Sunday March 7, 2021
In June this year, Aunt Jemima will die. So will Uncle Ben.
The companies that own those trademarks – Pepsi Cola and Quaker Oats for Aunt Jemima, Mars for Uncle Ben – have decided those brand images “do not fit our core values.”
They reek of southern slavery.
So they have to come down. Like those statues of Robert E. Lee and Lord Cornwallis. And renaming of sports teams, schools, and streets to banish references to an unsavory past.
Who’s next for the chopping block? Dr. Seuss?
Actually, yes. Six of his books will stop being published, AP reported this week, “because of racist and insensitive imagery, said the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy.”
The name given to this practice is “revisionism.”
I’m a bit surprised that no one has attempted to edit the story of the biblical King David, for committing rape, murder, and treason.
Traditionally, we learned about David as a righteous man, a just king, an example of how to obey God. But if you take off the faith-tinted lenses and read his story in the light of modern morality, you find that he raped a woman who dared not refuse him, and conspired to kill her husband.
He was a bigamist, with at least three official wives, and heaven knows how many concubines. (His son Solomon claimed 300 wives and 700 concubines.)
His family life was anything but exemplary. One of his sons raped his own sister; another led a rebellion against his father.
David himself committed what we would call atrocities – he slaughtered 100 Palestinian men and delivered their genitals in a basket to his prospective father-in-law as a bride price.
Today, he would also be called a terrorist, waging guerilla war against the legitimately elected king. And probably a traitor too, for having been treated like a member of the family by King Saul, before organizing guerrilla forces against his father-in-law.
Celebrate the good
But that’s all based on today’s morality.
I use David as an example, because most people would consider it unrealistic to expect David to live by today’s moral standards. Then surely it is equally unrealistic to expect, say, John A. Macdonald to establish and operate residential schools with the wisdom of a later century.
The point is not whether these former heroes did something wrong. Of course they did – even if they thought it was right, by the standards of their time. The question should be, did they do something right?
Do we today benefit from their actions yesterday?
Yes. Again, Dr. Seuss comes to mind.
If so, we should celebrate that positive part of their lives, and avoid replicating the negative.
Revisionism unintentionally embodies Shakespeare’s famous line: “The evil that men do lives on after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
During the Cold War, the western nations heaped scorn on the Soviet Union for rewriting history from a Marxist viewpoint. But isn’t that exactly what revisionism tries to do?
When revisionism first emerged, I saw knocking tyrants and dictators off their pedestals as a symbol of moral progress.
But I’m having second thoughts, as the principle of retroactive correction seems to spread.
I know that I made racist comments and told sexist jokes, in my youth, before I knew any better. Didn’t we all? Are those indiscretions now usable against me?
Because once we establish that standard, we must equally expect to be judged by future generations. For our treatment of the environment. And of each other. And of the way we litter the universe with everything from abandoned satellites to electronic ripples of Baywatch, Bewitched, and the Brady Bunch.
What we ought to be doing is learning from our mistakes. Taking seriously that standards keep changing. Evaluating our present conduct not by what we were traditionally taught, but by how we see – through a glass, darkly, as St. Paul once wrote – how social standards are evolving.
We cannot imagine what social standards will be ten years from now, let alone a century or a millennium ahead. We can only do the best we can with our present awareness, and hope that future generations will be more understanding than we have been.
As a descendant of one of the original Aunt Jemima models said, "I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything. Because good or bad, it is our history."
I finished my last bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. She didn’t taste as good as she used to. “Goodbye, Auntie J,” I said, and dropped her in the recycling bin.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I not only got a lot of mail about last week’s column on medically assisted dying, I’m still getting mail about the previous week’s gun-control column. The letters below are about half of what I received, and I edited many of those to about half their original length.
Dick Best: “It will be interesting how many people get past your reference to abortion and deal with the issue of medically assisted death. If you want to concentrate on the latter, it might have been better not to mention the former. But, then, what else would have been as emblematic of what you were referencing?
