Metal heathens and ecstatic religion

Since the earliest recorded history (and probably before), some people have found a connection to the divine through dance and song. There are records of thse participating in the Dionysian mysteries engaging in what the modern world calls “head-banging” under the influence of music and alcohol or other entheogens. “The trance induction central to the cult involved not only chemognosis,[4] but an “invocation of spirit” with the bullroarer and communal dancing to drum and pipe. The trances are described in familiar anthropological terms, with characteristic movements (such as the backward head flick found in all trance-inducing cults) found today in Afro-American Vodou and its counterparts. As in Vodou rites, certain rhythms were associated with the trance.” [Emphasis mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysian_Mysteries%5D According to my textbook “Survey of Western Music”, injuries in the temple of Dionysus during such rituals were common.

Within Viking culture, the Viking Answer Lady provides an account of Norse music which uphold my hypothesis that there was a strong tradition of ecstatic music within Norse culture. In fact, the words of the Christians describing Viking music sound almost exactly like modern-day descriptions of heavy metal by non-metalheads. A few highlights:

“For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. It is not so much an articulate sound, as a general cry of valor. They aim chiefly at a harsh note and a confused roar, putting their shields to their mouth, so that, by reverberation, it may swell into a fuller and deeper sound.”

“In truth the barbarians shrieked out songs of praise of their forefathers with disorderly shouts.”

“Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig (in Denmark). The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.”

And a Viking king, who was possessed by the madness inspired by music:

“First he [the muscian] performed various pieces so that everyone was filled with grief and numbness. And afterwards the sound of the lyre forced them to an impudent and lively state of mind, then jesting tunes which made them eager to move their bodies and they commenced to exchange anguish for applause. Finally it enraged them to madness and rashness, so that they were seized by madness and in utter fury gave great cries. Thus the state of their minds was changed variously. Therefore when the music in the hall came to an end, they saw that the king was driven to madness and rage, so that they were unable to restrain him. Thus they were seized by excessive madness and powerfully overthrown by fury; according to their natures the men’s madness increased. And so overcome by the strength of the struggle, he broke their hold and darted forward, wrenched open the door and seized a sword and killed four of his warriors, and none could come near enough to restrain him. At the end his courtiers took cushions and from every side approached, throwing them over him until at great risk they all were able to seize him. When he regained his wits, he paid the just weregild for the warriors’ injuries.”

The article is here: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/music.shtml

Ancient Germanic culture had some sort of ecstatic musical tradition that was strongly linked to warfare, ecstasy, and drinking. It was probably similar to the rites of Dionysus, given that both cultures shared a common Indo-European background. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstacy, and a figure who has similarities to Odin.

Therefore, I think the natural patron god for the ecstatic music tradition is Odin. As the Master of Ecstasy and the patron of fury, inspiration, and drunkeness, and as the patron of poets and musicians, he seems the natural choice. Odin’s Valhalla is the destination of the best poets and musicians as well as some of the fiercest warriors. His Einharjar fight with each other all day, then feast and drink together all night. Given the anecdote above of the king who killed his retainers in a fit of music- and alcohol-induced insanity, I think it is fair to say that Valhalla can be imagined as the moshpit of the afterlife.

Furthermore, Odin is the patron god of knowledge and scientific inquiry. I have yet to find a non-metal band which writes songs about evolution, biology, mathematics, and physics. Few other genres’ lyrics regularly include quotes from and references to Yeats, Emerson, Shakespeare, Nietsche, or any of the other great philosophers and poets regularly referenced by heavy metal artists. Odin as the god of poetry could hardly be displeased by the work of the greatest poets of recent generations- poetry which is set to the music of Woods of Ypres, Soulfallen, Shylmagognar, Agathodaimon, and other bands.

Odin is also the god who seeks to forestall Ragnarok. In this, he would have common ground with the entire section of metal that is obsessed with the death of this world. There are many stages of grief, and for those working through grief over the end of the world as we know it, denial is no longer enough and elements of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance start to appear. Many metal bands and fans are concerned with the environment- metal bands often donate to environmental causes, and many metalheads deeply consider and struggle with the ethics of things like eating meat. Metalheads (particluarly black metal fans) often identify with the Einharjar.

