The Transcendentalists Were Brilliant, But There Are a Couple of Problems…

Read up on the Transcendentalists of the 19thcentury–they were an amazing group.  Many of them started out in the Unitarian Church, a powerful force within the Christian community at the time, but they rejected the churchy-ness of the Unitarians in favor of what Emerson called “self-reliance.”  This did not mean what you might think: self-sufficiency, individualism.   No, what he meant was getting in touch with God by looking into your own heart and trusting your instincts, your daemon as Socrates would have said.  He believed that intuition would teach us the way, that each of us has God within us, and by relying on that God, that Guide, that Moral Compass we will get in touch with the “Oversoul,” the Universal Spirit.  This Spirit is God, and by getting in touch with it, each individual will connect with all other individuals who have gotten in touch with it, and will become part of a new world, a world of peace, a world where we all share in a morality free from the hidebound strictures of organized religion, and instead are part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, devoted to the Spirit.

That is exactly what the Universal Sacraments are about, and Emerson’s impatience with traditional Christianity is mirrored today with the rise of the Nones, those spiritual seekers who can’t seem to find God in a pulpit or pew and are looking elsewhere–or have given up.

Don’t give up! The Transcendentalists have some good suggestions for Seekers, but let’s talk about the hard parts. There are two.  One is to convince people, especially those who have grown up with a faith in their traditional religion that it’s possible to walk away from the customs and rules and– let’s say it–superstitions  they grew up with in favor of Emerson’s self-reliance.   If you’ve been told since birth that God is out there, a father figure with a pat on the back or a good sound whipping at the ready depending on how you’ve marched to his commandments, well, then it may not be so easy to open your mind to another view.

The second thing is even trickier: how do you look within and know that what you’ve found is the real deal, and not some misguided, youthful misreading of the moral compass?  Are you finding true north or are you off the path, the result of some magnetic interference from an attractive slag heap of nonsense?  Sexual intimacy is one such instinctive attraction–but that could lead to promiscuity. Is that OK?  We are instinctively drawn to groups, and that’s a good thing, but are all groups equally good?  A group like the white supremacists would likely say their intuition tells them they are on the right track.  How do we know they’re not right?

The transcendentalists believed that the whole point of using intuition was to “transcend” our animalistic tendencies and find our higher selves. But Nature was one of the transcendentalists’ great teachers and if we look there for guidance, we find the most horrible examples of predators and prey.  Should that be our guide or would it instead be that awful feeling many of us get when we think about slaughtering an animal for meat?  Should we all be vegans?

To take this question to its most extreme, how do you distinguish a good instinct from insanity?   There are men out there who claim that God told them to murder someone.  Members of ISIS committed what most of us would call atrocities, but they could find justification for it. Some Christian in this country believe it is right to kill a doctor performing abortions.  We could go on and on.  The point is, intuitions, which produce beliefs, aren’t all alike.  Is there any way to generalize and find points in common with every human being? This is where the idea of the Seven Universal Sacraments can be helpful.   More on that next time.

 

 

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Mocking Your Neighbors: the New American Pasttime

Remember back in 7thgrade how much fun it was to tape a sign on someone’s back without them knowing it, a sign that said something like “kick me” or “kiss me”? Remember how it would make everyone laugh? Well, everyone except the poor guy who was being made to look like a fool.   Those were the days! Well, we now have a taste of what the adult version of this looks like.  In one of the most depressing articles ever to appear in print, the Washington Post reports that a guy in Maine named Christopher Blair has recreated himself as a variety of outspoken, online conservatives in order to dupe other conservatives into believing the most outrageous lies about liberals.  Why would he do this?  So that he can elicit nasty comments from the unwitting conservatives so that a posse of his liberal followers can then swoop in and laugh at the dupes, mocking them, calling them names, telling them they’ve fallen for fake news and that they are, in short, idiots.

For example, when he posted the “news” that Michelle Obama would be selling her book at George Bush’s funeral, someone with a longstanding dislike of Michelle fell for it, and wrote in the comments, “Like I said, no class what so ever [sic]” which elicited a torrent of abuse from Blair’s gang, telling her how stupid she was for not realizing it was satire, telling her she shouldn’t be allowed to vote—and those were the nicest comments.

This is nothing new.  Steve Colbert played this kind of role on Comedy Central for years, Samantha Bee’s crew does it regularly, and Borat has made a lot of money tricking people into taking his various personae at face value so that we can laugh at them and feel superior.

