The Destructive Power of Myth
William A. Cook
Never before have the people of the world, watching with trepidation, even with fear, witnessed a leader of a powerful nation stand before his assembled nobility to address both them and the populace about measures he would take to retaliate against the forces of evil that had devastated the nation by incinerating 7000 of its people. Never before had the peoples of the earth been congregated together in the Cathedral of Television to hear a sermon from a consecrated man who had publicly vowed to eradicate the world of the forces of evil. Never before have we as a people had to consider the power of ritual, pageantry, and rhetoric as motivating forces to carry out the will of one power against another.
The above scene, however, has its analogies in history, though on a far less dramatic scale. On January 8, 1198, Innocent III ascended to the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. Consider the scene. We enter the great church of consecration where the Cardinals, Bishops, Monsignors, monks of the many monastic orders, priests and seminarians are gathered in the crossing of the nave and in the choir, with the peasants and the parishioners massed in the nave and aisles. Above float banners declaring the fealty of the noble houses throughout the land gleaming brilliantly in the ethereal light that seeps through the stained glass and clerestory windows. The organ resonates lightly above the hubbub of noise when suddenly the great doors open and the yet to be anointed Popes Celebrant announces to the assemblage the presence of Gods chosen. The organ swells forth with thunderous sound as the entire congregation rises in splendor as the Cardinals in scarlet robes, the Bishops in glistening white capes, the Monsignors in cassocks trimmed in purple, the monks in tan and black cloaks and cowls, the seminarians in red vestments, the variegated colors of the parishioners greet the entrance of the appointed by God whose coronation they are about to witness.
The Pope to be, head adorned with miter, crosier in left hand, right hand raised in blessing, dressed in brocaded vestments with cape flowing behind, moves majestically, with pomp and dignity down the central aisle. As he enters the transept and steps through the choir, the Cardinals bow in salute, some reach out to touch his cloak, and he nods his approval before reaching the altar that overflows with flowers and candles. He genuflects before the tabernacle, then turns, under the direction of his Celebrant, to stand before the Chair of St.Peter. There, at the podium and in front of the chair that symbolizes his direct descent from the great disciple, he will speak to the people where he will declare that " He is indeed the vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter, the Lords anointed set in the midst between God and man less than a God but greater than man, judge of all men and judged by none."
Now convert the above scene to the great Hall of Congress as the President of the United States makes his entry: his Celebrant, brandishing his symbol of office, announces "The President of the United States". The position is announced not the man who holds it. Dress the congressmen in tan and black cloaks, the Senators in white robes, the Cabinet members in purple trimmed garments, the Supreme Court members in scarlet, turn the applause into the resonance of the organs swells, the lights into heavenly hues that bathe those present, and watch the President move with dignity and splendor down the aisle to his anointed place, where, before he turns to address the assembled, he nods to the Speaker of the House and to the flag. Now we have the pageantry and ritual that is the hallmark of myth.
Consider now President Bushs address to the nation on the 20th of September. That address included an ultimatum to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan to turn over Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attacks against America that took place on the 11th. Almost immediately, the Talibans rejected the ultimatum. That is invariably the fate of any ultimatum. But issuance of an ultimatum to those who have nothing to lose but the mythology that gives them an identity and a purpose is an empty gesture, doomed to failure before its very conception. The Presidents address did not address the primary cause of the atrocities that were visited upon America on the 11th of September and his proposed actions will not bring an end to terrorist attacks even if Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders are captured, tried, proven guilty, and put to death.
Both Bin Laden and the Talibans are driven people, but they are only a fraction of those infected with a rabid hatred of the United States and Western Capitalism who have multiplied since World War II. For it is since that war that western culture, particularly its insidious necessity to find new markets for its ever expanding need to consume goods to fuel its investors drive for greater and greater profits, has made its way inexorably across the globe. And while that spread of Capitalism first took form in the manufacture of products in distant places like Japan, China, Korea, and Indonesia, it has in more recent decades been more obvious in the spread of American television programming with its ever-present commercials that provide its support and, indeed, reflect western values. The consequence of this transportation of western societys economic power has had a twofold impact: a dramatic recognition that the worlds resources benefit a small percentage of the worlds population, a self-absorbed population suffused with comforts unknown and unavailable to the vast majority of peoples around the world; and a determined belief by a minority of those deprived that they will rise against their oppressors, and, with the power of their God behind them, bring down the infidels that threaten the existence of their governments and the values that govern their way of life.
Statistics can help us understand the reality that gives credibility to the disenchanted and the deprived. The UN Human Development Report of 1997, for example, noted, "The worlds 225 richest individuals have a combined wealth equal to the annual income of the worlds poorest 2.5 billion people." That same report showed Americans spending $8 billion a year on cosmetics and Americans and Europeans spending $17 billion a year on pet food, $4 billion more than needed to supply basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world; and, as reported in TIME magazine November 9, 1998, the US government provides $125 billion in corporate welfare every year, an amount equivalent to all the income tax paid by 60 million individuals and families. The Fellowship of Reconciliation has made graphic the inequity of the worlds distribution of resources by noting that 40,000 homeless could be adequately housed for the cost of one Trident Submarine, a submarine capable of multiplying by 10 the number of deaths of the Holocaust. And, finally, the columnist David Smith has written, "The richest fifth of the worlds population receives 86% of global income. Some 1.2 billion, nearly a quarter of the earths population, live on the equivalent of less than a dollar a day an annual income of 250 English pounds (or less) and are the poorest of the poor."
One of the most glaringly obvious meeting places of the "haves" and the "have-nots" occurs at Khan Younis in the Gaza strip. Chris Hedges writes in the October 2001 HARPERS that the Israelis have constructed 32 wells there and a pipeline in 1994 that carries the water into Israel. About 1000 Israelis live in the settlement and consume about one-third of the water supply, though about 160,000 people live in Khan Younis. The Israelis have in effect issued an ultimatum to the Palestinians that they will take the water from the aquifers in this deprived area regardless of the inequity of its distribution. The consequence of such blatant disregard for those living in the city is the hatred that infests the population, especially the young who have grown up with the omnipresent TV images of the western wealth that supports Israel.
As Hedges makes clear, there is a prevailing attitude on the part of the Israeli soldiers who guard the crossings into Gaza that the Palestinians are scum and they treat them that way. They entice the young Palestinian children to the dunes by cursing at them, making their futile attempts at retaliation a right of passage into manhood. Hedges provides the figures: of over 1200 youth killed in the past year, over half are below the age of 18 and many nine to twelve years of age. When these children return home, they enter overcrowded rooms where the stench of sewage permeates the air. Tires and cinder block hold down the tarpaper roofs. They live in squalor. Their misery is palpable making conscious the deprivation that festers in the soul breeding vengeance and retaliation.
Their parents have to go through checkpoints to get to work, sitting for hours awaiting the hand movement that allows passage. Unemployment hovers at 40% making the trek even more vital although the checkpoint is often closed altogether. Drivers keep the window down and their hand on the door handle, despite the heat, because they may have to dive from the car should bullets fly. They watch the Israeli settlers, who have free passage, drive past the bumper-to-bumper traffic in which they are locked. The consequence of such conditions breeds hatred both of those at the guard points who inflict the injury and those who support them, the United States in particular. These children grow up without dignity, respect, or the expectation that things will improve. Indeed, generations have now been raised in these abysmal conditions. The Israelis who were provided a homeland as a gesture to compensate for the horrors of the Nazi atrocities, now oversee a deplorable ghetto teeming with people who have no homeland since they do not own it, no sense of dignity since they depend on the largesse of their oppressors for the meager sustenance they have, and no hope for the future since it has been denied to them so many times in the past. Is it any wonder that numbers of these people find solace in beliefs that they can attain a glorious state of everlasting reward by sacrificing themselves for their people and for their God?
