In keeping with the holiday spirit, I have decided to share a personal perspective today. Although I rarely write about my personal history, I believe today’s political climate in the United States makes this an imperative responsibility of all Americans. I promise in the coming days, I will go back to blogging about energy, lower, longer oil prices, and important news of the day, such as the historical climate agreement in Paris and what it means for the oil and gas industry.
Like many Americans, I am a descendant of immigrants, and while I consider Houston my home as I raised my family in our wonderful energy capital, I was, in fact, born and raised in Boston around the time when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Many Americans of my generation personally remember Kennedy as a great American president and were inspired by his vision of our country, our American success in the race to space, and his courage to stand tall in the world amid conflicts with the Soviet Union. We owe a lot to President Kennedy still today in scientific achievement and the status of the United States as a global and economic superpower. So, chances are few of us remember the politics of his ascension to the presidency. His candidacy brought fears of a “papist” in the White House.
During his campaign, Kennedy stopped in Houston at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and famously said: “For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been – and may someday be again – a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom… today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you – until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.” His message has relevance today.
The debates about Catholicism and politics were a memorable issue from my early childhood but not just because it was front and center in Boston political life of the day. It was also because of my family’s personal connection to the great Archbishop of Boston of the day, Cardinal Richard Cushing, with whom the Kennedy’s had close ties. Cardinal Cushing is credited with promoting a doctrine that is still of high relevance today: Dignitatis Humanae, Dignity of the Human Person – which in a non-religious nutshell acknowledged the idea that judgement of individuals is as a matter of deeds and conscience rather than by their place of worship. I share with you this standard of measure of mankind not because I am a catholic or a Bostonian. I share it with you as a self-evident truth that is relevant to our American democracy and a foundational idea of our confidence that the separation of church and state still promotes a moral society.
For those who understandably feel afraid by the prospects that there are people among us whose moral compass is so incredibly warped as they might as well be from an alien society from another planet, I say this – we cannot define our sense of self as a nation from that thinking about that aberration. And for this reason, I feel the urge to share a personal family story as the holiday season approaches. The details of how the “Myers” family of Boston came to know Cardinal Cushing personally is of relevance to our collective journey as Americans. Cardinal Cushing’s sister Dolly was my great aunt. She was married to a truly wonderful human being, Dick Pearlstein, who was my grandfather’s brother. Dick Pearlstein was as fine a man as one could hope to have as the husband of one’s sister, a fact not lost on a leader of the stature of Cardinal Cushing. Rather than disavowing his sister for marrying out of the catholic faith, Cardinal Cushing reevaluated what he had been taught about damnation. Since it wasn’t possible to believe that as fine a man as Dick Pearlstein could be condemned for all of time, family members (and others) say the great Cardinal came to be inspired that the goodness is a fundamentally human principle, regardless of a person’s place of worship. Hence came his certainty about the Dignitatis Humanae.
As we come forth to the holiday season, take a moment to remember a friend, neighbor, work colleague, or service provider who might approach religion in a different manner than you do but whom you know to be a fine person of outstanding character and daily practice. Remember that person as Cardinal Cushing did his brother-in-law and be proud to be American by rejecting the politics of fear. As John F. Kennedy said the principle of self evident truth is the important glue that binds our society and the preeminence of equal rights under the rule of law.