While highly distracted with love and hope (I fell for someone – on my face!), I managed to read three good but very different books…
America Can Go to Hell
I don’t want it to. Nor do I believe in some hell in an alleged afterlife. The hell America could go to is an actual one, fires and torment galore!
I use this provocative title deliberately in a prophetic way. Prophesies are if/then warnings. If we keep fostering hateful division at home and new enemies to war against abroad, then we could create hell here worse than the Civil War, worse than WWII, worse than we want to think.
Besides all the anger and domestic division, besides the growing problems from planetary heating, besides all the toxins our corrupted government still permits, besides all the wasted human lifetimes lost in a capitalist system that creates inordinate wealth out of unjust, unkind, uncreative poverty, besides the sickening of our soils and oceans, besides the frantic greed for shallow satisfaction in the glut of consumerism, besides the silly religions that keep adherents believing (gullible and obedient instead of behaving), besides all the domestic and international PTSD from numerous wars, besides frightened or racist police shooting their victims seven times in the back because they “feared for their lives,” (if a policeman shoots someone six times but they’re still alive, does the seventh and fatal shot get justified because they still “feared for their life?”), besides all the symbols and threatening hints of a new civil war, besides all these (and more) problems, we, crazed in stress and stupidity, could ignite the fury of thousands of nuclear bombs destroying our cities and other’s cities, ruining all pleasant weather, normal food supply, and all civility and hope for generations. We could create hell here.
Too bleak? Too downer when we know positive psychology does better at moving past problems? Perhaps. Read on.
I know ministers are supposed to inspire, offer hope, keep us uplifted. I know Positive Psychology rightly has us trying to savor five to ten good gratitudes to help counter our brain’s tendency to fear the worst and dwell on it. I’ve spent most of my ministerial career doing just that. I went four times to Washington D.C., starting in 1964, to protest the needless war in Vietnam, only to see from afar it grow to kill a million people. I’ve spent a life of seeing vision and hope dashed by shallow reactions, greed, and hypocritical, psychopathic “leaders” catering to their “base” (good descriptive word, more an adjective than a noun). America seems to stumble from one botched imperial quest to another while letting its people and lands languish. The world winces in worry.
Sure, I’m down, dwelling in negativity when there are positive trends. This essay doesn’t provide them. We’re supposed to take a Hallmark Card rah-rah approach to our society and country. What’s under such feigned smile surface personas? Grief? Shame? Cynicism? Numbness?
A more obscure and innocent title would not have attracted your reading this. For instance, I didn’t use a milder title: “441 for 14 and 4:1.” It wouldn’t have drawn your eyes. These numbers are just a part of the hell I would have us avoid.
441 is the prisoner number of Monsoor Adayfi, the Yemini who worked in Afghanistan until kidnapped by a warlord and sold to the CIA, ostensibly as a terrorist, then jailed for 14 years. (He wasn’t a terrorist, but it paid the warlord lucratively; they “earned” from $3,000 to $25,000 per prisoner. The U.S. admitted to spending $57,000,000 that way in toto.) Monsoor was imprisoned and tortured in Guantanamo and various other black-op sites for 14 years without charge (much as another martyr of slow, undeserved death, Julian Assange, who dared show us what our government does in our name. He is still being punished for telling us the truth, while the truth he told goes ignored).
See the long interview with Monsoor at Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!. What a smiling, tender, principled man he is despite his horrid, unfortunate experience! Monsoor, despite his treatment, lives with humor, empathy, and compassion. He felt even for his young guards who had to watch or participate in his torture. They were imprisoned too in their own way. They have PTSD too.
4:1 is the ratio of those American vets who have committed suicide to those who were killed in Afghanistan. Four times more death from self-inflicted suicide than from combat in soldiers who tried to do their duty to their country! I don’t know how many Afghanis lost their lives trying to defend their country from our invading and occupying force, nor the civilian casualties there, nor their subsequent PTSD and suicides. What a shameful tragedy for all involved!
Think about it!
PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the emotionally shaken condition of those who went through battle or violence or police brutality or bad accidents. The mid-brain amygdalae of such persons are riled beyond normal, reactive to ordinary sounds and sights, rousing up fear. It takes a lot of patient, loving, peaceful care to reorient their brains back to normalcy, regrow neural connections to anything like peace, compassion, and creativity.
PTSD isn’t new. It was called Shell Shock after WWII, partly because it was believed big explosions caused it (ignoring the emotional trauma involved). My grandpa had it from WWI (the so-called Great War), unable to discuss his ordeal. It was once dismissed as “feeble will,” or “moral turpitude,” and “treatment” included ridicule and shaming, sometimes execution. It was once called “nostalgia,” mixing the terms for homecoming and pain. Most telling of all, it was called “Soldier’s Heart.”
Soldiers’ hearts hurt worse than ours do. All our hearts are hurting from the grief of senseless wars and a failing society. Yet many keep clamoring for more war (and more armed, violent “protests,” used to intimidate, not understand).
