This article first appeared on the Huffington Post. Read it here:
Those were the words written on the subway wall.
Disappointment. Frustration. Fearfulness. Sums up the "state of affairs" in America, uh?
I have traveled all over this world for more than 40 years. There was a time when, after an extended visit abroad, I would get off a plane back in these United States and literally drop to my knees and kiss the ground. I did so with gratitude for the luck of having been born an American. I did so with pride for what I regarded as the greatest nation on earth.
America was a great nation. But I'm not so sure about that anymore.
There are now plenty of places in this world that I visit where democracy is truly treasured; where what we've called "the American dream" flourishes with equal or greater abundance; and where it is vastly safer and saner to live than it is in America anymore.
If every reader of my blogs actually knew me as a person, they would know, and so not question, either my gratitude for America or my loyalty to it. Furthermore, they would know just how much it grieves me to make statements about the state of affairs in America, like those I've made above.
But facts are facts, and the fact is...
America is no longer the greatest country in this world.
Some critics would say, "Well, then, you should just leave!"
"Really?" as Barkley asks of Baldwin in the commercial. "Is that the best you got?"
Stop defending illusion. Open your eyes. Look around. For one thing, America is violent. Why else do you think greedy movie producers make violent movies? Because Americans, addicted to violence, use movies the way addicts use drugs to temporarily satisfy their crave for revenge.
Surprising? Not when you understand that all spiritual traditions have taught that what you do to others you do to yourself.
Take another example. Take any number of examples. Poverty, education, health care -- the fact that people are hungry in this country, that our education system is embarrassing, that there are people in America who have little access to adequate health care, that we, a nation of immigrants, would engage in debate immigration -- talk about hypocritical. These things are a disgrace.
Furthermore, America has become the leading debtor nation in the world. We owe just about everybody. How long can we sustain this? Americans say they want fewer taxes. Meanwhile, we fund the biggest army in the world and watch as our infrastructure dismantles. If you've driven lately on almost any interstate highway in America, you know first hand how well our infrastructure is doing.
I have no clue how to fix our financial mess. I'm not sure anyone does. However, I am certain, to borrow the words of Will Rogers, we cannot "keep borrowing what we do not have, to buy what we do not need, to keep up with those we really do not like." Especially when, ironically, the people we do not like are the very people we have become. Selfish, self-centered, scared.
Scared? Yes, that's it!
I think it's pretty safe to say that we Americans -- who have the biggest army in the world and more guns per capita than any other nation -- need both a big army and lots of guns because we are of all people most afraid.
Has the cliche of F. D. Roosevelt ever been more telling? "We have nothing to fear but fear itself!" Today, Americans fear other Americans. Which is why lots of officials, and much of the press, seem determine pin the latest bombing in Boston on al Qaeda.
I used to mistakenly think fear was the opposite of faith. I now understand that fear is neither the opposite of faith nor the absence of it. Fear is just the misplacement of faith.
When obsessively afraid, as most Americans seem to be, people tend to put their faith in that which won't work. Which explains why one weapon in a nation's arsenal of defense is never enough. Which is why one magazine clip of three shells is never enough, either.
Fear masks itself as the means to greater safety. But this is, of course, an illusion, as every wise person knows.
It does not work, either. Just as our democracy does not seem to be working.
The report, for example, that our elected officials, just yesterday voted against the wishes of the majority of their constituency serves only as the latest illustration. Our elected officials killed the bill requiring greater background checks on persons wishing to buy guns.
Really? Is that the best we can expect from those elected by us to represent our wishes?
If it's anything it is the best evidence I see that something has gone terribly wrong with our democracy. No matter which side of the debate on gun control you sit, for example, it is clear, as all polls indicate, some greatly, others more moderately, that the majority of Americans want more thorough background checks on persons wishing to buy guns.
Yet, the majority of our elected representatives voted against a bill that would have done this?
I am further disheartened whenever I think of the real causes behind the argument -- if "argument" is what you'd call it -- in favor of the escalation of arms by citizens of this country. There is not one shred of evidence (but please do add a link in the "Comment" section if such credible evidence actually exists, which I doubt) anywhere that supports the notion that by arming citizens with weapons, we make this country safer, as well as protect it from tyranny.
If guns actually made us safer, why does America have the highest murder rate of any developed country in the world?
Protection against possible tyranny?
Really? Is that what people are afraid of?
Either we are a government "of the people, for the people," or we are not. I, for one, still believe we are. Besides, if we were actually in danger of being "taken over" by our government gone mad, there are plenty of allies in the world that would help arm us, as we do them, for those who want to defend democracy.
Tyranny is what you see in Syria. Fear is what you see in the United States.
It occurs to me that the people who use arguments like this to oppose stricter gun laws -- and far, far too many of them are religious people and many are Christians -- these people should be honest enough to also support legislation that would change the slogan on our coins from "In God We Trust" to "In Guns We Trust." Clearly, it is anyone but God in whom they really trust.
Really? Is that what you think?
I'm more inclined to think, "Selflessness, Service, and Sacrifice Made America Great." Coincidentally, are not these the qualities of character that every spiritual master, including Jesus, taught would successfully guide us on the path to peace, happiness, even greatness?
In the end, whose rhetoric will you believe?
The NRA's? Or that of Jesus, the Buddha, Martin L. King, Jr., Gandhi or the Dalai Lama?
Furthermore, should it not concern Christians that, when they are asked, "Who is alive today as the recognized and respected spokesperson for what Jesus actually taught about peace, and loving your enemies, etc.," the only persons who come to their minds are those persons who are not themselves Christian?
My friends, many things are complicated. That question, however, is pretty simple.