Monday, March 2, 2015

Because It Still Matters

I have been in a bit of a blogging slump in the last couple weeks. So I was feeling quite good that I had not one but two great ideas for posts. But those got bumped when I heard a news story today. So Tibetan monks and beating the chimps will have to wait.

I’ve pretty much decided that I am an atheist. I guess I just need to emerge from the atheist closet and be out and proud. But strangely, I find the need to label myself an Atheist Jew. Because being Jewish is deeply rooted in my genes. I have people who share my DNA that died in concentration camps. I am in a great deal of karmic debt to those relatives.

I guess I am Jewish in my heart and Atheist in my head. This news item certainly struck both heart and head.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich died yesterday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Last month, Schweich announced that he would seek the GOP nomination for the 2016 Missouri gubernatorial race. Before taking his life, Schweich had been talking to a reporter, alleging that Missouri Republican Chairman John Hancock was telling Republican primary voters that Schweich was Jewish. Although Schweich had Jewish grandparents, he himself was Episcopalian. In his final message to this reporter, he asked that someone come to his home for an interview. In his message, Schweich says, “To me, this is more of a religion story than a politics story, but it’s your choice on who the reporter is.”

It is a religion story.

Why would Hancock be telling people that Schweich is Jewish? Because he is a political rival of Mr. Schweich. And there are only two reasons to mention someone’s religion in anything other than a first date situation: to assign it as an asset or attach it as a liability.

Why would Schweich care? Because he knows that being labeled as Jewish—whether true or not—will impact the votes of many of his constituents.

Because—still today—being Jewish matters. It’s a religion story.

In elementary school, my sister lost a perfect attendance award because she missed a day to attend Rosh Hashanah services. (I was never in danger of receiving a perfect attendance award at any point in my life.) I've been called a kike a few times in my life. My aunt once told me that I should take a beautiful stained glass Star of David from my front window so strangers wouldn't vandalize my house.

I took the stained glass down. But I have a mezuzah on my door. I had a Jewish wedding. In fact, I had a Jewish divorce. I take buckets of plastic dreidels to my son’s school Christmas party. I have already started fretting about that kid’s Bar Mitzvah. Oy gevalt. It’s in two years!

I did none of those things because of any sense of faith or belief. I did them from a strongly-ingrained sense of solidarity. From an obligation to every person that ever died because he or she was Jewish. From a stubborn tenacity to shame anti-Semites as the racists they often tell themselves that they are not.

Hancock, the originator of the “whisper campaign” that Schweich was alleging, has stated that he only mentioned that Schweich was Jewish as a fact similar to “he was from St. Louis” or “he went to Harvard Law.”

Here is the thing, though. Schweich was running for Governor of Missouri. So being from St. Louis is important because he grew up in the state he wanted to govern. Having gone to Harvard Law School speaks of an important credential of any elected officer.

How does “being Jewish” fit in? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Because it doesn’t fit in.

I hated Mitt Romney’s politics and choice of a running mate. I couldn't disagree with him more when it came to most of the things that came out of his mouth during his Presidential run. I was (and still am) a fervent supporter of Obama. And every time I saw or heard someone bring up Romney’s religion, I cringed. If I could, I replied. As often as I could, I would loudly shout (in all CAPS if necessary) that his religion doesn't matter. His qualifications matter. His plans matter. His politics matter.

While Romeny’s Mormonism certainly and necessarily shaped his thoughts in secular life, they did so with no more strength than any other person and any other person’s thoughts. If I were somehow miraculously elected President, my atheism would most certainly influence my thinking. We all have some form of framework for our ideas to build on. But that is all that it ever is. A latticed scaffold erected to stand upon as we build ourselves.

Aside—If I did somehow get elected to anything, I think I would have to assign that victory as a burning-bush-level miracle. Which, I would imagine, invalidates my atheism. Ahhh…. irony….
If you don’t think that anti-Semitism is still deeply rooted in our society, read the comments section of this People magazine article about Tom Schweich’s suicide. In those comments, no one gets called a dirty Christian.

Stay tuned for monks and monkeys.

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