Averting Armageddon (April, 2006)

Yesterday, I heard on the radio how the language being used by the Bush administration denying reports of their plan to attack Iran as “wild speculation” echo that of the build-up to our invasion of Iraq. In the depth of my being, the pit of my stomach, every cell of my body, to the sub-atomic particle level, I say “NO!” At the same time, I feel a familiar helplessness in the face of the will to destruction, and hope I can gain some insight to overcome it in the course of this reflection.

I’ve come across a number of examples lately, mostly on talk radio, of what I would characterize as deep disconnects in views of the world expressed by “left-” and “right-” wing thinking. What has troubled me most about these discoveries is that it would have been easy for me never to be aware of them. The communities of discourse are separated by a deep abyss, which I suggest should be addressed as a fundamental obstacle in our struggle to change the destructive course we are on.

Driving through the Central Valley a couple of weeks ago, I searched the radio dial for an engaging talk show to help me stay awake, and came across a discussion of immigration in which a caller asserted that “illegals” come across the border and “rape our land.” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by this language, but I was transfixed by its violence and utter lack of rational context. On what basis could anyone possibly make such a claim? Just now coming over from the Peninsula, I switched back and forth between “Savage Nation” and the “Randi Rhodes Show” (on left-wing Air America) which vie with each other for the name-calling championship of the air waves. Her rhetoric has so much in common with her opponents, I have to listen hard to discern whether Randi really has rational arguments, or I just already agree with her position. When Clinton was President I used to listen regularly to Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger, but when they shifted from whining to gloating it became too painful to hear.

While googling around my reflection for another course, I happened on a polemic concerning the life of Carl Jung in the form of Amazon reader reviews of a recent book about him. In the book, Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung, Richard Noll claims that Jung founded an esoteric religion and that his descendants attempted to conceal the fact out of shame. I have not determined the “rightness” or “leftness” of the reviews, only that they are almost evenly divided between full support and absolute disdain. It doesn’t seem possible that the two sides have read the same book.

My third example involves the “Rapture” (perhaps not coincidentally sharing a Latin word root with the reference to “illegals” above). I learned about the widespread belief in the imminence of the End Times from a speech by Bill Moyers making the rounds on the internet. It seems that many people in positions of actual power believe they can have a hand in bringing about Armageddon, which helps to account for American foreign policy. This seemed so far fetched to me that had it been anyone but Bill Moyers, I wouldn’t have believed it. A modest effort at research confirmed it, however.

It frightens me to be so much in the dark about what millions of people apparently think. Or, perhaps, these voices really do represent a small minority: so much the better. I feel strongly that the silent space between our voices and theirs must be exposed, and efforts made to bridge the gap.

[Concede that some fear and hate mongers may be beyond our reach. Nevertheless, ignoring them is not an option.]

“Sunday Salon” on KPFA last week featured a discussion of the death penalty in which the featured guest was asked how she would respond to someone who expressed support for it. She answered with a story: that while tabling for the cause, she had been accosted by a Vietnam veteran who supports capital punishment, and her response was to listen to him. She made the very astute point that if logical argument could persuade such a person, the death penalty would have been abolished long ago. Arguments in favor of it are irrational and emotionally based, so the approach to persuasion must be conceived accordingly. Last summer, before the horrific news of Hurricane Katrina overtook the front page, a story emerged from Camp Casey at the President’s ranch that offered another hopeful example: the peace activists invited the President’s supporters to pray with them, and their invitation was accepted. Attempts to reason with them, for the moment, were set aside. Differences were momentarily overcome, which suggests a model for future efforts.

I am not confident that changing public opinion will have any impact on the destructive bent of official policy, but I’m fairly certain that our sanity depends on the attempt. Appeals to reason have proven impotent, which makes sense when you consider the combined effects of the degradation of public education and the loss of access to a free press. Rabbi Michael Lerner said in a Cambridge Forum Q & A last weekend that Evangelical institutions thrive because they address a genuine need in American life for spirit-based community. Perhaps our claim to power is to be found here—beyond reason.

[If this were a sermon, I would now suggest ways we as individuals could work toward bridging the gap between ourselves and those from whom we have become so terribly alienated.]