I know this will come as a surprise to all of you, but I was not born wise or well informed. I blush to think of some of the behaviors in which I indulged, and the ideas that I held, when I was younger.
When I was a very little girl, I picked up from the secular people surrounding me the idea that there is no God. Not only did I refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I was scared enough of the teacher that I still moved my lips, I also thought all believers were fools. I held to this belief for many, many years.
After reading Gone With The Wind for the first time, when I was 11, I came away with the impression that slavery wasn’t really such a bad thing, as long as you treated your slaves nicely. It took me a while to shake this belief too, especially because it seemed to me that the way many American blacks lived, whether in San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunters’ Point, LA’s Watts and South Central, or Michigan’s Detroit, wasn’t a great improvement over the life of a slave. The concept of freedom, versus mere material welfare, eluded me.
At around the same time, as a child who grew up watching the Vietnam War on the news, as well as all the antiwar protests, I thought the American military was evil, and that Communists weren’t so bad.
When I was 17, and California voters pass Prop. 13, I thought it was outrageous that people should want to keep their own money when it could go to the government, which would spend it for the people’s own good, only it would do it better.
When I was 18, I voted for Jimmy Carter and was deeply saddened when he lost.
When I was a 20-year old student attending Berkeley, and I heard that Ronald Reagan had been shot, I agreed with my fellow students that he deserved it, a sentiment that earned me a harsh and well-deserved scolding from my parents.
When I was 21 and living in England, I wore a keffiyeh, because it was a cool fashion statement. That same year, I listened in silence as a British Arab man told a terrible and cruel holocaust joke, because I was too socially intimidated to speak up.
When I returned to America in the early 1980s, I was fascinated by MTV, and watched it obsessively, believing that somehow those videos, with their rocking beats and alternatively meaningless or crude images, could enrich my life.
Throughout my teens and 20s, I hated Christian proselytizers, because I thought they wanted to hurt me, a Jew. It took me decades to understand that they were acting out of great spiritual generosity, and that they would respond immediately and respectfully to a politely given “no.”
Also throughout my teens and twenties, I was mean. I was an awkward, geeky bookworm, with a quick wit that I used to great effect to hurt people before they could hurt me. I always had friends, but woe betide anyone who fell on the cutting side of my tongue. A physical and moral coward, I nevertheless believed that, when it came to insults, the best defense was a good offense.
I was young and I was stupid, stupid, stupid. I cringe when I look back at the things I did and thought. What’s really sad is that the only thing that stopped me from making even worse mistakes was my cowardice. I didn’t really live life. I observed it from the sidelines, and simply managed to collect a whole bunch of bad ideas as I went along.
The good news is that I grew up. During those same years, I managed to learn a lot. At Berkeley, because I couldn’t understand the Marxist cant that permeated every non-science class, and therefore ignored it, I managed to learn about history and art and literature. At law school (despite a miserable semester with Elizabeth Warren), I learned how to revere the constitution, respect the law and, significantly, analyze data.
Being a lawyer was also a great gift. It exposed me to activist judges, something that taught me that, without a rule of law, businesses crumble and anarchy arises. It was frustrating to know that, if I was representing a bank or business in a San Francisco court against an individual, the bank or business would always lose, no matter how rigorously it followed the law, while the individual would always win, no matter how sleazy or careless. The same held true in employer/employee cases. I understood that judicial activism increased the cost of doing business, drove businesses out of the Bay Area (and California), and made it virtually impossible for business people to have reliable predictors to control their conduct.
Earning and spending money taught me that capitalism, if properly policed (not controlled, just policed) enriches people, rather than impoverishes or enslaves them. Living as a responsible adult (rather than a child at home or a cocooned student) taught me that government, even with the best will in the world, is an inefficient engine that moves slowly and that inevitably crushes individuality. I realized that I prefer to keep power diffuse, amongst myriad people with different ideas about the world, rather than aggregated in one, all-powerful being, whether that being is a person or an ostensibly republican government. This made me a strong anti-Communist and, indeed, an anti anything totalitarian.
I learned that the old saying was right, and that I could truly catch more flies with honey (especially true honey, not false words of flattery), than I could with vinegar. I came to regret very deeply the verbal hurts I had inflicted on people. You will seldom catch me being mean, in act or word. (Although I admit to slipping when the migraines hit or the kids fight.)
I found it impossible to cling to my prejudices about God and religious people. The more I learned about science, the more I asked myself, “How did it begin?” I accept the scientific record and scientific conclusions all the way back to the Big Bang — but what came before? Could all this something truly have come from nothing? I don’t know that there is a God, but I’d be an arrogant fool, faced with those questions, to deny a God. I’m not a believer, but I try to live a moral life as an open-minded non-believer. I respect believers.