It must be pointed out that Hedges' article is a rare glimpse into the conditions that prevail in Gaza. The American public has no understanding of these realities. US television, newspapers, and magazines do not show images or run articles about these conditions. Only non-mainstream publications have the freedom to publish these insights. The mainstream press shows only the resulting carnage of the suicide bomber's detonation with accompanying stories about his fanatical beliefs as explanation for his insane act. Controlled ignorance by the corporate powers that support the government's policies toward Israel and the oil producing nations that fuel our economy becomes the controlled knowledge of the electorate. That in turn gives rationalization for further support and greater restriction of those identified as terrorist sympathizers or collaborators.
Corporate control of communications has done much to limit an American's perception of the conditions that exist in the mid-east and even less concerning our understanding of the peoples or their cultures. Since eight dominant corporations (General Electric, AT&T/Liberty Media, Disney, Times Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom and Seagram, and Bertelsmann) control worldwide communications, the interests of those corporations color virtually all information coming to the western nations. Since they are also the dominant source of contributions to political candidates in western nations, they ensure that policy and legislation address their interests.
The dearth of information regarding the beliefs that motivate the terrorist bombers is a case in point. The press invariably presents such information in the form of ridicule as Michael Ramirez political cartoons in the L.A. Times demonstrates. No comparison to Judaic-Christian beliefs has been discussed even though zealots with perverted views of those faiths continue to gather believers around them as the Rev. Jones made all too obvious. Sacrifice for one's faith, duty to the one and only God, elimination of the unbeliever, and resurrection to eternal life have been tenets held by members of the Jewish faith and of Christian denominations for centuries. Indeed, reflection on events from the past where these beliefs were prevalent could help us understand the actions of those who sacrificed themselves to a cause.
The Old Testament is filled with God's commands to His people to destroy the infidels who could obstruct their passage to the Promised Land. From the book of Exodus to Joshua and the fall of Jericho, we witness a ruthless God demanding total obedience even to the slaughter or elimination of whole tribes of people. This God shall have no other gods before Him (Deuteronomy 6:14) and His people will "cast out all thine enemies from before thee (Deuteronomy 6: 19)." And if the Testament is to be believed, they did just that. Were these people fanatics or believers of a true faith? How would we view their adherence to their religion today? Are the myths that gave them identity and purpose acceptable today? If there were a world court at the time of these atrocities, would belief in a "jealous" God justify the slaughter of the Canaanites, the Hittites, or the citizens of Jericho? Does belief in a God who discriminates against other peoples, who finds them so unclean that His people are not to marry them but can use them as concubines or slaves, justify the derogatory insults of the soldiers at the cross-points and the Ultra Orthodox perception, expressed publicly, that Palestinians are "animals" and "inhuman"? Or should adherents of this faith today, recognizing the untenable beliefs that have been part of its tradition, repudiate them, understanding that a new time requires new myths that are more in harmony with the needs of the world community?
The President inadvertently commented on the need for a "crusade" against the terrorists and then apologized for the use of the word. And he had reason to make the apology. Members of the Islamic faith have suffered at the hands of "crusaders" before, victims of Christians during the Medieval period who willingly sacrificed their lives to recover the Holy Land from the infidels. These same Christians just as willingly slaughtered the Jews because they had killed their God, Jesus Christ. The office of the Pope, speaking as Gods representative, justified these incursions into the Holy Land. Those participating would be guaranteed everlasting life for sacrificing their time and/or their life for the one true faith. Can we look back at this effort and condone it because it was done in a prior day and cannot be judged by our standards? Or do we look back at it and say that no belief based on a set of stories purported to be the word of God could justify such actions? Do we learn from this history that humans are quite capable of fabricating myths that will justify their goals for control of populations and accumulation of wealth and power and use whatever means feasible to attain those ends?
These questions beg for a deeper understanding of the causes that would entice one people to join an effort to exterminate another people with whom they have had little or no contact and willingly accept the probability that they might sacrifice their own lives in that cause. An examination of the events during the Albigensian Crusade instigated by Pope Innocent the III against the Cathar sect reveals multiple causes -- economic, social, political, and religious -- culminating, however, in beliefs that formed the basis of motivation driving Christians to slaughter of the innocent and to self-immolation.
Thirteenth century France submitted to the domination of four kings; France, as we now know it, was, in fact, a gift of Pope Innocent III to the Kings of France. At the beginning of the 13th century, Philip Augustus held sway in northern France and was the smallest and least rich of the kingdoms. By contrast, the King of Aragon, Peter II, controlled land far beyond the Pyrenees as far as the Ebro for which lands he paid homage to the King of France, although in practice this meant little; indeed, the Counts of these areas, of Bearn, of Aragnac, of Bigorre, of Cominges, of Foix, and of Roussillon, lived under Aragon's protection, as did the viscounts of Narbonne, Carcassone, and Beziers. Both the Lord of Montpellier and the Count of Toulouse depended on Aragon's protection despite the relative independence Toulouse maintained. The entire area known as Provencal developed its own language and discarded the Flemish French of the North, created a unique and beautiful culture crowned by the lyrics of the troubadours, and, generally, can be considered the most cultured and educated peoples of the time.
This, too, was a time of great inquiry into the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, not just by the fathers of that church who were reaching beyond the writings of Augustine, men like John Scotus Erigena, Abelard, and Aquinas, but by others in Bulgaria and Italy, as well as Provencal, teachers like Pop Bogomil in Bulgaria, John I. Tzimisces in Philippopolis, and Papa Nicetas in Constantinople. Various sects, motivated in good measure by the corruption in the Church, preached to a population desirous of understanding the truth.
The Cathars were one of many sects, variously identified as Waldensians, Bogomils, and Humiliati, that believed in some form of dualism understood in varying ways by practitioners, but basically taking the form of two ruling principles, one good, one evil, spirit and matter, God and the Devil, doctrines originally known as Manichaeanism. The Cathars of Languedoc, the name applied to the region surrounding Toulouse, denied the incarnation of Christ because matter was corrupt and the evil it housed must be shunned. Christ could not have entered the world in a human body. They likewise denied the doctrine of Atonement believing instead that salvation was reached through a series of progressive reincarnations. These beliefs grew out of their interpretation of the book of Genesis, the Bible's story of the flood, God's covenant with Abraham, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These events were caused by the Devil, called God in the Old Testament. The intricacies of their teachings cannot be recounted here; however, it is clear that the Cathar beliefs are as complex and derivative as those of the Catholic Church and, in point of fact, amount to a different religion. Both rely on the stories from the Old Testament that tell of the Creation and Fall and God's intervention in the affairs of humankind. They differ in how they interpret those stories.
Catharists found favor with the common people and their lords because their ministers, called Perfects, lived rigorous and ascetic lives by contrast with the Priests and Monks of the Church who were seen as self-serving profligates. Cathars did not use churches, preferring to speak to the people in their homes or in small community gathering places. The contrast of the Cathars' asceticism with the Catholic Church's land holdings, its rich raiment's, rituals, and the splendor of its houses of worship appealed to many and Catharism became a primary threat to Catholicism's control over the people. This contrast is pertinent to our concerns here. Where power, induced by fear, is exercised through an elite, who are determiners of what people must believe if they are to attain salvation or retain favor, the maintenance of that power depends upon the controls that can be enforced on the masses. Fear compels obedience: mortal fear through torture and threat of death; spiritual fear through excommunication and threat of damnation.
The Cathars had no such power: they had no Pope, no central place of authority, no churches, no synods, no accouterments of power, and no commitment to their God that they must bring all people to their truth, that unless accepted, would cast the unbeliever into perdition; they did have friends and a committed flock who walked into the flames prepared for them unless they denounced their beliefs. Commitment to beliefs is no evil until and unless others are forced to the commitment. That is the difference in the interpretation of the myths between the two faiths.
