|Humanist Essay for January 2011
"New Year's Resolution"
My New Year's resolution for 2011 is to not be the one
who's red in the face, foaming at the mouth, and
blithering incoherently in anger - unlike the Monday
morning after Thanksgiving, when two evangelicals
rang the bell. I lit right into them about how many times
I had told "you people" not to come on the premises.
"Who do you think you are, that you get to talk to me
about my spirituality...." The anger was making me too
short of breath to speak. Meanwhile, the dog was right
behind me barking sharply, and Frank, hearing the notes
of alarm, came charging to our defense. In his big
choral conductor voice he commanded the women to
leave the property at once. They were more than happy
to do so.|
"What did they say to make you so mad?"
"Nothing." I felt embarrassed. "They didn't say a word. I just saw the bible in her hands and lost it." I was feeling more stupid by the second. How could the mere arrival of those two smiling, well-groomed, diminutive women make me lose my cool like that?
This depth of feeling reflects lessons instilled deep in childhood. I wasn't very old before I learned a big word, "assimilation," for a big sin. The frightening part of assimilation was that even if you didn't want to commit such a sin, you might be compelled to - to choose between preserving your life or preserving your identity. This was not an academic topic in our household. One side of the family had fled the pogroms in Russia, the other had been herded into Poland's Warsaw ghetto, where many died. Our people had not come through such hardships to this brilliant land of equality and religious freedom only to be absorbed into the dominant Christian culture.
So you can see how having strangers show up uninvited to insert their unwelcome piety into my happy home really sets me off. I no longer practice the traditions of Judaism, but I am hardly assimilated. If anything, my outrage at Christian proselytizing has only increased. It used to be fun, as a kid, to see my grandmother welcome in the unsuspecting Seventh Day Adventists for a chat and then cream them with her superior knowledge of the Old Testament. As a Jew, such visits are not threatening - I never expect the knock on the door will be the gestapo come to drag me away. But as an American, a patriot to the core by virtue of prior generations' immigrant experience, I am enraged by the chutzpah of someone trying to foist their religion on me.
The Buddha taught: "Do not fight in anger." A local wise man taught me this: "There are real reasons to be angry. People do wrong and hurtful things. But what are you going to do, be mad forever? Anger is a strong emotion and it makes us feel strong, but in reality it weakens us." His words have registered ever more deeply over the years. There is only one thing now that really and truly makes me lose it - door-to-door proselytizing. But I am resolved this year: Deep breaths, count to ten, smile.
Happy New Year, Humanists! Let's remember to be happy humanists and not angry humanists. We are indeed in a fight for a freer and fairer society, but we need not fight in anger. We can address our problems with reason, and our adversaries with respect. We are our own best advertisement for our philosophy when we demonstrate how humanism allows us to be our best selves.