A reader writes:
I'm sure you realize that you could re-write your recent post "Do Republicans Get The Terror Threat?" almost word-for-word, substituting "war on drugs" for "war on terror". Amazingly predictable parallels. "Do Republicans Get the Drug Threat?" No. "Do Republicans Get The Terror Threat?" As you make so abundantly clear, no. Tragic paradoxes, indeed.
The question now is, why? Why don't they get it?
The answer, I think, is quite simple: the Republicans - especially now that they are the party of the American Christian fundamentalist movement - are not interested in reality. They're interested in their echo-chamber, their self-reinforcing, self-congratulatory, self-protective ideological bubble. A human trait, granted, and a political trait, left and right - but now that the Republican Party is the Christianist Party, a defining and deadly dangerous trait.
What matters now is not performance, or practicality, but rigid adherence to ideological purity - even if that "purity" results in reinforcing the very behavior it is meant to suppress. This adherance to ideological purity is a form of quasi-religious hysteria (and maybe not so quasi). It is, as you say, ultimately tragic - tragic for those caught in the cross-fire, tragic in that it makes very real problems much worse than they need to be, tragic in that it wastes our resources and drags us backwards, tragic in that it keeps us locked in endless, unwinnable battles with the very things we loathe and fear. We're turning ourselves into zombies.
That's bad enough, given the gravity of the issues. Drugs are a scourge. Terrorism is a scourge. But you don't have to be a Nostradamus to see far worse waiting for us on the horizon. Is this how we're going to meet those challenges? As zombies? If so, we're going to fail.
It's a question, finally, of courage.
Ideological purity, rigid thinking, quasi-religious hysteria - these are all forms of self-protective armor that weigh us down and make it impossible for us to move, and change. To remove that armor, to stand naked and vulnerable before reality, unsure, uncertain, full of doubt, requires real courage - and real faith. Faith is not in the knowing - it is in the unknowing. That unknowing, that vulnerability before God - or fate, or reality, call it what you will - is the birthplace of creativity, the very crucible of creation. Stand there, and you will be changed. That is terribly frightening. It is, in a very real sense, death. To walk knowingly into death, for the sake of greater life, that takes courage - and it is now the challenge before humanity as a whole.
The hysterical refusal to take that leap, to allow ours old selves to die and our new selves to be born, is at the root of all the fundamentalisms that now plague us around the globe. Fundamentalism is, simply, fear. The fear of death. The fear of change. The fear of being wrong. The fear of being imperfect. The fear of being human. And in their fear, fundamentalists lash out at all who challenge their rigid, self-protective thinking - lash out, always, at the "other", the one who is different than they are, and therefore by definition impure, evil, bearer of sin and hated of God. Tragic paradoxes, indeed: those who claim the greatest faith have the least, those who claim eternal life refuse to be reborn, those who claim the love of God institutionalize hate and loathing.
Fundamentalism is rampant now globally because the globe is hurtling into an unknown future. Time is accelerating. Change is accelerating. We're approaching an evolutionary singularity. Everything is going to change. Everything is changing. It is natural to be afraid in these circumstances. We have no idea what's going to happen. There are signs of impending doom all around us. Will we survive? The past, surely, is going to die. It is dying. But is there a future?
It depends. It depends on us.
If we succumb to fear, if we hold hysterically to the dead past, then, no, there is no future for us. We will pull ourselves down, self-destruct. It is not terrorism that will kill us. It is our own terror. We will die of fear.
If we face our fear, if we are willing to walk into the death of radical change, then we will be reborn. We will survive the coming storm, and we will grow, and mature. We will look back, someday, and understand that this storm we face, this singularity, was part of our destiny, the birth pangs of a new world, "a new heaven and a new earth". Yes, we are heading into a kind of darkness, without question. The real question is, who has the courage to face this dark night of unknowing with a little equanimity, a little generosity, a little compassion? Even a little humor? A little love? There will be real death, and loss. Half the species of this earth. Perhaps half of humanity.
A wise man once summed up his entire understanding of life in three words: "Be not afraid". He was right. Volumes, bookshelves, whole libraries could be written on why he was right. Every human being, every individual faces this challenge. Every society throughout history has faced it. Now, for the first time, our whole world faces it. No wonder people are afraid. No wonder fear is everywhere. No wonder fundamentalism is on the rise.
But the answer now is the same as it's always been: "Be not afraid".
So, my dear fundamentalist friends: Do not fear death, or change. There is something greater on the other side, a greater life - not punishment, and not some sterile perfection, but an ongoing, real life, full of its own doubts and dangers and challenges, its own rewards and satisfactions. and that's true whether it's the life of an individual or the life of a world. Have some faith. Relax. Let go. Stop trying to control everything. Trust that that divine spark within you - the imago dei, the "image of God" - will be sufficient to the task. Perhaps even have some faith that God knows what She's doing, even if you don't happen to approve.
And for God's sake, please calm down. Stop digging the holes deeper. The tragic paradoxes are not necessary. Things are hard enough as it is without all the drama. Study the real paradox, the divine paradox: death is life, life is death; let go and live, hold on and die. That should be comforting - but it's also a warning. Or as another wise man once wrote:
"Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven."
This man was not a fundamentalist. Or a Republican.
Neither was the one who said, "Be not afraid."
To those of you politicians who trade in fear, I say, you are just as low as you seem. Look for the man - or woman - who trades in courage. Not bravado - courage. Learn to tell the difference.
This is really the core message of my book.