The twelfth and thirteenth century Catholic Church proclaimed its authority throughout the land, in civil matters as well as religious; it demanded allegiance and it enforced allegiance through the establishment of Papal Inquisitors, Synods, Legates, and armies that took up the cross against its enemies whether heretic or infidel. It accepted its authority as direct from God, that God speaks through it, that the coming of God was immanent and that all were to be converted to the one true faith. It marshaled its power through its legions of priests, bishops, monks, and cardinals, all under the authority of the Pope. And it used the power of mystery to control its faithful. God is the Creator of all things and is, therefore, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and immutable, attributes that contain by their very definition the reason we cannot understand. Jesus, His Son, sacrificed Himself to save humankind from damnation, and gave to Peter, and through him to each of his successors, the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Only through the Church could salvation be attained. This required belief in, among other mysteries, the Trinity, the Atonement, the Immaculate Conception, and the Resurrection, teachings derived from interpretations of the myths resident in the Old and New Testaments.
The reality of Papal authority, both religious and civil, found confirmation in the actions of Innocent III who ascended to the Papacy on January 8, 1198, and, curiously, was ordained on the 21st of February and made a Bishop the following day. Innocent believed that he, "as vicar of God," was the only universal power, he alone was answerable for the souls of kings and he alone had responsibility before God and all Christians. These are his words preached at his consecration: "Only St. Peter was invested with the plenitude of power. See then what manner of servant this is, appointed over the household; he is indeed the vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter, the Lord's anointed set in the midst between God and man less than a God but greater than man, judge of all men and judged by none." No question here whose authority held sway; no question here where truth resided. Anointed by Jesus Christ Himself to carry out the dictates of the Church. And carry them out he did.
Prior to his ascendancy, throughout Provencal (roughly what is now southern France), northern Italy, and Bulgaria, particularly Bosnia, there existed the many different religious sects noted above offering varying interpretations of the teachings of Jesus. The Cathars' influence spread widely throughout this region in good measure because of the corruption present in the Catholic Church. Preceding Popes had not forcefully moved against these sectaries, but Innocent did. Simonde de Sismondi, the chronicler of French History, writes of Innocent III, " he menaced by turns the kings of Spain, of France, and of England; he affected the tone of a master with the kings of Bohemia, of Hungary, of Bulgaria, of Norway, and of Armenia; as if he had no other occupation, watched over, attacked, and punished, all opinions different from those of the Roman church, all independence of mind, every exercise of the faculty of thinking in the affairs of religion."
Innocent believed that if he did not eradicate the heresies and put all Christendom in fear, the kingdom of God on earth would be threatened. Innocent did not turn to conversion of the unfaithful, he "charged his ministers to burn the leaders, to disperse the flocks, and to confiscate the property of every one who would not think as he did." He excommunicated or laid under anathema the lay leaders, the Counts, the viscounts, the Barons, who harbored these heretics, and placed their lands under an interdict. In the first year of his reign, Innocent appointed two monks of Citeaux, Brother Guy and Brother Regnier, to search out and pursue the Cathar heresy invested with his full authority. Regnier fell ill shortly after his appointment and Peter of Castelnau was sent to join him. They were Papal legates to the provinces of Embrun, Aix, Arles, and Narbonne. These legates, together with their followers, traversed the provinces identifying heretics, confiscating property, and sending people to the stake. Peter, in 1207, excommunicated Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, a friend of the Cathars because he refused to allow an army to march through his lands looking for heretics. Innocent reacted angrily, publishing a Bull declaring that "the Devil" had instigated Raymond to refuse the Papal legates desire to subdue the heretics. That same year, in November, Innocent exhorted Philip Augustus to "declare war against the heretics", the enemies of God and the Church by taking up the cross. He proffered Philip the same route to salvation given to those in the Crusades against the infidels in the Holy Land, indulgences for sins, as well as confiscation of all goods resulting from their actions. But Philip did not take up the offer, and, consequently leadership of the crusade fell to Simon de Montfort, a brave, ambitious, and ruthless man, a baron from the Ile-de-France. He had much to gain in title, power, and land in addition to the indulgences. The power of the indulgences cannot be overestimated; the Barons believed firmly that fighting in the Holy Land guaranteed them a place in Paradise. Fighting on behalf of the Church in Provencal now awarded that same guarantee. Thus began what we now call the Albigensian Crusade, an army of over 50,000 according to the estimate of the Abbot of Vaux Cernay. Ultimately, the only power Innocent possessed to compel both noble and peasant to the cause was belief in the teachings of the Church as expressed by him, God's representative on earth.
In 1209, the crusaders marched on Beziers -- peasants, knights, and lords -- the masses, mantled now in the mysteries of God's omnipotent power, radiant in the armor of the righteous, marching to the will of God's almighty ministers, committed to the extermination of the infidels who were pitted by the Devil against the forces of truth. Entering the city, they massacred the entire population estimated at 15,000 to 30,000 souls depending on your source, 7000 of whom had sought sanctuary in the Church of Magdalin to no avail. That church still stands as it did then in the heart of the city, a massive granite edifice dedicated to the sinner saint, now a tombstone for the martyrs and a monument to Innocent's reign of terror. When the Pope's legate, Arnold Amalric, abbot of Citeaux, was asked how the crusaders should determine heretic from Catholic, he replied, "Kill them all; the Lord will know well those who are his." "Not a house remained standing, not one human being alive." And this was just the beginning; the extermination of the Cathars continued into the 14th century.
At issue here is the primacy of the myths as they played a major role in determining the fate of the Cathars. If the Catholic Church of the 12th to 14th centuries had not held that it alone had ultimate authority over the souls of all humans relative to their salvation, and the supreme authority in civil matters to effect it, both positions based on their interpretations of the stories of the Old and New Testaments, the Church would have had no reason or license to exterminate a people. But the Church did act through the powers inherent in their leaders, the elite ministers who controlled the machinery of the denominations and the civil government, who offered to their laity, an exclusive body of adherents distinct from the heretics and the infidels because chosen by God, the reward of salvation through indulgences. Therein lies the destructive power of the medieval interpretation of myth.
But let's bring the analysis a little closer to home. This is a story about America's forebears, the Puritans who sought refuge from persecution in England: a stalwart, upright, courageous people who dared to enter an uninhabited wilderness and create there a new Zion, God's "City on a Hill" as a testament to all the world. They, too, were a Christian sect, one decidedly different from the Roman Church. However, the tenacity with which they exercised their faith allowed for slaughter of the innocent.
"On May 1, 1637, the Connecticut Court, meeting at Hartford, declared war on the Pequot Indians, a Mohegan tribe living on the shore of Long Island Sound from Rhode Island west to the Thames (then called the Pequot) and Connecticut rivers." (Encyclopedia Americana). Before the month was out, on May 26, a force of over 400 led by Captain John Mason and Captain John Underhill consisting of Sachem Uncas, Narragansetts, and Puritan regulars crept into the area near the mouth of the Mystic where the Pequots had their encampment. They surrounded the fenced village of the tribe and at daybreak, while the Pequots were asleep, they forced their way into the village, torched the dwellings, and, from their encirclement, " proceeded to pick off those who sought to escape. More than four hundred (by some estimates 600-700) men, women, and children were killed." according to Larzar Ziff. A month after this slaughter Ziff records, Captain Israel Staughton with 120 Massachusetts men set out to pursue the remnants of the tribe and wipe them out as a warning to others. Mason tracked the main body to a swamp in Fairfield, Connecticut and killed or captured all but 60 who escaped. "An entire tribe was eliminated."
