Monday, October 27, 2008
10.24.08 - FEAR
In reviewing Shadow Theatre’s recent production of ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,’ I was struck by how closely the current state of our country resembles in some ways the travails of African-American people in the years just after emancipation. The play is set in 1911, and centers on the lives of people at a boarding house in Pittsburgh. As the sons and daughters of former slaves stream northward, they are left with an interesting and not wholly unpleasant conundrum: where do I go from here?
The world is suddenly opened up wide for them, in ways that were not possible before they escaped from the South. True, there are still huge barriers to overcome. There are white people who will never accept blacks as their equals, who will always carry fear and bitterness and hatred in their hearts toward what they view as ‘the other.’
Hell, a hundred years later, we are still seeing remnants of that in those adorable and delightful pockets of this country that certain Republicans have anointed ‘the REAL America.’
At the same time, I have been re-reading Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Valis,’ a sci-fi book that centers on the ideas of the early Gnostic Christians. The idea of gnosis, a Greek word for ‘knowledge,’ is that understanding of the divine is possible through oneself, that we don’t need the church or its teachings in order to find Him. In short, that we each individually have the power to access the divine, and that those who purport to tell others the way to God are charlatans.
Certain Gnostic sects took this view further, positing that, yes, there is a God running this world, but he is damaged. And there is another, larger God from which our God cleaved himself, and that this other God is trying to break through into our God’s world in order to save us. You can see why early church leaders sought to suppress these ideas.
(That’s an oversimplification, and probably not entirely correct in terms of theological study, but it is Dick’s usage of the word, and the one from which I will take my meanderings.)
Dick quotes the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus as saying: “Time is a child playing at draughts.”
I found the same quote translated a different way: “Time is a child moving counters in a game; the royal power is a child's.”
He is of course referring to the randomness of time, the random nature of the universe. But take away the word ‘time’ and substitute ‘God,’ and you get the idea of what Dick was going after. Our God is a twisted, stunted, deranged child, selfish in his greed for love, who becomes jealous and angry when he doesn’t receive it. He has stolen away from his brother, his twin who was nearly killed during their inception, and he forgets the good part of what he once was.
As do we. What Dick is trying to say is that we have forgotten that we ourselves are gods, and that we ceded our power millennia ago, and chose to play a game, to enter a maze. The maze was this world, this life, these flesh sacks which we occupy, and from which, with all of our former faculties we would have easily escaped. But in order to make it a challenge, we chose to hobble ourselves.
Only now we have forgotten. We no longer remember that we are truly powerful and have allowed the myth of the all-powerful, alleged God to supercede our own true nature.
And so we cower in fear of his power. We are fearful children, worried about going home late to a darkened cabin in a dark wood, where drunken daddy waits with his belt already off and half a pint of whiskey and a whole lot of resentment running through his system. We misunderstand that His power is only power that we have chosen to give him, and that at any moment, if we could only wake up, if we could only remember, we could take it back.
Dick points out that the word ‘idiot’ is derived from the Greek word idios, meaning ‘private,’ or ‘one’s own.’ In our isolation, that famous pain of being a human who will always be alone inside his personal meat-sack, inside the walls of his skull, we are indeed idiots. We have lost the true nature of our larger selves, which is as part of an interconnected, larger whole. Oh, we feel traces of it from time to time. We KNOW in our souls that there is more--that’s why we gave the name God to the being that runs this messed-up world. There is indeed something larger than ourselves. And we seek out that connection, but only blindly, only in stunted, and, well, idiotic ways.
And in our aloneness, in our weakness, we are afraid.
This fear of the mighty ‘other’ can be seen in our politics, in how we run our lives, and especially in those that cling to religion and the bible as the literal, unimpeachable word of God, the authority.
Now back to ‘Joe Turner.’ In the play there are those who are afraid, and those who are daring, who choose a path, a way to live their lives as they see fit, and who turn their backs on fear. There are those who step out blindly and hopefully into the bright, fearsome light of the future, and those who cower and cling to the past.
I think that’s the cusp upon which we sit in this country today. There is an opportunity here, in the glorious mess the fear-mongers have left for us to clean up. There is a moment here when we can finally banish fear, when we can finally seize our own power and remake the world the way we want it, the way it should have been all along--without fear of a dubious God who has mainly led us to hatred and fear and dissatisfaction.
It make sense, doesn’t it, that the God so worshipped by so many is a demonic child, as selfish and short-sighted as we are? They say he made us in his image, after all... And when you think about the hate spouted by those who purport to believe in him, and the misery they have caused themselves and everyone else over the centuries, how could it be anything but that?
Yes, the argument against this hypothesis is that, of course God and those who believe in him have done good, too. There are good Christians and Jews and Muslims out there who do good works and who are good people, no doubt.
But at what cost? The fear and weakness and capitulation that even the good religious people must by definition carry inside themselves in order to worship this creature completely subvert any chance that they might ever truly BE, that they might ever find out what they are, what they are capable of. They exist only through subservience.
And it is interesting to me that the so-called Christians in this country are also the ones who are so beholden to the notions of earthly authority and power and control. They have given themselves over to the authority and control of this God, and so they seek to exert the same authority and control over their fellow humans, and in turn, they capitulate to those on this plane who have more perceived power than themselves. After all, it’s very comforting to think that someone else is in charge--whether it’s in this world or a higher one. It absolves us of any mistakes.
Maybe it’s time for us to take back control. Maybe it’s time for us to let go of fear, despite our idiocy, despite our uncertainty.
Maybe it’s time to leave Daddy to brood alone in his dark and dreary house and strike out on our own and see what’s out there.
Maybe we don’t really need him after all.
Maybe it’s time we fucking grow up.