I follow Odin as the patron of ecstatic music and the berserkergang. I follow Frigga as the patroness of the other side of a balanced life- harmony and peace and love towards family, landwights, and allies. Frigga already knows all ends and has chosen to wage her battle for a future past Ragnarok through what I emulate through homesteading (to the extent possible for me right now). This is my heathenry. All of heathenry right now is a reconstruction of an ancient and long-dead religion. This is the path I choose to be a part of reconstructing.

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Feminism and Gender Sterotypes

traditional_gender_stereotypes__by_thearchosaurking-d5e5ctd

I dug up this list of gender sterotypes to get a feel for what the general public defines as “masculine” and “feminine”. As a heathen, I want to compare these gender stereotypes to the lore of my religion. The gods I feel closest to are Frigga and Odin. As Asgard’s oldest couple, it seems to me that they present a picture of how the ancient heathens viewed men and women and how the genders complemented each other. I also want to compare modern gender stereotypes to stereotypes from the pre-Christian era, to see how they have changed over time.

I will start with the masculine stereotype compared to Odin. Odin fits the masculine stereotype very well. Even while fitting that stereotype, he has great respect for the wisdom of women. He practices the “women’s magic”, even though it is culturally inappropriate. While Odin can be a sexist, it is usually in the vein of seeing a woman as a worthy opponent whose cunning may exceed his own rather than a dismissal of the woman as childish.

We have little information on Frigga, but what we do know is that she is the ruler of her own hall. She can outsmart her husband, and while he wanders the nine worlds in search of knowledge, she sits at home, presumably acting on the knowledge of all ends that we know she possesses. She is quite capable of taking care of herself, her dependents, and her hall in the absence of Odin, and takes other lovers in his absence (just as Odin sleeps around on his journeys.)

Frigga is home-oriented, but has a falcon cloak that she can use as she chooses to fly over the world. One can assume that she is in charge of the home economy (the main source of wealth for the Norse), and oversees or takes part in the slaughter of animals. While Odin is the god of death and battle, using the natural aggression of humans to limit human numbers to what the ecosystem can support, Frigga is the goddess of the hard decisions of the home- infanticide, sending the warriors out to fight those who threaten frith, and the slaughter of animals to ensure both meat for the tribe and enough hay to support the remaining animals through the winter.

Frigga and Odin are both full adults. They are capable of acting in concert or independently. They are interdependent with each other, and work in concert towards the goal of ensuring that life survives Ragnarok.

We see a variety of roles and relationships between men and women throughout the lore. Our knowledge is limited by the lack of information on the women’s side of things, but we see plenty of models for feminine behavior. Freyja is an independent woman who knows what she wants and goes for it. We know little about Sif, but we do know that Frigga’s handmaids all have roles and interests. Skadi is a strong and independent goddess, not afraid to march on Asgard itself to defend the honor of her family. Among humans, we see great differences in the roles women play. Some women are ladies of the home, keepers of the frith. Others are fierce shieldmaidens. Some shieldmaidens decide to marry and change their methods of changing their world.

Among archelogical evidence, we find statuettes of women both as warriors and as ladies. We find women buried with looms and with swords. We find mass graves from battlefields containing the bodies of women who went to fight for land and riches alongside their male kin. We find evidence, both literary and archeologically, of women as ladies, as warriors, as wise seers. There is no one template that is right for feminine behavior, and the chief of the gods hardly holds to the template of masculine behavior. There have been male corpses found buried with feminine artifacts like weaving equipment. There are accounts of women who took on male gender roles.

In the modern day, I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the ideals of cultural and intersectional feminism. The stereotypes of nurturing, kindness, gentleness, and passivity about women are stereotypes enforced through violence and the torture of women who fail to conform to Christian culture’s notions of women as sweet, emotionally-driven children who need to be ruled by men. There is nothing liberating about these stereotypes.

Neither men nor women truly care more about the feelings of others. Neither men nor women are truly more co-operative or better at creating and maintaining healthy social groups. It is merely that women have been faced for hundreds of years by a culture which punishes bluntness and honesty, particularly from women. In response, feminine culture has become a place in which aggression is held back and exhibited in a more repressed fashion than is common among men. It’s personally not a culture I like, having escaped most of the indoctrination into proper feminine behavior myself.

