Burnsville, NC, seat of Yancy County.  In 2000, Burnsville had a population of 1,623 people, and I doubt it's bigger now.  It happens that I know this particular part of North Carolina fairly well.  Yancy sits in the western North Carolina mountains; it adjoins Avery County, where I have a mountain home.  It's rural, underdeveloped--pastoral, but not exactly worldly.  I would bet Ms. Presnell never met an actual Muslim in her life.  I bet she's very surprised at the coverage her offhand comment has gotten.  I bet she's in way over her head.

I'm not excusing her.  I think a primer on the Constitution ought to be required reading for everyone who gets elected to public office.  But I also think that her comment, and her bill on a state religion, illustrate an aggravating tendency most of us have, whether we like to admit it or not, which is to lump everyone who seems different from us into a ball and call them "other."  I see this all the time when I talk about my work at Faith in Action.  "Oh," somebody says, "The Poor have too many children."  Or, "The Poor are lazy."  Or something else, but The Poor, a great big lump of I-am-not-them, I-don't-understand-them, and I'm-not-going-to-try.

I-am-not-them, I-don't-understand-them, and I'm-not-going-to-try. 

But now I have to confess my own bias, which just tripped me up.  In my original version of this post I wrote, "The friend who read my blog and sent the link included the comment, "Republicans=hypocrisy."" and I went on to say,  "I nailed her on it.  Republicans=hypocrisy is the same format as Muslims=terrorists, and we've absolutely got to stop doing that.  We have to start listening to each other."

What she actually said was, "So, Christian prayer = religious freedom, Islamic prayer = terrorism. I'm guessing atheist = deportation?  Republican, thy name is hypocrisy."  Which is different.  It's not a lot different, as it does still seem to lump all Republicans together, but it is different, and I'm sorry I made her sound more extreme than she did.  I wasn't listening as well as I should.

We have to start respecting viewpoints other than our own, and the way to do that, I'm convinced, is to listen to people who are not like us.  Find them, and hear their stories.

We all of us have more in common than we think.