Thursday, December 23, 2010

Herod's Order

We are almost at Christmas Eve, the night Jesus was born, according to Christian tradition. I feel I am living in a parallel universe this week, trying to stay true to what Christmas is supposed to be about, but amazed by the actions of the House and Senate.  Many might have thought Congress had reached its nadir with the tax vote, which my colleague, Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, has described very well in Tuesday’s blog post

But this week managed to be even weirder.  We started with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which now allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military without having to hide their sexual orientation. This repeal came after almost 17 years of fighting, and is being hailed as a major civil rights victory.  So now gays and lesbians can fight and be killed in bloody, pointless and largely illegal wars around the world!  Yeah, I guess.  One reason given as to why DADT had to be repealed is that not enough people are joining the military. 

We went on to the defeat of the DREAM Act, which would have given provisional legal status to some 65,000 young adults who came to the United States as children and who have little relationship to the country where they were born.  These young people could have earned citizenship after completing a number of requirements, including a minimum five-year residency and either service in the military or two years of college.

I know that progressive and complete immigration reform is a big stretch, but I seriously thought no one could really oppose the DREAM Act.  Story after story appeared in all forms of media about students brought here when they were 6 weeks old, three years old, six years old; who went to grade school and high school and now want to go to college – law abiding residents of our country, living in law abiding families who work hard and simply want to improve themselves and fully participate in their community.  Only someone without any heartstrings at all could resist this. 

In the end, our side was five votes short of the 60 needed to “invoke cloture” which would end the debate and allow the vote to go forward.  The final vote was 55-41. The DREAM Act died in a procedural battle.   The blockage of this bill almost entirely affects people of color who cannot vote. 

And finally, as the last vote of the House of Representatives this year, the 9/11 First Responder bill passed which gives free medical care and compensation to people who were at Ground Zero Sept 11, 2001. Again, unbelievably to me, this bill was controversial, and people have been fighting for it for several years.  In fact, this morning there was some doubt about whether it would pass, although in the end it passed 260-60.  This bill affects a small number of people, and even though First Responders have a hero-like status, that has not been enough to get the bill passed sooner, helping people sooner, including many who have already died. 

Jesus’ birth is surrounded by stories and myths, most of which are charming with lots of shepherds and angels, but one of which is horrible and only appears in the Gospel of Matthew.   The three Wise Men visited Herod who was the King of Israel, to ask him if he knew where “the newborn ruler of the Jews” might be.  They had been following a star which they believed would lead them to this child.  Herod knew nothing of this, and asked them to let him know if they found this child.  The three Wise Men found the baby Jesus, but, having been warned in a dream not to tell Herod anything, returned to their own country by a different route than they had come.  Herod was furious with them and felt his own power very threatened so he ordered all baby boys under the age of two to be killed.  Mary and Joseph, with the infant Jesus, fled to Egypt, where they lived until Herod died and they could safely return.

Most people are appalled by the story of Herod’s order.  The existentialist Albert Camus says this story is the main reason he became an atheist.  How could anyone believe in a God who would let a slaughter of these innocents happen?  Better to believe there is no God than a God like that. 

My question in light of the motives for passing or not passing these various bills (and the time it took to do so) is not whether God exists.  My question is can we face that Herod still exists?  And will we, like the Three Wise Men, simply slip away to our own place, or will we stand and fight the good fight?  There is no empirical evidence that any of this story ever happened, but that is not the point.  We are asked every day to choose whose path we will follow.  The Winter Solstice suggests following the light and as Christmas approaches those of us who celebrate that holiday should ponder how we can do that in 2011.

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