There is a Monster Afoot : 8/10/2014


by Dr. George H. Elder


            In Iraq, ISIS cuts off the heads of nonbelievers and kidnaps their women–handing young girls over to the gentle graces of the “holy warriors” who slaughtered their friends and families. In Israel, there was a videogame made wherein one gets points for blowing up Palestinian houses and killing the residents. In the Ukraine, 20,000 Russian troops hover on the border, sending in weapons and “advisors” that have turned that corner of the world into a vast killing field. In Africa, Ebola runs rampant, freed by world neglect, poverty, and superstition. All over this earth people of mal intent practice their perfidy, plotting and planning, striving for power and wealth, and blithely spending lives as if they were an expendable currency–a mere means of achieving desired ends.

            So what do we do? Fools like me write articles, while others pray for relief in churches, temples, and other places of worship. Some take harsh positions blaming the right, left, or various religious groups for all our ills, stridently arguing that one side is 100% right while the other is totally wrong. Lies and distortions flow, and after a while the truth becomes buried under layers of obfuscations that make it nearly invisible. And all the while the pot bubbles and boils, much like the world itself stews in the juices, vapors and toxins that we have served up.  

            I shake my head and close these tired eyes. What can we do? Oh, what can we do? If I were wise, or at least a tad intelligent, I’d have an answer. Yet all I can offer are insights from dreams. In one of these, I sought an answer to a question concerning God’s existence, only to find myself looking into a mirror–staring into my own desperate eyes as they gazed back into my soul. Yet in that sublime moment, I finally realized that self-reflection is our only hope, though it often requires a type of honesty that burns our souls. To see ourselves as we truly are is no easy feat, and it is a process that can leave us in tears. It requires us to think about how we are thinking, to see ourselves as others see us–and to understand fully how our actions are influencing the world around us. Oh, why did we beat our child? Why did we steal? Was cheating on our spouse worth it? The answers sear us, but without asking such questions–there can be no reflections.

            I wonder if Netanyahu mourns the Palestinian children who have died? He knows that not all were the victims of Hamas’ callous uses, for bombs are dropped by people–and people make mistakes. Bombs have no souls; no regrets or remorse. They are part of the spears that our leaders throw, and once set to flight they cannot be recalled. Yet the real damage is what killing en masse does to one’s own people. Imagine Israeli children playing computer games wherein one gets points for obliterating other children. Imagine a society that compares the mass killing of any people with “mowing the lawn.” An insightful and reflective leader might notice that the callousness manifest in these games and views is indicative of an underlying morality that makes the “good” as wanton as those who are considered “bad.” Indeed, what differentiates the good from the bad when both sides have a complete disregard for the innocent? In terms of reflections, Netanyahu might as well see the face of a Hamas extremist when he looks in the mirror, for they are as one in using lives as means of achieving political ends.

            Ah, but it gets even worse. Every now and then, the world gives rise to demons who find happiness and meaning in there own perfidy, who brutally seek to craft the reflection of a supposedly “higher” belief or ideal regardless of the consequences. Consider Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader if ISIS. Here is a man who wears watches that cost thousands of dollars while calling himself humble and holy. He oversees the slaughter of all who disagree with his views, using the agency of men who are even more blind than himself. Ultimately, he does not perceive the massive ego that a mirror might reveal, the wretched and simplistic self-absorption that can justify mass murder and doling out captured Yazidi girls to the gentle graces of his “people.” Yet anyone who can decapitate prisoners, shoot them in mass graves, or commit similar crimes is hardly worthy of being considered a person. Here are beasts who are completely incapable of seeing their own reflections, their savage inhumanity of spirit. They justify their horrors by dim-witted recitations of holy texts and spewing ideologies that they obviously do not understand. They simply cannot perceive that they are the worst humanity has to offer, for such is their blindness.

            We have witnessed the coming and passing of such wretches in NAZI Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and a host of other places–and the potential for becoming demons resides in most of us to one extent or another. The ancestry of these beasts stretches deep into the past, and only a few have faced the same vile debauchery that they have dished out. I ponder about God’s nature when I think of such things. If God is in all things, than the collective actions of all of us must define God’s being within a given context. During WWII, many Jews considered this issue, with some finding against God. To be certain, how could a good God ignore their plight, the gave injustices being perpetrated upon them each and every day? It might have been more appropriate to find against humanity, for if there is a God, we are most certainly part of it. Indeed, the people of many nations have crafted contexts wherein butchering their neighbors was perfectly acceptable, a necessary means.

            Ah, but we are just a tiny part of an infinite whole, and can hardly perceive that when we defile ourselves, each other, and the earth around us, we also defile a bit of God. We simply fail to see the divine in our own reflections, though some might claim to have a higher understanding of God that makes their “accounts” sacrosanct. Such is the mental illness of men like al-Baghdadi, Hitler, and so many others. They see themselves as THE whole, instead of tiny aspects thereof. Extreme narcissism mixed with myopia is the bane of history, and so it goes. It is a blinding and binding set of traits that produces beasts to this very day.

            Some beasts can only be contained in cages of iron until their days end, though many would argue that we should simply kill them. Yet killing does little to prevent their eventual resurrection in one form or another–for they seem to spring anew from every corner. Some might argue that killing makes us like unto the beasts we slay, and I am torn by this contention. A part of me wants to see al-Baghdadi literally torn to pieces by his victims, slowly and painfully–over a period of several days. Then I reflect on the gratuitous urge, and am shamed by what I see. To be sure, I am acting like al-Baghdadi in my desires, which is the real danger of terrorism. Terrorism makes us terrible people, both the perpetrators and the victims. We do unto other as was done unto us, regardless of our morality–our underlying principles.

            Our generation has seen more than it’s fair share despots, but I believe they have an awful role in perfecting what we will become. If the beasts and their works become ascendant, our species will fall into interminable conflicts that will prevent an evolution of what we might otherwise become. Instead of striving for the stars, our missiles will find targets here on earth. Our kind will be laid low by interminable wars, but the universe will go on. We will be but a lost opportunity, a tiny bud that did not fully blossom because it was fatally flawed.

            I wonder if we will dare blame God if this grim possibility becomes a reality? In the end, I suspect God sets the stage for possibilities but does not assure outcomes. That is our job. The best advice for any leader is to consider fully the image one sees in a mirror well before acting, and to see within this reflection how interconnected all things are. An act of cruelty makes one cruel, while killing anyone makes one a killer. Look at where such actions lead before taking them… and see what influence they might have on the collective welfare of the whole. Alas, fools are minion–and truly good people are rare by any measure. Good leaders are rarer yet. So we sit on the precipice and reflect on what we can do. It’s a joint responsibility, but the answers don’t come easily. 

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