But, what do we think will be the result of these kinds of shenanigans?  Do we think everyone will have a hearty laugh and then repair to the nearest cyber-pub for a convivial online drink?   Humiliating your opponents is going to do nothing but create more anger, more digging in of heels, more vituperation, and eventually violence.  As it turns out, Blair is also adding to the problems of fake news and trust, since so many who receive these messages don’t realize it’s satire.   Mr. Blair would be doing the world a favor by ending his crusade to make conservatives look stupid and think of a healthier way to get the ideas he favors across.

One such healthier way is a project called “Hands Across the Hills.”  In 2017 Paula Green, a progressive in Western Massachusetts, was trying to figure out how anyone could have voted for a guy like Donald Trump, so she came up with the idea of contacting a community in Western Kentucky that went solidly Republican.   They were total strangers, but a group from Massachusetts eventually met a group from Kentucky twice, once in each others’ communities, and something amazing happened.  They bonded. They became friends.  They found that they understood each other better. They did not change their political beliefs, but they could see each other as real people, as human beings, not someone to try to humiliate, excoriate, or eviscerate, but someone who was pleasant and fun to be with, someone you could get along with despite the differences.

This illustrates the most important part of the Sacrament of the Group: of course we all need to feel like we belong to a family, a community.  But ever since we moved into multi-cultural cities we’ve needed a Good Neighbor ethic to survive—treat all of your neighbors, not just your in-group, like you’d like to be treated, and today “all of your neighbors” includes the entire world.   To make it your mission to trick people in order to humiliate them will not only destroy trust, it will invite retaliation, the prelude to full-blown war.

A Wrathful Man Stirreth up Strife: Running Amok in the USA

When those intrepid 15th century Portuguese sailed round the Cape of Good Hope and headed across the Indian Ocean to the Spice Islands they stumbled across a bizarre phenomenon among the Malay people.   Every so often a man who up to then had been perfectly normal would undergo a change of mood.  He would become withdrawn, then begin to brood. Finally he would pick up a knife or an axe, run into a crowd and proceed to hack and stab total strangers or animals, maiming and killing them indiscriminately until finally committing suicide or being killed by the crowd.   The Malays and Indonesians called this meng-amuk ‘making a desperate charge’ and the person doing the killing was an amuko.    Westerners called it ‘running amok.’

If this sounds familiar, it should.   Suicide bombers in the Middle East are a variant of this sort of madman, delusional fanatics who believe the Creator of the Universe smiles to see them reduce a crowded marketplace to a bloody tangle of body parts.   In the United States the news is full of people running amok, mentally ill people who snap and explode with rage, taking the lives of the innocent in a few murderous seconds.  There are some differences from the old Spice Islanders, however.   The big one is that our amukos have their fingers on a trigger instead of a hilt so the numbers of the victims can be very large. Also, the attacks are often planned and their targets known to the attackers. It might be bosses who they feel slighted them, or members of groups they dislike, but the result is the same with innocent strangers dead or wounded.  There is one other important similarity: they are always men. Psychologists have speculated that running  amok may be a way for unsuccessful males to prove that they are, after all, real men, because what do real men do?  They wield weapons and are able to kill.

It is said that the Malay people accepted running amok as part of their culture, and did not hold it against the amuko.  It is our tragedy that running amok has become a regular part of our culture too, and while we do not forgive the assailant, over the years shock has yielded to a helpless sigh and a shake of our heads as we wonder how we ever got to this place.

What would it take to change that?  As a prelude to an answer, let me suggest as others have that the tone at the top has an enormous influence, and currently we have some very angry men in leadership positions.  You can’t help thinking of the old verse of Solomon: A wrathful man stirreth up strife, but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife (Proverbs 15:18) .  Has there ever been a time in recent memory where so much strife has been so vigorously stirred up and so little attempt at appeasing it?

So what do we  do to make running amok a thing of the past? There’s plenty.

1) Congress: make it much more difficult for people with mental problems to get a gun

2) Health professionals / insurance companies: improve the care of people with mental problems

3) Media : reduce the frenzy around mass murders and he who stirreth up strife

4) All of us:  foster a healthier Spirit—yes, with a  capital S.  If the zeitgeist is currently one of taunts and trolls, anger and angst, invective and paranoia lets work to undo that.    Get off of social media, that slough of conspiracy theories, that echo chamber or hostility!   Be slow to anger and stop stirring it up.  And as far as Solomon’s “appeasement”  goes, it has been an unpopular word since 1939, but in the sense of “reconciliation” it’s one of the most important aspects of communal life, an essential part of the Sacrament of Forgiveness.  Let’s call it “getting along with others” and then it becomes something everyone can accept and work toward.  So let’s get started.