As for Christianity, I learned that people can hold beliefs different from mine, and still be truly, deeply good people, whom it is often an honor to know. My history studies helped me to understand that the Inquisition is over and that, for the past two hundred years, Christianity has been a uniform force for good in the world. There are, of course, bad people who profess to be Christians, but Christianity as a belief system is a good thing and we should be grateful for it. (I also learned, which few Jews accept, that the Nazis were not a Christian movement, but were a violently anti-Christian movement, something that helped me open my heart and mind to Christianity.)
Watching our military during the First Gulf war, and meeting military people as I got older, I began to understand that ours is an exceptional military: a volunteer organization, controlled by the Constitution, and peopled by ordinary Americans. Well, “ordinary” in that they’re neither the dregs, nor the aristocrats, as is the case in other, class-based societies. Instead, they’re people like you and me. Except, unlike me, they’re brave, even the ones who just joined to pay off their student loans. Oh, and they’re patriots, which isn’t that common. And of course, they’re awfully polite and frequently so kind. But other than that….
So here I am: someone who was profoundly stupid as a child and young person, but who had the capacity to learn and who did, in fact, learn and grow.
You know where this is going, don’t you? Christine O’Donnell, of course.
I get the feeling that Christine O’Donnell was a very lost soul when she was young. The latest evidence of this fact is that Bill Maher is boasting that he has tapes of her admitting to practicing witchcraft (although, frankly, this should endear her to the Left, which loves its Gaia-worshipping Wiccans).
When O’Donnell hit Christianity, she hit it hard, taking a lot of extreme positions (masturbation being the one that has the Left most atwitter) — which is normal for a convert. The zealots usually come from the recently converted, the ones who still have enthusiasm and who also feel that extremism is an act of repentance. She’s had financial problems, too, although that leaves her in good company, since it seems that this is a common trait in federal employees.
But O’Donnell has grown up. Or at least she says she has and, for now, I choose to believe her — because I grew up too. I wasn’t as silly a youngster as O’Donnell, but I grew up in the 70s and early 80s, which gave me a couple of advantages: I had a slightly more friendly pop culture (TV still hewed to traditional values) and my youthful idiocies didn’t get captured forever on video tape.
Here’s the difference as I see it between O’Donnell and Obama: Both of them had idiotic belief systems when they were young, because that’s what a lot of young people do. But Obama’s belief systems hardened into true-blue (or do I mean true-red?) Marxism, whereas O’Donnell grew up. She held to her core conservative values (no abortion, small government, etc.), but seems to have abandoned the worst excesses of her youth.
More than that, her conversion to maturity seems sincere. She has indeed walked away from her immaturity. Yes, O’Donnell is still a pugnacious, somewhat volatile young woman, but she’s not a Wiccan now, she’s not going to set the masturbation police on you, and she’s not going to force all Americans to worship in her church.
If we take her at her word, the O’Donnell of today will go to Washington, D.C. to cut government spending, shrink government’s size, and push for a more Constitutionally run government than we currently have. And there’s nothing crazy or immature about that.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News
UPDATE: I seem to be in good (and forgiving) company, as this related post shows.
UPDATE II: David Swindle has taken my post and run with it. He makes the point that O’Donnell’s positions on lust, porn and masturbation are “serious” not “extreme” if you have truly embraced Christianity. I think he’s absolutely right.
The fact is, though, that the media is selling O’Donnell as “extreme” to Americans who aren’t always that serious about Christianity or who are, like me, fairly conservative, but haven’t fully shaken off a lifetime of urban liberal thinking. I therefore used the word “extreme” in this post in relation to point of view of people who could be swayed by the media’s attack. In fact, I agree with David’s take about the smooth and reasonable integration of O’Donnell’s faith and her morality.
The one other thing that informs my use of the word “extreme” is the fact that, as someone older than both David and O’Donnell, the whole “spilling your guts on video about your sexual (or wiccan) beliefs” is just a little freaky to me — and that’s a generational thing. We didn’t do that when I was growing up probably because, in that pre-video, pre-MTV era, we couldn’t do it.
UPDATE III: If you’ve read UPDATE II, above, you must read Zombie’s wonderful post mixing up quotations from O’Donnell and Carter. Both are Christians, but you can tell the O’Donnell posts, because she sounds smarter and less narcissistic. Oh, and the Left loves Jimmah.
UPDATE IV: Please visit the Anchoress on this too.