And this is the crux of my problem with cultural and intersectional feminism- both ideologies make a virtue of the feminine stereotypes that are enforced against many women with violence. I personally see myself as more of a shieldmaiden type. I’ve always felt more comfortable fixing cars than bouncing babies. I love heavy metal and weapons and crushing my opponents into jelly in a good debate. I work as a tradeswoman while my husband stays home and takes care of our daughter.

I don’t want to be the feminine stereotype. I prefer directness and bluntness. I have no patience with emotionally-driven, illogical people. I think all humans should focus first on getting what needs to be done done, and then deal with our emotions. I place a high value on toughness, and on the willingness to engage in conflict for the good of the tribe. I value expressions of emotion which are beautiful and reflect creativity, thought, and skill (like heavy metal), but I definitely believe there are many times in life to “suck it up” and repress one’s emotions for a more appropriate time. This is what it means to be an adult- regardless of gender.

I feel like a huge part of feminism and the fight for gender equality and recognition for many different views of gender is the ability of women to define what it means to be a woman. I don’t feel that the stereotype of a cooperative nurturer fits me very well at all. However, I don’t feel that this makes me masculine or manly. Women have fought like mother bears defending their cubs for their children throughout all of history. Women have ruled wonderful co-operative tribes, and sent those tribes to war against those who threatened their homelands.

While cultural and intersectional feminists talk of celebrating womens’ unique abilities, I can’t help but feel that those “abilities” are nothing more than old stereotypes of women- stereotypes that leave no place for me and women like me. I don’t think a matriarchal society would be more kind and gentle than a patriarchal one. I think people are people, regardless of how they identify their gender. I don’t seek to have power over men for all the harm men have done. I seek equality, for gender roles to be guidelines for those who want them, not prisons for those who don’t.

Overall, I identify as a Marxist feminist (although I am not a socialist/communist). I’m pissed off at gender roles that assign me “woman’s work” after I get home from a full day at a “man’s job”. I despise the way in which some of the most important jobs in our society (child-rearing, home-making, and tending small family food production) are denigrated simply because it is profitable for society to pretend that they aren’t real work so women can be forced to do this labor for free.

I don’t see men as the enemy (although some are), but I see our culture as the problem. Women enforce stereotypes on each other just as much (if not more than) men do. And cultural feminism offers no solutions for these problems. I look up to women like those who took up arms to fight the French Revolution and to the Irish and Italian women who led strikes for the eight-hour day in the late 1800s in American. I see women who threw away the stereotype of women as passive and non-violent and fought for a better world for themselves and their families as heroes.

The world today is a scary place, and it needs a woman’s touch- the touch of a cunning family woman who puts her family ahead and plans for all ends, a shieldmaiden who fights those who would oppress her family, a cunning seeress who can see the future and work for the best end, and a strong frith-weaver who is unafraid to direct the battle to win frith- even at the price of peace.

 

 

 

On Respecting Others: A Thought Experiment

I like Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of the main characters of the first season is a very honorable man. He is a high-ranking noble who refuses to hire an executioner. He exceutes criminals himself, as he believes “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”. I think this statement has a lot of meaning in our modern life. We live in a world where few to none of us do violence personally, yet on a large scale, we live in a very violent society that incarcerates a higher percentage of our population than any other country. We also use deadly military force around the world, all of it funded by the citizens of our democracy, most of whom deplore violence.

I want to propose a thought experiement, to give you a glimpse into my nutcase head. This post is a rambling one, please bear with me, as I’m trying to put into words my feeling of the deep injustice done by those who claim to respect the beliefs of others, but then push for legislation that would restrict those people’s right to live in accordance with their beliefs.

I hear a lot about “respecting other’s opinions”. I want to use this thought experiment to examine what that really means. Usually, respecting other’s opinions comes up in the context of a political argument that has flared up a little too hot. No one wants to be “that asshole”- the one who tramples all over the ideas of others.

However, I’ve always been confused by the attitude behind this phrase. What is usually implied is that one should keep one’s opinion to oneself, or only share it with those who mostly agree with it, and refrain from challenging the opinions of others too harshly. The idea is that when voting day comes around, everyone will be able to cast their ballot, registering their opinion with the government, and the majority opinion will be enforced. The idea of not getting too heated in discussing ideas one-on-one seems to go hand-in-hand with the ideas of sorting out our differences at the polls.

I want to go on record as saying that, to me, nothing on earth could be more disrespectful than this attitude. By voting for a set of principles (or a candidate who promises whose principles), you are authorizing a group of armed men (the police- and the military if things get too wild) to enforce your opinion on those who disagree.

