Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Conservative Fear of Black Women

Recently, I read an article in the newspaper that conservative Evangelical ministers are criticizing Oprah for her promotion of a universalist view of spirituality. Her views have come under fire quite curiously after she selected Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" as her latest Book Club sensation. The book has been out for a few years and now with Oprah's blessing, it followed the pattern of other books that received her endorsement: instant bestsellerdom.

I started reading that book before she selected it, so the timing was perfect for me. It's the kind of book you want to read and discuss with others. I've never belonged to a book club and have been curious to join one, though I haven't made an effort to find one. When I finished reading the book back in February or March, I was struck by the truth in a lot of what the author wrote about. I know what he says has merit because I have seen similar things in my own life and have tested it and it works.

The latest controversy reminds me of the one that occurred a few years ago over "The Da Vinci Code." When that novel was first published in 2003, it didn't receive universal condemnation. It was basically ignored...until it became a HUGE publishing sensation (selling well over 25 million copies, or was it 40 million?). Only when something achieves that kind of success do Evangelical ministers start to panic, because now people who've read the book are asking too many questions and thinking deeper about what they believe and why. I can understand their panic because they have every reason to fear "an idea whose time has come." If you teach people since childhood that the same old Bible stories are literally true, any ideas that reflect a different way of looking at the world is going to be a threat. So, to counter the threat...instead of examining your own beliefs for once and seeing if it meets the test of logic, you start to attack a viewpoint that gains in popularity or attention, which only brings more attention to the idea you're hoping to kill.

This latest conservative outrage is just one example of their fear of the kind of power and influence a woman like Oprah Winfrey has. And her power has only grown because when she first endorsed Barack Obama, he was way behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. Now he'll be the nominee and he plays to stadium-sized crowds. Who can deny Oprah's magic touch now?

So, what is this idea that they are fearing?

A friend of mine told me about how she saw an advertisement by a church that was going to speak about this book. She and a friend went to it, thinking it was going to be a nice lecture about the ideas presented in "A New Earth", but what they found instead was a completely negative trashing of the book to the point where it was obvious that the preacher didn't even read the whole thing. He selected passages and used Biblical quotes to contradict Eckhart Tolle's "New Agey" ideas.

I'm a bit curious to hear the evangelical views of the book, but because I was made to go to those type of groups as a teenager, I don't think it would be any different from when they ripped on secular music. It's all fear-based, which I've moved far beyond. Fear is never a good motivating factor to join any group. I seek inspiration, inspiring ideas, and inspiring people. People who preach fear will only see my back as I hurry the hell away from them.

When I read "A New Earth" earlier this year, a situation occurred at work between a coworker I don't like and myself. I didn't handle it the best way I could have. Tolle wrote about how some people are so used to anger and fear that they subconsciously invite more of that into their lives and if we play into it by falling to their level, we're just feeding the problem and it will bring us down. This might be considered basic psychology, but Tolle goes into more depth about how to act around negative people who seek conflict to feed their egos. It truly is challenging to step outside of those situations and remain calm, even if someone is screaming and yelling at you for no reason and your every impulse is to lash back. That's exactly what they want, so the trick is to not give them what they want.

So, if you're one of those who condemns a book without reading it because your minister claims its "of the devil", I hope that you will read it for yourself. I simply cannot understand why anyone would think it's "anti-Christian" at all. The whole book is about becoming a better person that understands how one's ego operates and how to subvert your natural instinct to lash back at abusive people. When you can recognize the subconscious human dramas that our egos always try to pull us into, you can rise above it all and live a truer and freer existence.

I tried some of the techniques he mentions and it actually worked. It's a challenge, but take it from a guy like me who remains skeptical of any spiritual claim: there is nothing in "A New Earth" that will make you turn your back on God or Jesus. If you strive to live the way the book talks about living, our world will change for the better. How can that be a bad thing?

A final word about Oprah...what's so wrong about the spirituality she promotes on her show? Why do conservatives attack her for desiring to lift people up and inspire people? These are the same people who never criticize Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host who tears people down and seeks to divide Americans from one another. If you'd compare the two, Oprah is far more Christlike and Rush is living the role that would make Satan quite proud. So, it should tell you something when an Evangelical minister will condemn Oprah and her spiritual book selection while remaining silent when Rush rants about the latest religious controversy he helps to fabricate.

Now, I wanted to write about Michelle Obama, another strong black woman who has raised the ire of conservatives. What caused them to go into crazy rants on their propaganda networks? It was her statement: "For the first time in my adult life, I'm really proud to be an American."

What's wrong with that statement? I can't find a single thing wrong with it. Even Bill Maher pointed it out in his show on Saturday night. He then read quotes by conservatives like Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and even Dan Quayle's press secretary. The quotes he read were baffling, because these conservatives asked her why she didn't feel proud when the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics, or when the Statue of Liberty reopened for business in 1986, or that pharmaceutical companies have created drugs to improve people's lives (that was Malkin's question), or even Oprah's success.