What drove the Puritans to exterminate this tribe, to torch women and children, old and young alike? Alden T. Vaughn commenting on this slaughter noted "It resulted in the extermination of the most powerful tribe in New England, it witnessed one of the most sanguinary battles of all Indian wars -- when some 500 Pequot men, women, and children were burned to death ... and it opened southern New England to rapid English colonization." But Vaughn sees the land acquisition at best as only a partial answer. The Puritans were prodded into righteous action by the Pequot hordes, Satan's legions, and by the Puritans frustration with Pequot retaliation attacks resulting from an earlier (General John) Endecott expedition against them. Concerning this expedition Vaughn states " the Endecott expedition may well have represented something even more fundamental at stake here -- the struggle between Puritans and Pequots for ultimate jurisdiction over the region both inhabited. The Puritans, determined to prevent Indian actions that might in any way threaten the New World Zion, had assumed throughout their government's responsibility for maintaining law and order among all inhabitants, Indian and whites." According to John Winthrop, Endecott had a " commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Capt. Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampom for damages, etc., and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force."
Francis Jennings comprehensive and scholarly account of the Pequot slaughter notes that the expedition was intended to be "highly profitable." The "soldiers" under Endecott's command were volunteers who were to "nurish themselves on plunder."
Gary Nash in his work the Red, White & Black (1992) claims that all the factors that motivated treatment of Native Americans in the southern colonies like Virginia were operative in New England: English land hunger, a negative view of native culture, and intertribal Indian hostility. But he adds that the Puritan sense of mission, the " anxiety that they might fail in what they saw as the last chance to save corrupt Western Protestantism " could be stalled by the Indian who stood as a "direct challenge to the 'errand into the wilderness'. The Puritans' mission was to tame and civilize their new environment and to build in it a pious commonwealth that would 'shine like a beacon' back to decadent England."
If Vaughn and Nash synthesize the viewpoints of the scholars who have reviewed this period, one could conclude that the Puritans' extermination of the Pequots had many causes: the Pequots were living embodiments of Satan's demons placed there to prevent the establishment of God's "City on a Hill"; the Pequots represented, therefore, a hindrance to the "Mission" God had given to the Puritans; the Pequots had terrorized the locals with retaliatory attacks following Endecott's expedition against them; the Pequots prevented the expansion of English settlements in southern New England; and, finally, the Pequots posed a problem politically for the Puritans since they controlled a significant land area which the Puritans believed should be under their (i.e. God's) control.
I would propose that there is a more fundamental cause that wrought the slaughter of the Pequots, one that is the root cause of all the above "causes", a primary cause if you will that gives credibility to actions that would, at a distance, be seen as barbaric. I would suggest that all of the above causes find their roots in the medieval era's interpretation of the myths that gave credence to the peculiar tenets of Puritan doctrine. In the power of these myths resides the destruction of the Pequots.
The "principall Ende" of the Massachusetts' plantation, according to its charter (Records of Massachusetts, 1, 17) was "to wynn and incite the Natives of [the] Country, to the Knowledg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Savior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth." Or, as the Reverend Increase Mather put it in his Brief History of the War (King Philip's War of 1675), and recounted by Jennings, "the 'Lord God of our Fathers hath given us for a rightful Possession' the land of 'the Heathen People amongst whom we live' and that said heathens had unaccountably acquired -- but without having been injured -- some 'jealousies.' That they had remained quiet so long 'must be ascribed to the wonderful Providence of God, who did (as with Jacob of old, and after that with the children of Israel) lay the fear of the English and the dread of them upon all Indians. The terror of God was upon them round about.' There could be no clearer equation: the dread of the English was the terror of God." Jennings also cites the Puritans frequent reference to Psalms 2:8 and Romans 13:2 as justification of God's gift to His chosen.
This is the "Mission" given to the Puritans by their "covenant" with God: possession of the land he had provided for them and the responsibility to bring the heathen to the true God. To the extent that the Pequots represented Satan's hordes and they possessed land rightfully belonging to God's chosen, they had to be disposed of by the "armed band of the Lord" as Larzer Ziff puts it. It is instructive to note, and perhaps ironic, that the Puritans did nothing before 1643, if the evidence is to be believed to "wynn and incite" the natives to the "onlie true God", years after the extermination of the Pequots.
What circumstances existed that allowed the Puritans to exercise their will on those who came as part of the Puritan cult and on the populations that lived on the land before they arrived? A variety of scholars have addressed the demographic background of New England as well as the nature of Indian culture prior to the arrival of the Puritans. Suffice it to say here that their numbers had been drastically reduced by disease brought by Europeans, a reduction of about 2/3rds just prior to the Puritan settlement. And, perhaps more tellingly, they had little inclination to adopt Christianity.
If their depleted numbers and the internecine tribal wars prevented the natives from mounting any significant resistance to the newcomers, the fact that they occupied the land did not; they were used and abused as the Puritans pursued their errand for God. This was made possible in part by the reality of circumstances; according to Thomas Wertenbaker, in his work The Puritan Oligarchy, "In the Bay Colony the Puritan leadership had a free hand in building their Zion exactly after the blue print which they were confident God had made for them. For a full half century they were permitted to shape their government as they chose, they could legislate against heresy and Sabbath breaking, they could force attendance at worship, they could control the press, they could make education serve the ends of religion." Wertenbaker points out that " It is more accurate to call it (the government in Massachusetts) an oligarchy, since it was a government of the many by the few."
This is an important point, as we shall see, since it is the elite (those who control and are a minority) who determine the myths for the many. Myths derive, as Joseph Campbell says, not from the masses but from the elite, the few create the stories that become the guideposts for the many. The elite perform the rituals that become the means by which the many experience the myth and make it part of their lives. Campbell believed it necessary to liberate religion from "tribal lien" or the religions of the world would remain -- as in the Middle East and Northern Island today -- the source of disdain and aggression.
Puritan theologians, the elite group that masterminded the "new Canaan", what they termed "doing God's errand", would concede that the physical universe is the work of God, but it did not follow that the visible universe was God Himself. They knew this distinction had to be maintained; they thought, after all, as the Medieval mind had thought for 1500 years, that the transcendence of God could not be called into question; neither mysticism nor pantheism could be tolerated. "The Puritans carried to New England the historic convictions of Christian orthodoxy," states Perry Miller, "and in America found an added incentive for maintaining them intact. Puritanism was not merely a religious creed and a theology, it was also a program for society." If individuals had the right to seek understanding independent of the ministers, than the solidity of that civil and ecclesiastical order would be threatened. This was a society of laws but laws established under the guidance, indeed the rule, of Scripture. Puritanism sought an ideal of social conformity through obedience, or, if not, through mandatory compliance. This, then, was a society determined by those in authority and defined by them as, in Winthrop's words, "good, just and honest."
It is important to recognize that the Puritans maintained this Medieval perspective because they, too, would not tolerate heresy in their midst. They understood the need for authority to intervene, as the Catholic Church's Inquisition had intervened and as Henry VIII had intervened to cause the burning of 30 heretics, to control errant thinking. But intervention also meant force, if warranted, against those not "elected" to be saved, those destined to the torments of hell. This was Calvinism; " based on a division of the elect and the damned that ran throughout mankind." This theology grew out of Augustine's reasoning that some men are born "concupiscent rational animals" and some are "grace-endowed rational animals", one or the other. They also understood the battle between the forces of good and evil, the presence in the world of Satan's power attempting to undermine God's will; and they made evident that belief in the extermination of the heathens called the Pequots. "The Indians were Satan's helpers," as David Stannard says, "they were lascivious and murderous wild men of the forest, they were bears, they were wolves, they were vermin. Allegedly having shown themselves to be beyond conversion to Christian or to civil life -- and with little British or American need for them as slaves -- ... straight forward mass killing of the Indians was deemed the only thing to do."
