Response To Testimony of

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick

Steve Olweean

March 31, 2011

I read with great gratitude the testimony of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick before the US Senate addressing the rising bigotry and targeting of religious communities – any communities – in American politics and media. His stance and words exemplify the integrity, compassion, and strength of resolve we look to from true leaders, including spiritual leaders.

The dynamics he addresses are a most current expression of long time patterns of behavior that have played out through our human history to the detriment of many groups, communities, and cultures. At play here at its most fundamental level is the stuff of fear and ignorance. Fear of the unknown Other, and fear of what we do not understand or control that undermines our personal sense of security in day to day life

The most disturbing and unbearable kind of anxiety is the generalized and nonspecific kind – anxiety for no clear reason that we can grasp at the moment; dread that keeps us unsettled, unbalanced, blind, and feeling acutely vulnerable and unable to either deal directly with or avoid it. Even a phobia at the least gives us a contained source of our fear to contend with and seek to manage, whether it is rational or not. As human beings, our need for identifying, watching out for, and controlling the cause of our fears is intense and relentless, and when it goes unsatisfied for long it can unfortunately lead us to searching harder, less rationally, and in places we normally would not think to look. At this stage, the goal is more to find “something,” rather than anything in particular.

When a community or entire society is in this state of a sort of social paranoia we are all highly vulnerable to demagogues, irresponsible pundits, and pseudo-authorities who offer up easy targets to focus on – negative stereotypes, demonized images, and scapegoats to fit into our empty containers of fear, and in a paradoxical twist, we can fall into becoming perpetrators of fear for others we target as the reason for our own.

Given the abundance of group associations attached to each of us by choice or simply birth, whether religion, race, culture, gender, age, education, income, appearance, or a multitude of other characteristics, guilt by association for the aberrant acts of individuals is a moving target for every human being on the planet.

As more individuals in a society are induced into accepting these scapegoat images it can create a negative critical mass that insinuates itself into the pubic consciousness to increasingly draw the rest of us in – simply because the public space is inundated with these messages and so many “seem” to agree on the source of a now perceived common threat, until it takes on the fuzzy mantle of “popular opinion.” It is often only after destructive events that impact on innocent members of a targeted community, and our eventually waking from this kind of social trance, that we see the tragic folly of this communal hysteria and experience the guilt and shame of what we – as people who know ourselves to be “good human beings” – have been part of.

These are not new dynamics in the history of our human behavior, and no one group or individual is immune to feeling at least some degree of such influences and risking the ensuing pitfall. However we can be capable of and responsible for our own personal integrity, being true to our own sense of goodness, if we acknowledge this all too human dilemma, and if we learn to rely on each other’s support rather than pitting each against the other. The true personal power we can exert is in recognizing our common challenge of being vulnerable to such influences at our deepest moments of insecurity, and learning to be vigilant to avoid acting out toward others from this kind of trance state in ways that cause harm, victimize, and feed more fear into our relationships.

Distortions, half truths, double standards, and simply fabricated facts lose their substance and legitimacy when compared to universal standards. Common mirrors allow for both mutual credit for where we have adhered to the best of our faith and convictions and best of ourselves, and mutual acknowledgment of where we have faltered. If we can hold true to measuring ourselves with the same moral ruler we hold out to others, and enlist our immense capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and faith in each other’s struggling journey toward achieving grace, we can best help each other to become the human beings we are gifted with the potential to become.

Steve Olweean
March 31, 2011

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