There Is No Longer Any Room For Doubt
(An Open Letter To Americans)
February 2, 2005
Dear fellow Americans,
Last week, George Bush took the Presidential oath of office for the second time to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." As usual, even the most hardened news reporters displayed their misty-eyed awe at the occasion as if it marked the high point of humanity's democratic aspirations. It didn't. Because left unsaid was a growing but palpable unease within parts of the United States and in many places around the world.
This unease stems in part, from the manipulation of religiosity to further ends so anti-democratic and so against the grain of American ideals that our very system of government is now threatened. The growing, so-called Christianization of our political and civic life poses a threat to all of us, not just to non-Christians like myself. This trend is now joining forces with equally frightening trends in corporate America that are coalescing, with awful consequences for all concerned.
As an expatriate American now living in Iceland, I watch with growing horror as intolerance and bigotry are paraded openly and without shame. I watch in disgust as the freedom to dissent is regularly treated with contempt and jingoistic violence at the same time as it is rhetorically praised. And I watch with shame the paltry responses from all of us at these frightening events, making us complicit in what is to come, as well as what is occurring now.
Friends, we are entering waters in which we may all drown, filled with nothing but anger and fanaticism. We had better take a long, hard look before we enter this raging stream because our country never be the same again. For those who advocate this sea change in American polity and social life do not want to talk; they want to impose. They do not want debates; they want obedience. And most importantly, they do not want us to pay attention to their desire for a de facto (and for many a de jure) Christian theocratic state.
I believe there is no longer any room for apathy or laziness. The voices of hatred, masquerading as "Christians" or "liberators," are beginning to echo eerily the pre WWII days in Germany when the bigoted darkness within "decent" people was stirred by racism, intolerance and vindictiveness, stamping out dissent and opposing viewpoints.
We no longer have the option of turning our eyes away for everywhere we go the same familiar faces and voices greet us. Hate radio spews the worst kind of aggressive boorishness, inane TV talk shows belie the deep distress Americans feel about their broken political processes, and a complacent media is ignoring the underlying tensions contained therein that threaten to explode in single-minded fury.
And many who are hiding behind the Republican Party and Christianity are locking us all in an unholy embrace with their visions of a one-Party state, a one-religion country and a one-dimensional approach to all society's problems. There is no longer any room for doubt about the fanatical direction many of these people and their cynical allies in the corridors of Washington DC. want to take us, and I--as well as most of you who now read this--are not welcome there.
The Christian pastor Martin Niemoller is credited with saying, "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
We must now stand together before it is too late and say openly what is only used in describing the horrors that took place "somewhere else". Put bluntly these current trends within the United States presage a recognizable, yet distinctly American tendency toward fascism.
One of modern-day fascism's creators, Benito Mussolini said, "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." This concept, combined with the revitalized religious Right's ascendancy and influence within almost all aspects of American life have now united into twin currents in this downward racing stream. We cannot stand by and watch as it pours into the waters of our world, for the effects will be disastrous for all.
There is no (as has often been said) "American exception," for yes "it" can happen here. Herman Goering once said, "It is always simply a matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." Am I alone in recognizing, even from a distance, the relevance those words have for us now in the United States? Is no one "connecting the dots?"
No, an American exception does not exist; there are only exceptional Americans who have been willing to fight against the currents of the distorted absolutist certainty of those who believe in their own innate moral and cultural superiority. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Sojourner Truth, and others, exemplify the deep and honorable call to which religious people have responded when the fabric of decency, goodness, and righteousness in our country was threatened by war, racism, ignorance, and hatred. Now, with no sense of shame the very Christian language they used to fight intolerance is being used to bludgeon others into conformity and acceptance of a narrowly theocratic political agenda.
We must now, all of us respond to restore the balance, debate, and sensibility required for a democratic society to flourish. We must return to our communities and fight these trends within our States, our country, within our own congregations, and within ourselves to avoid getting swept up in the moment of jingoism and nationalistic certitude. For we know quite well that the one thing we can all be certain of is that we will all die. Therefore we must choose how to live together.
Instead of passively allowing these currents to carry us onward, let us choose to engage one another, to admit that perhaps our one way may not fit all, to respect our differences and to once again pledge our sacred honor to resist any threat to reason and civility.
The Buddha exhorted his followers to retain their own skepticism when assessing spiritual paths and to do a thing not because of tradition, or the speaker's good standing, or because of mere faith, but because it conforms to our experience of what is right and proper for the alleviation of suffering.
As a Buddhist I value this perspective immensely, admiring its challenging directive in order to pull from deep within us a recognition of the inherent Good contained in all. This perspective informs my political choices too, informing me that militarism and imperial ambitions, cutbacks on social services, increasing poverty, gambling our future security and the shifting of immense authority over all our lives into the hands of a tiny corporate elite whose riches amassed threaten the foundation of a fair society is not the direction of a true democracy.
Do not say that we are divided as a nation, for the very compact that holds us together itself, and the Enlightenment values upon which it is based -- reason, open discourse, tolerance, a firm protection of freedom of (unpopular) speech, and a well-deserved fear of the harm wedding Church and State does to both -- is being gradually torn apart by the undue and unchecked influences of Christian fanaticism, giant corporations, an undemocratic business media, and a militaristic state. Good Americans are sleeping, and the world is terrified. Please, let us unite once and for all to stop this river, with its deadly twin currents from drowning all of us.
Rev. Josť M. Tirado is a poet, writer and Green activist. He is also a Shin Buddhist priest teaching in Iceland. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Swans Commentary, Dissident Voice, the Magazine of Green Social Thought: Synthesis/Regeneration and Gurdjieff Internet Guide. He can be reached via his website: www.thepathofmyexperience.com.
Other Articles by Josť M. Tirado