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The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

August 6, 2004
By Tabetha Garman

It seems, if current events are anything to go by, that America is in the throes of an historic crisis. We are at war with two enemies - with tangible but relentless insurgents in Iraq that can be exposed and killed; and with Al Qaeda, more spectral than human, drifting in and out of our collective reality like masked phantoms.

At home, we are a house divided on issues from the economy to abortion, joblessness to gay marriage. We scream expletives, exchange insults, and wave signs professing our opinions everywhere from Main Street to the Senate floor.

In all this chaos, however, there is one recurring theme that binds the whole mess together - the ugly and dangerous aspect of ardently-held belief.

Opinions can be changed at the drop of a word, or the turning of time; they mellow with age, hinge on our circumstance and shift with the political winds. But beliefs are deeper felt and dearly held. They become part of our self definition - they are who we are and how we respond to the world and as such are not easily altered or compromised. For opinion we may argue and debate, but for our beliefs we will fight and die.

For the most part, beliefs are critical in forming our personal and communal morality, and are an asset to ourselves and our world. Beliefs inspire us to reach higher and dream big dreams. But there is an ugly side to belief, a side that is blind, deaf and dumb, that could very well bring about the end of America as our founding fathers envisioned it.

Belief drives our enemies, both real and surreal, to continually seek new and destructive ways of forcing change. They believe to their core that America and like-minded nations threaten the survival of their very souls. They believe that taking brutal action against their adversaries is not merely an act of rebellion, but an act of necessity that insures their eternal salvation.

While it is the current cliché to claim that terrorists and insurgents hate us because of the freedoms we enjoy, it is not nearly as simple as the slogans imply. Yes, they hate the principles for which America stands, but they do not do so for the pat reasons bantered about in the incessant panels of so called experts barraging Americans on the evening news.

They hate us because their God tells them that we are morally reprehensible; that we are unfit to live in their version of Eden. And they will not be easily turned. In their view, we are under the control of Satan himself - we are not merely misguided, we are evil and it is necessary to vanquish us in order to save the world.

The idea that we can win the hearts and minds of a people that perceive our nation as the modern equivalent of Gomorrah by giving them soccer balls and sweets is patently absurd.

But here in our homeland we know something of what happens when our citizens believe that God is on their side. For many among us, this election hinges not on the wars we are waging, or the economy we are living with, but on the stance parties take on moral issues and the religious affiliations of our political figures. They plant their feet in the soil of their convictions and they will not be moved.

Members of the Christian right have bombed buildings, murdered doctors and attacked their fellow citizens in the name of unerring righteousness. Members of the extreme left have killed scientists, harassed pedestrians and vandalized equipment in an attempt to force the acceptance of their infallible values.

For certain segments of our population, the American ideals of freedom as espoused by men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson do not belong in their rendering of paradise. They feel they are called by God or the secular equivalent to defend their perception of the Bible (whether for it or against it) and seek to force the rest of the nation to prescribe to their moral code.

They are unwilling, uninterested in opposing views, and they are unshakable in their professed infallibility. They divide our people, and are tearing at the fragile fibers that have worn thin in our national flag.

To their bones they believe that the answers to life questions that they have formed are the only answers. They are angry, they are loud, and they use their beliefs as a shield; a wall that can not be breached and through which no sound can travel. The world around them could be in flames, but unless everyone prescribes to their moral ideals, they will not - they can not - see it.

America is indeed at a historic crossroads, and standing fearfully beside us the rest of the world awaits our decision. Our enemies abroad, and at home, are fighting to force us to accept their version of reality - fighting to insure the acceptance of their beliefs.

How can we stop this madness? How can we possibly sway those among us that are certain that they have the only acceptable system of belief? Chocolate kisses and sports equipment are not going to help; screaming can not solve it, reason will not dent it. The divisions that threaten our way of life at home and abroad are so stagnate, so deeply carved in stone, that I fear only tragedy can bring us together.

Something, someday, will happen that will change the beliefs held by so many - it must. Rationality and reason must one day prevail if we are ever to solve the problems facing us. Beliefs must be regulated to our hearts, decisions must be made with our minds. There is no other way. We must agree to disagree and face the ever mounting dangers of the modern world as a single force.

When our founding fathers gathered to form the basis for this great Republic, they debated and argued for hours and days on end. They held strong beliefs in what our government should represent, and the principles that would fill in the blank canvas that was the new nation. But they understood, no matter how adamantly held the belief, a solution - a compromise - had to be reached if their common dreams were to become reality.

They allowed rationality and reason, not faith and belief, to rule the long days in Philadelphia so many years ago. When agreement was finally reached, James Madison told Thomas Jefferson that the created document - our Constitution - was "nothing less than a miracle." A document created by men that understood that we all have beliefs, and that they should be acknowledged, but they should never determine our shared fate.

Today, we again call on the leaders and citizens of the world for a new miracle - for a meeting of the minds of the majority of peoples on the globe. And this meeting can not be reached by hiding behind the bulwark of our beliefs. Rather it requires us to step from behind them into the light of this new day, and to reach out to each other in the collective belief that to not do so puts at risk our lives, our governments, and our very souls.

Tabetha Garman is a historian currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Political History at East Tennessee State University. She is also the mother of three wonderful children, a part time teacher and a proud American.

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