Dark fear invades my body.
Wild doubt fills my mind.
Feeble insecurity empties my heart.
Eyeless uncertainty veils my soul.
Yet my life-river cheerfully
Wants to flow
Into the stream of the Will-Supreme.
From ‘ The Wings of Light ‘ by Sri Chinmoy
© 1973 by Sri Chinmoy –
Just before Christmas, I stumbled upon a discussion between faith leaders on "moral leadership in today's political climate". It was the Diane Rehm show, (Dec 23 2015), and for those of you who are unfamiliar with her work, she is a highly respected Journalist/radio host who has dedicated her career to responsible political discussion, and thought provoking topics.
In 2014, President Obama presented Rehm with the National Humanities medal for her outstanding work that has "deepened our understanding of our culture, and ourselves ".
Her program exploring the responsibilities of religious leaders in the context of today's fear-driven political climate caught my attention, and so I bring some of the highlights of that conversation to you in the hopes that it will spark further exploration and consideration.
Essentially, the discussion embraced the idea of Pluralism, in the context of religion and cultural diversity. Pluralism embraces religious and cultural inclusion; a social organization in which diversity of racial or religious or ethnic or cultural groups is tolerated.
The discussion was between Tom Gjelten, Akbar Ahmed, Mariann Edgar Budde, Reverend Derrick Harkins, and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf.
After 9-11 a sense of shock and disbelief overwhelmed America and indeed much of the world.
Since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the recent Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks, Muslims have been scapegoated in an environment of fear and uncertainty. .Muslims are being held responsible for acts that they have not committed.
The reemergence of polarized and prejudicial ideas against Muslims has exploded, and fear has become the key element infiltrating the beliefs and behaviors of otherwise rational groups of people.
This is not a new human behavior. Jews were scapegoated in Germany; Japanese Americans were persecuted after Pearl Harbor. There is a recurring tendency to scapegoat in an atmosphere of fear and trepidation when a small group of extremists commit atrocities. Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen, causing a demographic shift as pockets of xenophobia emerge.
Fear diminishes us as humans, making us more vulnerable to negative feelings and nationalistic expression. Fear is an emotion that washes over you, and we can get caught up in that tide of hysteria, just like Nazi Germany responding to the malignant, powerful, persuasive and xenophobic rantings of Hitler.
In times like these, people turn to their faith to find a familiar, safe infrastructure on which to hang their interpretation of heinous crimes. Atheists blame "organized religion" for fundamental extremism, and otherwise devout Jews, Muslims or Christians tend to polarize, blaming the "Others" for the crimes. The tendency to "otherize" was discussed in the program as a major contributing factor in fragmenting and destroying the process of rational non-prejudiced thinking. "Otherization” capitalizes on an environment of fear.
Stereotyping tends to reduce people and cultures to the lowest common denominator.
Tarring all Muslims with the same ISIS brush is like blaming all Catholic priests for pedophilia, or all Germans for the Holocaust
Politicians like Donald Trump and others, use fear to their advantage. Rantings about immigrants from Mexico, and Syria, are common fodder for base and core emotions, to whip up enthusiasm for their political proselytization. They capitalize on the nature of fear, which distorts our perceptions, and destroys rational informed thinking. Discussion becomes one sided. Most political debate in the US has become unilateral, without the demonstration of inclusive respect for another's opinion; without the acknowledgement that it is ok to have another opinion, and live alongside each other. This ability to be inclusive and tolerant needs to be extended to other beliefs cultures and religions, including Atheism. We need to be respectful and acknowledge the existence of other beliefs without bigotry, embracing each other’s differences.
It has become evident that moral and religious leaders have an imperative part to play if we are to achieve plurality. They bear a vital responsibility to diffuse polarization and "otherization” in order to calm nerves and focus on interfaith tolerance.
Huge interfaith initiatives have already been launched by Jewish and Christian leaders reaching out with interfaith dialogue. Domestic and nationalized Muslims are beginning to take a lead in educating others about their beliefs. In New York, recently, many mosques have held open houses to welcome non-Muslim visitors, and likewise in Synagogues and churches.
Acts of sympathy towards Muslims have spearheaded the news despite the media's tendency to sensationalize negative headlines.
Communities need moral leadership to help guide them through troubled times, be they religious leaders, sages, politicians, or teachers, encouraging healthy discussion and embracing inclusive ideas, recognizing the benefits of a diverse society as opposed to homogeneity.
Finding common denominators between us is like finding the backbone to society, recognizing compassion and kindness as virtues. Even recognizing that Jews, Muslims and Christians essentially worship the same God, something that Catholics have embraced for 50 years, and Pope Francis has reinforced in his teachings.
The ancient scriptures are key to finding common veins between us.
The Quran even has the whole story of Mary and the birth of Christ within its rich tapestry.
Here is an excerpt:
“(And mention) when the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you the good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter, and of those who are near to God.’ ‘He will speak to the people in the cradle, and in old age, and he will be of the righteous.’ She said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me.’ He said, ‘So (it will be,) for God creates what He wants. When He decides something, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. And He will teach him the Book and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel. And (will make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying), ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, then breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by the permission of God. And I heal the blind and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by the permission of God. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Surely, there is a sign for you in that, if you are believers. And (I have come) confirming the Torah that was (revealed) before me, and to allow you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a proof from your Lord, so fear God and obey me. Indeed, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. This is the straight path.” (Quran 3:45-51)
However, Scriptures are open to interpretation. They could hold the secret to our salvation or be the destruction of the world. if we do not encourage discussion and respectful listening.
Things have reached a crisis point.
There is wide spread uncertainty about Muslims amongst the American public, just as the majority of Muslims condemn the chaos and violence. 84% Americans have little or no understanding of Muslim faith, and yet they are the first to cast the mote in the other's eye.
How do we solve this? Some would say that religion is the problem. But I think that Humans are the problem.
Religion doesn't' kill people, humans kill people.
We need to realize that ISIS is not operating from a Muslim perspective, but from a perverted, corrupt and extremist interpretation of scriptures.
Likewise we need to be wary of fundamental interpretation of any scriptures that were written in times of very different societal norms, and were often parables meant to be a guide to moral behavior in a then lawless world.
The discussion concluded by cautioning the listener, that we have a lot of spiritual work to do. That we should constantly reach out to try to understand the "other", and embrace the existence of other points of view. We need to expand our thinking, rather than keep our beliefs narrow and rigid. in order to defeat the fear that is inherent in each of us.
Fear has become an idolatry we are worshiping, instead of recognizing.
It is time to recognize fear for what it really is.
"Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill!” (Lord of the Flies, William Golding)
Fear is the beast within, and we need to harness it before it eats our soul.
"Let's not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness."
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.
- John Donne
Song: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun”
BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!
When I have Fears That Cease To Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high – piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;’then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink
Happy New Year Everyone! And may you tread fearlessly in your 2016 pursuits.