Recently, a former colleague sent me an email that went on and on about how wonderful it is to live in a country where we wouldn’t even think about burning the flag in protest. How ‘True Americans’ are proud of being Christians. How respect is something we bestow on our elders because they’re older than we are—not because they’ve earned it. How placing your hand over your heart when the flag passes by is a Virtuous Act. And, so is bowing your head when someone prays. How putting the Ten Commandments up on public property is a Good Thing. And how saying ‘Happy Holidays’ is bad while saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ is good. And on and on.
The email said, in essence, that we should do away with the First Amendment. That Christianity is the only valid way of looking at the universe and that it’s all right to enforce that view on others.
Now, I thought this woman knew me better than that. Not only was I offended by her message, I was frightened by it.
Our forefathers set up the Constitution for very good reasons.
They added the First Amendment so we could worship as we choose, or not; so we could educate ourselves; so we could agree to disagree with each other without fear of persecution.
They did that, in my opinion, because they'd had classical educations and knew the history of Europe very, very well.
They knew that people had been tortured, impaled and burned at the stake for disagreeing with their respective monarchs' views on religion.
They knew the printed word had been first controlled and, later, manipulated by those in power in order to control the masses.
They knew that people had been persecuted for disagreeing with the ruling classes and saying so.
And they wanted to be sure those things couldn't happen here.
To see us heading back in that direction today terrifies me.
I want to go on record here:
Yes, I bow my head when someone prays [if they bow theirs]—no matter what God, Goddess or natural phenomenon they may be praying to. I do it because it is good manners to do so and out of respect for their views—whether or not I share them.
I also keep in mind that bowing one’s head is a medieval custom begun when monarchs descended from their thrones and walked among their subjects. It was a sign of forced respect from one human being by another.
I do not believe that any deity requires it. If I believed it did, I would have to conclude that that deity was a paranoid being who was so afraid I would get uppity it had to constantly remind itself that it is ‘better’ than me. And I don’t believe that.
I practice good manners out of respect for myself. as well as respect for others.
I reserve the feeling of respect for individuals—not objects.
Pieces of fabric are things; and flags are pieces of fabric. Thus, they do not inherently deserve respect. They can stand for other things such as nations; and nations, being clusters of people, can't earn respect. Only individuals can do that—by their individual actions.
I hold respect for those individuals who have earned my respect. Not to do so would, in my opinion, cheapen respect itself. To show it toward people simply because they have lived longer than I have suggests I shouldn’t have respect for those who are younger than I am—no matter what they may have done to actually earn my respect. That makes no sense to me, at all.
I don’t demand your respect if I haven't done anything to earn it—no matter what our respective ages may be.
And people who wrap themselves in the flag and attempt to force their views on me are, imo, treating me with contempt while demanding my respect. And, no, I won’t go along with them.
Oh, and that email message that started this diatribe? Yes, I wrote back airing my concerns. It was the respectful thing to do—and my right under the First Amendment.