We blithely offer, “Thank you for your service,” even as we mostly ignore and abandon our vets – along with all the mayhem and suffering they participated in creating. They’re men and women of honor, duty, and bravery, but they’re sent to wars based on lies, kept going with lies. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – all expensive, tragic blunders for our guys and gals and theirs. Yet who would stand up on Veteran’s Day to admit those wars were mostly unneeded, immoral, and futile? Who could stand the cognitive dissonance? Who would praise the protesters – who earned no benefits, suffering the familial and social scorn usually assumed and inflicted on their lonely type of patriotism?
I’m glad we have a new and mostly decent president instead of the embarrassing, conceited dope we had before, but when President Biden rattles the swords of war against China, presuming to “save” Taiwan by infesting Chinese waters with our warships, taunting a new supposed “enemy,” I wince in weary sadness and angry objection. Just when we need creative cooperation from all our world’s leaders in admitting, adjusting to, and fixing this trans-national, planet-wide historic challenge called “Climate Change” (to obfuscate the growing problems from fossil-fuel-caused planetary heating with an ambiguous term saying nothing) our leader struts forward (well, toddles) with needless provocation.
China is an ancient culture mostly concerned with itself. It hasn’t engaged in the imperialism and empire-building we and other Europeans did or do. It is economically ambitious and competitive (somewhat dealing with South America and Africa) but mostly centered in its own region. They’ve endured Genghis Khan, the Opium Wars, and the Japanese invasion, and they’ve built up some arsenal, but nowhere near or equal to our worldwide bases and massive military. I don’t like everything they’ve done or are doing, but I respect that it’s their country, not mine. I want my country to not build for and taunt yet another tragic world war! I want my country to not be a declining empire, ripe for a slow-motion collapse worse than what Rome endured. I don’t want my country or theirs to go to hell.
China has an interesting concept, The Mandate of Heaven. Not only does it apply to their new rulers claiming to bring the ways of heaven to their lands and people, it refers to the confluence of an overly bureaucratic and dysfunctional society also beset by messages from Mother Nature as in floods and fires. Such warnings alert us to Heaven’s mandate to change what and how we’re doing.
Chinese religions have long praised the bringing of the ways of heaven to this world, both in the structure of society (with reciprocal relationships) and the beauty and health of the lands. When social and ecological troubles accumulate, it might be a warning, a mandate to change.
The fire last year that went across the street from my house went on to swiftly burn down 2,500 other houses and businesses in Talent and Phoenix, Oregon, just one of the more and hotter fires than the west ever used to see. Especially when coupled to a “health care” system that cares more for profits than people and a convoluted, corrupted government steered by sociopathic for-profit corporations serving unconcerned shareholders and voted in by irate shallow moralists (banning abortions while abandoning the resulting babies and their mothers), the fires, floods, and mayhem seem a mandate.
The Mandate is to change our wicked ways, to bring who we are and what we do and how we do it into harmony with Nature’s ways. Nature is crying out for our attention in our skies, rivers, blood, and brains. We shouldn’t keep letting an industrial, fossil fuel fart in the face of Mother Nature (and all our descendants and all of earth’s life), a toxic fart that will last for the next 500 years. (Yet we do; more carbon pollution has been added to our sullied skies since 1990 than all pumped up there before then!) We shouldn’t keep allowing disruptive, exotic chemicals to be released into our food, streams, oceans, and blood. We shouldn’t finance and launch an obese Department of [War] Defense, eager to attack others with expensive weapons that serve only those who profit from their creation and use. We shouldn’t put up with an economy that ravages Nature while exhausting our lifetimes, scurrying in strife, trying to have a somewhat hedonic (pleasurable) life in a world that has all it needs for everyone. We shouldn’t let violent people attack peaceful protesters and our Congress, parading as if patriots, defiling our flag to attack our police and government, using little more than ridicule, arrogance, and intimidation to push their angry, vague agenda.
Heaven’s ways can be ours if we heed the Mandate. Utopian visions aren’t silly, stupid diversions on our hell-bent march towards dystopia, they are our more enlightened minds forecasting what could become our human reality. Thoughts steer reality. As we have the will, we will find the ways.
But given a judge who sides with a defendant who is skillfully portrayed in the media as a baby-faced innocent claiming self-defense – from his own gun (that he took to intimidate the riled protesters only to kill them) – and then be called a “hero,” all of this in a time when such “heroes” attack with defensiveness, angry eyes glaring, brandishing guns in a formerly civil society, shouting their freedom spit (possibly laden with the covid virus) into others faces – well, that sort of hype (buoyed by more guns than in any other society) doesn’t bode well for our avoiding the hell of a renewed, diffuse civil war. Will our police and courts protect us, or join them? Who monitors the judges? Who police the police?
