What Are We So Afraid Of?
By Jane Tawel
(Jane and her son Gordon with Americans and Mexicans working together in Tijuana Mexico)
I am confused about what people are afraid of. I see this fear infecting the whole world, but as a life-long, card-carrying American, I have to address this fear-mongering problem that is rising in my own nation, like yeast in Egypt before the Hebrews left for the Promised Land. America as an empire has long been an example of capitalism on steroids, masquerading as “democracy” or worse, giving the lie to something certain people call “Christianity”. It makes me tremble to observe our (and I include myself) hypocrisy and power-hungry, greedy worldview not only rampaging through the world, but in true Orwellian fashion, calling ‘darkness’, “light”, and ‘hate’, “love”.
The most shocking (and obliviously, hypocritically ironic) are the people who are so terrified of and who therefore, have no love for the immigrant, the sojourner, the children of different races, ethnicities, cultures, or social strata. These are the people who want in now because they need to leave their homes elsewhere (often because of something we did to their homeland in the first place). These are people who simply want to live. Ironic much, Americans? Hello, calling any immigrants out there in America? Oh, yeah, that’s right, ALL of us are here because of our immigrating ancestors, except for, of course, the Native Americans who we conveniently trounced when we first came here or the slaves we brought here in the name of “more for me”.
The very fact that we have dubbed certain people “illegal” is a true indication of our rotted value system. These immigrants are not breaking the law, they are begging us for help. If you want to look for law-breakers, though, you don’t have to look to our borders. The entitled oligarchy here does tend to break the laws with impunity and not be penalized; and many of them work very little for the enormous amounts they are paid compared to what their employees are paid. And yet, there are those of us who fearfully brand things like equity and fairness, justice and mercy, and ‘doing unto others as we want done to us’, as “socialism”. Brand someone who is not like me as “illegal”, and it has the added bonus of making everything I do, as “legal” by default. This is true for those who “serve” us in our government as well as the real people running this country– the 15% of people running mega-companies or the independently wealthy individuals and those who own 86% of this “Republic’s” wealth. If Americans are so up in arms about law breaking, so fearful of others who are not like the “average Jane or John Doe”, then they need look no further than our own beloved institutions and leaders of government, religion, industry, and social entertainment.
Historically this has been true of every Empire, I am afraid, and yet, all these years I have lived here and I am still always a bit taken aback when America, which was to be the “shining city on a hill”, proves to be no different. This is what I mean when I ask what values do people think poor immigrants are not catching on to? Perhaps you know different ones than I do? But any recent immigrants that I know of are hard workers, good students who often put themselves through school while holding down jobs; they are people who care for their children, parents, often even grandparents while doing jobs no one else wants to do; they are creative, grateful people who are bringing good things to our nation. Compare them to the “legal” citizens’ whose kids got into colleges by deceit and lies. Compare them to the “legal” immigrants who send their money and jobs to other parts of the world to increase their wealth, while fleecing our citizens. Compare them to our leaders who have no care at all for the health of our own grandparents and children. Compare them to the “legal” citizens who are now almost daily shooting up our citizenry with their freedom to buy weapons of mass destruction. Compare them to people who spend my tax dollars as elected officials and increase their own wealth while in office, not mine. Compare them to pastors or priests or spokespeople for any religion such as Christianity who make millions of dollars a year in God’s name and have the nerve to say their religion is being persecuted. Are those the values some folks are so anxious that our immigrants are supposed to want and have? We are picking at the specks in the eyes of the “other”, while the planks that are blinding us to our own truth, are growing at the same rate that we are deforesting the world.
So, I honestly have no idea, I really don’t understand what in the world people are talking about when they want somehow to “go back” to something they think America (or maybe your nation? Or maybe the whole world?) once was. It wasn’t; and it isn’t; and it never will be, unless that is we own-up and make it so. I’m not being argumentative, I just don’t get it. What is wrong in this country is what wise people and philosophies and holy books have tried to tell us has been wrong since the beginning of humans’ inhabitation of the earth. What is messed up in me, in you, in us is what is messed up in America. Every one and every place have always eventually gotten broken and messed up, unless and until goodness and truth and right values are either restored and rebuilt or else these things eventually die out so much that the soul of the person or the soul of the place dies along with them. But for God’s sake, or if you’d rather, for America’s sake, just because it is broken, doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to actually try and fix it. But something broken can never be fixed by trying to go back to an imagined Past. It is only by embracing the Future and the hard task of living into the unknown that we can even survive let alone thrive. It is only by accepting what we have been given (not earned) for Today, with a heart and mind filled with gratitude, grace, and love, that we can mend the brokenness within and without, and together can build something worth keeping, worth treasuring, worth sharing.
