Jan  2018 16
Poopy Nations and Character

In the Declaration of Independence, when enumerating the colonists’ grievances with the King and decrying the king’s allies, Thomas Jefferson referred to indigenous peoples as “merciless Indian savages.” Many white settlers/invaders referred to native peoples as subhuman vermin.

My Italian grandparents, Emilio Peluso and Emilia Russo, were from poverty-marinated southern Italy. About 20 years after they immigrated to the U.S., Congress shut the door on Italian immigration because there was deep concern about diluting Anglo stock and values. Except for a few Northern European nations, immigration was low until Congress re-opened the nation’s doors in 1965.

In the 19th century, anti-immigrant Protestants accused Catholics of dastardly deeds and burned Catholic buildings. The Protestants did not think Catholics, with their loyalty to the Pope, could be good Americans.

After World War II, many studies were conducted by sociologists in attempts to define a nation’s character. While interesting and somewhat true, these studies reinforced many prejudices: Germans are industrious, Italians are romantic, the French can discuss food forever. And, if one lived in each of those countries long enough, one could probably find a German who did not like to work, a robotic Italian, and a French lover of McDonald’s.

A few years ago, our daughter was having problems with a particular teacher. Our daughter has always been known as an active child or, as women often said when she was little, “She’s busy.”

My wife sat in the class for the day to observe. She saw our daughter active in ways very similar to a group of boys in class. The teacher admonished our daughter repeatedly but said nothing to the equally-active boys.

At the end of the day, Cheri asked the teacher about what she observed. He affirmed what she saw and offered this explanation: “They’re boys.” Apparently, boys and girls should be treated differently.

All of these judgments deserve to be named un-American and un-Christian.

One of the (potentially) great things about America is that our individual and collective destinies are not predestined by an inherited demographic characteristic. Anti-discrimination statements infer this: equity and opportunity should not be limited by skin color, gender, sexuality, national origin, and the like.

Yes, Americans are good at practicing discrimination. But according to the American creed, discrimination based on demographics is un-American. Biology and national origin are not destiny.

One of the (potentially) great things about many religious traditions is the understanding that each human being is created in the image of God and should be accorded respect and dignity, no matter how badly one seeks to efface God’s image (the Imago Dei) in oneself through one’s actions. To discriminate and judge another as “lesser than” based on demographics is un-Christian, and against the teachings of many religions.

This past week, the nation’s president is alleged to have spoken about some countries as “sh—hole nations.” A few days later, on Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration weekend, we were reminded of his dream of a day when his children would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I believe it is more American, and more Christian, to think, speak, and act according to Dr. King’s words than according to the president’s. There are no poopy nations. Rather, there are only individuals, national actors, and particular national actions which at times are blind to or deny the Imago Dei in themselves and others and which, therefore, stink.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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