As it happens, the world did not stop while Tom and I went from being in the jaws of the shark, to being spat out, to swimming to shore.
So much going on in the world:
The struggle between those who seek to start another war to enforce their belief in American exceptionalism, and those who seek to use America’s strength to lead a global community.
The struggle between those who want to declare religious dogma is a person and thus should be granted civil rights equal to an actual person, and those harmed by—and those who think no one should be harmed by—another’s religious beliefs.
Again, an unarmed black man has been shot dead by a policeman who claimed he feared for his life as the fleeing man ran away from him. Shot in the back multiple times.
Oh, and Mad Men returned.
Mad Men is always a great reminder of where we have come from, telling the story of the cultural changes that catapulted America out of World War II and the Fifties, and into the a world that stretched boundaries. The first episode begins in 1970, when the counter-culture got assimilated into the status-quo culture. Businessmen wearing shaggy hair, sideburns, and mustaches. Women venturing into the business world, where, of course, their power and standing were trivialized and diminished by frat-boy-men who humiliated with them with snide, stupid innuendo and sarcasm.
I thought we were past all that.
And, then, Indiana passed a law that allowed businesses to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. Fortunately, it created a backlash, led by the market place. Indiana relented and included a statement that it was illegal for a business to deny services to an individual based on his or her sexual preference.
Well, hallelujah, I say.
There was the debate that tried to defend religious beliefs. God tells some people that those who are wired to love someone of the same sex are an abomination to him. And, they have a right to hold that belief.
Well, yes, they have a right to believe that. But my god tells me something very different. First she’s a she and doesn’t cares who you love and commit to. The point is to be kind and loving.
There is great harm done when the culture, the society, and the government supports a group’s right to shape the world in its own image. Look no further than gay teen suicide as an example.
Imagine how bleak it must seem to believe you are unworthy of love in the eyes of god—not because of having done harm to anyone, but because of what you inherently are. Imagine believing that you can never have a home and family and life partner unless you are willing to live a lie. Imagine what it must feel like to the spouse who lives with that lie.
It’s tough enough when one’s family enforces such a limited world. When a government reinforces it, there is no escape.
Believe what you want, but you do not have the right to mold the world to reinforce it, especially if it inflicts harm on others.
If we are to live in a country that does not establish a religion, then we all need to live with the ambiguity that comes when we make room for all religious beliefs or none at all.
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 rainforest, was taken to a mountaintop. The vastness of the landscape overwhelmed him. He wanted to retreat into the rainforest where he felt safe.
Those of us who live in the “modern” world are much like that Pygmy. Only we are exposed daily to the vastness of the world—a world that includes rainforests, deserts, mountains, valleys, oceans, glaciers—and we don’t have that rainforest to retreat to.
What we have is our planet. Our home. And we need to feel safe here, the way the Pygmy felt safe in the familiarity of the rainforest.
As Joseph Campbell said, we need to write new myths. Science and the information about the world it gives us provide us great tools for doing just that—for finding the divine in the mundane.
But, to do that, we cannot pander to or give credence to solipsistic dogma, anymore than a family can be functional if it sacrifices the needs of its members to the needs of its least functional member.
Mad Men is great storytelling. The characters are catapulted into a world that is vaster than the one they were raised in. It makes visible the devastating effects of racism, sexism, and homophobia through the eyes of the characters who experience them.
We’re not past all that. But, I believe we are on our way.
The governor of Arkansas saw the reaction to Indiana’s attempt to codify homophobia, and refused to sign a similar bill.
The policeman who shot the black guy is being charged with murder.
We have a president who understands the nuances and subtleties of strength. I like to think that it’s because his mother lived in, experienced, and exposed him to cultures beyond her Midwest beginnings. It seems to me that rather than freaking out about the ambiguous nature of reality, he embraces it.
I believe we are spirits learning to be human. Compassion rises out of our experience of being human. The origin of the word compassion comes from “to bear” and “suffering.” To bear suffering.
I think that means a willingness to see and experience another’s pain, rather than avert our eyes from it, convincing ourselves that it has nothing to do with us—it’s not something that could ever happen to us.
In “Conversations With My Son,” Sue Miller says that there was a light at the end of the hall where she grew up. Safe passage. So there was a light at the end of the hall in the home where she raised her son as a single mother.
If we want safe passage in our home, our planet, we need to have that light at the end of the hall. I think that will come from writing the new myths Joseph Campbell referred to.
We’ve come along way and we have a long way to go. Let’s do it.