Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Moment Of Personal Privilege

Once every twelve hundred or so blog posts, I assert a Point of Personal Privilege to assert something that is unlikely to be popular but I am compelled to put it out there anyway.  This is one of those times.  Or perhaps on this level of importance, the first.

Though it is now situated a month or so back in our rearview mirrors, an image from the recent election still intermittently haunts me.  You know when something happens in the present resonates with an event from the past that seriously affected you? 

This is that.

My mind trips back to my Toronto Hebrew Day School classmate Arye Leibowitz who, along with all of my male classmates, was attending my tenth birthday party.  I recall this as if it were yesterday.

We had played all of our traditional birthday games, and it is now time to eat.  I can see Arye Leibowitz walking into kitchen and quietly announcing he is unable to eat the hamburgers and hotdogs my mother had prepared for lunch because, although they were kosher (religiously sanctioned), my mother always maintaining a strictly kosher kitchen, they did not rise to Arye’s family’s more rigorous standard of rabbinical certification.

Though wanting desperately his contemporaries’ acceptance, Arye ignored my mother’s comforting reassurances –

“These hamburgers are kosher enough.”

refusing to compromise the rules he had grown up with, despite the inconvenience it caused, and the pressure and isolation he was forced to endure. 

As a "noticer-in-training", I detected the distress in Arye’s ten year-old face, accompanying the tears welling up in his eyes.  This was a party; you were supposed to have fun.  And yet, unwittingly, we had placed Arye in this agonizing position, torn between wanting to fit in and his obligation to his religious beliefs.    


In response to a debate question, a Republican candidate seeking the senatorial seat from Indiana informs the electorate that his religion instructs him that life begins at conception, and that therefore, as hideously horrible as the circumstances that precipitated it are, consistent with those religious percepts, he does not believe that pregnancies resulting from rape and incest should be permitted to be terminated. 

Though my personal views lie on the other end of that ideological spectrum, I looked into that candidate’s anguished face, as I watched him put his sincerely held beliefs ahead of his chances of getting elected,

And saw Arye Leibowitz.

The pressure on him must have been enormous.  The candidate’s allies, fearful of his damaging the party by losing the election, were urging him to moderate his position, reassuring him that, by doing so, he would not be selling out his religious beliefs –

“These hamburgers are kosher enough.”

Meanwhile, the “other side” was going predictably berserk, a prominent progressive cable news host, abandoning what is traditionally the bedrock progressive principle of tolerance, and branding the Republican candidate’s profession of his religious beliefs “wacky”, “loony” and “absurd.”  (This, you may be interested in knowing, is the inciting incident that triggered this blog post.  I am saddened when a representative of “my side” behaves in a manner more commonly associated with the opposition.)    

America was nothing less than revolutionary when it guaranteed in its Constitution that one group’s religious beliefs cannot be legally imposed on other groups of people, be they large or small, who believe otherwise. 

We are now confronted with a man, holding a minority-held religious position, facing an excruciating “Moment of Truth”, who, no matter what the cost he will be required to pay, proclaims,

“I know what you want me to say.  But I can’t.” 

And the question arises, “How should we respond?”

To me, if our honor or our admiration is too much, in response to his sticking steadfastly to his guns and, perhaps more importantly, in the name of the “better angels” of the natures of the people who passionately disagree with him, the man who ran for the senatorial seat from Indiana – and lost – I believe,

Deserves, at the very least,

Our, begrudging if that’s what it takes to get there,

Respectful understanding.


Doug said...

This is one reason I read your blog. You and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and I don't care. I like what you write. I think that if I met you, I would like you personally. When did our party affiliation start becoming a scarlet letter to the other side? Sad.

Doug in Phoenix

Mac said...

Indeed. I completely disagree with the guy's opinion, but the fact that he'd lose an election to be honest with himself (and the electorate) tells you something about his integrity.

PG said...

Have you considered the possibility that the man just thinks that he can garner more votes with this position? His mistake wasn't in insisting that life is life, no matter how it starts, is...logically...but in making the suggestion that God condoned conception by rape. He went a little too far and gave them powerful ammo.
There are still those who believe that Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough.

Rebecca said...

I believe, though it is entirely possible that I'm missing something, that these two things are not equivalent. Because your childhood friend was not attempting to prevent anyone else from eating hamburger.

In this country, everyone is entitled to their individual beliefs. No one was going to force any female in that politician's family to have an abortion.


He is NOT entitled to force his beliefs on other people and prevent women who have *different* beliefs from having abortions if they so choose.


Unlike your childhood friend, there was no reason for this politician to feel any anguish over his beliefs. Almost everyone who was supporting him agreed with them. So his anguish was due to not being able to force his beliefs upon the rest of the country, while your friend's anguish was due to only wanting to be allowed to practice his the way he thought best.

Here is a completely different example of a similar situation.

That question also came up during the vice-presidential debate. Paul Ryan stated that he believed life began at conception and his faith dictated that abortion was wrong. Displaying no anguish, he gushed about how his daughter looked like a bean when she was a fetus.

Now, he was not addressing abortion in the case of rape, so there was certainly less pressure. But I still think Joe Biden's response was as perfect, elegant and accurate as you could wish for.

A Catholic, like Paul Ryan, Biden said he agreed with Ryan's position in his personal life. But Biden did not feel it was his place, unlike Ryan, to force his religious beliefs upon the rest of the country.

There is separation of church and state in this country for a very good reason. And there was no reason for Mourdock to feel anguish about the beliefs he held. All he had to do was acknowledge the fact that his religious beliefs are not sufficient basis for legislation in this country. But it seems he forgot that. So the voters reminded him.