September 11: The Goddess of Democracy
We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity, poised on the edge of events that may literally reshape the world and the world mind.
People argue that the terrorist attacks against the United States reflect a war between one religion and another, or between the poor and the rich of the world. While there may be an element of truth to each, I'd suggest that the real war here is between the 11th Century and the 21st Century. And until our leaders figure that out, we may miss some great opportunities.
Back in the Dark and Middle Ages, the Catholic Church ruled Europe. Women were often forbidden to go out in public unless properly covered, and were explicitly the property of men. Justice was swift and severe, ranging from disfigurement to torture to death in horrific ways, and most often meted out with the approval or supervision of clerics. The power behind the power of all the royal families of Europe was the Pope.
On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban gave one of history's most famous speeches to the Council of Clermont in France, calling for a holy war against Islam to unite factious Europe. Dr. E.L. Skip Knox summarized the Pope's speech:
"The noble race of Franks [Germans] must come to the aid of their fellow Christians in the East. The infidel Turks are advancing into the heart of Eastern Christendom; Christians are being oppressed and attacked; churches and holy places are being defiled. Jerusalem is groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulcher is in Moslem hands and has been turned into a mosque..The Franks must stop their internal wars and squabbles. Let them go instead against the infidel and fight a righteous war. God himself will lead them, for they will be doing His work. There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who die in the service of Christ. Here they are poor and miserable sinners; there they will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; they must march next summer. God wills it!"
Thus began a war between two different medieval cultures: the 11th Century Catholic and the 11th Century Muslim. Over the next few centuries, the Catholics, with their battle cry of "Deus vult!" (God wills it) were often victorious against the Muslims, whose only crime defined by the Pope was that they were living on a land holy to the Catholic Church.
Medieval historian Raymond of Agiles wrote the following eyewitness account of the attack and seizure of Jerusalem in 1099 by the triumphant Crusaders: "Some of our men cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the temple of Solomon, a place where religious services were ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much at least, that in the temple and portico of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins."
In the 900 or so years since the early Crusades, both Christianity and Islam have undergone profound changes. The Protestant reformation shook Christianity to its core, and the Renaissance in Europe wrought huge transformations in both Christianity and Judaism. Perhaps the most critical change came about in the 18th Century when Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and others synthesized the highest ideals of Greek, Roman, and Iroquois thought and culture to create the United States of America. In doing that, they ignited the flame of liberty, bringing into the world an archetype that to this day inspires hope worldwide.
As America grew and our ideas of republican democracy spread around the world, further transformations of the world took place. Another turning point was when modern science challenged the medieval world-view of the Church in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Although Clarence Darrow lost that case, its widespread publicity began a dramatic and lasting process of change across the world.
The American Dream is a powerful and pervasive force in the world, even if the sometimes imperialistic behavior of our transnational corporations is often at odds with our own ideals. The Dream has wafted over the entire world, and is still so powerful people are willing to die for it: in China, the Tiananmen Square protesters marched to their doom in 1989 carrying a 37-foot-tall paper-mache replica of the Statue of Liberty, which they had renamed "The Goddess of Democracy."
Of course, there are still pockets of medieval perspective in the Christian world. The post-disaster comments of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that we had just witnessed the "wrath of [their] god" who "lifted the veil" and "allowed" the terrorists to act because of their god's anger over "homosexuals, liberals, and the ACLU," reveals such a worldview is still alive and well in a small fringe of Christianity. Some Christians are still today willing to commit terrorist acts of murder or mass murder: Timothy McVeigh and those who have murdered numerous abortion providers all claimed their acts are grounded in Christianity and Biblical teachings.
Just as 21st Century Christianity still has its own pockets of medieval world-view, so does 21st Century Islam. Pulitzer Prize winning writer David Moats, once a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan, tells the story in the September 23, 2001 issue of the Montpelier Times Argus of a discussion he had with an Islamic Afghani in 1971. "I remember the evening when I explained to my Laghmani friend that in America we believed the world was round," Moats recounts. "I used a teapot and a lantern to show how the Earth revolved around the sun. He was skeptical. He was an educated man, but he also knew that the Koran referred to the four corners of the earth, which suggests the earth is flat."
The difference these days, however, is that as a percentage much more of Islam than of any other religion is still living out 11th Century values. In many of Islam's most wealthy and modern countries (Saudi Arabia, for example, among others), women are still veiled and forbidden to work or drive. In many Islamic nations, such as Pakistan, it's forbidden for girls to go to public school. And in a communiqu‚ to America, Osama bin Laden cited the 11th Century Christian Crusades against Islam – a war he clearly sees himself as still fighting – as part of his justification for terrorism and a holy war or "jihad" against the West.
