I think just about everyone who haunts the Internet at least once a day (or just haunts Facebook) has seen or heard of Rick Perry’s “Strong” campaign ad. I hesitated in talking about it here… after all, it’s been discussed to death by everyone else… but there was an aspect of his message that struck me and which I haven’t seen mentioned much elsewhere.
The topic of revising history tends to bring up an “us versus them” mentality. One group of people accuses another of (willfully or not) revising historical facts to meet a certain worldview or belief. From what I’ve seen, this most often gets turned into a “us versus the fundy Christians.” I will not be allowing that sort of talk here, so let’s go in a slightly different direction. It’s true that many fundamental religious organizations, regardless of denomination or faith, will ignore certain historical facts or twist facts in order to support their worldview. That can apply to almost any worldview. There are those who say that America was founded on Christian principles and has always been a Christian nation. There are those who say massacres and genocides in various countries didn’t happen (most notably, those who say the Holocaust never happened). There are those who claim that their religion is the only religion to ever exist and be correct, despite mountains of evidence that this simply is not the case.
Why am I applying this to a Pagan blog, and how does this relate to Rick Perry? Well, in Perry’s ad, he makes reference to America’s “religious heritage” and how “faith made America strong,” with the clear implication that the faith and religion he’s speaking of is [his brand of] Christianity. However, the United States’s religious heritage encompasses far more than just Christianity. It includes the spirituality of the Native Americans, who were here long before the White Man landed; the Puritan faith of the Pilgrims; the Catholic and Protestant religions of the many European immigrants over the years; Judaism; the African faiths of the slaves who were shipped to America’s shores and the brand of Christianity that developed from slave culture; the brand of Christianity of Hispanics and Latinos, who bring different traditions and histories from their cultures; the Buddhist and Tao and Shinto of Asian immigrants; the Islam of immigrants from the Middle East; the atheists and agnostics and deists; and finally, the brands of Pagan spirituality that has been hidden for so many years.
America includes so much more than just Christianity, or one sect of Christianity, that for people to say America is or was a Christian nation is ridiculous and patently false. Yet these beliefs are clung to so strongly, and perpetuated by people like Rick Perry, that they still survive. Why? Some of it is probably an unwillingness to acknowledge truth, and so create your own truth. That’s all well and good, but not when you’re someone running for president of a nation like this.
Such revisionist history can be harmful. Not only does it deny historical fact, but it denies the past foundations upon which we all stand. And when such a person is running for president, what does that imply about how he or she would treat those not of that faith? Relating this back to Pagans, if America is a Christian nation, what does that mean for our rights, our freedoms? There are people who say that freedom of religion only means freedom for their religion, i.e., Christianity. While many believe this to be untrue, it still brings up the question of what to do about revisionist histories, especially when they are in a national spotlight and people around the country are listening and maybe even believing in what that person is saying at the time. While Rick Perry’s ad has been parodied and ridiculed across the Internet and television, that doesn’t mean that another person spouted similar revisionist history will be equally ridiculed by the masses.
Keep educating people. Resist the temptation to let those who revise history slide. These things need to be corrected. Though I don’t advocate public humiliation, Rick Perry is a national figure and should have known what he was getting into with his ad, and public humiliation certainly worked in getting people to laugh at his message instead of believe it. Sometimes, laughter really is the best method, though I prefer education, myself.