Deliver us from Fear, Lead us out of the Wasteland

We can no longer speak of “outsiders.” It once was possible for the ancients to say, “We are the chosen of God!” and to save all love and respect for themselves, projecting their malice, “out there.” That today is suicide. We have now to learn somehow to quench our hate and disdain through the operation of an actual love, not a mere verbalization, but an actual experience of compassionate love, and with that fructify, simultaneously, both our neighbor’s life and our own.

Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That page 30.

I “liked” a Facebook page called Pledge of Renewal. It showed up on the right column of my page with the suggestion I might want to join it because it was a group who pledged a renewed support and dedication to the Constitution.

I took the bait and clicked over to the page. I found that this group’s interpretation of the Constitution, and what America represents, was quite different than mine. It (PoR for short) insisted that America is a Christian nation that has lost its way through political correctness.

I “liked” the page so I could participate in the comments and discussion. I had to leave after a couple of weeks. Willful ignorance fueled their hatred. Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya. His Hawaii birth certificate was a fake, but the Kenyan birth certificate was valid. He is a Muslim who is out to destroy America. Glenn Beck’s Restoring America rally showed that white people could own Martin Luther King (perhaps they didn’t realize the irony in that statement). The rally was peaceful (uh . . . maybe because it was homogenous?) and those geese flying in formation down the reflecting pool were sent by God to prove that America is a nation of white people blessed by God – no not that god, “our” god.

Good white Christian people had been oppressed long enough. It was time to claim their right to be right, and the “other” wrong. That was what our Founders meant by freedom of religion — the freedom to put the full force of the law behind their Christian beliefs. They might tolerate same sex relationships (hate the sin, love the sinner), but God reserved marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman (serially, perhaps, but  . . .). Once a man fertilizes a woman’s egg (whether by rape or consensual sex), she becomes an incubator with no rights over her body.  Islam is un-American and evil.

Oh, and, of course that mosque (that isn’t a mosque) should not be built at ground zero (even though it wouldn’t be) because ground zero is sacred ground and Muslims build mosques on conquered ground.

Most of the time I was measured in my comments and responses, suggesting that no laws respecting the establishment of religion meant just that; that the founders had learned through years of bloody battles that religion is a private matter, between the individual and their god (or lack of god). That religion that is forced by law of the land has little to do with faith.

Or, as Joseph Campbell says, when force, not love, is required to give the myths and metaphors of religion meaning, you have wandered into the Waste Land.

The good that came out of my wandering into the Waste Land was that I started reading Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong again. They chased the Blue Meanies away.

If asked, I say that I am spiritual, but not religious. My father was a Catholic who had been married before; my mother a Baptist who drank, smoked, and danced. I checked out both religions. The Baptists dissed the Catholics; the Catholics insisted that they were the true and only church. According to the Catholic Church, my parent’s marriage was not sanctified by God (sort of like a marriage between two people of the same sex) and thus invalid. If Catholicism determined the law of the land, my mother would not have been recognized as my father’s legal widow and I would be considered illegitimate.

My parents took no sides in the religious wars going on around me. They let me choose my spiritual road for myself.

I am grateful for that. And, it makes me laugh at the notion that calling America a Christian nation means something. Which sect of Christianity are we talking about: the one that says the Pope is infallible, or the one that says women can be ordained as ministers? The one that says dancing is a sin, or the one that sponsors dinner dances as fund raisers? The one that says homosexuality is a sin, or the one that has a lesbian as its minister? Or the one that says ordaining women as priest is more heretical than protecting priests who molest children?

In the Power of Myth series Bill Moyers asks Joseph Campbell if humans create myths based on their environment. He said yes. He gave the example of what it was like when a Pygmy, who lived in a rain forest, was taken to a mountaintop. The vastness of the landscape overwhelmed him. He wanted to retreat into the rain forest where he felt safe.

I think we are all Pygmies standing on the mountaintop right now. The site of the earth viewed from the moon, has altered forever our notion of boundaries and horizons. The earth is home to all living creatures. We are interdependent. Our mastery of weapons makes none of us safe. It puts us all at risk.

I think we have a choice. We can look out over the vastness of our world with awe, and be willing to embrace it. Have compassion for being human. Feel fear, but not let fear determine our actions. Retreat to the safety of our rain forest, but keep the memory of the vastness that lies beyond it alive in our hearts.

The alternative is to let fear lead us into the Waste Land.

Perhaps this September 11 is a good day for America to go to the mountaintop. Maybe that will quench the flames arising from the Quarans the church in Florida threatens to set on fire. Let us not become the men, crazed with fear of change and hatred of the other, who flew planes into the towers, taking lives and inflicting unmerciful pain on the loved ones left behind.

Let us experience compassionate love, so we can experience our own lives and apply our hearts unto wisdom.

14 thoughts on “Deliver us from Fear, Lead us out of the Wasteland

  1. Very well put. Thanks! I like the image of the pygmy suddenly finding himself on a mountaintop and wanting to go back to the forest — I think that expresses the human condition in the modern age extremely well.

    You can’t go home again.


  2. Karen, I love the way you write. And, the subject matter matters so much it takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes.
    How can humans be so self-destructive and cruel when we are all humans together?


    • Thanks, Kathy. Going to the Facebook page really depressed me. I felt after a while that I needed to take a shower there was so much hatred couched in religion. We are all in this together. We need to realize that sooner or later.


  3. Karen,
    Thank you for writing this. I believe more people feel this way (your way) than let on..maybe because we feel like a minority? It’s been a challenge to raise young ones amongst this, but it leads to many discussions about what people believe, and how they become SO single focused that nothing else matters, even to the detrement of our fellow citizens. It’s amazing how oppressive and intolerant our countrymen can be.

    In any case, I have decided (and posted as much on my FB status)….
    Did you know that bigots cannot see themselves?

    This has become very obvious to me over the last couple of weeks.

    Back to the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”


    • Teresa,

      I suspect you are right — more people feel the way you and I do. I think we need to speak out more often. There was a segment on Keith Olbermann last night about a church in Memphis who put up a welcome sign when a Muslim group began building a Mosque next to them. I think the media needs to cover more stories like this. The big thing I think is to change the story.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.



  4. And thank you for the reminder about which flavor of Christianity would be the one that is meant to be law. One of the points–especially of Protestantism–is that believers be free to study instead of having dogma imposed upon them. Would people really be happier if the government was telling them what beliefs to accept instead of a church?


    • Ann,

      I know. I suspect that those who think we are a Christian nation would gladly oppress someone who held a different Christian point of view.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.



  5. Pingback: My week, metaphorically speaking | Zebra Sounds

  6. The sun is setting where i am at, reflected off the leaves of my ash tree. its beautiful. there is a logic in that light, it does the same thing everyday that it is supposed to do. it never wavers, never does not illuminate whatever it falls upon (except the occasional black hole). ah, if the reason in all of men’s minds were as perfect as a beam of light… but we must take what we can get and be thankful when we meet a soul whose own reason is like a beam of light. This, my second essay to read of yours. Give me time and ill make it thru the rest. Thanks Karen, the light to read by is good here.


  7. Good article by Christoff in today’s N.Y. Times along this line: “Is this America?”

    I found a good answer to an email castigating all kinds of non-caucasians by a “Christian.”

    What would Jesus call them? “Brother,” I think.


  8. Virginia,

    I was off the Internet grid for a couple of days, so I’m just getting to your comment. I’ll have to check out the Kristoff column.

    And to the response “Brother,” I say husszah.


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