We have not risen to the clarion call of our ancestors, whomever we might consider them to be. What we really have done is sunk and hunkered down into the values of false pride, self-entitlement, and overarching greed. We are all a result of America’s worship of capitalism or “manna”, in the name of nationalism (selfishness). And all of what we are so anxious to hang on to for ourselves are not valuables based on the moral high-ground of some belief system, but are the result of our true values, which are nothing to do with democracy or justice or freedom, and definitely not anything at all to do with goodness or love or God or Christianity or any such ideal.
If you want to spiritualize, which I obviously always tend towards, we “must be born again”. That means, at a minimum, that we must humble ourselves and become like little babies, not in a selfish way, but in an innocent, anticipatory way. As newborn “citizens of the world”, we would have to accept that we each and as a whole have a gigantic amount still to learn. Being born again would mean that just like a newborn baby, I can not differentiate between colors. As a baby, I don’t care what color you are or language you speak, or how old or calloused your hands are when they hold me, or what you believe in as long as it includes a belief in love, or what you eat for dinner, as long as I too, am fed. As a baby, I am not afraid of tomorrow, because today, it is enough to be alive. And like a baby, I need you; and I have an innate, as yet unformed idea that you probably need me, too.
Tragically, our current identity in America has nothing to do with any ethical values that supposedly this nation or our supposedly major religion of choice were “founded on”. And although historically and factually it is highly debatable that either were in fact truly founded on these grand ideals and sacrificial selfless morals, there are still just so many truly good people trying to do good things, that if we can all just stop being afraid of the wrong things, there is great hope. We can still hope that more of us will actually want things like justice for all; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; all people viewed as equals; and just some straight-up real love of others in need. These are still very, very, very good ideals to strive for, both as individuals and as a nation. Don’t we want more people coming here who want to share those values with us?
Immigration, legal and otherwise, is a red herring in our national myth. I keep looking for those people who claim that America is the new Israel (God forbid if you actually read the Tanakh), or Christ’s Kingdom on earth (God forbid if you actually read the Gospel). But our actions speak lies louder than our words speak truth. So, feel free to espouse the values of self-first, that is very American. Feel free to espouse the values of I don’t want to share, that is very First World. Go ahead and gripe and complain about what the people in power are doing or not doing if they are not on your team and go ahead and support the ones on your team no matter how much they lie and steal from you and the world at large. Go ahead if you want and say, “I just don’t want any more people coming here”, fine, at least that is honest, although indefensible as a good ethical stance. But for the love of God, don’t claim that these ideas have anything to do with either American ideals or Christian values.
Real values and honestly earned virtues are hard things. A life of value does not come easily and will not stay, if it is not pruned and weeded. Fear is the antithesis of ethical living. And yet, as the greatest humans have always known, a life of true value without fear is also paradoxically very simple. “Love God as He Is and Love all others in the same way you love yourself.” “Pray humbly for your daily bread and let it be enough until tomorrow.” “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” “Love conquers all.”
Remember we all come from the same dust, and we all yearn for the same eternity.
It takes so much misguided effort to somehow do the mind -gymnastics or spiritual -voodoo necessary to say or think that we who are currently on top of the heap and who lead today in this nation, in these halls of justice, in these religious temples, in these mansions, and conglomerates of industry, deserve what we have while those who want in, do not. Many of us have of course come about our station by sincere virtue but none of us is here through something uniquely “value-able” to America. America is so obviously struggling with our worship of the false idol of capitalism. For people to continue to try to convince me that the issue of immigration specifically, but also the other important ethical issues of our times, are about claiming our superior ethics or morality or values, or God forbid, to somehow think that self-serving ideals or fearful hoarding of resources can be anything at all to do with democracy or Christianity, well… I am confused and I just don’t get it. But I am not confused about how afraid that makes me.
Blessed will be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.