In my country there currently a rise of “victimhood,” best illustrated by the current standoff in Burns, Oregon by right-wing armed extremists. These men have succumbed to the siren call of politicians on the far right who routinely appeal to a profound sense of alienation and despair in the hearts of the disenfranchised often who happen to be “low-information voters.” One of the most popular pieces of red-meat these politicians toss out there is, “President Obama is coming to take your guns.” And related to this fear is the fear of “government/Presidential over reach” which is the suspicion that the government is intruding too far into individual freedoms.
I grew up in this madness, though the version I lived through never led to anything like we are witnessing today. My father was the patriarch in my early life and he often brought home right-wing fears that evoked fears that were already in my youthful heart as I was discovering that life was capricious all too often. But dad never would have participated in an armed insurrection. And another factor in my life was hyper-conservative fundamentalist Christianity which presented me with a “loving” God who was always ready to pinch the heads off of any miscreant and that the world was a really bad place, merely a temporary abode we must endure before we go to heaven and pluck on harps and fawn over Jesus for quatrillions of years. In my study of religious history, this style of religion is termed “the religion of the dispossessed.” And my family roots, as well as denominational roots, stemmed from the post-Civil War era when Southerners were first dealing with the alienation that comes from having one’s life wrenched from them by some invading force.
But fear is just a fundamental dimension of human experience. Human culture is a contrivance that has evolved to help us deal with this fear…usually by completely avoiding it…but also by providing adaptations that allow us to invest in the common good and realize that in spite of the fact that life is transitory and capricious it is a worthwhile and important endeavor. And I think that religion, and other expressions of faith, can provide a helpful accommodation, but only if we can avoid the challenge of using our accommodation only to escape of the vulnerability that is intrinsic to the human experience.
I have fear, often a lot of it, usually in the form of anxiety. But for some reason, I can now cope with it more effectively than when I was a child and so without the need for stockpiles of guns and ammunition, belief in an absent Despotic Deity, or even bowing before my country’s true God—consumerism. So, what does this get me? Well, if I take it down to MacDonald’s in the morning and lie about my age, and given them a dollar, they will give me a senior cup of coffee. I don’t think there is anything to “get” other than the simple pleasure of life, the beauty of this world and being here to experience it and be able to handle my frustration that it will not last long enough to satisfy the demands of my ego.
But, this approach denies me the great delight and satisfaction of victim hood, knowing that “they” are always out there to get me, mistreat me, and shame me. It was so ego-rewarding back then to know that my tribe was a “band of brothers” beleaguered by forces greater than I/we could control but that “we” were together in our faith and knew firmly that we were believing and doing the right thing. And if anyone should challenge our belief system, we would merely rely on the comforting premise, “We are right, and they are wrong.” And we knew this because God was leading us. And armed men in Oregon have the same comfort today, knowing they are “right” and they are willing even to die and to kill because if their convictions.
But this emphasis on “being right” and certainty of having acquired this status always stems from a deep-seated lack of security and feeling of “wrongness”. This existential doubt is buried deep in the unconscious and, of course, those driven by those subterranean forces never will consider its influence in the choices they make. To consider these “influences” that are beyond the grasp of consciousness would require a knowledge of the mystery of life, feelings of not being as much in control as once thought, existential doubt all of which lead ultimately to a need of faith.
These feelings of powerlessness often evoke an expression of physical power often in the form of overt aggression. The pain felt within has to find expression and inevitably leads to acting out, a phenomena vividly illustrated by anthropologist Rene Girard in his classic book, “Violence and the Sacred.”
(New York Times article related to the above: The delight of victimhood—http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/27/opinion/sunday/the-real-victims-of-victimhood.html)