Monday, October 02, 2006

Zealots for Bad Causes

On Yom Kippur, Jews read aloud an alphabetic litany of our sins.

My favorite sin this year, as it were, is the last one in the litany: "We are zealots for bad causes"

Let's pause for a moment and appreciate the co-occurrence of the words "favorite" and "sin" in the previous sentence.

What I mean by that, I suppose, is this: Every year we read the same text. Aloud. All together. Whether you've been greedy or not, promiscuous or not, a xenophobe or not, you read the text aloud. What never ceases to amaze me, is that every year the list is new to me. In it I find something that surprises me, that makes me reconsider how I operate in the world.

This year, I am especially a zealot for bad causes.

Actually, that is disingenuous. Of course I think that I'm a zealot for good causes. But when I heard that one, I laughed. My eyes met the eyes of another congregant and we exchanged a knowing grin.

Then I started to think more about it. What is the meaning behind saying this every year? Catching those who are the real zealots for bad causes? Making them do penance on a new reality show? Zealots for Bad Causes this sunday at 9 on UPN.

After savoring the sugary coating of the words, I started to get an ache in my teeth that wouldn't go away. What am I a zealot for? How can the causes and ideas that I hold dear be bad?

I was immediately confronted by an example. Ask and you shall receive.

A woman stood up to talk about the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage which is on the November ballot in Wisconsin.

It has already been on my "to do" list to get a yard sign urging people to vote against the ban. Good cause.

She talked about the political implications, then drew a breath, and started to talk about how she felt scared. How she, personally, would lose her health care coverage if the ban passes. Whoa. Hold it a minute. We're talking about real people here.

That may sound like a dumbshit response. But it made me realize that of all the causes that I hold dear, behind them are real, individual, people. These things are not just about human rights per se, but are about people. People in particular.

I can construct a sound intellectual argument as well as the next guy. In fact, I relish it. It's something that I do well. And it is also, perhaps, something that I do a little too well. While I fancy that it enables me to reach out to other people, sometimes it does so without considering the very people who I am arguing for.

And boom, there I am, a ZBC. Not that my causes are really bad, but sometimes, like everyone, I need some self-reflection or a generous kick in the rear to reassess not just what positions I maintain, but how and why. I have to keep my connections to these causes real and tangible so that they (and I) do not drift off into the dogmatic ether.

So I invite you to contemplate with me, fellow Zealot for Bad Causes. Get out of your rocking chair and go take a walk. Do the opposite in a situation of what you would normally do. Talk to strangers. They might be you.


For those of you still keeping score, the Book of Life has officially been closed for the 2006-2007 season. We look forward to greeting you next year in our fully-remodeled facility.

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