Two issues are of immense importance here: from whence did this authority emanate and what were its consequences? I cannot in this paper present the arguments that rationalize the evolution of Christian thought, though W. T. Jones' work The Medieval Mind provides a good path to that end, except to note that as the Roman Empire crumbled, the Catholic Church, with its doctrine of the Divinely inspired word of God as its authoritative base, took control over both the civil and spiritual lives of the people. This was in stark contrast to the first three centuries of Christian development when that sect was considered by the general population as nothing more than a small Jewish cult. The times, however, called for a supreme authority and for belief in a life with purpose even if that life were to be in the hereafter. Jesus' teachings, according to Jones, required "conformity to God's will" resulting in God's approval. That required understanding of Jesus' teachings and interpretation of them. This was the role undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church and successively by various Christian denominations including the Puritans.
Much of what Christianity teaches grew out of the epistles and writings of St. Paul, the leader of the Gentile mission. "It may be said," according to Jones, "that he more than any other individual, was responsible for the development of Christianity, as a distinct religion " Of particular importance to the authoritative base of Christianity is the interpretation Paul provided. Here is how Jones presents it:
It will be seen that Paul first made the historical Jesus into a savior god and then built up a mythical setting for this god out of the Jewish legends and stories that he and Jesus, as Jews, knew in common. How, for instance, did we come to sin and so to require the services of Christ the Savior? For answer Paul fell back on the old Jewish myth of the creation. God created Adam, the first man, free from sin. But Adam disobeyed his Maker, and we, his descendants, have inherited his sins. Just as the sin of one man (Adam) brought death and all our woe into the world, so the virtue of one man (Jesus) saves us; and just as Adam's sin was disobedience, so the virtue by which Jesus redeems the many is obedience."
This became the teaching of the Roman Church and continues to this day as the teaching of Christianity. The church as an organization undertook responsibility to determine who would be and who could not be a member as well as prescribing the doctrines and the dogma that would bring its members to obedience in Jesus. Since Paul had in his letter to the Romans wrote that God had "marked out" and "predestined" some for salvation, adherence to the true faith was necessary for salvation. The Puritans subscribed to this belief. Indeed, orthodoxy required adherence to Puritan doctrine; tolerance of differences was not allowed. "Persons who accept the 'right' beliefs," as Jones says, "are saved; persons who mistakenly accept the 'wrong' beliefs are damned." Those who accept 'wrong' beliefs were labeled heretics and subject to punishment, banishment, slavery or death. " New England had early taken the lead and throughout the colonial period held more Indians in slavery than any other colonies except South Carolina " (Forbes, 89).
The Puritans carried out this understanding of their God given authority by linking the civil government to the church. Wertenbaker makes this observation:
In ardent sermons they warned the people that God had chosen His own from the mass of those predestined to damnation, that the one sure guide for the state as well as for the individual was the Bible, that the civil government, while separate from the church, shall be in the hands of godly men who would give religion their hearty support and suppress error.
Obviously, the understanding of the Bible was to be in the hands of the ministry. Malcolm Lambert states, in referencing actions taken against heretics in the Medieval era, "Scripture was to be mediated to the faithful through authorized preachers; the base text was not to be put into the hands of anyone who might misuse and misunderstand." That, too, was the position of the Puritan Divines. But what, then, of those who had never heard of the Bible or its teachings? Can they suffer damnation regardless of guilt? "Yes, the Puritan preacher says," and Ziff recounts, "because they are men and as men in justice they deserve damnation; salvation is theirs only through divine mercy, and mercy has not been extended to them. 'They who never heard the Gospel, shall never answer for not believing in it as revealed or offered,' the preacher admits, because it was not so made known to them, but yet they shall answer for that habitual infidelity whereby they would have resisted it, and whereby they are opposite unto it."
What consequences resulted from this adherence to a set of beliefs that placed the authority of God's word, indeed the determination of what was God's word, in the hands of an elite few? Of necessity, we focus here on the Puritan determination to exterminate a people, the Pequots. First, according to Stannard,
there is little doubt that the dominant sixteenth-and-seventeenth century ecclesiastical, literary, and popular opinion in Spain and Britain and Europe's American colonies regarding the native peoples of North and South America was that they were a racially degraded and inferior lot -- borderline humans as far as most whites were concerned.
Second, the establishment of the "new Zion" in the "New World" offered an opportunity to link the civil government with the church's teachings where the word of God should supersede the word of men. "We came hither because we would have our posterity settled under the pure and full dispensation of the gospel, defended by rulers that should be ourselves," wrote Cotton Mather. Those who came with the Puritan divines were but subjects of them, obedient servants to the Lord God made manifest through them. What they came to understand was not only the inferior status of the natives, what we would now understand as racism, but the inherent right of their company to possess the land held by them. This was understood before they left England as Wertenbaker notes: "John Winthrop encouraged his counterparts to leave England because God had given the whole earth to mankind ' why then should we stand striving here for places of habitation, etc., many men spending as much labor and cost to recover or keep sometimes an acre or two of land as would procure them many hundreds as good or better in another country " This was the economic reason behind the migration according to Wertenbaker.
That reference to God giving the land to His people comes from the Old Testament and understood by the Puritans in exactly the same way. "For the covenant the congregations claimed direct authority from the Bible and direct precedent in the history of Israel. 'The covenant of grace is the very same now that it was under the Mosaical dispensation,' stated William Brattle. They saw themselves, Mather himself has said, as the chosen of God, that He had made Himself manifest to them, and that He had directed them to the new world. But it went further than this: "The Lord hath planted a vine, having cast out the heathen, prepared room for it and caused it to take deep root We must ascribe all these things, as unto a grace and abundant goodness of the Lord our God, so to His owning a religious design and interest." (See Necessity of Reformation, Epistle Dedicatory). These teachings allowed for the slaughter of the Pequots. It is clear that the myths gave credibility to the Puritan behavior against the Pequots. Campbell remarked about this myth of the "Chosen" and its allowance for slaughter in his interview with Moyers: " the Ten Commandments say, 'Thou shall not kill'. Then the next chapter says, 'Go into Canaan and kill everybody in it'. That is a bounded field. The myths of participation and love pertain only to the in-group, and the out-group is totally other. This is the sense of the word 'gentile' -- the person is not of the same order."
Stannard quotes the Puritan Captain Mason upon witnessing the plight of the Pequots: " God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the place with dead Bodies." And William Bradford added this commentary:
It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.
Cotton Mather noted that the extermination was the "just judgment of God" who had allowed five or six hundred "who had burdened" the earth to be "dismissed" from it. (See Magnalia). These represent God's interpreters on earth. These basic Christian myths, the foundations of Puritan thought and hence behavior, grew out of the understood relationship of God to His creatures: humans are conceived in guilt, live amidst evil, and must find their way back to the Creator. As Campbell says, "But when nature is thought of as evil, you don't put yourself in accord with it, or try to, and hence the tension, the anxiety, the cutting down of forests, the annihilation of native people." To put this in the words of a contemporary, William Bradford in 1617, "The place they had thoughts on (in coming to the new world) was some of those vast and unpeopled countries of America, which are fruitfull and fitt for habitation, being devoid of all civil inhabitants, wher ther are only salvage and brutish men, which range up and downe, little otherwise then the wild beasts of the same " Thus did the belief in myth allow for the eradication of a people and the taking of their land. It became a justification for racism and for greed permitting these realities to determine the destiny of 500-700 people who did not share, or even understand, the rationale that gave purpose to the Puritan slaughter.
The extermination of the Pequots by the Puritans, on its surface, appears contradictory; why would a group devoted totally to fulfilling the word of God, having formed a "covenant" with Him, having moved from their homeland in England to Holland and thence to America to protect that covenant, enamored of traditional Christian values, accept the mandate of their ministers to eradicate a tribe of people? Even if the "soldiers" who accompanied Endecott were mercenaries, or those regulars who went with Mason acted in accordance with military custom, the consequence of their actions had to be accepted by the Puritan people and their ministers. While some argue that opening up southern New England to English expansion would be cause enough, that advantage would not be for those already resident in Massachusetts, but for those yet to come, and they were not privy to the slaughter. It should now be obvious from the above analysis that something inherent in what the Puritans' believed, something inculcated in them as an absolute truth, something they could not question, drove this acceptance.
