Tag Archives: cause

Campaign in Poetry, Govern in Prose

20 May

Soundbites are wonderful slogans. “No person is illegal.” “It’s a life, not a choice.” “Black lives matter.” “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei, Sola Deo Gratia.” (That’s a much older slogan.) The problems come when you take a slogan and try to make that a policy.

I’ve been reading Apostles of Reason: Crisis of Authority in American Evangelism by Molly Worthen, which sounds like a snooze fest, but is actually one of the most interesting, most compelling modern histories I’ve read. She’s writing the history of the evangelical movement in America, starting in the 1920’s (although as she says, you could start it anywhere in American history), and telling how a few ministers and theologians started off with an idea of church reform, which became church growth, which became a reaction to counter-culture, leading to the Moral Majority in the 1980’s.

The main issue that evangelicals have to wrestle with is the details. Sure, it’s easy to say the Three Solas of the Reformation: “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei, Sola Deo Gratia.” (By scripture alone, by faith alone, and by the grace of God alone.) But how does that translate into what you believe? We believe in scripture alone. Okay, does that mean the Word of God is inerrant and perfect? But then how to explain all the “copying errors” in the Bible that actually change the meaning of sentences? How do you reconcile parts of the Bible that make no sense–my favorite being Exodus 4:24-26, God coming to kill Moses right after the Burning Bush incident.

The more I thought about it, the more this applies to other slogans as well. Slogans are great–they unify us in a common cause, they’re easier to shout at rallies, they get people to the polls. However, because your supporters come to together, when you get to actually changing policy, many of your supporters will feel betrayed because they never thought about “what happens next?”

Okay, let’s take “defund the police.” To some people that means, the police are the reason there’s so much violence, let’s get rid of it. To other people that means, we force a reform of the police, break up the union, you’re likely to get better cops. To some others, it might mean, the police have too much money, so they buy military equipment to abuse our citizens. If they had less money, they’d be less militarized. So let’s say you go with option three: you’ve alienated the “no cops” crowd, disappointed the reformers, and may not get what you expect with option three. The police department may react by hiring fewer officers and keeping all that equipment.

If you’re goal is simple and direct, you’re less likely to fracture once you hit your goal, but then how do you keep your organization together? What comes next? In some cases, like Society for the Preservation of the Real Thing and Old Cola Drinkers of America, once you get original Coca-Cola back (yes, Coke changed it’s formula and a massive upswell of support brought back the original formula 71 days later), they simply disband. If you’re about Gay Marriage, when you get gay marriage, you then simply touch on other issues like, custody rights, hospital visitation rights, social security benefits… et al.

So for some, the fight never ends. You may think this is a good thing, you might support it but no longer actively, or you might think this is a betrayal of the cause. Take smoking. We went from 45 percent of Americans being regular smokers in 1965 to 15. That should be cause to celebrate, right? But no, obviously we need to work on the remaining 15. Now in a time where smoking is banned in public in almost every state in America, the anti-smoking movement still pushes against cigarettes and vaping. (But not cigars or pipes… or marijuana…. I wonder why?) The American Cancer Society is forced to bring up second-hand (and sometimes third-hand) smoke to press their claims. You get more granular and you start losing focus.

So here’s where I could get into activists changing the message to get more people on their side, but I fear I’m crossing into dangerous territory, so I’ll leave it there. But what do you think? Is it harder to pursue the fight when you actually have to implement your rules? Is the cause more valuable when you’ve achieved your initial goals? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you like reading my writing, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Moral Equivalency of War

11 Jan

We use the term “hero” too much, along with “battle” and “war,” to talk about things that are none of those things. Are we really fighting the good fight?

William James have a speech a hundred years ago at Yale University called “the Moral Equivalency of War,” talking about the idea of using the language of war that gives people the sense that they are feeling as if they are soldiers, so that they see the moral rightness of their position.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “We’re fighting climate change,” it’s far more appealing to say, “We’re fighting to face the Earth!” It feels like a righteous crusade instead of just a cause.

The problem is that it’s been overused. Every election is the most important election of our time. Every issue is a fight against evil. When everything is so damn important, then you start to feel that nothing is important. The reason why every day is not Arbor Day is because if it is, then… Well, it’s just a day.

What I learned when I ran for office (10 years ago, third party, got 8% of the vote) is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has a cause. Just one. You might say you care about everything, but we only have one thing you’re passionate about. There’s only so much “give a damn” in our lives and you have to focus it. If you choose to raise the banner for one issue, there’s a thousand other issues you don’t have time for.

My cynicism is showing, I’ll admit it, because I’ve been burned before. I marched in parades, in political rallies, ran for office, and I can’t even say I believe the same things I protested for anymore. If you’re willing to fight for what you believe in, so you can change the world, go ahead… But accept that it’s going to take a long time and it might take your whole life to accomplish it.

Take the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1991, actually proposed in the Bill of Rights in 1790. A college student thought it was still a good idea (any pay raise that Congress votes itself doesn’t go into effect until the next election), wrote it in a class paper, and got a C. However, that became his cause, and spent the next ten years convincing state legislatures to ratify it. That was his life. He succeeded – but he got lucky.

How long are you willing to fight for your cause? How much time are you willing to spend to change the world? Are you willing to give up your career, a family, and friends just to accomplish it? I guess I’m in awe of those who do, at the same time, understanding what they had to do to achieve it. They fought the good fight, but like any veteran, they bear the scars of what they sacrificed.

Do you have an activist you admire? Would you really want to meet them in real life? Share your person in the comments below!

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