 

The Sacrament of the Arts: Theatre at its Best

If ever there were a perfect illustration of the Sacrament of the Arts it would be  found up in White River Junction, Vermont where Northern Stage’s recent production of the play Oslo blew the audience away.   That is, blew them away by gathering them in.  Let me explain.

This award-winning play by J.T. Rogers tells the story of two Norwegian diplomats who, on their own, decided to try to make peace in the Middle East.    It was the 1990s — Israel and the PLO were at war, civilian deaths were mounting and the official government peace talks were dead in the water.  Secret, back-channel talks began in Oslo, and against all odds, after nearly insurmountable difficulties, the Norwegians did it:  by the end of the play the leaders of Israel and the PLO had signed the Oslo Peace Accords.  How did they do it? Through a humanist approach.  Up to this time, some of the Palestinians had never even met an Israeli. The Norwegians insisted that there be time each day to eat together, relax together, to call each other by their first names—in short, to get to know each other as real people.    They met at the human level and the business of negotiation was conducted in a separate room.  Once the human connections had been forged, things began to change in their deliberations. There was more trust, more willingness to compromise, more empathy.   The final result was a victory for Humanism

And then the Dark Side had its innings.  Rabin, the leader of Israel was accused by conservatives of selling out.  The Bible, they said, gave all the land to the Jews. Period.  Rabin was assassinated.  Everything fell apart.  So here we are, still in a never-ending cycle of death that feeds all the war and unrest in that region: Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan—so much hate directed at Israel and the United States, and when I ask my students why they hate us, they have no clue or come up with something as off-the-mark as George Bush’s comment that they resent our freedom.

Let’s come back to the play.  The great thing about theatre is that by its very nature it reminds us of our humanity. All these people come together—the cast, the writer, the tech crew, the audience—and they bond for a couple of hours. The audience is drawn into the lives and passions of the characters on stage. They see the world through their eyes, they share their joys, they sympathize, they suffer with them in their defeats.  It wouldn’t be the same if they were alone in a room streaming a film on Netflix, or even if they were in a crowded movie theatre, though that can come close.  No, it’s the fact that the spectator is there, shoulder to shoulder with others, taking in the drama together and being transformed by it.

At the end of Oslo, after it all goes to hell, the Norwegian protagonist turns  directly to the audience and says “My friends, if we have come this far, through blood, through fear—hatred—how much further  can we yet go? There on the horizon, The Possibility. Do you see it? Do you?”  and each night of the run someone answered “Yes.”  It gives you chills.

One final note:  this kind of theatre experience doesn’t happen by accident.   It takes a certain kind of person at the top to create the atmosphere that can bring out the best in everyone. Creativity is strangled under dictators and thrives in a climate of warmth and support.  Northern Stage is blessed to have Carol Dunne as Artistic Director, Eric Bunge as Managing Director, and for Oslo, Peter Hackett as director.   It’s a happy place to work.

The Bible is Israel’s Deed? The Death of Oslo

Never doubt the power of the group experience!   This is the Fourth Sacrament, that amazing energy that galvanizes a crowd at a football game, a victory march, or a rock concert.    At certain moments we are gripped by a feeling of Oneness with our fellow mortals, a tremendous euphoria can burst forth, transcendent, transformational.

But, as with all the Sacraments there is a dark side, and this week HBO’s Oslo Diaries gave us that in depressing detail.  25 years ago Israeli President Rabin and PLO leader Arafat finally found some common ground for a peace plan, but amid so much hope and good will generated by these Oslo agreements there was also so much anger and bad feeling,

Nothing was more disturbing than to see Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party, answering Rabin’s statement that Israel had no mandate to rule the West Bank, with “the Bible is our mandate, the Bible is our deed!” What can you say to someone who believes that God has given them the right to live in a certain place based on something written thousands of years ago?   It harkens back to the Manifest Destiny claims of our misguided ancestors who believed the Creator of the Universe interested Himself in our political affairs and favored our conquest of the Southwest from the benighted natives and Mexicans.

