Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Beast in Us is Loose

In his insightful book, now a classic, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” Howard Thurman states that during the time of war “hate becomes respectable and masquerades under the guise of patriotism.” He said after Pearl Harbor, Americans found it easy to hate the Japanese. And we did terrible things in this country to innocent Japanese families who were American citizens when World War II started.

The same thing happened even more dramatically after 911. Something in the American spirit died or certainly withered after that cataclysmic event. We found it easy to hate Arabs, Muslims, anyone who remotely reminded us of the terrorists.

But what Thurman says in his book that is so interesting is that hate for one group of people does not end there. We often find after hating one group that we easily begin hating anyone we dislike. Hate has a way of spreading its venom. Once embraced within us we comfortably release it out of us into all kinds of relationships, people, and associations with others.

Thurman knew all about that. He was a distinguished Black theologian and teacher during the Viet Nam War. On a train one day in the South a conductor asked the woman across the aisle from him for her ticket. She sneered and pointing to Thurman said, “What is that doing on here.”

Hate reeks with vitriol, ignorance, and inhumanity. It reduces people to things without value.

I am convinced this is what happened to us after 911. First we gave ourselves permission to hate Arabs and Muslims. We convinced ourselves they deserved our hate. We often celebrated our hate for them. Then it deepened into the worst kind of ugly consent. It made us feel we could hate anyone we didn’t like. Now we find it easy to hate Blacks, Gays, Liberals, The Media, The Government, President Obama, Congress, The Cops, Public Schools. We hate people driving in front or behind us in traffic. We hate absent store clerks. We hate people talking loudly on their cell phones. We hate people on Facebook and Twitter, many of them strangers we know nothing about. We don’t like their viewpoint or their comments and we hate them for their opinions. The list of who we hate keeps growing.

I was appalled that no one, not a single leader in the nation, made any significant attempt to help us as a country understand what had happened to us on 911 and why. Our leaders—political, religious, educational, and social—all failed us. They, too, found it easy to hate. And they gave us permission to let our hate go without check, without reasonable limits, without any serious understanding of what we were feeling and how destructive those feelings were.

Now we wear our hate with pride. We feel no remorse for it. We don’t even think about it. And if we do we justify it with the flimsiest excuses. President Obama is attempting to work out a deal with Iran. But many in this country aren’t interested in peaceful negotiations. They want war. They hate Iran and Iranians and since hate keeps us hateful and condones all manner of evils against our enemies then why not?

Across the nation our hate for one another rides on waves of celebration. Oh, there is love. Yes. There are good decent people still crossing paths with us. But does that matter anymore? Do they matter? Aggression. Bottom line thinking with self at the end of everything. Get out of my way to those who don’t count in our arithmetic of living. Money as an only goal worth pursuing. Bubble existence. God, Christ, Church, religion used to intimidate anyone who doesn’t accept my beliefs of which I am always certain are correct. These ugly mindsets describe our American philosophy.

No one likes to hear any of this and so we dismiss this kind of description of ourselves as cynicism or sour grapes or unpatriotic. But deep in our hearts we know it’s true. We know our nation has lost something profoundly human. We have stopped caring about one another. Our hate has replaced our sense of reverence for life. Nick Lowe’s song The Beast in Me describes us: “The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bonds / restless by day and by night / rants and rages at the stars / God help, the beast in me.”

Those frail and fragile bonds are no longer guarded. The beast is loose in nearly all of us.

The mystics beautifully say we human beings are one tree with various types and shapes and sizes of leaves and that we all wave differently in the breeze. I believe that. And I’m okay with that. But it’s not a part of our national thinking. We don’t want to all belong to the same human roots. We want to be our own tree and have all other trees do what we say and do. And if not, let them wither, or be destroyed.

Until we confront our hate, and work, and it takes work, to enlarge our capacity to accept others different from us but still connected to our humanity; until we give more power to love than to antagonism, spite, and revenge; until we are willing to be intelligent about our dealings with people in society and the larger world, then nothing will change. Except that, our hearts will harden, atrophy, and stop. And all that will be left will be the ashes of our hate.

© 2015 Timothy Moody

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