It's outrage like this that has me wondering just how dumb conservatives are anyway? Have they been asleep at history? Are they that vacant between their ears?

Let's recap American history, shall we?

For over 400 years, blacks have been abducted from their families and homes in Africa to live in slavery on a new continent with no hope of ever seeing freedom. Many have seen their families split apart on auction blocks as different buyers made bids on their worth. When slavery was finally abolished, they still faced discrimination and harassment for another century. In the South, blacks were lynched by mobs, KKKs burned crosses in their yards, and many homes and churches were bombed during America's domestic terrorism years. All of this was overlooked by our government. When they rose up to demand equality in schools, public transit, and all areas of commercial life, they were beaten, spat at, called ugly names, bitten by vicious dogs, fired with water hoses, etc.

In our lifetime, many still face inequality in schools, in being hired to good jobs, getting into colleges, approved for home loans, finding a willing taxi driver after sunset, etc. We've seen race-tinged ads win elections for white politicians over black rivals (such as the case with Jesse Helms in 1990 and more recently when Harold Ford of Tennessee got bamboozled by a misleading ad that conjured up all the bad stereotypes white people have about African Americans).

So, given the history of our country, can you understand why an educated woman like Michelle Obama would be really proud of our country with the political success of her husband? With our racist history, I can completely understand why the white caucus voters in Iowa made Michelle proud when they cast their votes for Obama back in January. It was a sign that America has turned the page, willing to rise above fears and prejudice to give a minority candidate a shot at the most powerful job in the world. We should all be as proud. I know I am.

I find this example to be a simple case of selective outrage. The rightwing always has selective outrage. They let Bush statements go un-outraged, but if a Democrat (especially if he or she is a minority or a liberal) makes a statement, they just run with it ad nauseum and into the ground. That's the power of having a propaganda network that operates as an echo chamber, repeating the talking points put out by the RNC. It has nothing to do with truth, patriotism, or decency. It has everything to do with the conservative fear of any idea that didn't originate with them that has taken on a kind of popularity rarely seen in our country. That two highly educated and strong black women have raised so much of the conservative anger is fascinating to me. I have only one more thing to say about that:

"You go, girls!"

Oops...I shouldn't even say that (how about: "you go, ladies!"), so let me just say that I love strong women who aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in, even if it causes controversy. Now's not the time to back down from the regressive ideas of the right. Justice is on our side, and Oprah and Obama are leading the way! If conservatives want to fear anyone, they better start looking to the heavens for misrepresenting God all these years.


Margie's Musings said...

Grrat post, Nicholas! I was outraged with the cartoon in the New Yorker yesterday and it may just backfire.

angeleyes said...

I think you're missing the point about Oprah. No one disputes that Oprah is trying to make the world a better place. The problem with Oprah is that she says she's a Christian but obviously she doesn't open her Bible. She believes that "her God doesn't discriminate and there is surely more than one way to Him." Christians obviously believe in Christ. That means you believe what the Bible says. You don't pick parts to conform to your life like so many other religions have derived. The Bible clearly says that God created the heavens and the earth and man in His likeness. We were created to glorify Him. Not all secular music is bad, but if it is not of God, it is of the devil. That's not to say that all secular songs must speak about God. ex: God is love so there is nothing wrong with love songs. It's the songs that talk about drugs, women, flashy lifestyles, etc. The Bible also clearly states that no one can come to the Father except through His son who is also called The Way. We, as Christians, have a duty to tell the world about Christ because 1 John 2:17 says the world and it's desires shall pass away, but the man who does the will of God will have everlasting life. Please believe that the evangelicals just don't want people to be misled by Oprah's "new age" spirituality. I have not read A New Earth. I also have no doubt that it presents some great ideas about dealing with life. But the Bible is a wonderful book to read that basically gives us a blueprint for how we should live here on earth. It does not contradict itself like so many people think. It has not been altered. It has just been translated just as if I were to translate another language to you so that you could understand. I hope this gives you a better understanding. You have a great blog!!

d/b/c/m said...

my mom loved the new earth and has been giving copies to people (and she's very christian). i really think in so many cases, it's the irrational extreme evangelicals that give christianity a bad name (like miss tape recorder above). i don't think the majority of christians are so narrow minded and recognize god in everything good, not just the bible and rigid dogma.

anyway, the reason i wanted to comment, is that as cynical as i can be, i did think that michelle obama's statement about being proud for the first time was naiive. there are plenty of innovation (social and otherwise) that our country has been a torch bearer in. yes, there is plenty wrong in our history, but if you look at our country in relation to the world, i think there has been much to be proud of. even if you want to speak purely in terms of racism, the United States has always been radically liberal. I was shocked to be in Spain a couple of years ago and feel like I was back in the 50's in the way that black people were treated (or not). And it's worse in many parts of Asia and Spanish speaking countries. To be blunt, Africans have always been the brunt of inequality everywhere on the globe. Slavery was rampant everywhere and we got rid of it ahead of most and elevated many blacks to high status before they were given voice in other countries. The same recognition struck me when reading about jesse owens in the berlin olympics (which is probably not a stellar example, but significant). I'm proud that we've come so far in so little time. And I was proud of that before Barack Obama got elected.

