Clearing the Heart to See the Truth
A few nights ago I watched an interesting documentary on PBS called American Experience. This particular episode was entitled, “1964.” The makers of the show examined that particular year as the year that ignited the social revolution in America. The issue that caused the combustion: Civil rights; in particular, the efforts of northern white college kids who headed to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 in order to assist southern black citizens to register to vote. As the show progressed, my sentiments certainly followed the trajectory of the show’s emotional appeal. The civil rights movement revealed both the ugly and the beautiful struggle of a certain segment of American citizenry to gain political access to a rule of government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. I greatly admired the efforts of these Northern white college kids and black civil rights activists in the face of possible violence and even death—as was the case when three volunteers met their doom one night when they encountered some Klansmen. Their bodies were later discovered in shallow graves near a dam in the process of being constructed. Yet, I was also aware of a particular undertone during the entirety of the program.
This undertone became clear when, later in the episode, a historian made a statement that both shocked and rankled me. He said that these white kids returned home from their experiences in Mississippi with the stark realization that everything their parents had told them about America was a lie! America as a society, he opined, was utterly bankrupt. His statement was followed by footage of police brutality, footage of the Klan beating people and terrorizing citizens, footage of Republican senator Barry Goldwater stating publically that he didn’t support the civil rights movement, more revelations about the Klu Klux Klan and their involvement in southern politics, etc. Then the documentary shifted focus a little to Betty Friedan and her popular book The Feminine Mystique, which argued that homemakers and mothers, the backbone of the social fiber in America, were secretly sick and tired of the lives they were living, feeling trapped and desperate to get out and live lives freed from the constraints imposed on them by men. Again, the moral was clear: something was deeply, deeply, flawed with America. The good ol’ U.S. of A. not only was not good, but was morally broken and corrupt! Radical change was needed, and the true heroes of this change discovered their cause and their voice in 1964.
This episode of American Experience was interesting and eye-opening. The program challenged me to have a deeper appreciation for the courage of the leaders of the civil rights movement. But the implied conclusion seemed to be if one is a compassionate, civil rights-caring American, one is liberal. However, the day after the airing of this program something happened that disputes the conclusion that the show seemed to advance—the annual March for Life. It took place in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of thousands of protestors marching through freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions to reveal the corruption of our day, abortion, and the 55 million citizens who not only will ever have the right to vote, but won’t even have the right to live! Who is leading the charge for this social change? Not liberal college students or Democratic politicians and civil rights leaders. On the contrary, this movement is led by the very Americans this show subtly demonized, conservative religious people.
History is precisely that. I am myself a historian and while history is invaluable for learning about the roots of the present, it is only ideological naiveté that uncritically applies categories of the past to the current situation. It may have been that liberals, Democrats, and maybe even some libertines were the most passionate political advocates on behalf civil rights half a century ago. But the heirs of the Left need not boast their political ancestry when it is precisely those on the other side of the fence who are standing up, sacrificing, enduring mockery, to liberate the most oppressed demographic today. The Left might be cautious when they are tempted to characterize conservative religious people as morally bankrupt, when it’s precisely the pillars of Leftist ideology who maintain the legal and social structures which undergird the greatest dehumanization and mass-murder the world has ever seen.