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Christianity for the Rest of Us

This morning on MSNBC in a discussion
on Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law, Tamron Hall asked her viewers, “Is Arizona
the most conservative state?” 

 Arizona is not really the most
conservative state.  But it may
well be America’s most schizophrenic one. Certainly, when people think of
Arizona they think of Barry Goldwater and John McCain, both Republicans with
strong libertarian sensibilities–and both of whom are routinely identified as
representing the soul of Arizona politics. 

 However, Goldwater and McCain are only
half of the story.  Arizona was
also home to Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers who was one of
the most important labor leaders of the 20th century, and Stewart
Udall
, the Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who
enacted some of the most of significant environmental legislation in American
history.  Chavez and Udall were
seminal figures of modern progressive politics.  Both were deeply shaped by Arizona, its land and its
peoples, and brought issues of workers’ right, Hispanic immigration, natural
resources, and justice for Native Americans from their home state to the
forefront of American consciousness.  Chavez and Udall embody the soul of Arizona, too.

In other words, Arizona is a place of immense contrasts–contrasts that are sometimes difficult with which to cope–and that shape the ethical, moral, and spiritual dimensions of life there.  Indeed, its
landscape tells the tale: Arizona’s most dominant geographic feature of the
state is the 200-mile long Mogollon Rim, the edge of the Colorado Plateau,
where the land suddenly drops 3000 feet from a lush pine forest to desert
basin.  Within a relatively short
distance, two completely different ecologies exist. 

Arizona’s schizophrenia also exists in
its culture–Arizona gave America both Wayne Newton (born in Virginia, but spent much of his life in Arizona) and Alice Cooper.  Religion is not immune from the state’s
bi-polar extremism: adherents of new spiritualities make up about 20% of the
population, roughly the same number who belong to evangelical
mega-churches. 

Thus, Arizona tends to bounce between
extremes, with the conservative pole often being most organized and
authority-driven, thus influencing politics and the criminal justice
system.  While the progressives
tend to cluster around arts, education, and spirituality, and they are typically
diverse and decentralized. The same electorate voted in both Janet Napolitano
(D) as governor and Jan Brewer (R) as Secretary of State.  Brewer succeeded Napolitano when the
Democratic governor joined the Obama administration.  The new immigration bill is one of those bi-polar bounces, a
kind of fear-driven manic phase prompted by bad politics, failed federal
policy, and increased violence on the border.

At its best–and the new law is nowhere
near its best–Arizona manages to balance its extremes, centering itself around
its independent spirit, a practical sort of libertarianism, pragmatic
environmentalism, and wisdom from a variety of cultures. Indeed, Phil Gordon,
the current mayor of Phoenix, who disagrees with the new law, wrote this week
in the Washington Post:

The Arizona I’ve known since moving here from Chicago as a
boy is the birthplace of Cesar Chavez; it’s a free-thinking, hospitable state
capable of balancing great natural beauty and cultures of all sorts. This place
we’ve heard about lately, the Arizona willing to risk economic boycotts and
international ridicule in the pursuit of an ugly, discriminatory law? I don’t
recognize it.  


Some people are calling for a consumer boycott
of Arizona.  I’m just calling for a
return to creative balance.  Oh,
and a mega-dose of Lithium probably wouldn’t hurt either.  

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