If you vote to outlaw abortion, you are voting to have men with guns take away doctors who perform abortions, put them in cages, and deny them their livelihoods that they have worked years to build. If you vote to force bakers to bake gay wedding cakes, you are voting to force them to lend support to something that is against their religion. If you vote to ban gay marriage, you are voting to keep a person from having their medical decisions made by their lover, best friend, and closest ally- their partner.These are real choices, with real and heart- and life-breaking consequences for those involved. Do you really believe that those choices should be made by people who have never met the parties involved and are unaware of and uncaring about their existence?

If you are going to vote for things, and advocate for the state to do violence against those of us who disagree, is it not your solemn responsibility to argue with us about it first? To hear every point we can muster to support our cause? How on earth can it be respectful to advocate state violence against your opponents while hidden in a private voting booth, but refuse to give them the chance to change your mind on the street, at the dinner table, or anywhere else?

I’ll say this- I argue too long and too hard. I am aware of my faults, and this is one of them. But one thing you will notice about all my arguments is that they are based on the rights of people to be left alone. I rarely, if ever, argue that the state should force someone else to do or not do anything. I advocate for a greater legal respect for those defending themselves from others (and no, I don’t see that as a gun control issue so much as a legal issue, so everyone please keep your pants on). I advocate for the abolition or lessening of restrictions on issues such as drug and alcohol use, abortion, queer people, religion, and self-defense because I can’t stomach the idea of sending the cops after my friends who disagree with me to force them into my beliefs.I might argue that the state should offer a service, such as a road system or healthcare, but never that anyone should be forced to take advantage of that offer.

The problem is that we live in a society where personal violence is deplorable, but state-sanctioned violence is acceptable. Therefore, people who would never in a million years try to force another to follow their religion or beliefs feel that it is okay to pay and instruct the government to deal out that repression for them. I know many good, friendly, well-meaning people who are upset if they offend me, yet will happily vote to have the state do violence against me.

I’ll admit I don’t understand this mindset. It’s a part of the reason I don’t vote. I can see the desirability of a few basic laws, but I feel that politics right now is not about running a free society, but about whose cultural vision will prevail. And I don’t really want anyone’s cultural vision to prevail, even my own. I want to live in a diverse country, where Muslims and Christians and pagans and Jews and Hindus can all get drunk and argue politics and maybe have a good donnybrook to two, but no one can call upon the cops or the IRS or the military to enforce their worldview on the others.

This is mainly a pipe dream. I freely admit that. It is likely that so long as humans believe things strongly (which they should), the temptation to push those beliefs with coercion will prove irresistable to many. However, I titled this piece as a thought experiment, and that is how I intended it. I want to challenge you, me, and everyone else to think about what it means to vote for your cultural vision, and what it means to refuse to accept challenges to that vision and defend it in a free market of ideas. Perhaps this will explain to some of my friends why I go a little too far, or why I say I’m glad when you offend me, and congratulate you on your willingness to stand up and speak your mind. I don’t fear my hurt pride when you turn out to be right, what I fear is that you will take away my rights in a voting booth, behind my back, without even giving me the chance to explain my views, or to fight back at all.

 

 

 

The Eternal Battle

We know that Valhalla is the sight of the eternal battle, where the warriors leave the hall in the morning to fight eachother all day before coming back inside the hall in the evening to feast and drink. What does that mean? How do those who were willing to kill eachother outside sit reconciled inside, having a grand party? How are those whose only interests seem to be war and partying supposed to combat the wolf?

I would like to offer an interpretation of Valhalla. It is definietly UPG territory, and so I’m going to emphasize the offer part. My theory is this: that the eternal battle is a metaphor for life, while Valhalla is the corner of the afterlife provided for those sworn to the eternal battle between lifetimes.

Every day, when the Einharjar (those sworn to fight in the last battle and loyal to Odin), wake, they leave the hall. In this, I see a metaphor for being born. The souls of the warriors leave the hall and are born into physical form. In physical form, they don’t know what they are and they dont recognize their fellow warriors. Following their nature as lovers of frenzy, drunkeness, and inspiration, they become involved in the world. Being of a passionate nature, they have a tendency to fight for what they believe in, and for those they love. They are killed, likely by others who passionately believe in something.

