May. 21st, 2008

heron61: (Default)
Being somewhat older than most people I know, one of the perspectives that I have is a memory of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was a child then, but I also happened to live just outside of Washington DC, so much of the national news happened very near to me. Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I were talking about religion and especially Christianity, I got to thinking and talking about how I and many other people used to see it before the rise of the fundys.

The most important fact about religion in my childhood is that it was inherently freakish and exceptional. I've been told by people my age who lived in the midwest that religion was very much a part of daily life. However, on the East Coast, while many people went to church (or temple for the many Jewish people I knew growing up), it was largely considered to be a social occasion and religion was largely considered to be a social and not a spiritual activity. People who actually believed in god or anything supernatural were considered somewhat odd, as were people who made a big deal about religion. In practice, what religion some practices was considered a fairly minor fact of life, much like what cuisines someone preferred.

The nature of the people who actually did focus on religion was also interesting and very different from today. In the late 60s and early 70s, I can remember two groups. The most publicly visible were the various figures involved in various forms of radical and progressive activity. From Martin Luther King and the various other advocates of freedom to a number of highly progressive Catholic priests who openly and loudly defended everything from anti-war protests to convicts protesting ill-treatment in prisons.

The other major group who focused on religion were the hippie off-shoots known as the "Jesus Freaks". In the popular images of Jesus as someone with long hair and a beard, who threw money-changers out of a temple, these people saw someone who looked and acted like a hippie, and so they embraced Jesus and his ideas.

There were definitely fundys at that time, with the most notable being Billy Graham, but they were widely considered (at least on the East Coast) to appeal only to the very old and people in rural areas, and that "fire and brimstone" fundamentalism was a quaint aberration that would soon fade away.

Growing up as a young technocrat raised on SF novels and TV shows like Doctor Who (with Jon Pertwee as the 3rd Doctor) and Scooby Doo (which was a profoundly anti-supernatural show), Christianity (and organized religion in general made no sense to me, and I assumed that it was something people would have gotten over and outgrown in 50 years, or perhaps less.

In retrospect, the first harbinger of change was the early 1970s demon movies like The Exorcist (released in 1973), where the forces of evil were active and animate threats that could be fought with Christianity. This film and the others like it were drastically at odds with the wonderfully secular mood of the day and the general dismissal of religion (at least on the urban east coast). However, the first time I noticed something changing was in 1978, when I saw the first cryptic bumper stickers proclaiming "I Found It", which a few months later I learned were use by people who claimed to have been "saved", and thus were the first vivid evidence of the growing fundy revival.

I still have no real understanding of why there was such a sudden growth of fear and control based religiosity. On an emotional level, that entire complex of ideas makes absolutely no sense to me. In any case, one of my hopes for what may now be the beginning of the first actual progressive shift in US politics since the 1970s is that it will also be accompanied by a similar decline in control and fear based religiosity. I personally would be more comfortable with all sorts of religion being far less of an important public matter, but I'd accept a return to the late 60s and early 70s vision of religion as a progressive force that was associated with freedom and justice instead of oppression and hatred.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
In thinking about the 1960s and early 70s, I'm reminded by a comment I made in this recent post. Once I had written it, I was struck by the truth of what I wrote, and so for people who may not have seen it, I'm posting it here in a slightly expanded form.

In the comments, [livejournal.com profile] kitten_goddess asked Huh. Politics can be joyful and help us reconnect with joy??? How can it do that? Heron61, I am asking this as a real question. Here is my response:

I was a child during the late 60s and early 70s, but I remember how politics could be about joy, hope, and optimism. People can write letters and march in the streets and by doing so stop a war (Vietnam), greatly reduce air pollution, or end legal segregation in the South (as MLK and his many allies and followers did). I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC seeing people holding candlelight vigils outside of the White House and chaining themselves to the Pentagon. I remember marches, protests, and even a few riots, and I also remember the changes that occurred because of them.

From my own very limited experience with public activism (largely consisting of going to some marches, and working on half a dozen or so phone banks) everyone does what they can and want to. For some this is devoting 20+ hours a week, for others it's showing up for marches and writing a letter or two a week - it's about what you can and wish to do.

This is our government, that's what democracy means, and the late 60s and early 70s showed that the people can fill the government with terror and make significant changes. As Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta (written during the dark and evil days of Margaret Thatcher's rule of the UK) "it is not the people that should be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people." This is not merely a line in a comic book or a meaningless aphorism, it is true, and I've seen it be true. For the last 25+ years, many of the tactics used by our government and the wealthy elites who are doing their best to control it has been a deliberate attempt to avoid a repeat of perceived threats like the mass protests of the 1960s & early 1970s. Records show that these protests and the widespread support by even more people quite literally terrified our government and in return the government made changes.

We further see the truth of that quote in the way that the fundys have twisted our government, while the libertarians and other conservatives counsel everyone else that having the people attempt to mandate institutional chances through collective action is both wrong, ineffective, and damaging.

All it takes for politics to be about joy, progress and change is for more progressives to try to make a difference. At this point, the joy is watching your ideas and hopes become reality.

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