Today, as we celebrate and reflect upon the legacy and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, we can also celebrate one of his many accomplishments – the fact that he did so much to make it possible for a black woman to be the Vice President of the United States – which will become reality the day after tomorrow, for the first time in our history. If Dr. King were alive to see this day, I imagine he would feel the pride and hope justly deserved. The juxtaposition of these dates stirs the hope of a more equal and just America within the minds of many of us.
Historic firsts like this support the idea that we can improve the world over time. In fact, I’ve recently found a solid, comprehensive look at this question – in the book “Enlightenment Now”, by Dr. Steven Pinker. I highly recommend this book, especially when things look dark, in addition to the many writings of Dr. King himself, who famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He said that, even in the midst of fierce and institutional racist opposition to his attempts towards Civil Rights – at a time when it would be hard to be optimistic. We can see that over and over throughout history – that there are plenty of setbacks and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet, when a longer view is taken, there is no question that we’ve advanced – in morality, in racial equality, in more equal opportunity, in standard of living, and in many other ways.
In fact, one striking example came up at lunch today, when several of us autoworkers were discussing the pandemic (while sitting 10′ apart). Yes, it’s a hardship, and we are all looking forward to the end of the pandemic, now perhaps in sight. Yet, it could be much worse. We compared our lockdown today with past pandemics, as recently as a century ago. With all other pandemics, one quarantined at home, and could not telecommute, or call parents to check on them, or video call distant friends or loved ones, or spend time playing online games with others, or learn using online classes, or discuss things on facebook, or download netflix movies, or get immediate news about the status of the pandemic, or many other things. You stayed at home, without seeing hardly anyone for years, with nearly nothing to do aside from house/yard/farmwork, with little medical support, not knowing how long the pandemic would last, and without knowing for months or years how many of those you knew had died – and of course there would never be a vaccine to end the pandemic early. Without working from home and so much more enabled by technology, how much more would the economy suffer as well?
With both the changes to our pandemic lives as well as the civil rights, so much effort from so many people has brought about the improvements we see. We do, in so many ways (in addition to science) stand on the shoulders of giants – like Dr. Martin Luther King, Ruby Bridges, and countless others. Barak Obama reminded us that “The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”. It takes a lot of work – the work of whole lives, from so many people, and often in the face of the setbacks we mentioned earlier.
Speaking of setbacks, we all saw how fragile our democracy is, and how close we are to losing it, in the premeditated, presidentially incited, terrorist attack on the capitol on January 6th. Not just a terrorist attack, but one aimed at reversing a democratic election, executing Senators and destroying American Democracy, which was strongly backed by many Christians. as well as white supremacists. I the face of that, how can one be hopeful? I think we can still be hopeful, recalling the words of Dr. Martin Luther King – and with the words of Barak Obama, remind ourselves of the task before each of us. We can all work to make this world a better place, in so many different ways, each a reflection of our different skills and ways to contribute.
In that reflection, I’m reminded again of the strong need for reality based fact checking – of the huge role that lies played in the terrorist attack, in the racist and other harmful events of the last four years, and in nearly all the obstacles and setbacks to building a better world. This is much of why our Naturalistic Pagan movement is so important. Shoulder to shoulder with other reality based spiritual paths – because we certainly aren’t the only ones! – we can all help.
Looking at the destruction, polarization, deception, and harm which 4 years of Trump gave us, it’s scary to see how it could have easily been much worse. After all, Trump only barely lost the electoral college, with only a 0.7% shift overall needed to give him another 4 years – or even more, seeing now who he is. With his defeat, I hope we can build on this thin ray of hope – even though nearly half of Republicans support the terrorism. Looking back, I see what was written on this blog 4 years ago, and can compare it to what we now know – check it out! That post, along with this one, recognizes both the severity of our challenge, as well as our ability to work hard to make things a little better over our lives. I’m honored to be doing this work along side all of you.
Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host
We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.