Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's Your Banner

Each fall the campus of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is host to a vicious anti–abortion campaign that links abortion to genocide and sets up huge posters graphically depicting murderous scenes of the Holocaust and other genocidal acts of human cruelty. The anti-abortion people themselves are quiet, well healed, and so narrow minded that I imagine one could pass their heads through the eye of a needle. Yet they don’t have to say anything; their photographs talk loudly, albeit falsely.

Sometimes pro-Choice advocates line up in the “protest the protest” section nearby and chant their disgust at the obscenity of linking abortion to genocide and woman who have abortions to Nazis and homicidal maniacs.

Both sides are fueled by anger, fear, and hatred. Neither is centered in anything remotely spiritual, though I imagine many on the anti side consider themselves so.

Compare this to a pro¬-democracy rally in Rangoon, Burma (now called Myanmar to avoid the obvious comparisons with the shave cream product) where hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns challenged the government to release the leader of the pro–democracy movement, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. The Buddhists marched under a huge yellow banner that read, “Love and kindness must win over everything.”

I don’t want to romanticize the Buddhists of Burma, nor do I claim to know what is in the hearts of every protester there. But I cannot imagine such a protest in the United States. Our banners are in-your-face attacks. It is a class of egos and wills, lacking any sense of compassion for the other side.

What does that say about us as a people? What does that say about our dominant religions and the moods they foster?

I mentioned this to one anti-abortion supporter who said it was like the Jews circling Jericho and blowing their trumpets until the walls fell. “That was a peaceful protest,” he said. I reminded him that as soon as the walls fell Joshua ordered his soldiers to slaughter the inhabitants of Jericho. “Yeah, well,” the man said and walked away.

It is hard to imagine a Buddhist monk or nun screaming into a television camera or making harsh if not obscene comments about those who disagree with them. Yet that is what passes for political and social debate in our country. I am trying to imagine Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh, or Bill O’Reilly, or Bill Maher and Al Franken for that matter, marching under a “Love and kindness must win over everything” banner.

Love and kindness aren’t even on the agenda in America. Maybe they never were. I think we find such sentiments silly. We live in a world where money and power matter not love and kindness. I can’t help but wish it were otherwise.

Would I rather live in Myanmar? Not yet. But if the Buddhists have their way and love and kindness are the standards by which their society is run, we would be fools not to visit and see what we can learn.

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