“As for medically assisted death, I am aware -- and I suspect I have been close to an example -- of people going to Switzerland to achieve that goal. I wonder about emotions felt after the fact by family members who assist in the preparation for and conclusion of such an approach. Are they relieved that their loved one's suffering is over? Do they feel survivor's guilt?”
Tom Watson: “Your last paragraph is key: who makes the decision? One of my best friends died last year after a slow, persistent, worsening of his health over two years, due to Alzheimer’s. This once vibrant, intelligent man declined into a slobbering shell. When he spoke it was unintelligible. His wife was convinced, and I was equally convinced, that given a choice he would have wanted to die, but he was far from capable of making that decision on his own, and it was not anyone else's decision to make.
“The last six months of his life were terrible, and all that any of us who cared about him, loved him, could do was sit and watch. As much as I agree that only the individual can make the decision, there's a piece of me that asks: If I were in the same state of health as that man during the last six months of my life, what would be the most loving thing I would want to have happen to me?
Steve Roney: “What to do about the mentally ill… If, on the one hand, one refuses the same right to the mentally ill that we extend to everyone else, this is discrimination against the mentally ill.
“But ‘suicidal ideation’ is a standard symptom of virtually all mental illness. Which is as much as to say, if we extend this right to them, it arguably amounts to a genocide against the mentally ill; they are in effect being killed for being mentally ill.”
Isabel Gibson: “I agree 100% that the decision about life should be the person's.
“I share the concern that some have expressed about the possibility of pressure being applied (to the aged, to the disabled), and think we need to consider whether we can put in place any safeguards that don't go too far in restricting personal autonomy for others.
“I share the concern about decisions made under the influence of a temporary/treatable mental illness and don't know whether we can address that without going too far in restricting personal autonomy for others.
“I hope that we would increase palliative-care resources and support for the long-term disabled and their families, striving to make everyone's life as good as it can be, for as long as possible, so that the choice to seek MAiD is a real choice, not an action driven by desperation.”
Lois Hollstedt: “Two other areas of comparison for me are slavery and the emancipation of women as property of men; neither social construct required the consent of the slave or the woman, thus robbing them of their ability to decide their own future.
“I am certain of my future decision and have already had the discussion with my family about wanting my end of life choice to be assisted death if I am NOT mentally competent to make the decision alone.
“I have watched family members starve themselves to death when they were given no other choice. It was a terrible way to die and a horrific thing for all of us to watch over months. We do not let our animals suffer like that.”
John Shaffer: “My mother had pancreatic cancer and being very tough, she didn't say ‘ouch’ until the organ was gone. The doctor assured her he could make the dying experience un-painful. At some point, she gave up (because she was throwing up everything, including water) and waited for death. It only took 3 days. I came away from the experience very angry that laws forced my mother to starve to death. What is humane about starving a human being to death?”
Michael Jensen: “Thirty years ago when I was consulting social worker for hospice, I liked what a visiting chaplain said in a workshop: ‘If all hope of recovery is gone, you may remove all life-support devices, but don't take further measure to bring about my death.’ I still support that position.”
Audrey Brooks: “As a community minister with over 30 years of pastoral care to people with drastic health situations, both mental and physical, I have a few comments to add.
“Firstly, no two situations are the same. Each individual brings their personal beliefs to the table with regard to the sanctity of life. When put in a life-threatening situation, most people hang on, believing that there will be a last-minute miracle that will heal them. This is true of believers and non-believers.
“It surprises me that peace of mind and freedom from pain are denied a human being. It is part of a martyr tradition that suffering purifies the soul. It is part of many religious traditions that suffering is a cross we must bear in order to be worthy to be admitted to heaven. I know this because this is what I was taught as a child.
“We were taught the lives of the saints who died terrible deaths, as an example of this. I am of the opinion that this teaching is still very current in many belief systems, and is the backbone of the resistance to an assisted death.”
Solange Miller sent me links to 37 articles, books, and Youtube videos presenting, mostly, the Roman Catholic position – which would seem to disagree with my own views. She gave me permission to forward her list to anyone interested.
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