Actually there was something more disturbing in the Oslo Diaries: the rallies that year, where opponents of the peace accords packed the streets–fired-up, banner-waving zealots chanting “Death to Rabin!”, carrying coffins and nooses, burning Rabin’s picture while a smug Netanyahu looked on in approval.   This was the Dark Side in earnest, calling to mind the crowds at a Mussolini tirade or a Hitler harangue or—let’s say it– a Trump rally with people chanting “Lock her up!” or mocking reporters in a cage, led by a self-aggrandizing, self-satisfied hate-monger.

Could we all agree that we don’t want to live in a world where people chant “Death” to anyone?   Or make a hero of an assassin?  But of course, in their view Rabin’s killer was doing God’s work.  Rabin wanted to give the West Bank back to the Palestinians and remember:  “The Bible is our deed” to the West Bank.    So the question is,  how would you convince someone the Bible is not a deed?

Reason: I find it impossible to believe God told someone what to write word-for-word.

Zealot: You don’t have to believe it.  I believe it.

Reason: But you want me to support your claim that you own this land where someone else is now living.

Zealot: You don’t have to support me. I have a gun.  I will defend what God has given me.

This is the definition of madness.

 

The Cave Boys from Thailand and the Migrant Crisis

At this historic time when nations are fracturing into ever-smaller pieces of political antagonism, the dramatic rescue of the Thai boys and their coach gives us a glimpse of a different kind of world.  The amazing events in Thailand bring to mind that climactic scene from the 1960s comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! where some stranded Russian submariners on Cape Cod and the local Americans are about to kill each other in a tense standoff, when suddenly a small boy watching from the church steeple slips and falls.  His belt catches on the eaves leaving him hanging dangerously high above the ground. The Russians and Americans drop their guns and rush to save the boy, jointly forming a human pyramid to rescue the dangling child. Elation! The adrenaline flows.  There are cheers, embraces, laughter.  The mistrust, the fear of the Other falls away. They have become One, just as the world became One as we watched this current drama in Thailand play out day after day.

So, then, what about the migrants?  Why can’t we muster that same single-minded purpose to help them as we have done for the Thai boys?  They are also, many of them, in immediate danger.  Many of them are children.  Why are so many people NOT reacting with the same compassionate urgency that we witnessed in these incredible scenes from Thailand?

Clearly the answer is fear.  We are afraid of these migrants who are not Us.  Whether it’s religion, or skin color, or language—in whatever way they are different, it doesn’t really matter, The point is that they threaten to make the place where we live look and feel Other than it has felt up to now, altering what we have grown up with and want to preserve.  A dozen boys in danger far away in a cave are not the same as millions of migrants crossing into a continent looking for permanent homes and jobs on the street where you live.

But the reality is, the dangers to the migrants in their home countries are no less frightening than those rising floodwaters threatening the boys in the cave.  We will never stop the flow of those unfortunate people banging on our doors for help until those dangers are removed, and the root of all the dangers is overpopulation and changing climate.  Since the Catholic Church and the current American government in particular are loath to do much to address those causes, the best we can hope for is a viable plan for dealing with the stream of refugee-seekers who will inevitably try to enter countries where a better life beckons.  That is a plan that no country has as yet.

If only we could extend the good feelings generated from the Thai rescue to the plight of the migrants, using that adrenaline as a springboard to solving this difficult but most pressing of problems facing the world! If the American government is frozen into incapacity, what about the private sector?  Could the Trump Organization, for example, stop building golf courses for a while, and instead lead the way in building places of refuge for those fleeing violence, or maybe education centers to explain birth control, or fully fund those organizations that are already doing this kind of thing on the ground?    Think about it.

On Suffering: Christianity and Transcendentalism

The suffering of the children and parents on our border brings up again the age-old question: why does there have to be so much suffering in the world? The short answer is, of course, there doesn’t have to be “so much”–our government is shamefully inflicting needless suffering on these poor families.  But what about suffering more generally?  If there is a loving God, as so many Americans believe, why all this pain and anguish in the world?

The question of suffering resonated powerfully with me this week owing to two separate occurrences.  One was a fantastic piece of theatre, an imagined modern conversation between Emerson and his muse, Margaret Fuller, played out at a picnic in a park in Peterborough, NH by two brilliant actors.   They joke, they eat, they ask about each other’s work, and then they begin to argue about the nature of Beauty. Emerson claims it can be found in all things,   Fuller disagrees, forcefully, and gives him the example of a girl waiting to be picked up by her parent after a long stay at summer camp, sitting on her suitcase, watching all the other children disappearing one by one with their mothers and fathers…But her mother will never come. She has been killed in an accident en route to bringing back her child.   Fuller cannot see any beauty in that scene—it haunts her:  the child growing more and more fearful, more desperate sensing something is wrong…she can’t stop thinking about it.

