What is it about our human condition that causes us to divide folks into the bad guys and the good guys? An anthropology professor I know who specialized in semiotics (the study of symbols, signs, signals or signification and communication) told me that even in children’s stories, there is always a “bad” guy. But, why do we see the world in black and white?
Another thinking person suggested said if we disagree with someone and then see them as “bad guys” or evil people (i.e. enemies), we are engaging in a form of idolatry. It works like this: we believe our version of reality is true and anyone who disagrees with us believes an untruth. Both of us are in awe of a false truth..a form of worship. That which the other guy says, we characterize as lies, and we demonize him as false, because we argue, he tells “the anti-truth.”
Philologist Elaine Pagel describes this phenomenon in her book The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics. However, this practice of demonizing the other did not begin or end with Christians. In fact, Christians like Julian of Norwich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others warned us about self-righteousness in our attitudes regarding others.
Self examination is extremely difficult. Being “of the world” and remaining part of it requires courage. Too often good people say “I am not part of this world, I did not create it,” and then withdraw into isolation. I know at present many Americans feel the thing to do is pull back and have nothing to do with all those countries with elements who hate us and would destroy our society. But the US has tried isolationism before and it did not work. This morning I am reading how leaders in the West tried to appease Hitler and how it did not work. We still ended up at war. Read about WWI and you discover the same thing, that the US tried isolationism and it did not work then either.
In addition to the senseless deaths, the saddest thing I have seen in recent days is the little Tunisian girl weeping because her ‘American’ school was destroyed by the mob. Or perhaps it was the Libyan leader addressing the media and explaining how the terrorists who attacked the US embassy do not represent the Libyan people.
Below are photos of Ightham Mote in England. Although the series of owners of this house (near Sevenoaks) added to the fourteenth-century structure, they preserved what is the oldest intact manor house in England. The courtyard is entirely enclosed by the structure, and a moat surrounds the house.
When we visited the house in the 1990s, copies of a work of fiction, Green Darkness by Anna Seyton could be had for sale in the gift shop. The book describes how antiquarians found a “walled up” girl in the house in the nineteenth century. Apparently, the National Trust has decided the story is bogus, and no longer sells the book.
(Below, outside the manor house; the courtyard showing the oldest part of the house and the oldest (Saint Bernard) dog house in Britain; adorable school children on a field trip line the moat wall.