Years ago, my then-pastor, a very smart man-especially for a pastor-told a story in his sermon. It went something like this:
A young native boy is brought before the tribal elders, who are concerned about his aggressive tendencies. One of the elders takes the young man aside and tells him that his anger is understandable, since all humans have within them two dogs. One dog is sweet and peaceable. The other is angry and aggressive. The two dogs are in constant battle with one another, since neither is powerful enough to destroy the other. The young man asks the elder "But if they are of equal power, which one will win?" And the elder replies, "The one you feed the most."
I loved that little story, and have thought about it often over the decade or so since I heard it. Lately though, I've realized that in most people I've met, that bad dog is fatter than Al Roker before the lap band. And the reason is fear.
I've talked before about how fear of the "other" makes us hostile. We fight wars because we're afraid of whatever "they" has been set against our "we." The commies are coming, the Muslims are coming, the Iranians are trying to make a bomb sometime, in a few years, maybe, right after they figure out how to enrich the uranium sufficiently to run a power plant, which they can't yet do, but whatever. Fear doesn't have to make sense. But there's more to it than that.
Fear of our own inadequacies make us mean to other people. If we don't feel 'good enough,' it's great to find someone more derelict than ourselves and either make fun of them or blame them for stuff. Do you suppose that people watch Jerry Springer to make themselves get better? Or is it to make themselves feel better, because at least they're not as screwed up as those people. And remember how the Reagan "welfare queens" driving their Cadillacs were the reason the government was in debt? I wonder why it's still in debt after then-speaker Newt Gingrich passed welfare reform through the Congress and fixed all that welfare queen stuff? Suppose maybe because they were just a scapegoat, manufactured in some politician's imagination, for us to fear?
Fear of our own badness causes us to judge and condemn others. Ever think about why it's anyone's business who gay and lesbian people want to love? Logically it makes no sense. Sure, people say a prohibition of homosexuality is in the Bible, but there's prohibitions of lying in the Bible too, and there's no one out carrying signs and making Consititutional amendments about that. Even if the Bible says it's wrong, it should only concern other people if it infringes on their rights. Lying, for example, is only addressed in the law if you lie to induce someone to do something to their detriment; then it's called fraud. Otherwise, in the law, it's every liar for himself. And the best ones get promoted. But fear of our own "badness" leads us to seek out people who are "worse" and then we have to jump on them with both feet, to make ourselves feel better about where we are morally.
Fear causes us to be selfish and self absorbed. As Americans, we've got more money and stuff than most people around the world, and to justify the obvious unfairness of this situation where babies starve to death while we throw out food by the megaton, we convince ourselves we have this stuff because we deserve it more than other people, so why should we try to conserve? Anything we save will only go to someone less deserving, right? To not think this way is to admit something we're all deathly afraid of--maybe we really don't deserve anything more than anyone else. Maybe we didn't get it because we're smarter or worked harder--maybe it's all just luck, and maybe our luck will someday run out.
So, basically fear causes all the negative responses we have in the world. Fear makes us hostile physically. It makes us mean and condescending to others. It makes us judgmental, condemning and unable to mind our own damn business. And it makes us selfish and self absorbed, unable to see the other perspectives in their fullness. Any time we seek to serve ourselves at the expense of someone or something else, we feed the fear dog. And boy, is that dog overfed.
On the other hand, we feed the good dog with love. Love is the recognition that all things have value and worth, for the very reason that in any tradition I know of, everything is us.
Think about it. If you believe in a creation by one conscious Creator (no matter what you call that Creator) you believe that Creator made us and the earth and the heavens and the animals. If that Creator is infinite and eternal, as all religions I know of believe, then necessarily we and everything else are part of the Creator. It can be no other way. Infinity is, well...infinite. It must encompass everything or it isn't infinite, now is it?
Likewise, if you believe in a spontaneous 'explosion' of creation, like the Big Bang theory, you believe that we and everything else in our universe came, in the first instance, from some great "singularity" containing all that is, was, or will be. Once again, the inevitable truth is that we are all part of the same infinite ALL. And whatever diminishes one diminishes all.
It's hard to not be selfish in our world. There's a million messages of fear that tell us we not only can, but should, inflate our own value and let the air out of everyone else's. We're told that fear and competition is more "rational" than love and cooperation. People who are all about love are billed as either heroes or fools--sometimes both. We've been feeding that bad dog a smorgasbord for centuries, while the good one sits in a corner, starving and whining for a scrap. But feeding that bad dog has gotten us to where we are today--struggling in a world where good people lose everything while bad people get richer and richer, where war is eternal and peace is barely more than a foolish pipe-dream, where we sit continually on the verge of spiritual, environmental and physical destruction. To put it in the vernacular of a particularly annoying, yet very famous person--how's that meany-nasty-hatey- takey thing workin' out for ya?
So yes, we've been conditioned to think that 'every man for himself' is the way things are. And maybe that's true, but it's also short-sighted and wrong. And maybe it's time for it to stop being the way things are.