The 100 Day Sprint: Two American cultures, one American election

Two different snippets from America’s heated cultural conversation caught my ear over the weekend.

The first was a letter to the editor of the Times of Ticonderoga from a Boy Scout leader, Charles Smith, arguing passionately against the inclusion of gay men and boys in scouting culture.

“I urge every scout leader and parent to resist to the fullest extent of your ability [the involvement of gay men and boys],” Smith wrote, “and let national headquarters in Texas know of your resistance.”

The second was an editorial written by Denton Publications publisher Dan Alexander, arguing in favor of public prayer before meetings of the Essex County board of supervisors.

“The concept that we are “One nation under God” continues to be challenged by groups offended by the concept that so many hold dear,” Alexander argued.

These views are laid out sincerely, confidently, and in both cases there is an underlying assumption that the normal framework of American life is under attack.

What’s fascinating is that so many people see this with equal sincerity, and equal confidence, entirely differently.

Their view of a normal, moral America is one in which gays and lesbians are treated with equality.

In this other America, Christian faith has no place framing civic business in a society where growing numbers of citizens are non-Christian or non-religious.

This reflection isn’t particularly new or fresh.  But every once in a while it strikes me anew just how far apart on these issues good and decent and well-meaning people are.

We lament our polarized politics, but the truth is that we are a polarized society.

That well-meaning scout master doesn’t want gays at his events, or taking part in his programs.  He sees people who want to change those rules as aggressors, and sees himself as part of a noble resistance.

There are equally well-meaning people who see him as a bigot, who interpret his stance as hateful and would balk at the idea of Mr. Smith serving as a mentor for their children.

As I’ve written before, I suspect that a lot of this tension and animosity stems from the fact that America is changing.  We are, year by year, a nation that is less white, less rural, less Christian and more openly diverse in our sexuality.

The role of women in society has also changed profoundly in a short time.  This kind of thing provokes deep responses, visceral passions.

I suppose on one level it’s remarkable that our debates about these things remain as civil as they do.  We may not want to attend one-another’s dinner parties (or jamborees).

But in November we will vote for members of Congress, and for president, and the vast overwhelming majority of us will accept the results philosophically.

We grumble about America’s noisy, ugly politics, but the truth is that they do a pretty good job of harnessing and tempering our passions.

And in the end, I suspect that they are no noisier or uglier than we citizens choose to make them.






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32 Comments on “The 100 Day Sprint: Two American cultures, one American election”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    Everything you say is true, Brian, and what you observe is not limited to this country.
    Worldwide, there are people who dig in to resist change. They fear change. Their fear is so great they will sometimes even resort to killing. Often, defending this or that religion is the basis of fear of “the other.” Often, it is fear of a different race. The common denominator is the fear of change.
    By the way, this “one nation under God” thing was inserted in the early 50’s by Ike, around the time when everyone was afraid of the godless communists.

  2. I remember when “One nation under God” was inserted in the pledge. I was in grade school and learned the original version , then had to relearn it with the insertion. I didn’t think much about it at the time (I was a kid) but in retrospect I think it was a bad idea and would happily vote to remove it. It has been a source of much misunderstanding about the founders intent for the role of religion in this country.

  3. Larry says:

    What is truly shocking to me is the Scout leader’s obvious ignorance of the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia and his apparent adherence to the long-discredited notion that “exposure” to homosexuals will cause children to “turn gay.” What other reasons could he possibly have for wanting to exclude gay people from Scouting? I would not want my children to be led in any activity by someone so uninformed.

  4. Larry says:

    The prayer at public meetings thing is, to me, a non-issue. Let the electorate be heard from on this issue come election day. By the way, when did God become exclusively Christian? Yes, there are many other names but the essential concept is universal, no?

  5. Will Doolittle says:

    I’m wondering who from Ti gave a million bucks to the Boy Scouts. And also thinking how funny it is that Mr. Smith is worrying the money will have to be used to defend a lawsuit over banning gay people from Scouts. Hey Mr. Smith, if you don’t want to waste money on a lawsuit, stop being a bigot, and urge the Boy Scouts to follow your example.

  6. Mervel says:

    It’s none of anyone’s business how the boy scouts want to run their private voluntary group.

