How Do We Heal A Divided World?

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The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

CAMP MARGARETVILLE — The scene is so green here now it almost makes my eyes hurt to look upon it for long. The air is so cool it makes my heart slow down here listening to the birds sing on the porch. Slow moving fluffy white cumulus clouds drift across a pale blue sky, and the temperate hovers in the mid-60s, with fairly low humidity.

It’s a perfect spring day on Easter Sunday. I feel no need to shine my shoes and dress up in a suit to join the Christians in a big show of going to church. If there is a god he is sitting right out there in a tree admiring the birds with me.

I wonder if a single preacher will bring the subject on my mind today up in a sermon anywhere. I doubt it. I am thinking of the question: How do we heal a divided world?

What do I mean? See below.

For years now we have talked about a divided electorate in the United States. You can’t turn on cable news without hearing about blue states and red states, conservatives vs. liberals, Republicans vs. Democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, etc. That is the nature of media, to divide us up into competing camps.

That does not even begin to cover all the ways we are divided. Down here in Alabamaland, even progressive Democrats are divided up into issue camps, competing Facebook groups and blog loyalties, with smaller and smaller numbers of people becoming faithful to this little Web news outlet or that one.

It seems to me the so-called conservative Republicans are more loyal to their talk radio and Fox News, while liberal Democrats get pissed off at one little thing somebody says and they bolt your Facebook friend list and seek out another pundit to follow.

We are divided into those who follow science news and trust verifiable information and those who “believe” in a religion and cling to an ancient story, ignoring any new information that comes along.

Back in the 1960s, Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Jews, conservatives and liberals all came together on a few themes and worked to build a better world. There was much hope that a mission to the moon would make all humankind see that we are all in this struggle together and that the Earth is just one tiny planet in a humongous, expanding cosmos.

On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, people came together from all over the country and the world in an appreciation of the need to protect the natural environment.

I interviewed the president of the Southern Baptist Convention back in August of 2011 and asked the question: Is A Great Compromise Between Science and Religion Possible?

There should be no contradiction between exercising religious freedom and protecting the planet. If you believe there is a god, don’t you think protecting the “creation” should be a political priority? How can people who call themselves Christians work to destroy the planet? This makes no sense and appears to be a symptom of a certain kind of human schizophrenia.

Something happened in the 1980s and again in the first decade of the new millennium after the year 2000 that made us forget the unifying nature of these things. The Republican Party, led by Ronald Reagan and then George W. Bush, at the behest of the big business establishment, turned the public’s attention from positive, potentially unifying themes in human nature and divided people for political purposes. They managed to make us forget that we have a lot in common.

Even among traditional groups that have tended in the past to vote Democrat there is a divide. Union members who are under assault by Republican policy priorities don’t seem to understand that environmentalists are part of the Democratic coalition. Not all of them. Many Republicans and independents also value something about the natural environment, whether it is a love of the outdoors in general or birds specifically.

It comes as a shock to many people when I tell them how I was kicked off the Alabama Ornithological birding listserv a few years back — not for anything I posted on the e-mail list. I was just posting links to my wildlife photography, but some of the hard core Republicans on the list were horrified when they clicked on the bird picture link and looked around on my site and found some of the negative columns I wrote about George W. Bush.

Republicans can’t seem to handle being exposed to an alternative point of view now and then. They seem to have to be constantly pandered to by a conservative, Christian, “family-friendly” media that would not dare challenged their strident and closed-minded views on the world. Many so-called Christians are the same way. They will not engage in a conversation with an atheist or read anything by someone they disagree with on the religion issue.

Why do they not understand that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution not only guarantees their religious freedom, but our freedom of speech and press too? These don’t have to be contradictory or competing rights.

I don’t have the answer to how we might bridge these divides. I am open to suggestions. If you have any ideas, we would welcome them in the comments section below.

Is this a hopeless quest? Or is there hope for the future? I honestly don’t know.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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