Friday, August 20, 2010
Why is Franklin Graham talking about "seed"?
"The seed of Islam," huh? So, is a faith supposed to be genetic? The tradition of being raised in a faith is a cultural artifact, but the adherence to a faith is not a biological one.
I agree with a long-standing point of Richard Dawkins' that children are basically born atheists--that it is wrong to say that there is such a thing as a Muslim child or a Christian child. A child starts knowing nothing of religion, and learns what he or she is taught. As it was, the young Barack Obama barely knew his father. His mother was not a believer. His father's father was a Muslim, but Barack Obama Sr. was apparently an atheist. His maternal grandparents were Methodists. So it actually happens that he was presented with a few different models for relating to the divine, and Christianity and atheism figured, it would strike me, anyway, no less prominently in his life than Islam.
If people wanted to say that they didn't believe Obama is a Christian, atheism is as likely a contender for the affections of an Ivy League intellectual with some geeky tendencies as Islam would be, and maybe more so--but he doesn't get labeled (not that there's anything wrong with it!) with being an atheist. No, he gets labeled with being a Muslim.
After hearing the term "seed of Islam", it became a bit more concrete for me. Due to some accident of history, the Islamic faith proliferated among non-Europeans, and the perception in the US has developed, I think, of Islam being a "non-white" religion.
That perception is born of a generalization, and is more than a little uninformed. The world doesn't lack for "blue-eyed Muslims", and that has always been part of my issue with the idea some people have of "profiling" for terrorists. But President Obama has an African father-and that would be, to put it coarsely, the source of "the seed" in Rev. Graham's interesting take. Culturally, if one is a mixed-race person in this country with one white parent, one is, to put it bluntly, just in the class of "all non-white persons". Whether one's mother or father was the white parent makes no difference. "Whiteness" just doesn't pass down. Yes, it is very racist. Yes, it is very ignorant. And I think that's why something like "seed" gets said. Because of his non-white father, Obama is non-white and inherits the non-white religion.
I don't want to sound like one of those hysterical "straw-lefties" who are allegedly calling "racist!" at everything that is going down on the right. When I talk about race, I am deeply uncomfortable and not at all knee-jerk about it--my Caucasian-persuasion has left me conscious of the privilege of thinking of oneself as the societal default and then having this perception of "others". But also having this perception at least lets me admit that there are white people who totally do think just like that.
It's this "one-drop" thing, only expanded out to religion. One drop of "not my religion" makes you an "other, brother". And just like the immigration issue might have to do with fear of a "browning of America", maybe the anti-Muslim hysteria is not just about a clash of world views (Maggie Gallagher would probably agree with the sexual mores of an Iranian Imam--amirite?) as with the implied growth of another non-white (or at least, non-exclusively white) population among us: Arabs and Persians and Indians who aren't Hindu, and Asians of so many nations. Once again, American are learning geography--not through war but through immigration. I happen to see it as a really good thing.
Barack Obama is the product of a union that was radical for its time. For some, maybe he is representative of that "browning", but I don't understand why it's still a problem. Maybe I've just had my hair braided by too many black friends in elementary school or eaten too many bean pies to recognize why "one-drop" or a thousand, is any threat to me. Maybe in "the Heartland" of Sarah Palin's tweets, it's the differences between almost mythic groups of people that "stab at the heart".
But the reality is we're all individuals. We all come from different walks of life and are on our own paths through it. So a biracial Ivy-League community organizer can profess salvation through Christ, and a white atheist blogger who went to a Catholic university can advocate for Islamic understanding.
If you watched enough tv during the '80's, you would know that the world don't move to the beat of just one drum, after all....
But what I also want to point out is that there was a whole lot of "as far as I know" in what Rev. Graham had to say about a man that he sat down and prayed with. As if holding out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Obama was still a double-secret Islamicommie or something.
For whose benefit? Just as with the "birther-curious" legislators?
For the benefit of wallowing in one's bullshit, I do believe. For thinking bullshit matters more than facts. For, in simple truth, being satisfied with bullshit's effectiveness in every way. And for the taste of bullshit. Which always produces that bullshit-eating grin. Because if you can't dazzle your audience with substance, stagger them with stupid. And many other bullshit-centric tropes which the Rev. Graham is no doubt more conversant in than I!