    Just as it is my right and my Churches right to freely and openly talk about what God’s plan for sexual morality is. Many will disagree and that is part of the role of a vibrant society, the problems come when by force of the heavy hand of government you enforce a particular view. This cuts both ways, it means that by the force of laws certainly I don’t have the right to enforce what I honestly believe is God’s will on other people (why would I do that when God has never done that?) and it means that regardless of how uncomfortable it makes people, we have a right to talk about sexual sin and how it is slowly degrading our society without fear of lawsuits or government force.

  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I didn’t expect I would be agreeing with Larry on this.

    Brian M: “That well-meaning scout master …” Well-meaning? As in “yeah, he’s ignorant and bigoted but he means well by it?”

    Let’s look at the Boy Scout creed: ” On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country. To help other people at all times, to obey the Scout Law, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

    So if a gay male couple is raising a boy who wants with all his heart to be a Boy Scout, to learn to be prepared, capable, and all the other proud characteristics of a good scout, the national scout organization will refuse to help that gay couple to make their innocent child’s wishes be fulfilled? That doesn’t seem very morally straight to me.

    How do you explain to your kid who wants desperately to be a Cub Scout that his parents aren’t welcome at scouting events because they don’t fit the moral sensibilities of small-minded scout leadership? There was a time in this country when Christians were a lot more Christian than they are today. I don’t remember any Bible stories about how Jesus wouldn’t give a portion of the five loaves and the fishes to any people who may have had homosexual inclinations. And He would know.

  8. Larry says:

    Well said, knucklehead. People need to keep out of each other’s bedrooms and focus on important issues: are they good parents, are children safe with them, are they decent people. Sadly, many people still think that one’s sexual orientation provides answers to those questions. It doesn’t, and one need only look at the many sad instances of child abuse by people who “looked normal” to know that looks can be very deceiving.

  9. hermit thrush says:

    mervel, would it be no one’s business if a private voluntary organization was promoting racism? or anti-semitism? or misogyny?

  10. Newt says:

    Yes. They Scouts as a private, voluntary organization, may have a right to pursue policies sensible people find disgusting, but that does not mean it is none of our business, nor that we should remain silent and respect them.

    As it happens, I know someone living in a town very near close to Ticonderoga who has been active as a Scout leader for many years, and I cannot imagine him being anything but horrified by these sentiments. This craziness is not representitive of the entire Scout program, though, apparently in continues to dominate it.

  11. JDM says:

    “In this other America, Christian faith has no place framing civic business in a society where growing numbers of citizens are non-Christian or non-religious.”

    I agree with the second part of this sentence. The number of non-Christians and non-religious is presumably growing (from my own obsevations, I agree with you).

    Some see this as good, and see this as bad. I see it as bad.

    Those that see it as good would agree with the first part of the above sentence.

    Those that see it as bad see it as a condition that must be reversed for the good of the country.

  12. mervel says:

    People indeed need to keep out of each others business.

    Hermit indeed it would not be anyone’s business if a private group promoted racism, or claimed the Nazi banner or whatever, that is what sets us apart as a country the ability to exist with major differences and survive.

    Speaking out against the group is fine and if that is what a person believes they must do that.

    Just as people who believe that sexual immorality should be spoken out against have that very same right to make their views known.

    The problem is that both sides want to silence and control the other, in this regard both are wrong. The boy scouts are fine and have a right to define their own moral code.

  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Even if their moral code is immoral.

  14. JDM says:

    yes, khl, even if believe their moral code is immoral

  15. JDM says:

    try that again:

    yes, khl, even if you believe their moral code is immoral

  16. erb says:

    Larry, prayer at public meetings is not a non-issue, though it may seem that way because the social pressure against speaking out about it is so great that few dare try. As long as we include religious language in secular settings we perpetuate the idea that Americans draw their national identity from a religious, specifically Christian, worldview.

    Of course, many do believe that the US is a Christian nation. I think they’re mistaken; but we can’t have the discussion until we examine the presence of religious dogma in the public square.

  17. Larry says:

    Prayer at public meetings (which, incidentally, I personally support) is a non-issue in terms of public debate because it is easily resolved on election day. If the issue is important to you, ask each candidate to state their position on it and then vote for the candidates whose position you support. It’s a yes or no question.

