Norman Rockwell was an American painter whose images evoked an idealized vision of “traditional” American values. For almost 50 years, he illustrated covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Even if you don’t know Rockwell’s name, you would probably recognize some of the images that he painted, including a series of four freedoms inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address. President Roosevelt outlined four essential democratic values: freedom of speech and of worship and freedom from want and from fear. “Freedom from Want” (1943) shows a family celebrating their Thankgiving feast. Viewers would have been aware of the historical context– peace and abundance around a dinner table while World War II was raging overseas.
“I’d been reading up on comparative religion. The thing is that all major religions have the Golden Rule in Common. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Not always the same words but the same meaning.” Norman Rockwell, The Norman Rockwell Album
Over time, Rockwell’s sensibilities and artwork evolved, reflecting racial tensions of the times. One cover published in 1961 was “Do Unto Others” showing multi-ethnic and multi-religious subjects. Christians might recognize the passage from the Sermon on the Mount this painting alludes to. Jesus imparted: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Jesus may not have called it the “Golden Rule,” but he provided a standard against which to gauge our actions — treat others the way we would like to be treated. Jesus recognized the realities of human nature and hoped to inspire radical generosity.
If case his listeners didn’t understand “Do unto others,” Jesus tried again — a similar message in the Greatest Commandments: First, love God and then “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, ).
Since 65% of adults in the United States identify as Christian,* I’m referencing Bible verses, rather than other wisdom literature. I assume those who consider themselves religious or Christian would be familiar with the “Golden Rule” scriptures. Here’s what I don’t understand — demanding a vaccine exemption for religious reasons. Jesus seemed adamant about loving your neighbor. It would follow that inoculation is part of the social contract – doing unto others. Considering the needs of your neighbors and demonstrating selfless service, generosity, and charity are the values that underlay religions. So, perhaps non-religious people are claiming religious exemptions to get over on the system. Otherwise it’s a Catch 22 — claiming a religious exemption would means someone is not religious because loving neighbors is a foundational aspect of religion. And, if contracting COVID is God’s will and entitles the bearer to a Rapture EZ-pass (expedited path to heaven), wouldn’t a sick person head to church for anointing, prayer, and laying on of hands, rather than going to a hospital?
Being religious is more than just pious talk; it means walking the walk. Anyone can call themselves whatever they like, and as columnist E.J. Dionne put it: “the devil can quote scripture for his purposes.” Being religious is not only claiming a label and beliefs but actually living them.
How would Norman Rockwell illustrate the times we are living in? I imagine he names the painting: “Fellow Americans: Love Made Visible” (2022), which consists of a montage of images:
- “Religious” virus-denying, vaccine-refusing individuals claiming an exemption to avoid inoculation is like asking to be excused from loving neighbors.
- “Patriots” breaching the halls of democracy and assaulting police officers with flagpoles — including the American flag — and bear spray.
- A “President,” instigator-in-chief, whose superpower is as great divider, willing to incite violence and let minions take the blame.
- “Christmas” cards displaying family firearms because nothing says “Peace on Earth” like machine guns and assault weapons.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” MLK, Jr.
© Joan S Grey, 19 JAN 2022 ∞
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*2020 survey by the Pew Research Center