I've been listening to one of my new CD's and I've been struck by the words of John Mayer's song Belief. Here are the lyrics:
Is there anyone who
Ever remembers changing there mind from
The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time?
In how they think it ought to be
And they're not going easily
Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you're trying for
Some need the exhibition
And some have to know they tried
It's the chemical weapon
For the war that's raging on inside
From emptiness to everything
And no ones going quietly
We're never gonna win the world
We're never gonna stop the war
We're never gonna beat this
If belief is what we're fighting for
What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand
What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand
I've been saying for years that ideologies are the death of human beings. Maybe I should call that ideolatry. When concepts, rules, ideas, etc. get in the way of seeing and acknowledging real people, then the concepts, rules, ideas have been taken in the worst possible way. I'm certainly not opposed to belief - and I don't think John Mayer is, either. But when belief has a society or individual people by the throat, it's wrong. Even if the ideas have some kind of right on their side, if they are running over people (if people are using them to run over people) they are being misused. Jesus pointed to the Pharisees as examples of people who were practicing the Law to the harm of people, and he condemned them roundly and repeatedly. The Taliban and Al Quaeda are using belief for the destruction of people, especially women. McCarthy used ideas and rhetoric to destroy much of America's freedoms and many individual careers and lives during the Red Scare. The French Revolution was a vital step for democracy in France, until the idea of THE Revolution brought them Robespierre and the Terror.
"Belief is a beautiful armor / But makes for the heaviest sword / Like punching under water / You never can hit who you're trying for." This is true of nearly every misuse of belief I mentioned. The ultimate victims are not the real villains, if there actually were any. And often the result merely strengthens the cause of the supposed enemy (like the recruiting efforts of Al Quaeda). When you destroy your friends with that sword, then your enemies are made stronger.
And it's interesting to me how often a belief is used as a weapon or a war cry AFTER a group of people is struck with fear. Often fear becomes the underlying energy driving the misuse of the belief, and driving the rhetoric of the believers. We're afraid of each other, and of what we might do to each other. Or we're made to feel that fear by the shouters. Are we changed by what someone yelled real loud? Should we be?
"We're never gonna beat this if belief is what we're fighting for." Beliefs are not what we should be fighting for. Even the ideas of freedom or rights are not worth fighting for. People are worth fighting for, and people's freedom and rights. Real people, not some abstract concept of the people. And it's usually people we must fight against. Maybe we need to make sure they're real people, too, not some abstract those people.