Now comes the growing notion that we are at war, a phrase I’ve heard from more than a few these last days. A war fought not with guns and planes but words and ideas, the territory our hearts rather than battlefields. And though both sides cannot agree on much, there is an accord that this war contains both a “good” and a “bad” and that one is either on one side or the other—in this fight, there can be no spectators.
Nor can there be hesitation. If you disagree with a man’s right to marry a man or a woman’s right to marry a woman, if you do not believe that a Confederate battle flag is something akin to a Klansman’s hood, then your side is already chosen. Silent introspection is tantamount to cowardice, and for these things the punishment is to be thrown in league with the -ics and -ists. We are branded with the very thing that is now looked upon with contempt—a label.
I haven’t figured out why it’s gotten this way, or if “this way” is really just the way it’s always been. I’m still thinking things through. That’s what we should all be doing now. Not picking fights, not turning to the nearest social media platform to scream and blather. Think.
I do not think anyone has a right to be happy. Live even a tiny amount inside this world and you will discover just how impossible and fleeting such a belief to be. This life was not built for happiness, but for the pursuit of it—for each of us to strike out into our days and search for meaning and beauty and purpose. The pursuit of happiness, yes, that is our right. And does that mean same-sex marriage should be legal? I don’t know. Perhaps. Is same-sex marriage and a homosexual lifestyle a sin? Maybe. But if homosexuality is a sin, that makes them like you and me in every way. Like everyone. It doesn’t matter to which sex you find an attraction, we’re all broken. We’re all the same.
The issue with the Confederate flag is an easier one for me. You see them here, flying from rusting poles in the front yards of the mountain folk or billowing from the beds of muddy 4x4s driven by teenage boys. To be honest, the sight of it has always made me uncomfortable. I know its history, and how in the years following the Civil War it was adopted by those who wished to keep down those who should have always been raised up. But I know this as well—I am a proud Southerner. The region of the country does indeed hold many of our nation’s sins, but it holds much more of its graces. I know good men died on both sides of that great national wound, men of courage, godly men. I will tell you that racism exists here, but no more and no less than in any northern city.
I suppose in all of this, what I would like to know is where the line is now that we cannot cross. It seems to me that’s an important thing to consider, for me and for everyone. Because there has always been a line, hasn’t there? A mark upon the boundary of our society’s forward progress that we gauge as that place where, if trampled upon, we risk losing some special part of ourselves. I’d like someone to tell me where that line now rests. I get nervous when it isn’t there, when no idea of constraint is apparent. Jut this morning I read an article from a respected news source calling for the acceptance of polygamy, a notion that has in the last years begun to take hold. Another article extolled the plight of pedophiliacs who now feel left out of this cultural shift, their reasoning being that they can no less alter the object of their sexual attractions than can homosexuals. I wonder how many who support gay marriage would support the legalization of these as well, and if not, what reasons they would offer. Is polygamy the line now, or will that too be crossed? Is it incest? But how many do you suppose would be in favor of that, assuming both parties to be consenting adults? Is not love the most vaunted of emotions now? Does not love trump all?
And of course things have not stopped with the removal of the Confederate flag from state grounds. Chain stores and online retailers have taken up that very mantle, refusing to offer them for sale to private citizens. My own Commonwealth has halted the issue of license plates bearing the seal of Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. Now there is talk of expanding things further, changing the names of schools and public buildings that bear the names of Lee and Jackson and Stuart and Davis. I’ve even read that some are considering a petition to dismantle the Jefferson monument. Chuckle though you might, what of that other flag bearing stars and bars that has presided over so much bloodshed? What of our country’s own banner to which we stand at parades and ballgames and pledge our allegiance?
Tell me, please: where is the line? Or are we so intent to race forward that we no longer care if there is a line at all? Are the limits of society now -ics and -isms themselves?
I’d like to know. We’re supposed to be at war, you see. And I’m more than a little worried. Because no matter the cause or the combatants and no matter whether the spoils are blood or ideas, the first casualty of any war is always truth.