There is a teacher in the town where I live and he is one of the kindest men that I know. Unlike much of the town, he has gone out of his way to help our family. He is a strong Christian and does his best to live what he believes every day. He treats others how he wants to be treated. He helps the less fortunate. He is kind and he is generous. His wife is the same way, and together they have raised their children to be very good people. But inside this good, sweet man, is a dark and ugly hatred.
This man hates homosexuals. He says they are all going to hell. He says AIDS is god’s punishment on them. He says that everyone that has AIDS deserves to die. I wonder if he also means the innocent children that have contracted the disease. I wonder if he thinks they deserve to die.
The story of this man and his opinions came to me second hand through my sister, so I can’t say for sure that it is exactly true, but I know that there is some truth to it, because formerly she had loved and admired him. He was someone she looked up to. But after this conversation, she lost much of her respect. The argument began with her refusal to say the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of class. She said that it was a compulsory action and because of that it had lost its meaning. She refused to participate on principal and he called her unpatriotic. This was at the height of the 9-11 aftermath, where every car had a little plastic flag waving from it and most store windows displayed signs that read “GOD bless America,” as if they yelled it loud enough, those of us who had rather not have that religion forced down our throats would have to just give up and swallow. The principal said that the school could not force her to say the pledge. But evidently, the school could make her life miserable if she chose not to comply.
Since she had been good friends with this man and looked up to him, she was upset at his red-faced angry outburst earlier that day and decided that discussing it with him would be the best idea. Their discussions lead to his aggressive declaration of hatred and intolerance and that day she lost a friend.
Oscar Wilde said that “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” I believe he was right. Those that most forcefully display their patriotism seem to be the ones who are most willing to rip your head off if you don’t agree with them. They seem to be the ones that are most filled with hate for others. They become enraged when anyone suggests that they and their country might be wrong. They become enraged when anyone suggests that, for the good of this country that they claim to love, they might need to change.
I have always believed that it was my duty as a patriot to stand up and scream like a banshee when my country no longer represents me. I felt that it was my duty to do what I could to defend my country against those that were taking it over and turning it into something that it was never meant to be. But as I looked around at the other -patriots- something occurred to me that made me very sad. They had redefined patriotism to truly mean what Oscar Wilde had named it, the virtue of the vicious. I had always been raised to believe in Thomas Jefferson’s definition, that a true patriot is one that is ready to defend his country against its own government. If the new definition of patriot is the one the world is going by now, I’m not sure I want to be associated with those kinds of people. I feel that patriotism, today, means that we must close our eyes and ears, shut down our consciences and jump on the band-wagon. As much as I despise Adolph Hitler, he was very wise when he said, “How fortunate it is for those in power that people do not think.”
I have had a hard time trying to figure out how such kindness and gentleness can occupy the same human being as such hatred and bigotry. I think we all have our good and reasonable sides and our angry and irrational sides. I have to watch myself daily that I don’t allow my intense dislike for a large number of very vocal and obnoxious Christians turn into a hatred for all Christians. Sadly, some days I loose. There are so many Christians that are such wonderful people; they are the ones that I would consider to be “true” Christians. The ones that are trying to do the best they can and not hurt anyone else along the way. They don’t use the bible as a weapon for hate, but rather as an instrument to encourage love and compassion. I think these good people are the true representation of the religion. But alas, the obnoxious hate-filled ones are the ones that are most vocal. Good Christians need to take their religion back. They need to let the world know that they are not all about hate and condemnation. Those of us who are on the outside looking in are getting quite the wrong idea about their faith. This good and hateful man that I have been talking about has been an example of the Christian religion to me, what is supposed to be, and where it seems, unfortunately, to be going. When he expresses his faith and is generous and kind, the world looks at him and says, “THAT is a Christian. They live what they preach. They are sincere and good. They are the kind of people I want to know.” But when he spouts his hate in the name of god, the world says, “THAT is a Christian; a hypocritical, unjust, hateful, bigoted maniac. They are no one I care to know, no one I care to listen to, and no one I care to have anything to do with.” I don’t think they realize what damage they do to their religion when their hate is what they show the fiercest. I shudder to think what other countries think about us, especially now with the ones in power claiming our country to be a Christian country. It makes my skin crawl to think that someone in another country might listen to the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson and think that those men represent the whole of the American public. It makes me ashamed that our president can buddy up to these loonies and the rest of the world gets to watch that too.
I know there is good in these men, just as there is good in all the vocal hate-mongers that are posing as Christians. There is good in everyone and bad in everyone. Viktor Frankl said that “No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.” I believe this is true. And I will go further to say that I believe no one person can be wholly decent or indecent. I believe that it is our challenge and our duty as human beings to do our best to keep our indecent selves in check and not let them run away with us. The best gift we can give to others and the best legacy we can leave is to let it be our decent selves that touch the world around us. When our good has outshined our bad, we are true examples of everything we represent. When our decency is greater than our indecency, we are then worthy of being remembered.