And yet, Emerson tells her, you are carrying that child with you now, and will be forever. You have wrapped her in your thoughts, your loving thoughts, and won’t let her go—that is a beautiful thing.  To care about someone, to have your heart go out to someone in trouble, someone who is suffering…there is Beauty in that.

At the same time, I’m reading George Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede, and the good-hearted young protagonist, Dinah, who is devoting her life to helping those in need in a poor mining village, writes  a letter to a friend, describing what happens to her just after dusk each night:

“I sit in my chair in the dark room and close my eyes…and then, the very hardship, and the sorrow, and the blindness, and the sin, I have beheld and been ready to weep over,–yea, all the anguish of the children of men, which sometimes wraps me round like sudden darkness—I can bear with a willing pain, as if I was sharing the Redeemer’s cross.   For I feel it, I feel it—infinite love is suffering too—yea, in the fulness of knowledge it suffers, it yearns, it mourns; … sorrow is then a part of love, and love does not seek to throw it off.  It is not the spirit only that tells me this—I see it in the whole work and word of the gospel.  Is there not pleading in heaven?  Is not the Man of Sorrows there in that crucified body wherewith he ascended? And is he not one with the Infinite Love itself—as our love is one with our sorrow?”

As Thich Nat Hanh said: Of course we have to have suffering, otherwise how would we ever learn compassion?

This is not to excuse the shameful separations forced on these families by our government.   Arguments about Beauty and Love aren’t going to end their suffering.  But as Elliot and Emerson, the Christian voice and the Transcendentalist,  point out, we can, and we must,  find common ground in a world of suffering through the compassion it awakens in us.

Dinah’s letter may be the best explanation of Christian love I’ve ever read.

Immigration: The Problem That Will Never Go Away

Hey, does it seem like the immigration issue just will not die?  Wow, it keeps coming back into the news over and over again, doesn’t it…. But maybe now with all the outrage about the children snatched from the arms of their parents we’ll get a law that will solve the problem and…

No, sorry–that ain’t gonna happen, folks!  Even if we do get a law of some kind to address the current concerns, that’s not going to address the root of the problem.   If you think migrants are  dominating the airwaves now, wait a few years.  The desire of families to leave their home country and brave the oceans, the deserts, the elements, the brigands along the road, the sentinels at the border, and the xenophobes in the promised land will only grow more desperate—and why? For three main reasons:

1) Ever-increasing numbers of people competing for resources

2) Climate change making it more difficult to grow food and have access to water

3) Civil unrest because of 1 and 2, leading to the violence of gangs, warlords, rebellions

If you were a family living in a region under stress from this unholy triad, you would do whatever it took to get somewhere—anywhere—where you could make a living in peace and have a better chance for your children to survive.  So no one should be surprised that people are on the move and will continue to be.  So, how are we ever going to prevent the heartbreaking scenes of the past weeks, months and years, scenes of refugees fleeing their impoverished, war-torn, gang-dominated countries only to be herded into prisons, tent cities, and shanty towns?

The most difficult challenge is the climate.  Since so many American leaders are unwilling to face the truth about this disaster-in-the-making and pass laws that will wean us of fossil fuels, the best we can do is to start preparing for the lack of water, the rise of sea levels, the desiccation of certain regions of the earth and figure out in advance where these poor people are going to go as their island homes disappear or their aquifers dry up.  Without a plan, it will be chaos, or more like the Apocalypse as people get more and more desperate to simply survive.  The UN should get on this, now.

But the real key has to be population control, which is one of the causes of both the second and third problems listed above.   If you haven’t figured that out yet then you are part of the problem.  You, yes you, in effect, are one of the ones who will be creating those scenes on the borders around the world, of children and their parents risking everything to find a better life.   Unless you think you can prevent births by trusting to male celibacy, then start sending money to Planned Parenthood, Pathfinder International, and other organizations that offer contraceptive advice, and, yes, abortions.  Too many children born today are going to die of starvation or drown on a boat crossing the Mediterranean or be forced into a concentration camp in Texas.  Every birth should be a time of joy, a sacrament, and that means working to ensure that families, communities, and entire nations will have the means to support each child in a healthy way.  Every child should be a wanted child, but more than that, a child who has a chance at a good life.  There is no way to ensure that without limiting the population.