Jennings, in the Appendix to his book, The Invasion of America, compares the process of "chartered" conquest in Europe and America. He observes that such a conquest " was launched ostensibly to reduce heretics or infidels to subjection to a protector or champion of an only true religion and clerics of the appropriate orthodoxy preceded or accompanied or followed the troops." While Jennings' hypothesis sees the use of religion as an "ostensible" tool for intervention and subjection where heretics and infidels are the "game", I believe that in instances where heretics and God's enemies are hunted and burned, as is the case in the Puritan slaughter of the Pequots and in the Papal slaughter of the Cathars, the religious belief precedes the economic advantage and must be employed if the heads of state (the elite) are to maintain their authority and the power they wield. To this end, they will employ the economic "carrot" to motivate others to join their design offering them the spoils of their efforts. Economics is, of course, a fundamental cause, but in these instances not the primary one. Maintenance of control through maintenance of that which guarantees control, the myths that control behavior of the masses and ensures power for the elite, is the primary cause. When absorbed in dictatorial activity, the conscious mind responds to no other; the consequence is an obedient servant shackled to ritual, customs, tradition, and rites.
I would posit six characteristics that brought about the destruction of the Pequots and the Cathars, each inherent in the myths that formed the basis of the Puritan and Roman Catholic faiths or were appropriate actions in light of the myths' teachings requiring immediate action. I would also contend that these same characteristics are likely to exist for all similar events recorded in our histories where the actions resulted from fulfillment of myths accepted by that society but destructive of another. The examples are too numerous to record here. We are witness to this potential in the current conflicts in Israel and Palestine, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Kosovo and our histories have recorded such events in the Conquistador invasion of Central America, in the impact of the Atlantis myths on some of the elite minds in Nazi Germany, in Japan's imperialistic expansion into China in the 1930s and 1940s, and, in ancient times, in the Hebrews extermination of the Hittites, Amorites, and Canaanites among others.
These are the destructive consequences of adherence to myth. The unquestioned acceptance of absolute right has been the hallmark of humankind's greatest achievements as well as their most loathsome acts.
What does the above analysis teach us? I would suggest that it is possible to identify characteristics of myths as destructive forces. I would recommend that we have much to learn and much to gain if we apply this analysis to current conditions, especially since our Western culture has not altered its adherence to the myths that have determined the events of the past 2000 years. I would also suggest that historians and teachers have to confront these events from a new perspective, one that does not avoid bringing contemporary values and understanding to the analysis, one that does not excuse behavior on the basis that it resulted from commitment to beliefs (an approach that would justify Innocent's eradication of the Cathars, the Puritans elimination of the Pequots, the Nazis extermination of the Jews, America's wanton bombing of the Cambodians, and the Terrorists atrocities that befell America on the 11th of September), one that does not excuse behavior on the basis that it was within the "norms" established by that society, and one that brings the means to analyze the events before all Americans the better to determine what actions should be taken if terrorism is not to haunt us the rest of our lives.
If we extract from the above analysis of the extermination of the Cathars and the Pequots the underlying causes that allowed for the atrocities, we might be able to illuminate the actions of the terrorists that threaten us today. Killing those who are willing to kill themselves for their cause does not eradicate the cause. Addressing the beliefs that become the motivation to action could eliminate the need for terrorist acts. The study of myths, then, becomes a means of acquiring an understanding of people's behavior, and a means of avoiding repetition of destructive behavior.
Events of the past can be recounted, authenticated, and analyzed in light of their contemporary social structures, philosophy, politics, and religious values, but they have little value to us if we cannot learn from them in order to prevent recurrence of past error. By approaching the study of myth as a primary cause of human behavior, we address fundamental truths that have been the foundation of civilizations as they interact one with another. If through this analysis we can predict conditions that will result in the unleashing of destructive forces, we can work to prevent their recurrence.
But the study of the myths that caused the havoc of the 11th is complicated: we must look at the myths that motivated the perpetrators in the righteousness of their cause and the myths that they believed were the foundations of the West's power that both threatened their culture and oppressed their people; we must analyze the beliefs that Americans and their Western allies accept versus the reality that exists, a reality that causes the perceptions that give rise to hatred and terrorist acts.
The analysis we have provided of the Roman Church's eradication of the Cathar sect and the Puritan extermination of the Pequots was made possible because 1. An elite group designed myths for purposes of determining human behavior. The Roman Church made Jesus the Messiah and the Pope His voice on earth speaking for the one true Church. In the Puritan instance, this elite group took existing dogma and modified it, codifying in the process standards of acceptable behavior;
2. The myth(s) contained the seed that allowed for the destructive behavior to flower. That is, there is inherent in the myth a call to action imposed on those who have accepted it as a guidebook for their lives. The dichotomy projected by both denominations of the saved versus the damned provided the premise for action and the imaging of the natives as Satan's minions by the Puritan Divines provided the motivation;
3. The myth is exclusionary and restrictive providing access to its rewards only to the initiate or through him. This characteristic allowed for degrees of punishment to those who would tamper with the accepted doctrines or those unable to accept those doctrines;
4. The culture responding to the myth must be in a state of economic, political, and social ascendancy that requires action to sustain that status. The forces that require action can be economic, for example, land acquisition or fear of loss of existing lands; or political, for example, the opportunity to gain more power or the opposite, the fear that power already acquired is in jeopardy of erosion or loss; or social, for example, the belief that those excluded from participation in the myth must be brought into it or removed as an obstacle of its fulfillment. Each of these conditions existed in the 13th century and in Massachusetts in 1636-37;
5. The nature of the myth does not distinguish between the secular and religious spheres, but rather understands an absolute commitment of life in all its actions to the governing force. We have seen the union of church and civil authority at work in Medieval Europe and in Puritan Massachusetts;
6. A requisite structure is designed and employed, usually hierarchical in nature, to codify, justify, and implement the behaviors called for in the myth. That structure was manifestly evident in the Roman Church's condemnation of the Cathars and in the Puritan community.
I believe that an examination of today's terrorist
activities reveals that each of the effects that brought about the atrocities of the 13th and 17th centuries as described above exists now. Let's examine the terrorists perspective first.
Two observations must be addressed: the spasmodic terrorists' acts that have struck various countries around the mid-east over many years including those by Palestinians against the Jews, acts that are generally executed by an individual or small groups of people; and the organized business-like operations that seem to be responsible for the destruction of the US Embassies and the atrocities of September 11.
If we reflect on the observations offered by Hedges in his Diary published by Harpers, the hatred of the Jewish peoples' oppression of the Palestinians becomes one with hatred of the United States because it is seen as the power behind Israel's strength. The anger must be directed at the Jews because these people have no means to bring their terror to others.
But there are those within Palestine, and similarly in other countries in the mid-east, who recognize the degree of frustration and hatred and capitalize on it, the "elite" who take power, organize, and manipulate the multitude. They give voice to the anger by giving it a context beyond jealousy and deprivation. The Taliban assumption of control in Afghanistan demonstrates this point. Now the very religion they have practiced for centuries becomes the cause. It is threatened as well as the people it protects. The Satan of the west, with its endless supply of money and military might, threatens to destroy the Arab states and its Islamic faith. The leaders of Hamas, the various Shite organizations, the Laskar Jihad in Indonesia, the Talibans in Afghanistan, and others throughout the mid-east have brought together their hoards to fight the infidel as effectively as Innocent III in his conquest of the Cathars and the Puritan Divines in their mission against Satan's "salvages".
