Using Privilege To Bend the Moral Arc of the Universe Towards Justice

Using Privilege To Bend the Moral Arc of the Universe Towards Justice

On Sunday, I left my children behind. It felt like an absurdly privileged thing to do, to willfully drive away from my children, cross hundreds of miles, knowing I could call them at any time. That I could skype with them each evening before they went to bed. Knowing they were with family, that they were cared for and respected and loved and that they were safe.

It broke my heart to drive away, it broke my heart that I could make that choice, when so many children didn't even get to wave goodbye, to pack their most important toy, to know they would see their parents again, talk to them in only a few hours.

As I begin writing this, I am sitting in the hospital waiting room, again, while Mike has an MRI, again, before we see his oncologist, again. It feels horrifically privileged, when the GOP is pushing through bills that strip this possibility away from so many people, when every indication says that premiums will rise and care will suffer. My husband finished ramping up the dose on his new medication today, too, which was painless and easy, and which I can't help but compare to the children being forcibly injected with mood stabilizers and tranquilizers at the border, to keep them sedate while they're flown away from their parents and even siblings, with no idea if they'll ever see them again.

I skipped breakfast. That feels painfully privileged, too, knowing that fruit and vegetables are rotting in the fields, with no undocumented, underpaid labor to harvest.

Along with breakfast, I skipped a shower. That's something I couldn't have done this time of the month a year ago, before my salpingectomy and uterine ablation. I can never be pregnant again, and I will never have a "real" period again, and those are things that feel horrifically privileged right now, with the Supreme Court legitimizing fake doctors who lie to women about their health and their rights.

In the days since I began writing this, of course things have gotten worse. They are getting worse every day. Yesterday five people were killed at work, doing the constitutionally necessary work of giving us the news-- REAL news. Killed by a man with a history of aggression towards women. I have the privilege of working at home, of never having to practice lockdown drills myself, of only worrying if it's my husband and children who will be murdered by an angry man or boy with access to guns rather than if I would die myself.

In truth, I am untouched by much of what has happened in this country over the last seventeen months. I am a white skinned native English speaker. I am in the middle class. I am educated and amazingly not saddled with thousands of dollars of debt. I am insured through my husband's employer. I have family who I can leave my children with for a week, I have confidence I will have them returned to me, I can check in at any time. My children and husband are unlikely to be shot by the police.

But what is happening in our country shouldn't only affect you if you are a target.

I have a favorite allegory from Rabbi Menachem. A student once asked him, “Do you believe that God created everything for a purpose?”

“I do,” replied the rabbi.

“Well,” asked the disciple, “why did God create atheists?”

"God created atheists to teach us the most important lesson of them all - the lesson of true compassion. You see, when an atheist performs an act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that God commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his actions are based on his sense of morality. Look at the kindness he bestows on others simply because he feels it to be right. When someone reaches out to you for help. You should never say, 'I'll pray for you.' Instead, for that moment, you should become an atheist - imagine there is no God who could help, and say, 'I will help you.'"

That Trump maintains so much support from modern American Evangelicals does not surprise me, because I have long been accustomed to being told, "I'll pray for you." In American life, many people seem to count their blessings by the number of disasters they've avoided, by luck or work or the fact of their birth, and spare a passing thought at most for the suffering of others. I am so accustomed to hearing offers of "thoughts and prayers" instead of action, of changing the channel when the news makes us feel uncomfortable, of telling ourselves we somehow are "better" than others because we do not share their experiences, and most especially the experiences we don't want. Trumpism, to me, in a natural extension of this. Of the idea that a little lip service is enough when you're faced with injustice or suffering, and that if God doesn't do anything about it, well, that's somebody else's problem.

This same school of thought seems to lead to the idea that life IS suffering, that we are born precisely in order to die, and it is only in death that life has any meaning. That's why so many of Trump's "Christian" cabinet are in the doomsday cult of the apocalypse, obsessing over Israel in order to bring about the end-times, counting their goodness by the number of punishments they mete out to those they deem wicked or sinful or wrong. It is the same school of thought that can trick you into believing that if your life isn't full of the worst of hardships, you must be intrinsically better than those whose lives are.

I reject all of it.

I have a strained relationship with the idea of God. I don't believe that there is a person in the sky who passes judgment. I don't believe there is an entity at all. But I do believe that, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. I believe there is a cosmic force in the universe that pushes us forward, and that forward is fundamentally good. I believe that progress is essential to survival, to growth, to betterment. I believe that we are not ever going to be as good as we could be, but that no matter how evil we sometimes are as a species, we are always getting better. Sometimes, I call that idea God. Sometimes I even pray to it for the betterment of my own paltry life. Sometimes I don't believe in it at all. Sometimes, it's all that keeps me going.

Sometimes, my ability to perceive the goodness of the eventual moral arc of the universe bending towards justice manifests in imagining a God as I was taught to understand him in Hebrew School, because this is something my brain can easily comprehend, something that my brain can easily accept as plausible, because to contemplate infinity is to lose track of what is and what is now.

But in all of this, I never forget that what unites me with the people around me is not only my nationality, my religion, my beliefs, my politics, my language, my senses. What unites us is more than anything our humanity.

And more than humanity, it is our dignity, and our potential, and our breathtaking capacity to do better, to do good, and to do it with joy.

Too long, Americans have been content to pray and think, rather than act. But we need to understand the lesson of atheists from the Rabbi. We need to be willing to take up the responsibility of forcing the moral arc of the universe to bend towards justice. We need to bend it ourselves.


Read more about our version of luck here: When the Angel of Death Passes You Over

Read my most recent post here: There Is No Such Thing as "Other People's Children"

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