 

America, Were You Raised in a Barn?

When a kid does or says something that’s considered bad manners, like leaving a door open or using a naughty word, the parent might say, “Where were you raised, in a barn?” Well, I actually was raised in a barn. My earliest memories are of hanging out with my brothers,  my father and grandfather in the cow barn where 50 Holsteins peacefully ruminated.   Those were happy days, but I’ll tell you one thing:   no bad talk was tolerated in our family, whether in the house or in the barn. There were some people around who swore a lot or reveled in off-color or scatological subjects, but not in our household. My parents let us know pretty quick and in no uncertain terms what was off limits.

I am often amazed at how our culture has slid into what my mother would call “vulgarity”. I attribute that in large part to our insatiable thirst for ever-more edgy humor. Today we can be entertained by dozens of funnymen and women throwing those obscenities around, going one step farther than anyone has ever gone before, apparently selecting their subject matter based on what is most outrageous in its crudity.    Not to be outdone, the movies are steeped in gross-out scenes that seem to delight the adolescent mind.  Congratulations, America! You got what you wanted.

Now we’re all caught up in the question of whether Samantha Bee should be fired for her use of a particular taboo word to describe Ivanka Trump.   Let me go on record as saying I think Samantha Bee can be pretty funny, but I don’t want to hear her or anyone else dipping into the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary on the airwaves.   I also don’t want to hear allusions to bodily functions and fluxes that seem to be de rigueur for any would-be screenwriter or comedian these days, and frankly, I wish other people didn’t want to either.

We have Freedom of Speech, but does that mean anyone can say anything?   It shouldn’t, and it didn’t use to.  America!  Sweet Land of Liberty! What happened to “Sweet”? Come out of the barn, stop trying to be cruder than the next guy, and go wash your mouth out with soap!

Unbelief on the Move, Thank the Good Lord!

News worth noting: the number of American who claim no religious affiliation (the Nones) has passed the number of white evangelical Christians, according to an ABC/Washington Post Poll.

Year                              2003         2017

White evangelicals     21%         13%

No religion                   12%          21%

This is a trend that’s been building for quite some time and will continue to build because the percentage of under 30s who count themselves among the Nones is 35%.   It’s noteworthy because it begs the question that is the subject of Seven Sacraments for Everyone: if you’ve given up on religion, where does your moral code come from? God or the gods deliver the faithful their marching orders through Holy Writ and its interpreters, those priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, and gurus who instruct the average Joe, Yusuf, or Rajeev on what is right and what is wrong. But if you’ve given up on all that, where do you go for some idea of a moral code? Do you look into your heart? But hearts are different. They’re influenced by culture and temperament. Is it possible that there can be a range of moral codes out there in the world, that what’s wrong for me can be right for you? Some say yes.

But on the big moral questions, the answer must be a resounding “no.” We have to find a universal moral code, applicable to everyone, especially as the world grows smaller through our technological innovations. When people on different continents are connected ever more closely via the media and transportation, we’ve got to make sure we’re tuning into the same moral wavelength or the connections become collisions —fatal collisions.   If we care anything about peace, we have to have some solid common ground to stand on.

Philosophical common ground is what is lacking so much in the Middle East, as the fight over the physical ground continues. Who has the right to own the land where Abraham and Jesus walked? If you look at the Holy Scriptures or listen to the religious leaders, you’ll find support for whichever side you’re on, and this method of determining what’s right will dig us deeper and deeper into the quagmire that is the Middle East.  Netanyahu is getting his support from those Jews who believe that narrative of divine real estate and also from evangelical Christians who point not just to Genesis, but to the book of Revelation as guidance for their stance on things like making Jerusalem the capital of Israel and the Palestinians be damned… literally, they would say.

With the Nones on the move in America and even stronger in much of Europe there is hope that eventually we will be able to synchronize our moral codes, focusing on those joyous experiences that we all share by virtue of our membership in the human race.   Among the most important is belonging to a group, but not just a localized group, a family, a clan, a gang, or Us, the Chosen People, but the entire neighborhood, community, country–the world.  At that point we may be able to override the momentum that has brought the Middle East to the brink of blowing itself up and the whole world with it.

But all this will take time.