Right now, we are being given two very different interpretations of the world we live in, courtesy of the two dominant American political parties. Each believes we are facing doom, but with very different meanings of what that constitutes.
We witness peaceful, diverse demonstrators for police accountability being assaulted by law enforcement while those same police departments, with ties to white supremacy, are seemingly turning a blind eye to counter-protestors who are carrying guns and have now killed two protestors.
Over 180K people have died from COVID while almost 6 million cases have brought fear for family members, loss of employment and health-insurance, and poor prospects for long-term recovery, with a ripple effect into the entire country. Hit the hardest, have been Black, Indigenous and communities of color, highlighting the disparity of access due to systemic racism.
Children still remain in cages, ripped from the loving arms of their immigrant parents, as we conveniently forget that we are a nation of immigrants.
Neither political party yet trusts a woman to lead the ticket, 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Instead, women’s reproductive rights are being whittled away, at the same time that the Department of Education is eliminating protections for female students against rape.
The number of transgender people who have been murdered in 2020 already exceeds the total for last year. At the same time, of the 2 million youth who experience homelessness each year, 40% are LGBTQ; those numbers are expected to rise (along with domestic violence) as a result of COVID.
Seventy-five years after The Holocaust, we are seeing a drastic increase in anti-Semitism and hate crimes against individuals and synagogues. Muslim people continue to be banned from entry to this country, even for life-saving operations.
Yesterday a Category 4 hurricane slammed into Louisiana, that reiterated the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters during the climate crisis. These clarion events are the fulcrum between those who believe that climate change is a hoax and those who believe that we are at the make or break point to forestall the destruction of the world.
While we all bemoan these myriad concurrent stressors in our society, what has not been discussed much is the inter-relation between them all.
At the root of the racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and the planetary degradation rife at this moment is religious wounding.
How was it, that after all of the enlightenment of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the ecumenical strides that have been made in the last 50 years, that there are still so many people who live in fear of a judging, triumphal god? How is it that police officers shoot unarmed black kids while professing fear for their own lives? How is it that we maniacally rape the planet, knowing that we are sealing our own doom? When did we lose sight of growing our beloved community and common humanity and instead revert to a tribalism of racism, fear and greed?
Religious trauma, I believe, is integral to all of these. Of course, trauma in general, as Peter Levine states, “Is a fact of life and of nature itself.” But why is it that our human brains and hearts compel us in a way different from all other species, to turn that trauma onto ourselves, each other and the planet, all in the name of the loving Source which created it all and called it all good? How did we lose our way back to Eden?
The short and over-simplified answer is that while, for most of these traumas, we can trace them back to primal fear within our primitive brains, in 1492 these fears were given a focus that led to one of the deepest religious wounds still causing harm over 500 years later, effecting how we relate to each other and the world we share. While persecution didn’t originate with it, the Spanish Inquisition supercharged the demonizing and ‘othering’ of Semitic (Muslim & Jewish) peoples, and then exported and globalized that system of oppression, in the form of colonization, raping the African and American lands and killing or enslaving indigenous peoples. That same reign of terror, also burned women healers and wisdom keepers, labelling them witches, professing all women to be inheritors of the temptress Eve. It justified the pillaging of earth’s resources as a God-given right of ‘dominion over the earth,’ denying the original instruction to, instead, be guardians of the earth and protectors of its resources. Indeed, anything ‘earthy’: wilderness, women’s blood, darker skinned peoples, were viewed as evil and only light white European males were worthy of the Old White Guy in the Sky. Rigid rules of behavior for men, women and those beyond the gender binary dictated how we must behave and which emotions we were allowed to express. It established the hegemony which has reinforced the toxic system of power that exists to this day, but it did so (and still does), by playing on those primal fears.
While the dominant Christo-colonizer culture has a lot to answer for, it is not the only religious tradition to cause wounding. Wherever we have forfeited our connection with the vibrant flow of the Breath of All Life, to replace it with dogmas based in human fear, we have caused wounding. We have not resolved the fear that lives in our primitive ‘lizard’ brain. No amount of philosophizing and proselytizing, has cured us of our knee jerk reaction to anything or anyone that is ‘other’ than familiar. ‘Other’ is dangerous, thus activating our flight/fight/freeze impulses.
The problem with that, as with any form of trauma, is that once those impulses are turned on, we lose our ability to think logically; to even hear each other. So, in this moment, we see governmental officials in freeze mode rather than devising solutions to Covid and Climate Change. We see people finding their sense of security in carrying an assault weapon. We see the ongoing killing of unarmed black men and trans women. We see families of queer folk feeling forced to choose between their religion and their child, and so sacrifice that child to the judging god such a system relies on to keep feeding the fear.
Just as with domestic violence, the wounded can become the abusers. Those who are most strident in today’s divisiveness are truly afraid; they’ve been groomed by a fearful religion, and then subjugated by the power system, told that their suffering is caused by those ‘others’ who are also subjugated.
‘Otherizing’, even when it is not directed at you can, makes one afraid to speak up, lest we lose what little privilege we feel. That old tribalism in our brain makes us long to be included in the ‘in-group’ to stay safe, so we get pulled into the us vs them tribal speak. The more we parrot what our leaders promote, the more affirming attention we receive from our group. And so, divisiveness escalates as we align ourselves with those we feel we need for survival.
Is it any wonder that so many people have opted out of religion all together, rather than be inflicted with such a toxic tribalism? We’ve thrown God out with the Holy Water, and in so doing have lost our sense of awe in the human spirit, including our own.
Neither talk therapy nor political debate alone can heal trauma, nor can the “opiate of the masses,” (religion); when it goes no farther than professing that which convinces us that we are right and good, and “they” are bad and evil. It is in the doing, that healing comes. Like Abraham or Buddha or Jesus or Muhammed, it is in offering compassion and kindness to one another, that we are able to heal. It is in sharing a meal, building a home, sewing face masks, and singing songs from balconies, that we make community; regardless of what genders, orientations or colors, the mix of that community holds.
Contrary to the rhetoric of the moment, we do not live in two different universes. We must begin to listen compassionately to what is at the heart of our neighbor’s or relative’s fear. Now, more than ever, we are being called to look at the ways we not only experience trauma ourselves, but also how we have unintentionally triggered those around us. We have to own our complicit action and inaction for the systems of oppression and trauma which continue to cause harm. We especially need to examine how we have used scriptures and dogmas which perpetuate the fear of a wrathful god, instead of embracing the compassion and healing of a loving God.
How do we begin to heal such wounding and divisiveness? We begin by cultivating compassion. Our ‘better angels’ have always called us to uplift those devastated by natural disasters, and provide comfort and sanctuary to widows, orphans and strangers. We must cultivate compassion for ourselves and we must cultivate compassion for those we have turned into enemies. We must cultivate compassion in our relationship with that which we call Holy, whatever that means for each of us.
Join me on September 13th for a free intro session to learn more about religious wounding. Then join me in October for a 4-week workshop, where we will look more deeply at the origins of religious wounding, and how it manifests for different people. We will then explore ways to heal our individual religious wounds, and build a resiliency which will allow our individual Spirits to reconnect with our sense of Awe and Hope.