Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Princesses are from Mars, Glenn Beck is from...

The lovely Dejah Thoris, courtesy of Rob Ullman.
Can amity between red and green Martians, and Earthlings,
be a model for ourselves?
Today I return to the blogosphere with a discussion of Glenn Beck and Mars. No, it’s not what you think.

Earlier this summer, Rob Ullman, a cartoonist and artist whose oevre includes sports, comic books, science fiction and culture drew a portrait of Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s book of the same name. I’ve never been a huge sci fi fan myself. (OK, I went to one Star Trek convention years ago, but that’s a separate story.) Still, having read Burrough’s Tarzan when I was a kid, I picked up a copy.

A Princess of Mars came out nearly a century ago, and it’s far from a Nobel- or Booker-worthy read. (After all, there are fifteen-foot tall, six-appendaged green monsters and the aforementioned Ms. Thoris wears no clothing apart from her jewels.) But the scenes between John Carter, the novel’s hero who is mysteriously transported from Arizona to the plains of Mars (which the inhabitants call Barsoom), and Dejah Thoris are wonderful to read because of the civility and formality with which they address each other—like when Dejah Thoris tells John Carter that she has been engaged to another man:

“It is too late, John Carter, my promise is given, and on Barsoom that is final. The ceremonies which follow later are meaningless formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain than does the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death upon him. I am good as married, John Carter. No longer may you call me your princess. No longer are you my chieftain.”

They speak to each other reverently. Now distinguish this from our political discourse. As it’s all too easy to tell from watching the campaigns, and the reaction to recent debates about healthcare reform, economic stimulus and so on, we live in a poisonous political environment. Leslie Marshall, who hosts a talk radio show out of Los Angeles, asked the other night what was missing from politics. I said a sense of civility, particularly since Glenn Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial had just happened. A little to my surprise, the event turned out to be more church revival than Nuremburg rally. (Never mind that neither he nor most media addressed the double standard between vilifying a Muslim community center proposed for “hallowed ground” in lower Manhattan and holding a right-wing rally on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.)

As I thought more about Leslie’s question, though, and contemplated the root causes of the lack of civility, I dare say that I thought Beck may be on to something. Far from me to think that injecting Christian revivalism into politics is a good thing. But I think what’s missing from politics is a sense that we are all created in God’s image. Even those of us who worship a different God—or no God at all. I’m now preparing for my second year of teaching interfaith fifth graders about the life and times of Jesus. Being in an interfaith marriage, I can say that I’ve had so much joy brought into my life by being open to more than one form of belief. I only wish that our politicians (and us, as a culture) could be more interested in living our motto: “out of many, one.”

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