Upon death, the Einharjar are picked over by the ravens. On their return to Valhalla, they are once more aware of their nature, and are able to feast and drink with others who share the same nature. It is not in the nature of the Eiharjar to give peace to their enemies or to refrain from conflict in the world, but within Valhalla there is a place of rest and companionship for those for whom life is a battle.

To me, this explains the sagas that have the same people being reborn over and over. Sometimes they even fall in love with someone else who they were involved with in a past life. If a person is reborn over and over with a similar personality, as these myths seem to imply, doesn’t it makes sense that those given to conflict and strife in pursuit of what they percieve as the greater good end up loving and/or killing eachother over and over again?

I think that this also makes sense of Odin’s role as a god whose motives for taking sides are not necessarily what most people would call moral. Odin’s favor is more likely to be won by cunning, competence, and battle-frenzy than by the moral rightness or the cause. And I think this has profound implications for the political sphere.

One thing that has always concerned me about Valhalla is that the “price of admission”is bravery, not the rightness of your cause. The valkyries pick over the dead on both sides of a battlefield, choosing the slain. Now, as modern people with a bit of distance, it seems easy to see how the retainers of Ugfart the Third and Ethelbum the Fat might put aside their differences over who was the rightful king of whatever tiny province they fought over. But let’s look at this is in a modern context.

If the valkyries pick over the battlefields, choosing the bravest, then it stands to reason that Valhalla probably has American soldiers, Nazis, Shaka Zulu’s warriors, John Brown, anarchists from the Spanish Civil War, Confederates, Haitian revolutionaries, and many more. No wonder they are fighting eternally!

I think that what brings people to Valhalla is a deep commitment to fighting for what they believe in, regardless of the odds. That trait belongs to a layer of the soul that is reborn over and over again, because it is a fundamental part of that soul’s nature. Within Valhalla, such people are stripped of their life experiences and all of the cultural brainwashing that made they believe what they believed. The dead Nazi loses his racism and sees only common ground with the Jewish resistance fighter who killed him in defense of his people.

I think that this is why, of all the gods, Odin is the patron god of female warriors. Odin is not concerned with the externals- race, gender, blah, blah. Odin is concerned with whether or not a person has the heart to face the wolf. Many will fight for something, for a cause they think they can win. The Einharjar fight for the thrill of the struggle, and for the love of something greater than themselves, rightly or wrongly.

Odin seeks those who will in essence help him cheat in fighting the wolf. The Einharjars’ role is to fight the wolf alongside Odin, in hopes of preserving what can be preserved of the world they love. Therefore, the traits that define the Einharjar are a refuseal to surrender in the presence of doom, stubborness, cunning, and a willingness to use any ends, including cheating, to preserve their world.

In every cultural and in every time, there are such people. And they often end up killing each other. My belief in Odin is that, in the end, all of these fighters are feeding energy into something, whether you consider it a god or an archetype, that represents the will to life and the ecstasy of enjoying it in and enjoying the defense of it from within the battle-frenzy.

 

 

The Quest for Knowledge and a Challenge to Fear

The quest for knowledge is central to the practice of heathenism. Odin, the chief of the gods, continually travels the nine worlds seeking knowledge. The ancient heathens were traders and raiders, seeking information about other cultures and preserving their knowledge of history and other lands in the epic poetry which we still look to for information in the present day. The pursuit of knowledge is important both for spiritual and personal reasons.

In the spiritual realm, much of the magic mentioned in the lore consists of deception magic. The strongest, most powerful fighter could not stand against his opponent if that opponent could fool him into fighting the impossible or inevitable. Just think of Thor’s journey to Utgard-Loki, where he blindly attacks mountains and attempts to wrestle old age.

The fact that Odin gave an eye and was hanged for knowledge, and that the lore mentions humans braving both physical and spiritual dangers to gain knowledge and skills from the dead speaks to the value which was placed on knowledge. When Brynhild meets Sigurd, one of the first things she does is share her rune knowledge with him. It seems that her knowledge and intelligence was at least as important a factor as her beauty in their romance. Their subsequent history underlines the point of the trouble that deception magic causes….

Spiritual knowledge is generally represented by the runes, which were won by the sacrifice of Odin. These are small signs which contain meditations on all aspects of life. The process of gaining knowledge and wisdom is a worth-while process, and one which every person must undertake for themselves. Although Frigga knows all ends, she doesn’t attempt to teach Odin all that he longs to know. Instead, she supports him in his journeys, even when she fears for his safety.