  18. Larry says:

    The Boy Scouts are certainly entitled to do as they please within their private group, just as other private groups do. Also, people who speak out against other hate groups that promote bigotry, homophobia, racial and religious intolerance should speak out against the Boy Scouts for practicing and promoting exclusion of people based on sexual orientation.

  19. Pete Klein says:

    I know from attending local government meetings that begin with a prayer, many just zone out. They don’t protest. They are just obviously being polite.
    Maybe this is the best course of action or inaction if you prefer.
    Same goes for the Pledge of Allegiance. If you don’t like the “under God” part, skip it.

  20. Mervel says:

    What is the boy scouts actual stand on the issue? Do they say if your parent is gay you cannot be a boy scout? Or do they say gay men cannot be boy scout leaders?

    They already exclude women and girls so they were already a hate group before they made this latest exclusion.

  21. wakeup says:

    I hardly think the exclusion of women and girls make the a hate group. That’s a bit of a stretch.

  22. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    No. The exclusion of females does not make them a hate group, but the exclusion is wrong nonetheless.

  23. erb says:

    Larry, that’s my point: because of social pressure it is political suicide for an elected official to come out against prayer before a public meeting, no matter their personal stand on the subject. Atheists are one of the last minority that it is still ok to hate.
    And Pete, yes, we can remain quiet during the public prayer. But that’s not really answering the question of whether prayer belongs in a secular setting, is it?

  24. Mervel says:

    But how would the “boy” scouts be the “boy” scouts if they had girls and vice versa?

    I am not sure what a hate group means anymore. It seems like if we overuse the word it will become another meaningless over the top word that we use when we disagree with people.

  25. Mervel says:

    Public prayer is another issue. I don’t really like it and I would be on this board anyway, a social conservative. We are just to diverse and the government cannot represent a particular religious view.

    Besides it is one of those grandstanding issues, when we have a lot more important things to talk about.

    I wonder if social issues take the forefront when we don’t want to deal with our real issues because they are too hard?

    Social issues are important but to me they are cultural, not political.

  26. Paul says:

    “No. The exclusion of females does not make them a hate group, but the exclusion is wrong nonetheless.” Maybe I agree. I am not sure. Why is it wrong specifically?

    I was a boy scout, I loved it. I couldn’t let my boys be scouts because I have a problem with this stance. I wish they were not so stupid. Too bad.

  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I thought it would be really cool to be a Boy Scout and signed up to be a Cub Scout. Then we had our first big meeting and they put on a skit about being a Webelo. Some guys came out dressed as Plains Indians and did a fake Indian dance and we were introduced to one of them as Akela the leader of the Pack. And I thought to myself “these guys don’t know anything. Akela is the leader of the wolf pack in the JungleBook and there may have been some Indians in the JungleBook, but not these kind of Indians.” And I promptly quit.

  28. Paul says:

    Isn’t that Akira? But I get your point. I remember my kids reading that book over and over! The older movie is good also, it does have some racial issues (the monkey scenes). I spent several weeks at camp Bedford near Mecham Lake as a kid and it was a great experience. But when I learned about this crazy stance I just could not support it by sending my boys.

  29. mervel says:

    I just dropped out because we had a bad leader and it was boring. Leaders are the key. I joined thinking it was about the outdoors and what boy does not like uniforms and medals? But all we did was memorize stuff and meet in a Church basement.

  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It was Akela. Akira was a Japanese movie director or something. Yes, I think the leader makes all the difference. When I joined my dad signed up for some position as a higher level leader. I promptly quit and he ended up volunteering for a couple of years. He never said anything about it.

  31. Pete Klein says:

    I had a great time, first as a cub scout, then as a boy scout.
    Were there any gay scouts or leaders? Possibly but never knew of it. Didn’t even know such things existed.
    Maybe that’s the problem today. Everything has to be an “issue.”

  32. mervel says:

    I am sure there were gay boy scout leaders when we were in scouts. I think you are right, everything has to be this big stupid issue.

    Why don’t they just pass a morals clause that says no fraternization, no dating, no lewd activity, etc, act right when you are here? I mean do we care if these guys go home and get hammered or smoke pot or secretly cheat on their taxes? No, not as long as they are good boy scout leaders and act right when they are around the boys and in the role; so for me; I don’t care if they go home and do something sexual I don’t like, that is none of my business.

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