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So last week, at the bottom of my correspondence with my Reflections folk, I asked about hero worship. I also asked about it in the Facebook Community Group, where several of you had great, thoughtful things to say. Some said you don’t have heroes. Others agreed that heroes all have flaws. Some said you admire those who serve humanity and are examples of goodness and care.
As you noted, we do both ourselves and those we admire disservice when we put them on pedestals. We guarantee that their clay feet will make them come crashing down around us, perhaps damaging our own hearts irreparably.
For example, many prominent 19th-century Unitarians and Universalists, like Susan B. Anthony, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Clarence Skinner, were eugenicists. Eugenics is inherently racist, classist, and ableist, besides just being creepy as all hell.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known to have had sexual relationships outside his marriage. (I don’t know, however, what that meant in the context of their particular partnership.) Mozart was renowned as a drinking, gambling womanizer. Frederick Douglass was horrific to black women with whom he was in relationship. Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, respected members of the Hollywood establishment, are sexual predators. The list of powerful people, especially men, taking advantage of those without the power to stop them goes on and on.
And that’s not even to get into the number of virulently anti-queer Evangelical preachers who turn out to be in the closet themselves, motivated by self-loathing and the desire for power.
And that desire for power, that’s something.
“Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton, 19th-century British historian.
As I look at the United States’ current leadership, I recognize that some of the men (and a few women) with nearly absolute power have been or are heroes for some Americans.
And I also see evil. I don’t see perfect imperfection. I see human dignity warped and twisted into a grotesquerie.
I see the desire and wielding of power turning men into caricatures of Fascist demagogues. Power allowing them to unleash the storm of oppression against the most vulnerable in our society.
Immigrants, even asylum-seekers, are being caged in conditions reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps, assimilationist Native schools, and the President has signed an Executive Order that allows them to be detained indefinitely.
People with disabilities are at tremendous risk from sexual, physical, and mental abuse by their caretakers. Recent legislation has loosened regulations that keep these vulnerable people safe.
Married same-sex couples and those in need of abortions or other reproductive health staring down the possibility of rights long fought-for stolen way.
The United States is now seen as a flawed democracy. A flawed democracy is one where leaders are not accountable to those they serve.
It seems to me that “flawed democracy” is a pretty benign term for a nation in which human beings are being held in cages. Just take that in for a minute.
Chain-link cages. Human beings.
They have been moved by bus because we don’t use cattle-cars on train tracks so much anymore. Not because it would be cruel or unusual punishment, but because buses are more convenient than they were in 1930s and ‘40s Germany, Poland, and Austria.
These are my ruminations this week. These are my questions:
How do we trust people with power and charisma? Should we? When?
What kind of behavior disqualifies a person from being a good person? After all, the worst thing any of us has ever done is not the sum of our identity or character, right?
Where do questions about covenant, atonement, reconciliation, even salvation come into the equation?
But again. How can we trust those among us with the most power?
Help me? Let me know what you think. What does power do to personality? Where does ambition come from?
And most important of all, how can those with less power gain enough to change oppression into liberation? And how do we do it without making heroes with clay feet, without investing too much power into individual people?
How do we do it?
How are you doing it? Tell me, I’m interested!
All the love—Catharine
PS – Pssssst….check out this link and find out the FABULOUSNESS that is coming up in August. I’d love to see you there! It’s truly going to be great!