As much as Robertson, McVeigh, and Falwell would like to portray themselves as warriors for the heart and soul of Christianity, the vast majority of Christians see them for what they are: anachronisms with medievalist perspectives. Thank goodness in America they've been marginalized and, along with the abortion-clinic-bombers, can only stand, even with the megaphones of their millions of dollars and television networks, on the extreme fringes of a mainstream American culture.
Similarly, even the most orthodox and conservative of the sects of Judaism, the Hasidic movement, interact fully in the modern world. None among them, to the best of my knowledge (and I've lived and worked among them), would invoke the name of G-d in a war against any other group unless in self-defense. Buddhist and Hindu traditions, as well, are largely modern around the world (although they, too, struggle with minorities still stuck in the 11th Century).
But, uniquely in the world, the Falwells among Islam actually control entire nations. A small but significant portion of Islam still lives the values of the Middle Ages, and the evangelists for that medieval world view in Islamic context are gaining ground, particularly among the world's poorest nations. Thus, a September 22, 2001 editorial in The News, a large daily paper in Islamabad, Pakistan, said that the time has arrived "to decide whether they want this country to remain under the ever looming threat of Islamic fundamentalism, with a tiny but militant minority refusing to let Pakistan pull itself out of the medieval ages.or join hands to purge the polity of terrorism, blackmail, and retardation."
If this is, in fact, a battle between the Eleventh Century and the Twenty First Century, then it's not a battle that will be won with bombs, threats, or intimidation. No matter how high-tech they may be, these are the tools of the Eleventh Century.
Instead, America and the free world must hold high our archetypal vision of freedom, individual liberty, and religious tolerance: and change the world with ideas instead of bombs. The Reformation and Enlightenment were times when ideas swept across the world and transformed every one of the world's nations and major religions, to greater or lesser extents. In past centuries in much of the world polygamy has been outlawed, women and minorities freed, and the lines between religion and government are drawn sharply in ways that no theocracy could ever again rise to power. None of these idea-based changes have yet happened among the most fundamentalist of the Islamic nations (nor, to be fair, among small but marginalized pockets of the world's other medieval and pre-medieval-based religions).
We have the means, through printing presses and radio transmitting towers, to carry 21st Century ideas to people still living in the mind of the 11th Century. If we were to set aside the internal politics of the Voice of America, we could quickly join BBC and Deutsche Welle (German radio) in reaching out to contemporary 11th Century worldview Muslims in their own languages, and begin to give them the ideas that could bring them into the 21st Century. We may also even be able to modernize a few of our homegrown Christian terrorists, if we do it right. And we have the obligation to do this: not only were we one of the victims of fundamentalism, but we are also the holders of the most sacred archetypes of the modern era: the Statue of Liberty and the Bill of Rights.
While Islam itself has not gone through a huge, systemic transition into relative modernity as did Christianity with the Protestant Reformation or Judaism with the end of the Second Temple period, nonetheless there are many modern Moslems and Moslem clerics. Islam also has a long and beautiful tradition of nonviolent mystics, those who passionately seek God rather than political power: the most well-known in the West are Rumi and Kahlil Gibran, but there are many others. Persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered in countries like Iran, the Baha'i sect of Islam is among the most outspoken in its advocacy for a 21st Century worldview within the context of Islam and its holy scriptures.
Now is the perfect time and opportunity for us to give the mystics and moderns among Islam a voice, to help them lift their brothers and sisters around the world out of the 11th Century and into the 21st Century, so we can live together in a world of shared visions and ideals, even while maintaining our respected differences.
If this is the outcome of this tragedy, it will prove to be a fitting tribute to those who died, and has the potential to positively transform the entire world. If, instead, our reactions are grounded entirely in force and fear – the tools and ghosts of the 11th Century – then we risk plunging the world back toward the Crusades, and possibly even creating what Joseph Chilton Pearce calls "Evolution's End."
Let us pray that our leaders will make the right choices in the days and years to come, and the Goddess of Democracy will always be a beacon of light and hope for the world.
Reprinted with permission from best-selling author Thom Hartmann's website http://www.thomhartmann.com Visit the site for articles and extracts from Thom Hartmann's books, plus a busy message board forum where many thoughts and opinions are shared. "The Goddess of Democracy" also appeared in the newly released book From Ashes to Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America, a collection of original essays, poems and statements from spiritual leaders and extraordinary citizens.