The stories in the Islamic faith, interpreted by the elite, allows for the destructive behavior to flower. We've heard the various stories that raise the martyr before the throne of Allah and bring him immediate gratification in eternal life. That promise has been the promise of ages; it blessed the peasant as he followed Simon de Montfort's banner just as it guaranteed salvation to the Puritan fighting Satan's hoards. Not all heed the promise, but to some it is the ultimate idealistic response that gives meaning to their lives, and in most instances, an end to their misery and a reward of eternal bliss. If this is insanity, then our churches have an obligation to ferret out those who use their religion to motivate the few to destroy the many.
But the reward for the individual combatant is not the only reward. For those who take up the cause, there is the victory of righteousness over the forces of evil and the inevitable salvation of the state. These more universal rewards might have greater appeal to the educated who see the world as part of a great design, and their actions as a significant role in that design.
Part of the appeal of any "crusade" or "jihad" rests in its exclusivity. Only the initiate can participate, only the chosen. This appeal to the ego of the individual strengthens resolve, but it also strengthens the directed hatred for the enemy. That which provides the exclusiveness, being part of God's chosen, focuses motivation to condemn those excluded; they become forces in "Evil's" camp or an obstruction in the fulfillment of the grand design that has created the chosen and their set of beliefs. This provides justification for the slaughter of those whom the crusader has never met and whose beliefs he does not know.
Performing an act of self-immolation without involving others, simply to assert the degree of your belief and commitment to an ideal, as the Buddhist Monks did when they set themselves on fire protesting the Vietnam War, cannot be equated to the acts of self-destruction that have taken the lives of others. The latter have responded to the exclusivity of their organization and understand that the enemy, whether civilian or military, is a necessary target to achieve their goal. The Buddhist understands that his act is a sacrifice for others, and in that act, he becomes one with them.
The organizations and the nations that support terrorist activities recognize the necessity of undertaking such actions if they are to realize their economic, political, and social goals. Either they have everything to gain or much to lose. The Hamas desire the return of their homeland and hence the need to eradicate the Jewish state. Bin Laden desires a pure Arab State, especially in Saudi Arabia, hence the need to eradicate US forces in his homeland. The Laskar Jihad desires the establishment of a committed Islamic state, thus the need to expel the influence of the West in Indonesia. Inseparable in all three resides the desire for power achievable through the establishment of a state that imposes a monolithic belief system on its peoples. The existence of the belief system ensures the existence of the power. That reality gave Innocent III the power to manipulate monarchs and emperors, just as it gave the Puritan Divines the commitment of its people during the slaughter of the Pequots and following it.
Obviously, the power reflected in the organizations that carry out such devastation must have both political and religious power intertwined. If Hamas and the Jihads could impress or draft combatants, as an independent state can, they would not need the power of the religious beliefs to enlist their forces. But they cannot. They depend, therefore, on instilling a commitment to the righteous cause in their recruits, one that offers the promise of eternal rewards through sacrifice to the God who has chosen them to achieve His end.
And, finally, these organizations contain by design a structure that enables its designers to codify, justify, and implement the behaviors called for in the myth. The elite hierarchy establishes procedures for carrying out the organization's responsibilities. The sacrificial victim sees himself as a holy warrior fighting on behalf of his God. He participates in cells where the purposes of the actions and the goals established to fulfill God's will are discussed. He is a celebrant. We recognize the ritual that is part of the suicide bomber's sacrifice; it symbolizes the justness of the cause thus transforming it beyond a series of diverse, random acts of terror.
As we can see, the elements that allow for the destructive forces to mobilize exist in the terrorist organizations. But they also exist in the West giving credibility to the terrorists' beliefs and giving justification in their minds to their behavior.
Two myths dominate western thought: the belief in democracy, understood as the power inherent in the individual to determine with his/her fellow citizens those who will serve them in their government; and the belief in individual empowerment in determining his/her lifestyle and the economic system that will make it possible. Neither belief exists in reality. Many have observed the President's comment that the forces of evil desire the destruction of the American way, especially the destruction of the democratic process that allows the citizens to elect their President, when the Supreme Court appointed him to the position. But that is only the most glaring contradiction of the "democratic way".
Watching the Democratic and Republican Conventions dramatically demonstrates the source of power in the country. The power elite, representing the top 1% of the population who own the vast majority of its wealth, control the process. No common citizen could attend the gala events; but those who had contributed upwards of $250,000.00 had open access. The Party platforms represented the interests of the greatest donors and the most powerful lobbies. The corporate owned newspapers and TV channels determined who would debate the issues and which candidates would receive coverage. Even the electoral process reflected the willingness of those in power to limit access to the ordinary citizen as was only too obvious in Florida where minorities were denied admittance to the polling booth and where the legal system thwarted the very laws that provided for recount of contested votes. This most recent of our elections blatantly demonstrated the power of the monied class to control the "democratic" process. The Bush camp bought the election.
The problem that attends belief in this system exists when the citizens believe that our government should impose its perceived values around the world. This gives license to those in power to empower those of like mind in other countries. We have been witness to that system in Argentina where our government threw over the legitimately elected President Allende and put in his place the Dictator Pinochet, actions recorded in Christopher Hitchens book, The Trial of Henry Kissenger. His two decades of rule devastated his country causing an anti-American backlash that lasts to this day. Larry Berman describes in No Peace, No Honor how our government took an unknown student out of a New Jersey seminary and made him the first President of Vietnam. It then built a war machine to support his call for US aid to defend his country. The power structure that controlled our government could not let the Communists control the oil in the region and manufactured an attack on a US ship in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify its support of a fabricated nation. Needless to say, hatred of America blossomed.
In 1972, President Nixon needed desperately to show progress toward an "honorable peace" in Vietnam. To force the North Vietnam leaders back to the negotiating table, he ordered the Christmas bombing of Cambodia, Hanoi, and Haiphong. In a little more than 11 days, he devastated Cambodia with whom we were not at war, and all but obliterated the two cities. The people on the ground witnessed the atrocity just as Americans did watching the slaughter of the innocent in New York City and Washington. Then, to save his political skin for a second term, he sold out the South Vietnamese at the negotiating table by ensuring the presence of the North's troops throughout the South.
Nothing of the above behavior made it to the press or to the American people until long after the events had passed. Three decades after the start of the war, Secretary McNamara unburdened his soul by revealing that the President and the administration knew the futility and injustice of the war, but by then more than 50,000 had sacrificed themselves saving democracy from communism.
Governments do not mobilize a people by telling the truth, they mobilize through mystery: fear of the unknown that threatens their livelihood, fear of forces that could destroy them, fear that their religious beliefs could be undermined by the forces of evil that accepts no religion.
Those that suffered through this war know that once the truth regarding its purpose became known, the peoples' will to sacrifice themselves ceased. Once the government understood that it could no longer command the beliefs that motivated the citizens, it attempted desperately to stop the war. To put it another way, once the elite's myths cease to have credibility, they lose power or they rearrange the myths to justify an altered policy.
Americans, however, continue to believe that Democracy is the only acceptable form of government. They retain this belief in conjunction with the Puritan Divines' belief that this land should be a "City on a Hill", a phrase that Ronald Reagan used to justify his war against the "Evil Empire". This is, to all intents and purposes, America's religion. It justifies our past and gives credibility to our purpose. We have yet to disassociate ourselves from the Christian belief that God gave this land to us to illuminate His truths to the world. It does not matter that the reality of a democratic form of government does not exist here or that the country is home to countless non-Christian faiths that do not accept the concepts that reverberate in the call to establish a "City on a Hill".
As long as the reigning government in Washington, the elite who choose the President and his cabinet, the members of Congress and the Senate, and bring financial support to the military, as long as they can appeal to these idealistic beliefs, they can mobilize the country against external forces characterized as evil.
But if the spread of Democracy has caused ill-will in various nations around the world, a form of Democracy that imposes a government friendly to the United States not one duly elected by the people, the recognition of that imposed form of government as a puppet of the Capitalistic forces that control the American Government causes even greater consternation.
