Sunday, February 13, 2011

evolution & revolution pt 1

after yesterday's inclusion of part of my evolution sunday sermon, I've decided to publish the rest of it in pieces and with links. today is part 1:

A Sermon Delivered to Dakota Unitarian Universalist Church
On February 13, 2011

The images are electric. People dancing with flags. Small fireworks zipping up into the night sky. Hands high over heads that are shouting and singing. Truck horns honking. Innumerable numbers of people surrounding Tahrir Square in Cairo and in public squares in Memphis, Alexandria, and other cities, in symbolic spinning circles that mimic the spinning circles of pilgrims on hajj around the Kaaba in Mecca.

Can we imagine anything like it? Yes, I think we can. Many of us remember similar euphoria, dancing and singing and crying, over the swiftly developing ruins of the Berlin Wall. Or the joy and release of revolutions in South Africa and Czechoslovakia that left former government prisoners Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel as their presidents. And of course many of us felt a similar elation a little over two years ago after the results of the 2008 election were announced and Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush in the Oval Office.

Of course, I would be remiss not to refer also to the joy and elation many of us experienced at other times that didn’t turn out well. In February 1979 we watched the Shah of Iran run with his tail between his legs, defeated by the twin intensity of protests by students and religious leaders and heard the thanking of god and thanking of history; and it was only a few months later, in November, when some of those same students rushed the American embassy, taking fifty two hostages for nearly a year and a half. Some may remember the exultation when economics professor Robert Mugabe entered the President’s Palace as the first elected black African leader in the coup that replaced notorious corrupt Rhodesian leader Ian Smith; our cheers would stick in our throats within two years. And of course we all remember the images from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, as the students and intelligentsia there, emboldened by the success of other revolutions, occupied the Square demanding democratic and economic reforms, and the iconic photo of Tank Man, a lone protestor who stared down four tanks armed with nothing more than shopping bags; and we may remember the images from seven weeks later when the People’s Liberation Army, on orders to clear the Square, did so with bayonets and clubs and bullets, leaving an unknown number of civilians dead, their numbers estimated between eight hundred and three thousand, and countless others injured.

It’s entirely apt that Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in October 1981, should find the exit door from Cairo the day before Charles Darwin’s birthday. Like everything else, political entities and societies evolve. And like evolution itself, it’s not always to the immediate benefit of the subject and it’s not always pretty. Of course, political revolution, played out in the space of years or months or, in the case of the Egyptian uprising, eighteen days, is far different than biological evolution, which takes place over a sense of scale that dwarfs our ability even to imagine it. But I think it’s fair to make a connection between the two.

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