One of our political parties is attacking America. It has no shame or principles. When one of theirs blatantly jokes about murdering a congressperson, they rally around in sanctimonious support. Yet, almost none in their party (other than Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) dares disagree with their unclothed, king-pied piper as he leads them and us to the cliff of collective mayhem. You’d think the most decent people who have historically supported that party would object to it, change it, or leave it, but mostly we don’t see that.
My dreary post here leads us back to the provocative title about America possibly going to hell. Worse than any scary possibility I’ve listed here are the thousands of nuclear weapons ready to launch. A single nuclear sub can annihilate scores of cities at once, millions of hapless innocents burned to char in a few moments of a Dr. Strangelove attack or accident. All the effort and art and science that built our modern civilization could go up in a needless, tragic waste, Eden burned to hell.
If Americans are indifferent to the democracy and republic that is theirs to protect and further, if we allow madmen and psychopaths to bully their ways to power, if we’re passive and unconcerned with our consumerism and the technologies that push it, if we’re complacent with a racist and classist justice system that has created more prisoners than is just, if we’re eager to mount new wars against new supposed enemies, then, yes, American can go to hell.
So, you’ve read this far in my rant, complete with whiny gripes and bulky sentences, dwelling on problems and fears more than solutions and hope. Perhaps you regret that America committed partial genocide on the native peoples here, then enslaved and exploited the Africans, then held back women as part of our democracy, then went from defending from fascism to promoting it, and then systematically rigged the voting system to prevent inclusive participation in fixing it. Perhaps you shrug and ache that the BLM movement went from protesting that police shoot blacks in the back to being shot in the back for protesting that. Perhaps you wish our common technologies were clean and sustainable, even to flourishing, rather than toxic and exhausting. Perhaps you’re like me, a person more caught in the sweep of history than responsible for it. Do you mind my cry? Do you share my concern?
My hope is that the comedians help name it, the churches will move from selfish belief to social behavior, the scientists start being respected and listened to, and that you care in your own way to prevent my audacious title from becoming a reality little or large. We have far better realities to live into. Eden is injured but not dead. Humanity is hurting but hopeful. Heaven isn’t just a puffy cloud fantasy, it’s the natural ways of health and harmony. The future might be better than we can imagine. The Mandate of Heaven can warn us, and it can help us bring the ways of heaven to earth.
Hell? No. We won’t go.
For some reason, your post went to my spam. When I found it, my smartphone would not allow me to access the Earthly Religion site. But I just read your full article on my laptop. I don’t agree with all of your extrapolations and interpretations of recent current events. I am concerned about the Chinese situation but I am equally concerned with the US and NATO provoking war with Russia. But the nuclear weapon threat is the elephant in the Earth’s living room! And no public figures in the USA seem to have any interest in acknowledging this immense danger… Read more »
You’re right, Vernon, the US/NATO provocation of Russia is another taunting of military madness that could culminate in a nuclear war. The Allies lost about a million in WWII, while Russia lost twenty million! Just whose borders are increasingly lined with threatening missiles? If we’re apprehensive of their military (currently in eastern Ukraine, where ethnic Russians live and might want to be more with Russia than assigned to who they’re with now because of political lines drawn – I don’t know) how might they regard NATO’s and the US’s threatening bases and postures? Russia is another country that ought to… Read more »
Even though only a literal few bother to read my rant, I think it gets at something needed and worthy. I’m cynical, but I haven’t given up on America. Rather, I would have us remember and live up to the humanistic, democratic faith in ourselves (rather than supposedly divine kings or actually conniving priests and popes). I highly recommend this thoughtful book review that confronts our passive, defeated cynicism: https://books.google.com/books?id=UbKxJ_8qnqcC&pg=PT126&lpg=PT126&dq=detached+passive+cynical&source=bl&ots=f2UHnTtg3c&sig=ACfU3U0GqGmHzbTKHosg70aU3YD-GoO3Yw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjF2uDMy9T0AhVTHjQIHXvwDzwQ6AF6BAghEAM#v=onepage&q=detached%20passive%20cynical&f=false
Whew. That’s a lot. Depressing scary times for sure. Great line: “crazed in stress and stupidity” Each day I pray for “all the dumb and stupid humans” of which there are many. My guess is the human species may last another 100 years or so. Even if we are in the midst of industrial collapse, I still say we have the ethical moral duty to do all we can to reduce the suffering along the way… we should reduce the suffering of all beings, including all the non-human animals. If we go vegan, that will reduce greenhouse gases significantly, and… Read more »
Thanks, Teja. I like your including Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder to keep one’s own sense in the midst of suffering. (I was with him twice, once in Chicago, then at a 3-day retreat in California.) I also like your naming the dilemma of social justice activism. I have more appreciation and hope in America than shown in this essay.
Excellent comments, Teja, especially Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder to live well in spite of the stupidity and suffering, and yours of both accepting things as they are and protesting what’s wrong. I have kinder comments and hope about America than shown in this essay.