Whose “normal” America?

Fred R. Conrad/The New York TimesYesterday evening I read a New York Times profile about Pamela Geller, a blogger and pundit who speaks and writes strongly against what she calls the “increasing Islamization in America.”  She has also said that President Obama is aiding and abetting the demise of America.

It’s an interesting article, though I found most it (and Geller’s blog) rather discouraging.  What most caught my attention wasn’t the scope of Geller’s work, but two short paragraphs about the memory of America that informs the type of future she is working towards.

Pamela Geller said her early years were imbued with a sense of American power and rectitude, so pervasive that it need not be articulated. Many of her current concerns — political correctness, media cowardice, changing national identity, eroding individual rights — can be connected to those times.

“Growing up as the sort of tail end of the baby boomers, there was this feeling of invincibility in America,” she said. “We were free. The good guys won. The good cop is on the beat. I certainly don’t get a sense of that anymore.” (Jessica Geller put it this way: “What my sister really wants is for everything to get back to normal in America.”)

Ms Geller’s view of American history- good guys, normal, invincible, free– and her conviction that this history must be reclaimed reminded me of a previous post on this blog.  Back in April I reflected on a Time Magazine article about “The White Anxiety Crisis.” The article’s premise is that each time America’s ethnic landscape noticeably changes, those within the majority culture respond with a “white backlash.”  Majority culture folks often hold specific memories about America’s history.  According to the Time author, when these patriotic memories bump against significant demographic shifts, “we are likely to see the rise of a more defensive, aggrieved sense of white victimhood that strains the social contract and undermines collectively shared notions of the common good.”

In the midst of this election cycle it seems that white victimhood is being directed mostly towards Muslims, though undocumented immigrants have been convenient targets as well.  Ms Geller is representative of those who see “radical Islam” as the major threat to the nation’s security, though she certainly isn’t alone in her views.  Political campaigns in Nevada and West Virginia have also made Islamization an issue, though the distinctions between ethnicity and religion are not always clear.

I’m interested in these types of stories for three reasons.  First, as a citizen I’m interested in how our nations sees itself.  Second, as a white person I care about self-appointed watchdogs like Ms Geller who share my skin color but not my understanding of America.  Finally, it seems that those who share my Christian faith will find it impossible to ignore incendiary comments by those in positions of power and privilege.  Our faith allows no room for groups of people to be scapegoated because of ethnicity, race or religion.

I wonder why I hear so few Christian voices- especially from my evangelical tradition- engaging these issues.  Is this simply not a priority?  Or does much of the majority culture church empathize with the concerns of folks like Ms Geller?  As always, I welcome your charitable comments.

7 thoughts on “Whose “normal” America?

  1. Thank you for raising this issue – I couldn’t agree more. I teach a Diversity class at a local University and we talk about this sort of thing a lot – today’s fears and how they are similar to American fears at other times, and what these waves of fears have in common. You hit the nail on the head. Those of us in the dominant culture want “the good old days” when WE perceived little or no tension against our worldview filter. But what about the way other groups, not with power, perceived those times? As Americans, as followers of Christ, as Global Citizens it is imperative that we recognize the power we hold in the dominant culture and use it not to further benefit ourselves but to benefit those who lack it.

    1. Catherine- how much success have you had helping dominant culture folks in your class understand that their (our) view of history is significantly shaped by their positions of privilege?

  2. “I wonder why I hear so few Christian voices- especially from my evangelical tradition- engaging these issues.”

    Dave, I have experienced the opposite. Sure, I have anecdotally met some people who agree with both Geller and happen to be evangelicals, but, as true engagement by Christian leaders and thinkers go, I am hearing almost nothing but. Could it be a question of where you are looking for engagement?

    I generally steer clear of the diatribical religion vs. politics talk shows and sites since too often I sense (hopefully in error) that politics is defining one’s faith and not vice versa. Temporal truth cannot mitigate eternal truth.

    I’m not clear what you mean by “evangelical tradition” since it seems to politely dispose of the significance of theology as just another tradition like face painting before Chicago Bears game (Go Bears!), But, I think you’ve couched the language as such that dismisses the importance of truth. Now, I realize not everyone agrees what is truth, but what I believe is not a mere tradition.

    There are some hard questions, and some which are easy but equally easy to make hard, that you are looking at. What is an American? What is a Christian? What is truth we fight for in the public arena? What is truth that will remain truth whether we voice our thoughts or not? What does a Christian in the midst of a contrary culture look like, and when is it not contrary, but merely different?

    Ultimately, not one believer in Jesus Christ should live as of this world, but simply as resident passing through. America is one country in a big world. Do we ignore terrorism when no Americans or American sol is involved? Do we share the Gospel in countries where it is illegal? Am I ashamed of my own ethnicity, family background or present religious faith?

    1. Thanks for commenting Anthony. Do I understand you to say that you have heard little from “Christian leaders and thinkers” about these kinds of issues? Neither have I, and I’m curious why this is. Any thoughts?

  3. Actually, Dave, quite the opposite. I have heard some people say they have heard little, but I am hearing a lot. So, that would exactly be my question, in revese. Why aren’t others reading/hearing what I am hearing.

    I’m aware of the extreme voices, but, in my every day life, among the believers with wjom I circulate, and the pastors and other church leaders I know, I am hearing what seems to be balance.

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