Monday, July 21, 2008

Citizen of the World?

I am a participant in the Zogby online surveys. Once every couple of weeks I get a survey asking me everything from whether I am a member of the investor class (way too funny – I’m a teacher - one must *make* money to invest it) to who I will vote for in the presidential race (Obama, with resignation) to whether I am a NASC AR fan (pardon my classism, but when donkeys fly).

But one question Zogby asks every time has always puzzled me: Do you consider yourself more a citizen of a) your community, b) your state, c) your nation, or d) the world. And strangely enough, without hesitation each time, I have always answered d – I consider myself more a citizen of the world.

I’ve wrestled with the implications of that choice. At some level I scold myself over what could readily be seen as a self-aggrandizing statement – My level of moral and spiritual development is far too great to be confined to a mere artificial political construct. And I could see how that charge might be leveled.

I’ve also consoled myself with the recognition that my Franciscan vocation has always called me to value the entire creation and not just humanity. My goal of trying to see the image of G-d on all human faces and recognizing the divine presence in all of creation has long been the substance of my pre-eucharist private prayers. I find that photos of the earth and the Hubble Telescope images from space inevitably invoke simultaneous feelings of my own insignificance in the larger scheme of things (just like the liver donation salesman said in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life) as well as a sense of belonging to something wonderful, something much larger than myself.

But it was a program on the LGBT oriented LOGO channel last night that put this citizen of the world thing into perspective for me. The program was called Living Dangerously, Coming Out in the Third World. The stories of the hardships faced by LBGT people in places ranging from the virulently homophobic heart of Africa to the fundamentalist Islamic nations to the testosterone poisoned machista societies of Latin America were enough to break my heart. My own struggles in homophobic North America seem minor in comparison.

Near the very end of the program, a clip from the International Olympic Gay Games was used to talk about the solidarity third world LBGT people feel with each other and with those of us in the first world. As the representatives from the nations marched into the stadium to the sounds of a capella African choral singing - which never fails to touch me at a very deep place - one delegation carried a red banner which took my breath away: Free Rainbow. No Border. No Nation.

In that split second, I realized why I tell Zogby pollsters that I am a citizen of the world. First, I feel a deep sense of identification with all LBGT people around the world who have had to endure worlds of unmerited dehumanization and demonization just to live our daily lives. I identify with their pain even as I thank G-d I have not had to endure the depth of depravity and destructiveness that pathological homophobias legitimized by religion and packing the power of the state often evoke.

But perhaps more importantly, I suddenly realized why I don’t see my social identity primarily in terms of my community, my state or my nation. What loyalties can anyone have to political entities which do not treat them as first class citizens? What identification with social institutions can the targets of their discrimination hold in good conscience? Do such human targets really have the luxury of enduring second class citizenship at best while nursing hopes that the more powerful within those institutions will some day simply grow up and live into the ideals they assert – ideals such as “liberty and justice for all” and “love thy neighbor as thyself?”

One of the things I realized in my recent trip to Guatemala is that respect for human dignity is the bottom line for any nondestructive human society. It is also one of the most fragile and unreliable aspects of human existence. Contrary to popular political philosophies wishing to legitimize socially constructed privilege, respect for human dignity can never be seen as anything less than a right which, if it is not available to everyone all the time, can never be depended upon by anyone any of the time. In catholic religious terms, it is the image of G-d which every living being bears that must be respected. To do anything less is, as the crusty old pastor in the provocative Disney film Priest said, to spit in the face of the G-d who created them.

Seeing oneself as a citizen of the world recognizes that borders and nations with all their smaller socially constructed subdivisions are inferior concerns to the larger, fundamental right of the rainbow that is humanity to live lives of dignity. Those who would act in any way to draw that fundamental right into question have the burden to demonstrate why such denigration is justified, a very high burden on a good day. Those who would watch that fundamental right to dignity ignored or violated at will and do nothing in response have the burden of explaining their acquiescence to what can only be seen as crimes against humanity. And those who would create and maintain social structures which ignore if not defile the divine image on any human face have no right to demand or expect the loyalty of those they would dehumanize.

Free Rainbow. No Border. No Nation. Nothing less. Amen.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

No comments: