Two books were brought to my attention today. One was “Terror in the Mind of God” by Mark Juergensmeyer. The other was “Faces of the Enemy – The Psychology of Enmity” by Sam Keen. Both books sound insightful and important and I’ve ordered them.
Note, I’ve ordered them, not read them! So my reactions below are not to the books (which I look forward to reading) but to the interpretations of these books by people I deeply respect who recommended the books to me.
The essence of the interpretations is that war and terror, particularly but not solely religious wars and acts of terrorism, spring from “paranoia” – an irrational fear of “them”.
Those who know me, know that this is a subject that immediately grabs my attention. Among a myriad of things that my congregation has to put up with is my rather constant reminder that there is no “them,” there is only “us.” We are different to be sure. We come in many flavors. The us we are contains differing genders, differing skin tones, differing spiritual paths, differing countries, differing economic circumstances, differing states of health.
Our differences are indeed endless. And thus, for those who wish to divide and subdivide “us,” the opportunities are also endless. Our differences can be and have been shamelessly exploited. And that the exploitation of these differences can lead and frequently has led to a smug sense of superiority, not to mention all too often hatred and violence is, lamentably, the story of the human race.
But I wonder if calling these actions “paranoid” isn’t a bit too facile. And being too facile, I wonder if branding these actions “paranoid” doesn’t make them too easy to dismiss. “Oh, those people! Them. They’re paranoid. What do you expect?” Ok. Problem solved. We move on.
But have we solved the problem? Can we move on?
I wonder if the problem isn’t a tad more complex than that. I wonder if we aren’t dealing with, if you will, a multi-edged sword, with the two most crucial edges being 1) humanity’s deep-seated insecurity and 2) the ease with which that insecurity may be exploited by those who would seek power.
Is not the person whose only concern is him/herself (or her/his community) the easiest to control? Is not the person whose concern is all of humanity (or “everything that has breath”) the hardest to control? Does not the Golden Rule lie at the core of all of our spiritual paths precisely because it is at one and the same moment so critically important and yet so incredibly difficult?
I would agree that insecurity, ruthlessly encouraged by those who seek power, can become paranoia (I watch that unfold almost daily in theU.S.and indeed around the world). But I truly don’t think the root problem is paranoia. I believe it’s insecurity, and how easily we can be convinced to think only of ourselves because we are, after all, so “powerless.” In fact, is not the road to one person’s power (or a group’s power) paved by convincing others that they are powerless?
I believe that if we who would embrace our common humanity will frame this great and troubling issue as “insecurity exploited,” rather than “paranoia,” we will have a better chance of encouraging people to reclaim their power to act with love and in community.
Hmm. The perils of recommending a book to someone who likes to ponder things.