I recently received one of those forwarded-forwarded-forwarded emails that causes me such great sadness. This was yet another email in which the author/sender's anger, frustration, and confusion in the face of economic and social change gets expressed in a way that does not attempt to unravel and understand complexity. Instead, the email text ignores important facts and makes statements that are uninformed at best, bigoted and racist at worst.
Feeling anger, frustration, confusion, etc., is natural. It often takes us a while to work through those feelings, which is also to be expected. Staying in that place of anger, frustration, and confusion, however, can be harmful to one's health, erode one's social ties, and undermine the basic levels of trust and respect that a functional democracy requires. Rather than try to foster understanding and generate solutions, these kinds of emails help perpetuate the kinds of ignorance that plague this country.
When I receive such emails, I am compelled to reply to all recipients. I do this as one small way to attempt to bring a deeper understanding to the issue; I also see my response as a moral obligation to speak up in the face of intolerance.
If you're interested, my response to the email is directly below the jump, and the email text itself is at the bottom of this post.
I did a bit of research to determine the provenance of this poem, and found some information on snopes.com.
Like the anonymous sender who wrote at the bottom "not ashamed, pass it on," I am also not ashamed to highlight the implicit and explicit parts of this that I find most offensive.
I find this email offensive in two general ways. The first is from a philosophical/ideological standpoint; in some regards, we can see these as a matter of taste and agree to disagree. The second way I find this email offensive has nothing to do with philosophy or ideology, but with fundamental facts – to espouse a political philosophy is one thing, and people can have fun sparring with one another on such things, but to twist and/or ignore facts is reprehensible and inexcusable. Specifically (roughly in the order in which the offensive aspects of the email occur):
** The snopes.com link above shows that that likelihood that "a 15 yr. old school kid in Arizona" wrote this is functionally zero. Since this email begins with such blatant disregard for discernible facts, I'm immediately suspicious of the veracity of its contents.
** The Pledge itself is not outlawed in public schools, but mandatory recitation of the pledge is outlawed. That is, students can't be forced to recite the Pledge, but students can still say the Pledge (reference). This is a critical distinction. Deciding to ignore the difference is an act of choice based on one’s ideology and religious beliefs. Understanding the difference makes it perfectly clear that this email is motivated by a restrictive set of particular fundamentalist and conservative Christian values and not the values of honest communication, mutual understanding, compassionate dialogue, or respect for veracity.
** The "one nation under God" part of the pledge wasn't originally in the pledge, it was inserted there during the McCarthy era communism scare (see, for example, here). This means that there were explicit political reasons for inserting this into the Pledge at that particular time. These political reasons included the ascendency of conservative feelings in the country, disrespect for alternate political & religious views, and the Cold War competition against a foe (the USSR) that influential Americans in power characterized as “godless.”
** The U.S. is not a Christian nation and was not founded as a Christian nation (reference). The founders included explicit language in the constitution to separate church and state (reference), and to foster religious tolerance (reference). Some groups of people choose to cherry-pick from the available evidence so that they can construct a narrative to support their ideological belief that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but this interpretation simply does not fit the full range of facts available, nor does it accurately reflect the situation in the late-eighteenth-century American British colonies/U.S.A. Choosing to ignore pertinent facts to support one's beliefs does not make something true.
** The email implies that having purple or green hair (or “to cuss and dress like freaks”) can be equated with state-sponsored religion. This is ridiculous. People in the U.S. have the right to have purple hair and they have the right to pray to whomever they choose, but it’s not a matter for the state one way or the other – at least, that is, if one follows the laws of the U.S. as they were originally articulated in the Constitution and have since evolved.
** The email states that “They've outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible.” Both of these statements are demonstrably false:
-- Some communities (most notably Chicago and Washington D.C., see, for example, here) did attempt to regulate firearms, but these were community decisions based on the extreme amounts of violence related directly to firearms. Therefore, the “they” in the quote above actually means “the voters and elected representatives within a democratic system.” These laws are currently being dissolved by recent Supreme Court decisions. The extent to which firearms should be regulated is a philosophical/political issue amenable to debate, but equating limited firearm regulations with firearms being “outlawed” is intellectually dishonest.
-- The Bible has never been “outlawed” in the U.S. See links above for information that pertains to school prayer and Pledge of Allegiance decisions. The extent to which religious expression should be fostered in a community is a philosophical/political issue amenable to debate, but equating the maintenance of the freedom of religion/freedom from religion with the Bible being “outlawed” is intellectually dishonest.
** The email contains the refrain “Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles,” equating these cultural practices and implicitly characterizing them, along with “condoms and birth controls,” as negative things. The extent to which one might not agree with witchcraft, vampires, condoms, or birth control for one’s self is purely a personal issue; the extent to which these practices exist in the broader society isn’t one’s business. However, associating “totem poles” with these other practices implicitly denigrates Native Americans by association, and this is pure, unadulterated racism and bigotry.
In summary, this email illustrates clearly some of the primary reasons why I have such distaste for the beliefs, practices, and politics of a particular strain of conservative fundamental Christians zealots in this country. These are: 1) a lack of respect for the truth; 2) willful ignorance of facts that contradict and/or add complexity to a given interpretation; 3) lack of respect for diversity; 4) the undeniable undercurrent of racism and bigotry in just about everything they do and say.
The poem sent in the email:
I hope this kid got an A+ on his paper.
BY A 15 yr. Old SCHOOL KID IN ARIZONA. New Pledge of Allegiance (TOTALLY AWESOME)!
Since the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer are not allowed in most public schools anymore because the word 'God' is mentioned..... A kid in Arizona wrote the attached
NEW School prayer:
Now I sit me down in school / Where praying is against the rule / For this great nation under God / Finds mention of Him very odd.
If scripture now the class recites, / It violates the Bill of Rights. / And anytime my head I bow / Becomes a Federal matter now.
Our hair can be purple, orange or green, / That's no offense; it's a freedom scene.. / The law is specific, the law is precise. / Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
For praying in a public hall / Might offend someone with no faith at all.. / In silence alone we must meditate, / God's name is prohibited by the state.
We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks, / And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks... / They've outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible. / To quote the Good Book makes me liable. / We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen, / And the 'unwed daddy,' our Senior King. / It's 'inappropriate' to teach right from wrong, / We're taught that such 'judgments' do not belong..
We can get our condoms and birth controls, / Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.. / But the Ten Commandments are not allowed, / No word of God must reach this crowd.
It's scary here I must confess, / When chaos reigns the school's a mess. / So, Lord, this silent plea I make: / Should I be shot; My soul please take! / Amen
If you aren't ashamed to do this, Please pass this on. Jesus said, 'If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.'
Not ashamed. Pass this on.