Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sometimes Extreme Parallels Make Sense, Sometimes They Don't

You gotta love our country. When we're not busy electing an African American man to our highest office, we're celebrating the memory of the armed forces who battled to keep POTUS' great great grandparents in slavery. Well, the state of Virginia is. And that, as you can imagine, has worked everyone into a lather. CNN's Roland Martin, an African American man himself, called the celebration akin to to honoring Nazi soldiers, or Muslim extremists. Makes perfect sense to me. While soldiers on both sides of the Civil War had less than progressive views on the status of black Americans, it was the Confederate Army that was mostly invested in keeping slavery as a force of industry for South. While the Nazis ultimately sought to wipe out the world's Jewish population, both the Nazis and the Confederate Army find their reason for being in the victimization of a perceived lesser people.

While we're stewing over this latest breach on civility and common sense (to make matters worse, the Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, thinks our most recent national outrage over the issue of slavery and the Confederate Army "doesn't amount to diddly" - Source: WashPo), there's been another affront to our morality. This one involves the Catholic church and its history of turning a blind eye to pedophile priests. One of the church's most out-spoken critics is the brilliant Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, but in her latest opinion piece, "Worlds Without Women," she makes a parallel that I'm not too comfortable with. She equates the church with the same oppressive, patriarchal structure of Islam, going so far as to compare her experience as a Catholic with that of Saudi women who have very few rights in their own country.

She writes "I, too, belonged to an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity. I, too, remained part of an autocratic society that repressed women and ignored their progress in the secular world."

Now, I'm not even gonna try to spar with Maureen Dowd, but for all of the trespasses of the church, I think it's a huge, unfair leap to compare the experience of a Catholic woman who is free to show off her hair, her body and pursue a career without fear of being stoned to death, with that of women who, under the most strict interpretation of their faith, have little to no human value. Dowd's argument that the church's staunch position on family and the clergy has created generations of criminals is fair, but to say that the church is as repressive and outdated as fundamentalist Islam is slander. After all, we have yet to see rogue Christians flying airplanes into office buildings.

Let's just be careful, then, with the parallels we draw to interpret current events - and events in our own lives for that matter. No one likes a drama queen.


Joe said...

If there is one thing I've learned, you cannot ask someone to abandon their cultural heritage and hate themselves, no matter the evidence.

It is the very definition of intolerance.

People should be free to be who they are, modified in todays world (cultures morph wildly to fit circumstances--but only when they feel safe and unpressurized to do so).

In many ways, the plight of free blacks was far, far worse after the collapse of Reconstruction. I think our attempts to force cultural change backlashed, and I do not believe any further attacks on their cultural identity are a good idea.

Acceptance will win in the end, but further pressure to self-hate will not.

Joe said...

By "they" I mean Southern whites. At some point we need to admit that using fear and hatred to force cultural change never works.

People are only accepting when they feel those asking for acceptance will not threaten themselves or their families.

If people feel safe, they will be tolerant of each other. If not, they will form collectives and try and figure out which collective is the threat.