You can’t honestly tell me there was ever a time when human beings were less complex, less passionate or afraid or unpredictable, less wonderful than they are now.
As far back as I can remember I’ve had this dream. Not much anymore, but for a while I had it all the time. There are people on a rollercoaster and they’re having the time of their lives, and it’s loud and crashing, and there’s the booming of the ocean and the acoustics of the wind, and they’re screaming with their hands in the air, and the thing that they don’t know is that the tracks stop, somewhere at a crest, just gap into nothing, and they’re hurtling toward it. They think that they’re safe but they’re not safe.
And usually the dream gets bogged down in bureaucratic detail, trying to mobilize a team to somehow solve this problem, all the futile possible ways we could save them. Dream logic; leadership dreams. Maybe if they all raised their arms at the same counterintuitive time, at the bottom of the hill maybe, it would provide some kind of drag. Maybe if they all unlatched their harnesses at the same moment, if they somehow all knew to do it at the same time, like in a football wave, if they could do this as they were launching into space, and off the tracks altogether, they would take flight, and we could... catch them, somehow. Everyone would be safe.
Karen Armstrong wrote one of my favorite books of all time, the elegant and accessible “A History of God”. It’s brilliant, I’ve read it lots of times. In 2000, she wrote a sort of follow-up called “The Battle for God”, about fundamentalism in the new millennium.
The idea, the rationale as such, is pretty simple. We find ourselves in a complex, degenerate post-God secular world; there are no rules, the center doesn’t hold; nobody’s watching you or judging you. Some thrive; I thrive. But it’s nerve-wracking: you’re looking into an existential abyss, or you’re standing in the middle of Sodom trying to avoid eye contact, or you’re getting turned on and about to do something really stupid. Those are the main things. Fundamentalism is sort of like all of those things at once. Let me elaborate
What is most amazing about the millennial fundamentalists, which every single religion has, isFundamentalism reaches past all that nonsense and chaos and into a primordial world where men were men and women weren’t, where no decisions ever had to be made, where every single option was laid out ahead of time by a firm but loving God. their basic intent on going “back to basics” in some fashion, while completely ignoring the fact that there aren’t actually any “basics” to go back to. The stuff they want to accomplish, for all of us, the walls they want where a body meets a body, the rules by which we must abide, never actually existed. They’re fantasies about control, mental lockdown, revisions to decisions that no moment can erase. Every single fundamentalism is synthetic, reaching backwards for an imaginary grace.
Fundamentalism reaches past all that nonsense and chaos and into a primordial world where men were men and women weren’t, where no decisions ever had to be made, where every single option was laid out ahead of time by a firm but loving God, where families meant a certain thing and sex meant a certain thing, and everything was easy except temptation. But that’s obviously a crock. You can’t honestly tell me there was ever a time when human beings were less complex, less passionate or afraid or unpredictable, less wonderful than they are now.
For me, all this was a revelation on the level of learning, as a kid, that Allah and Jehovah and the Christian God were the same thing: that all Big Three monotheisms worship the God of Abraham and don’t even bother hiding that fact. The idea that “fundamentalism” was a logically tortured appeal to a beautiful pure world that never existed, and that Al Qaeda and Juniper Creek are essentially parallel movements with the same agenda and arising from the same confusion and fear... Revelatory.
Things are confusing, lots of stuff coming at your face all the time. Sex keeps getting less and less kind, and we keep blaming more and more stuff on our parents and our kids, and technology is overwhelming and even the hippest among us can sometimes feel like the world is changing so fast and flying by so carelessly without giving us more than a glimpse of itself, much less a place to grab hold. I can’t say they don’t have a point. But then, terrorists usually do. If they didn’t have something to say (even if it’s usually a crock), they wouldn’t feel silenced, and they wouldn’t pull the stuff they pull. They wouldn’t feel the need to scream so loudly that the whole world must listen.
For a lot of us, it’s enough to have self-control and to make good choices, and not get out of hand, or take part in what’s going on all around you. For others, the projected disarray is way too much to handle, and you start feeling like a rat in a cage as big as the world. Everywhere around you, the world is on fire, and everyone around you goes on like the world hasn’t ended. You’re on a roller coaster with everybody alive, headed for a gap, and nobody knows it but you: we’re all heading merrily toward our destruction, and we don’t even know it. We think that we’re safe but we’re not safe.
If you have that kind of information, if you know that the tracks run out and people are going to die, it’s not only your duty to use it, but your purpose on this earth. To be in the world, but not of it.To help, and to heal, and to save the world, and in so doing, save yourself. To do what’s necessary to fulfill your destiny: to love them, and take care of them, show them the glory of peace. To see your infinite mercy matched only by your power, and complete control. Isn’t that the definition of the righteous man? The saint (holy man)? The martyr? All of them...Terrorists. To give up the right to walk in this world, for a duty that must be obeyed for our souls to stay intact, unbending.
If you saw the roller coaster heading toward the gap, if you were in the middle of that nightmare, wouldn’t you do anything to stop it?
Welcome to the War!