23 May 2006

Weft, weave, warp.

I attended a Boy Scout graduation ceremony the other night. I was there for work, and while I'm intentionally coy about what I do for a living so that I don't get dooced, I will tell you that I gave a speech. I don't have any kids, and my siblings were both sisters, so I've never had any exposure to the Boy Scouts. The only thing that I knew about them was the Supreme Court cases that made the news a coupla years ago when they tossed a boy who was an atheist. And my assumption was that it was a cult of sorts. This meeting didn't change my opinion of that, really. I still think it is a cult of sorts, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While the focus of the evening was very incredibly scarily religious, the things the Boy Scouts teach aren’t all bad. But that’s not really what I want to talk about tonight. What I got to thinking about instead of the cult as I sat there and listened was something else.

What makes a culture? What weaves together the fabric of a society? What makes us identify with one culture or another? Boys all over America take part in scouting, and have that shared experience as part of their cultural heritage. As I drove home, I called my oldest friend, and we talked about what the quintessential American childhood experience is. Is it playing baseball? Scouts? I did both, and yet, when I was a teenager, I would have rather died than admit to my citizenship. And baseball and scouting are only a small part of the picture; there’s so much else that makes a culture. Language, dress, ritual. Although I suppose if you stretched the definition of ritual, baseball and scouts could both fit comfortably in there.

Today, when W makes a speech and says things that are counter to every ideal that I hold, I cringe. The last time I was in Europe in 2003, someone asked me where I was from because my accent confused him. I took a deep breath, looked at the floor, then squared my shoulders and looked the guy in the eye and said, "I'm an American." That was really hard for me. Isn’t that terrible? I was not ashamed, but rather more fearful. The political climate wasn't good then (and isn't better now) and I expected a backlash. Didn't get it that time, but I feel that I have to be careful about expressing my beliefs, even here in the states. The other day, I told someone that I keep a blog about the abortion debate after talking to her for just a few minutes. She grimaced, and then asked, “Pro-life or pro-choice?” When I answered pro-choice, she frowned, and since it wasn’t the time or place to get into a loud verbal disagreement, I smiled, and said, “Isn’t that what makes this country great? I can have my opinion, and you can have yours, even when it is wrong.” Then I walked away. :-p

I remember being told in elementary school that America was the greatest country in the world. That’s an opinion, not a fact. Yet it was preached as the gospel. And it irritates me beyond belief how much of that bullshit I was spoon fed as a kid. Not just in school, but at church too, is it any wonder how distrustful I am of organized religion these days? But last night I was reminded again that my doubt and distrust of the establishment and of religion is a minority viewpoint.

The people at the church where the Boy Scout meeting was held weren’t monsters, nor were they really out of the mainstream. I am. While that bothers me a little bit, it bothers me for a couple of reasons. One is that I can’t believe that the majority of folks can’t see through all of that craziness. Another is that the conditioning I got in school worked well; I don’t like being out of the mainstream so much when it makes me a target.

Important parts of American culture are the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and in two hundred and thirty years, that hasn’t changed. The things that have changed are too numerous to list, but I wonder what the framers of the constitution would think about the medium and the message today. The neat thing about the constitution is that it is adaptable, but the writers and signatories of the document wrote something that has only needed to be amended 27 times in 230 years. I think the starting point for any discussion about American culture needs to be there. I wonder where it might be for the rest of the world?

1 comment:

Sheryl said...

Do a Google search on "Baden-Powell religion". Boy/Girl Scouts was based on Christian religious principles from the very beginning, and isn't restricted to scouting in the US.

I actually left Girl Guides as a kid because of the religious element.