Odin continually travels to other lands to gain knowledge. He goes to the homes of giants who mean him harm, and has wagered his head for knowledge. This underscores the importance of gaining knowledge, but also brings up an often-overlooked point. Knowledge cannot be gained at home, safe within the circle of our companions. Knowledge is the hard-won product of exposing oneself to the worlds of other peoples, both our allies and our enemies.

And this is the point I’m making today. In this day and age, I don’t think it is necessary to walk into a radical Islamist training camp and wager one’s head to gain knowledge. However, to sit home and condemn all Muslims (including the ones who protested ISIS in London last week) from the couch is ignorant. To grow in knowledge, we need to understand the world in a way we can’t without a bit of dedicated study and experience of different cultures.

For example, when I was a scared kid, still somewhat traumatized by the 9/11 attacks, I took some time to read up on Islam, Middle Eastern history, and to meet some Muslims. I learned a lot, and my point here isn’t to tell you what I found and my conclusions. It’s to say that I did learn a lot. I met some really great people and some raging assholes. I changed a lot of my opinions based on what I learned.

My point in telling this story is to encourage people to step outside their comfort zone. I recently read a blog post by a heathen who claimed that because someone had a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, they were “obviously” sympathetic to Muslims and couldn’t be trusted. This struck me as very stupid. What sort of person makes a virtue of ignorance and refuses to trust the knowledge of an expert on a subject for no better reason than that person’s expertise?

So I felt the need to speak out against this sort of idiocy. The Havamal has some pretty sharp things to say about those who think they are smart yet never venture out into the world. The best way to learn about various people and cultures is to spend time among them, but with the caveat that not every sub community within a community represents the whole. For example, going and spending time among Orthodox Jews won’t necessarily help you understand the atheistic commie Jews I know. (I shouldn’t have to say that, but given how many people honestly think every woman in a hijab supports ISIS, it is apparently necessary.)

Not all of us can travel the world, but most places are a lot more cosmopolitan than you would think, if you take the time to seek out diversity. It’s worth a bit of a drive to visit a mosque and meet some real Muslims and hear what they have to say about the world, considering that Islam, Islamic radicalism, and immigration from Muslim countries are issues that we should probably be paying attention to right now. There are also many resources available to anyone with an internet connection (which, if you’re reading this, I assume you do). edX.org offers courses for free from top-rated universities. Coursera is less good in my opinion, and taking a course for free takes more work, but they also have an impressive selection of courses.

There are many different communities of people acting on the world stage right now. To make informed decisions and chart the best course for our country and our families, we need at least a basic understanding of the other people who inhabit the world. It our only source of information is the news on TV and Facebook, we are very vulnerable to manipulation of our information. Manipulation of our information leads to manipulation of our opinions, often in ways which spread hatred, fear, and malice.

We can never learn what we need to know if we are constantly surrounded by those who agree with us, or if we insist that those who disagree keep quiet in our spaces. We have to go and seek out the opinions of others, and face the challenges of new ideas. This will undoubtedly be a difficult process, and if undertaken honestly, will cause permanent changes in a person’s values and personality. Giving up faith and looking at the world with reason and seeking knowledge is a painful process. Seeing the world as it is, without the protection of our collective delusions, is horrible. There’s a reason Odin drinks so much…

So this post is not meant to be an end. This post is meant as a challenge. Learn another language, speak to those who you don’t know, particularly those you hate and fear. Bring back the knowledge you win to your community and use it for the benefit of your people. Remember that it takes courage to fight people, but it takes infinitely more courage to understand them.

“If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a thousand battles.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Maybe your enemies are not those who you fear, but those who taught you to fear… and that is as political as I’m getting today. This is my challenge to fear- that I will face what I fear, I will learn from it, and I will use what I learn to benefit my community. My challenge to you is to stand with me in this.

 

Prophets of Fear

The tragedy which just occurred in Orlando has brought to the fore tensions inherent in our culture. It is time to admit that we live in a culture of fear.

The man who massacred innocent men in Orlando was likely driven by fear- fear of homosexuals and possibly fear of his own identity as a homosexual. His crime is being billed as “radical Islamic terrorism”, to the point where one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was American. Omar Mateen was American, however, a part of our culture in which evangelicals have spent the past few months painting pictures of women being molested in the bathroom by homosexual or transsexual perverts.

