A is for Activist

Action is the Opposite of Apathy

To be activist is to be, and to demonstrate, the opposite of apathetic. I’m not talking about being an activist for a particular cause, although it’s hard not to be, sometimes. I’m simply talking about standing up for what you believe is right, and speaking out against what you believe is wrong.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

I don’t know about you, but I subscribed to a lot of interest-based newsletters during the election season. No matter what your political, philosophical, or religious beliefs, every organization that is the least little bit sympathetic to your views will do its level best to pique your curiosity and fan the flames of your outrage. You should be righteously outraged by some of the shenanigans that go on in the world around you. So you sign up for these things, start hanging out with other like-minded people, and pretty soon you are utterly overwhelmed by the barrage of messages.

Hard to Muster the Give-a-Damn

Do you ever catch yourself skimming your inbox, thinking, “You again? Whatever. Yeah. So what?” and then not even having the mental or physical energy to unsubscribe? Have the fundraising chairs of your favorite organizations and causes started sending out emails asking if you’re dead? Or, like old friends and lovers, “Are you mad? Is it something we said? Won’t you pleeeeeease come back? We love  you…”

I want to say to them, “It isn’t you. It’s me.” I am righteously tired of all the bullshit in the world, but there is simply too much of it to muster or maintain the proper level of outrage 24/7. My adrenal glands are depleted; my outrage reduced to a quiet seething. Maybe that was their insidious plan all along.

But apathy isn’t my style, either. Don’t mistake quiet seething for apathy, or be surprised when I take up a “cause.” I’ve been doing that since I circulated my first “Save the Whales” petition and tried to stop furriers from clubbing baby Harp seals, back in the early 1970s. We believed that we could change the world, back then – and we did, though many of the same issues remain. I still remember when it wasn’t considered illegal, immoral, or even socially unacceptable to dump trash on the side of the highway. See? I know for a fact that together we can make a difference.

The Reluctant Activist

I didn’t set out to be an activist, and if I had, I doubt that I would have chosen gay rights and marriage equality as my “cause.” I used to wonder why the term “civil union” wasn’t good enough, and why we had to squabble over semantics. Why couldn’t we just reach some happy middle ground, where offended, deeply religious heterosexuals got to keep the sacred English word “marriage” to themselves, even if those screaming loudest about it were all too often caught with their pants down, cheating on their wives or dallying with a gay lover. It was the hypocrisy that irritated me.  The issue of marriage equality didn’t affect me, personally. But then I thought, “What if…” What if I hadn’t been legally allowed to marry my husband?

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller)

The more I got to thinking about it, and how our Constitution prohibits discriminating against people based on immutable, or unchangeable, traits, the clearer it became to me that this was wrong – this business of denying marriage to gay couples. Just as wrong as the anti-miscegenation laws, finally abolished in 1967, that prevented blacks and whites from marrying. If I believed that being gay was a choice, and an immoral one, as some people clearly do, I might struggle with it. But I think even the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality were really prohibitions against exploitation, abuse, and sexuality devoid of love, caring, or compassion.  There were strong prohibitions against “spilling seed” (semen) on the ground, too – something that made sense, back before we had microscopes – when it seemed reasonable to believe that semen was comprised of a whole bunch of tiny little men, and spilling them on the ground was murder. Then again, I could be indulging in wishful thinking; the Bible was quite accepting of slavery and covered things like how to punish your errant human chattel, too.

Opponents of gay marriage point to states’ rights as an argument, but this argument rightfully failed when it came to the issue of slavery in the United States of America, just as it ought to fail any time “states’ rights” are pitted against human rights. The only exception would be where the state has a compelling interest in protecting the public from serious harm. I’m just not seeing it here, unless by “harm” we mean “God’s terrible wrath,” and even that isn’t compelling enough, given our Constitutional right to worship as our own conscience and beliefs dictate, free of Congressional legal interference. We’re all free to submit to the doctrines of our various religions and not marry someone of the same sex, if we believe that God will smite us for it. Imagine if we weren’t.

A dear friend of mine expressed the concern that condoning gay marriage was a slippery slope to condoning sex with goats. Is it? As offensive as that may sound on its face, the concern was sincere and I agree that we can’t start making tiny moral concessions we sincerely believe will lead to the complete collapse of moral decency and civilization as we know it. But it seems to me the analogy is flawed. Marriage is an expression of love and familial commitment between two people – two consenting adults – who already have the freedom to engage in sexual activity with one another. Sex with goats would be more akin to rape or child molestation, since goats cannot give any meaningful consent to sexual activity with humans.

How can it be, that some people have less moral outrage over rape and child molestation than they have over homosexuality and the notion of marriage equality?

How can it be that some people get more worked up about other people’s sexual conduct than they do about their own lack of kindness for their neighbor? Or show more concern for a fetus than for sick, hungry, abused, or unloved toddler? It seems to me that allowing gay couples the right to marry and adopt children would be a happy compromise that respects life – all life – and begins to solve, rather than creates, some of the thornier problems we face.

Be Careful What You Pray For…

If you believe God’s angry over homosexuality and the legalization of gay marriage, then I urge you to trust in God and leave Him to sort it out. Isn’t it hubris to think that God couldn’t make wrongdoers’ lives miserable without your help, if that were His divine plan? If you believe something’s a sin, or fear God’s wrath, then for the sake of your own immortal soul, don’t do it. The law should be concerned with the interests of society as a whole, and when it comes to things like murder and “Thou shalt not kill,” I daresay most sane people are happy that law and faith are on the same side. But recognize that basing US laws on theological arguments is the real slippery slope – a slippery slope to theocracy. That might sound like a marvelous idea, until we ask ourselves what are the odds that our particular denomination and doctrine will win and come out on top.

The exact number of world religions is unknown. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the major world religions, by population percentage, are as follows: Christian 33.39% (of which Roman Catholic 16.85%, Protestant 6.15%, Orthodox 3.96%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.74%, Hindu 13.8%, Buddhist 6.77%, Sikh 0.35%, Jewish 0.22%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 10.95%, non-religious 9.66%, atheists 2.01% (2010 est.). Consider that the first settlers in what was to become the United States of America were Protestants who came here to escape religious persecution; figures for the USA, alone, are as follows: Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.).

One fact that surprised me greatly was that the total Jewish population, worldwide – including anyone who could claim just one grandparent as Jewish – is  estimated at only about 22 million. Another fact that made me think is that while Protestants are only 6.15% of Christians, worldwide, they make up over half of the Christians in the United States.

Do we really want to ever allow one religious group to impose its beliefs and will on any other, in this country?

If we wouldn’t want it done to us, we mustn’t do it to others. Whatever we consider to be our “rights” must be “rights” for all human beings. Period.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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