Sansego said...

Angeleyes: Thanks for your response and compliment. We'll have to respectfully disagree on Christianity, because what you wrote is not what I believe. I think there is more than one way to being "Christian", so I run away from people who claim that THEIR way is THE ONLY WAY (why is it that people claim that their way is the right way? It's a sure sign of egotism run amok).

My spiritual views are closer aligned with Oprah's than yours. The truth is EVERYONE picks and chooses which Bible verses to follow and which to ignore. That's how you can have Klansmen quoting Bible verses to support their racism AND black ministers quoting other Bible verses to support their views. We have Pat Robertson quoting the Bible and we have Reverent Jeremiah Wright quoting the Bible. We can all quote the Bible to support our agendas.

One thing I've never understood about Evangelicals is the passage in the Bible where a rich, young ruler asks Jesus what he needs to do to live a more righteous life. Jesus told him to give everything he has to the poor and follow him. Do we see evangelical Christians who claim to be Biblical literalists follow that advice? No! So many preach "prosperity theology" where God will bless you with wealth if you give money to them. It's the biggest con job I've ever seen.

I'll be posting my thoughts on religion again really soon, because there are a few news stories I've read recently that I want to address.

I appreciate your comments, though, so thank you for posting

Sansego said...

Brooklyn: Michelle Obama said: "For the first time in my adult life, I'm really proud of America."

Notice the phrasing...

She probably came to adulthood in the Reagan years. Considering our history since 1980, there hasn't been much to be proud of.

Secondly, she said "really proud". Sure, she might feel proud of this or that, but to feel "really" proud?

Besides, how can you judge a person for what they feel? That was the problem I had with the feminist trio I wrote about. In our country, people can't make an honest statement about how they feel anymore without words being taken out of context or twisted for nefarious purposes. If we truly value honesty, we need to allow people to express their feelings, even if we disagree and to not attack them for feeling what they feel.

Michelle wasn't knocking anyone in her statement. She simply said that she was really proud of our country for the first time in her adult life. I can't fault her for that at all, given our country's history.

When Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, I remember being envious and wondering when America will have a black president. If someone had told me that the Democrats would nominate someone in 2008 with a strange name that wasn't publically known in 1994, I'd have said that they were crazy. So, you bet that I'm proud of the Democrats and our country for seeing beyond the racial issues and giving us a chance to break the mold of 42 white presidents. I bet Lincoln and Dr. King are smiling in heaven over this election.

Sansego said...

Brooklyn: Oh, I'm sure that evangelical Christians wouldn't consider your mom or your family to be Christian anyway.

However, I think its great that your mom has been recommending that book to people. One thing I loved about my time at BYU and being among Mormons is that they weren't so quick to condemn movies like "Star Wars" for being un-Christian. Mormons are more open-minded about pop culture ideas than many evangelicals, which was a relief. Anyone who thinks "Star Wars" is un-Christian is just too fanatical and narrow-minded to me.

Another thing I noticed at BYU was that Mormons are interested in Near Death Experiences and don't condemn it like evangelicals do.

Margie's Musings said...

I too beg to disagree about the Bible. The Bible is full of contradictions. If we followed it to the "T", we'd still have slavery and we'd take our children to the village elders to be stoned to death if they disobeyed us.

Wearing two kinds of fabrics at the same time is also considered an abomination in the Bible.

I could go on for paragraphs but all one has to do is read the Bible from cover to cover to discover all the inconsistencies. I don't worship the Bible..I worship God.

I know men wrote it over a long period of time and it doesn't take a scholar to learn that it has been changed hundreds of times over the centuries.

I love the Bible but I try to be realistic. When I use it in the pulpit, I try to put it's messages in context.

Even the message has been changed over time. At one time, the central message of the Bible was the Kingdom of God on earth..that's relationships between mankind and mankind and God.

In order to attempt to explain Jesus' death on the cross, the Bible writers read an entirely new message into the scriptures...personal salvation.

In dozens and dozens of places in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly calls the message of the kingdom the gospel (good news).

angeleyes said...

Sure, we can respectfully agree to disagree. Religion is always a topic that gets people stirred up. As far as the klansmen, controversial evangelicals, prosperity preachers, the so-called "rich preachers", all I will say is II Cor 4:18 says, "look not at the things that are seen, for they are temporary. Look at the things which are unseen, for they are eternal." We should SEEK holiness but we were all born into sin. God knows our heart and its sincerety. Once again, I say the Bible doesn't contradict itself. People always refer back to what they did in the old testament. The new testament speaks about the life we are to live today. The new testament says that He died so that we could have life. I can't wait to read your future posts on this subject. You have a very interesting blog. I look forward to read your columns every day!! Keep up the great work.