It would be more comfortable for us Americans to pretend that our culture had no impact upon Mateen, and that his crime was solely the product of radical Islam imported from the Middle East. Many people will take that route, blaming Islam for Mateen’s crime. But Omar Mateen didn’t exist in a bubble. He had a job, he must have commuted, seen billboards, watched TV, and used the Internet.

Clearly this man was no brain-washed groupie, trained in Afghanistan or Algeria to see Americans as nameless, faceless embodiments of evil. He trained himself, to a large extent, using the internet to access information on ISIS. He reportedly used gay dating sites, personally knew gay men, and was a product of American culture at least as much as Islamic culture.

So perhaps when we seek to lay blame for his actions, we should look at the interweaving of these two cultures. I said earlier that we live in a culture of fear, and we do. We also live in a culture of denying responsibility. Should we be so blind as to miss that Omar Mateen, divorced twice over, might latch onto the idea, propagated not just from mosques but from mainstream churches in America, that homosexuals are a threat to traditional marriage? How much easier is it for a man to blame the “other” for his failures than to admit his own mistakes?

This is not an attitude we need to travel to the Middle East to find. Every day here in America, pastors and pundits blame the gays, the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, etc, etc, on and on, for the failures that we ourselves have cooked up. No one has the courage to say: “We cooked up the crisis in the Middle East. We created a culture in which family doesn’t matter. We let corporations move the work to sweatshops in third-world countries. We have failed to defend Mother Earth.” Instead, we pay a crowd of bull-shitters to tell us what we want to hear- pretty girls on Fox News peddling the smooth pill that our problems are someone else’s fault- lazy blacks, job-stealing Mexicans, hateful Muslims, perverted homosexuals- any story to keep us from having to face reality and responsibility.

Is it shocking that someone who was a failure, and likely afraid, would fall prey to our culture of fear? This culture of fear is not Muslim, it is not Christian, it is not constrained to one religion, race, or culture. It is everywhere. It can be seen every time an imam tells his congregation to fear Americans, every time a pastor tells his congregation to fear homosexuals, and in every news broadcast that sells itself by selling fear- fear of guns, fear of Muslims, fear of gays, fear of floods, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear, fear, fear…

We live in fear, we breathe fear, and fear seeps into our minds. 18% of the population suffers from an anxiety “disorder”. Yet these disorders are not abnormal- they are the reasonable result of a culture that continually pumps us full of fear. Fear makes us controllable, it directs our attention away from questions about how we want to live our lives and what sort of society we want into an endless defense against the things we fear. Don’t want Trump as President- vote Hillary. Don’t pay attention to her politics, don’t think about whether you really believe in a two-party system, just give in to fear and follow the herd. Don’t think about whether you want to work, just worry that you’ll be unemployed. Don’t think about where our food will be grown once California’s aquifers run dry- just buy “organic” lettuce.

We Americans are now living in fear of a thousand things. We try to shut out the fear- we make it impolite to talk politics, we pop pills, we go to church, we pay pundits to simplify the world for us, we pay self-help gurus to tell us we could make it better if we could just stop “defeating ourselves”. But deep down, we all know that it’s a lie.

Fear is now our god. The god the majority of Christians turn to is no more than their cobbled-together notion of “traditional morality”, the return of which would free them from the fear of a changing world. The god of the radical Islamists is the fear of the US drone strike. The god of the atheists is the fear that humanity will continue to act irrationally. The god of the racists is the fear of other races and cultures. “God Money” is nothing more than our own fear of failure- of being without, of failing our families and ourselves.

We worship our fear, make a virtue of our cowardice. Greed is “work ethic”, cowardice in the face of new cultures is “traditional values”, and fear of standing up for those who are different is “politeness”. It is time for this to end. It is time for us to stop fearing our failures and instead take responsibility. Let’s stop worshipping our fear and start believing in something. I can’t tell you what to believe in, but I can tell you that if what you believe in is an absence- an absence of gays, Muslims, immigrants, guns, drugs, divorce, whatever- you are worshipping fear. Right now we live in a world saturated with fear- have the courage to believe in something real. Have the courage to build something. The courage we need right now is not the courage to fight our enemies, but the courage to understand them.