The massacre in Norway on Friday was carried out by a man who believes that his conservative, fundamentalist religious values are morally right. He believes that liberal values of tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness are wrong. He believes that he is privileged to have the truth, to have God’s approval as a Freemason, a Christian. He believes that he must do everything he can to preserve the purity of his national heritage and the purity of his race. He strongly condemns multiculturalism.
On his Twitter account was a quote by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, that said, “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” Yes, belief is a powerful force. When it is coupled with religious fervor or political self-righteousness, it can be deadly. Remember what happened in Tucson?
Back in the ‘90s, Sweden noticed an increase in right-wing extremist activity. Jorn Madslien noted in an article today on the BBC’s website that, “at its peak in the mid-1990s, every national newspaper in the country published identical editions with photos of every known neo-Nazi in the land.” This caused the movement to shrink for a time. Now, according to Madslien’s article, the right-wing agenda is going mainstream where “politicians have openly been voicing concerns about how the country’s culture might be diluted by immigration from countries with different religions and values.”
A friend of mine, who has traveled the world many times over and lived with people of many cultures, once told me when I asked him what country was his favorite, “Be careful. It doesn’t matter where you travel. Always tell yourself, ‘this place is different, not better.’”
Let’s apply that to one another. We are all different. We are all unique down to our DNA. Each one of us is capable of contributing something wonderful to the world – and – each one of us is capable of destroying our world.
News commentators have labeled the Norwegian murderer as a madman. But how many of us are mad enough to hate? How many of us right here in America hold conservative right-wing views that harbor intolerance? How many of us think that poverty is a choice? (before you answer, please be aware that nearly 23% of American children live in poverty – the highest rate of any industrialized nation.) How many of us resent immigrants? How many of us fear multiculturalism?
On this very sad day when our global neighbors in Norway are in such unimaginable national pain, we know that love will heal their wounds eventually. “All you need is love,” as the songs says. But what is love? Is it just a salve for our wounds? or is it a force for good? Love is an action word. Like the newspapers in Sweden that published the faces of hate, we need to recognize the hate in our national rhetoric. Those of us who believe in love, need to use its power to negate the hate in our society.
Our country was not founded on hateful nor selfish principles. Neither was Norway, nor any democracy.
Today is a good day to be reminded of Emma Lazarus’ poem that hangs over the entryway to the Statue of Liberty:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is America’s promise to the world. America is supposed to be the global example for tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness.
As I write this post today, the U.S. Congress is battling to cut spending to relieve the national debt at the expense of those who can least afford to make the sacrifice: the young, the elderly, the sick, the poor. Those whom Lady Liberty would protect. Those who can afford to make a sacrifice are refusing to do so. They have a point. Why should anyone be forced to share what he has worked so hard to amass? Is there something to be said about the overall well-being of a community? If your neighbor is unhealthy and causing a contagion to spread, should you be concerned? Oh, well, you say, that’s what he gets for being so poor and lazy that he can’t afford to go to the doctor. That’s his problem, you tell yourself, not mine.
President Obama said that we are all in this together. Isn’t that the essence of a democracy? By the people. For the people. Individual affluence is contingent upon a nation’s ability to sustain a quality of life that holds out promise for everyone. The gap between the rich and poor in our country is causing a social disparity that is getting stretched too thin. The ranks of the working poor are growing day by day. The top 400 richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom half of our population. That’s 150 million people! Is that the example we want to hold out to the rest of the world? Where is the love?