Bumper stickers that make you think

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By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

EL CAJON, California — I recently was walking through a parking lot of Grossmont College when I saw a car bedecked with a multiplicity of bumper stickers, three of which attracted my attention:   They proclaimed “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” “Freedom of Religion Means All Religions” and “The Truth Is We Are All One Human Family.”  As I walked to the class that  I teach in Media Communications, I found myself pondering what was being communicated to me through the medium of bumper stickers.

I recognized, of course, that the intent of the first bumper sticker is to urge women to follow their hearts and not to be limited by the restrictions imposed by a male dominated society.  Nevertheless, I found myself wondering whether it was true that Abigail Adams, for example, was not well-behaved?  Can we say the same about Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton?  And what about heads of government like Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir?  Were any of them other than well-behaved?  My mind turned from politics to an alphabet of other endeavors in which women have excelled, among them Astronaut Sally Ride … Columnist Dear Abby (Pauline Friedman) …  Humanitarian Mother Theresa … Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ……  Landscaper of Balboa Park Kate Sessions …  Pop Star Linday Lohan, er, okay, never mind her ….  Queen Elizabeth … Scientist Marie Curie … Zookeeper Belle Benchley.     I decided that being “well-behaved” is not a barrier to making history.

And, what about the woman who is famous for that quote: Harvard historian Laura Thatcher Ulrich?  While it is true that she  may have taken issue with some established doctrines of her Mormon Church, writing “All God’s Critters Have a Place in the Choir,” come-on now,  is this Pulitzer Prize-winning feminist historian really not well-behaved?

What about Bumper Sticker No. 2, “Freedom of Religion Means All Religions?”  I may not like certain practices of other religions, but if they don’t hurt anyone other than the practitioner, who am I to tell people what they should do?  However, I agree with the classical construction by John Stuart Mill that one’s freedom ends where it impinges on another person’s freedom, especially when practitioners of any religion proclaim they have a divine right to kill.   In that so many people, in the name of religion, mistakenly believe they have the right to do exactly that,  I’d have to reject the message of that bumper sticker too.  I was thus O-2 in my personal calculus.

I found myself in agreement, however, with the third bumper sticker, which asserted that:  “We are all one human family.”  While I don’t believe that Adam and Eve or even Noah, his sons, and their spouses were our common ancestors; I do believe that through intermarriages and inter-breeding that has occurred over the centuries all of us probably share some common DNA.  And so far as I’m concerned, the more we mix our gene pools, the better.  I know some will say that we’re all members of the same family because we were all created by God, but I am troubled by that concept.  If a potter makes many different pots, using various shapes, techniques, and materials, are they all in the “same family,” or do they simply have a common creator?

After class, I had an errand at Costco in nearby Santee, where I saw a pickup truck emblazoned with another message that got me a-pondering:  “Let go and Let God.”  I appreciated the asymmetry of the  conjunction, and that when you add a ‘d’ to go, you’ve got to capitalize the ‘G’.

But I found myself wondering “what is this concept of ‘letting God?’”   while I was waiting in the Costco line for some of the lowest-price gas in San Diego County.  I thought about Israel, where a Haredi group, the Neturei Karta, believes the very country they live in and which protects them is contrary to the will of God, and so they align themselves politically with those Arabs who oppose Israel’s existence.  In their view, if God had willed the reestablishment of Israel, He would have sent the Messiah, whose coming would have brought universal peace.  Most Jews reject this concept.  We are not supposed to be passive while we wait for the Messiah.  There’s a well-known adage that if you are planting a tree and someone announces that the Messiah has arrived, finish planting the tree, and then go see the Messiah.  Our role is not to “let” God do it, it is to “do it with” God.

San Diego Jewish World is read by people living in a variety of countries, not just the United States, and certainly not just in the state of California.  So for the benefit of these out-of-state readers, let me say that bumper stickers, decals, personalized license plates, and license plate frames are among the preferred methods by which Californians communicate with each other.

Living in spread-out urban areas with little or no alternative forms of transportation, we are dependent on our automobiles. A message appended to our cars is a way to say “howdy” to the  driver of the car behind us, even to commiserate as we suffer through the same traffic jam on what laughingly is called a “freeway.”   It’s also a way to get us thinking.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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