If Democracy recognizes the need to separate church and state, why do we provide billions of dollars in support of a Theocracy in Israel? If we have no qualms about supporting a Theocracy, why not offer equal support to Islamic nations? If Democracy recognizes duly elected governments, why does the US support dictatorships? The answer lies in the need for the monied forces that control the US to have in power governments that support Capitalistic interests.
That reality provided the rationale for production of goods in Indonesia, China, Korea, and Vietnam, among other nations, where exploitation of the people resulted in child labor, token wages, and unsanitary, dangerous working conditions. Nike Corporation, for example, paid Chinese workers, until recently and only after a public outcry changed their policy, about $1.50 for making a pair of sneakers that sells for $80.00 to $120.00. In Indonesia, Nike paid .16 to .19 cents per hour. About 40% of Nikes work is now done in China.
This one example illustrates the reality of the "new" industrial revolution taking place across the globe. My visits to China over ten years depicted graphically for me the incursion of the industrial giants into a "new" manufacturing state. During my last visit, ten years after my first, I witnessed the explosion of factories surrounding Bejing; I also witnessed the deep set smog that fused with the yellow sand that blew through the city and created a pall that ironically foreshadowed the demise from lung diseases of thousands. I took an eight-hour train ride from Yantai City to Jinan watching smoke stacks belch black soot over the countryside. I passed polluted streams that had been a place to swim and fish for my hosts when they were young. The industrialization of China seems to be following the same agonizing route that the British people had to suffer in the decades after 1765 and the Americans had to endure after 1870, each a disastrous route of a hundred years to acceptance of needed, imposed regulations to protect the workers and the environment. But for the transnational corporations, the bottom line dictates the investment, and without government imposed regulations to protect health, safety, and wages, exploitation of the worker to produce the product at the cheapest wage drives the process. Why else would these corporations seek out underdeveloped countries to relocate their plants except to increase the profit margin. The consequence of this exploitation in each of these countries is an expressed dislike by the ordinary citizen for the industrialized nations that bring about the exploitation, United States included.
Roger Altman has written about the dichotomy that exists between the "Have" and the "Have-Not" nations. He states, " half of the worlds population is increasingly threatened with economic oblivion." But more importantly, he says "That is dangerous for world stability, and we should not resign ourselves to it." What happens if the West does not address a redistribution of wealth and the utilization of the earths resources? Altman again: "The Fourth World, the least developed parts of Africa and Asia, will become even more fertile territory for brutality, state sponsored terrorism and mass tragedy."
The disparity Altman cites coupled with the perception of the worker in the exploited nations breeds resentment against the United States. Yet the average American has no conscious awareness of these issues. They believe that American Capitalism is a benefit to the worlds communities since it provides jobs they would not otherwise have and it gives Americans a cheaper product. To a certain extent they have accepted the need for these "new" industrialized nations to suffer the 100 years it takes to correct the deficiencies that exist at this time. After all, we had to go through that period, why not them? But, once the total picture gets presented, Americans have demanded a change in how these corporations operate. Americans are, after all, a generous and compassionate people. Once they become aware of inequities, they generally respond positively and force corrections.
However, today Americans lack knowledge of the reality that permeates even their own lives much less the conditions imposed on other peoples by exploitive companies in their name. Americans do not know that Executive pay increased by 571% between 1990 and 2000, not adjusting for inflation, according to the Washington Post in September of 2001, while the salaries for American workers rose a paltry 5% during that same period, inflation considered. Figures vary slightly, but the typical American household according to Sam Pizzigati has a paltry $11,700.00 to call its own, down 10% since 1989. Figures that show the average American household worth at $176,200.00 fail to mention that the top one percent of American households has a worth of $7,875,000.00. That accounts for the dramatic drop in reported value. And more dramatically still is the discrepancy between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in America: the top 1 percent holds more wealth than the entire bottom 95% of American households. Yet Americans generally feel that they live well. Why? Because they live far beyond their income; they live on future income through plastic. The average American has a credit card debt in the neighborhood of $18,000.00. Our economic system has literally forced Americans into an indentured servant relationship with the banks and corporations that manufacture, advertise, and sell the products. That reality has created a lethargic and unquestioning public that must, for its own sanity, believe that the system is the best in the world.
Because they have become so invested in the economic system, Americans have a great deal to lose. Any threat to their livelihood evokes fear and retaliation. Thus the atrocities of the 11th, greater in kind than anything yet experienced in the states, awoke the American people to the enormity of the external threat that could destroy their relatively complacent lives. The President responded to these fears initially from an implicitly Christian perspective, seeing the world as divided into the Good and the Evil, with America as Gods force for good leading the world against the forces of evil. He saw the nations response as a "crusade" against those forces. Calmer minds in the administration corralled these terms by weeks end although the division of the world into those "with America" or "against America" still resounded in his speech before Congress on the 20th.
As we have seen, fear compels obedience. The dualistic division of the world as a ruling principle existed for Pope Innocent III and the Puritan Divines; it exists now. The God of the Old Testament, the Popes leading the Crusades, the Puritan ministers, the Nazi powers, and Imperial Japan, all used fear against the chosen, those protected by God or by genetic right, as the motivating force to mobilize against the enemies that threatened the continuation of the state, a war of good versus evil.
Our President has assumed absolute authority as the leader of all nations against terrorists throughout the world, for he alone is answerable to the American people and the protector of the American people. That is the mantle Pope Innocent III assumed against the Cathars. He has raised the protection of liberty and freedom as the banner around which the nation will rally even as he asks Congress to give his administration authority to override civil liberties. Pope Innocent III called upon the faithful to rally in defense of the Church, to liberate it from the forces of evil that threatened its existence. And he imposed the Inquisition to ensure that the one and only true Church would continue to exist. Our President has demanded of the worlds leaders that they choose between the forces of good and evil as defined by the United States. "You are with us or against us," he told the world. Pope Innocent III menaced the kings of France, Spain, and England that they had to be with Gods voice on earth or be forever damned in hell. He excommunicated or laid under anathema the leaders who refused his admonitions and placed their lands under an interdict. He even demanded that they "take up the cross." Our Presidentand his administration have threatened other nations with economic catastrophe if they do not join the "war against the terrorists", the crusade that he initially envisioned.
What is comparable here to the religious beliefs that motivate the terrorists, the crusaders of old, or the Puritans? Fear that the American way of life will be destroyed. That way of life, in its first manifestation, offered freedom of opportunity to all in a land that God gave to the founders who came here out of a commitment to their Christian God. The Revolutionary War brought enhancements to that "way of life" by opening the land of opportunity to all peoples, not just Christians; it also proposed that a laissez-faire Capitalism offered the only true avenue to fulfillment of that opportunity. America yoked together the freedoms inherent in a Democratic form of government -- freedom to choose their government, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech -- with an economic system that furthered the interests of its peoples to acquire their cherished dreams. This way of life became the only way of life. What we believed was true should be true for all peoples, and thus we began electing Presidents who would require that our form of government and our economic system be accepted by those nations with whom we would interact and for whom we would provide support.
Most Americans, unfortunately, have not witnessed and have no true perception of how those values are transferred abroad. We are blind to the reality of our own economic condition, the discrepancy between our actual value and our debt, and we fail to understand the dichotomy between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in this country, a discrepancy so dramatic that even an economist of the stature of John Kenneth Galbraith has reacted by placing the burden of responsibility on the United States government to set things right: "I have long been persuaded that a rich country such as the United States must give everybody the assurance of a basic income."
But if our recognition of our own condition is lax, our recognition of how other nations view America is almost non-existent. We believe that America is seen as a free society where everyone is equal and has the same opportunities; we believe that our government supports true democracy around the globe; and we believe that the Capitalistic system provides the best opportunity for all peoples in all nations. But these are myths. In truth what we believe is what the corporate world wants us to believe and they have the means to make it happen; they own communications newspapers, television channels, magazines, movie production studios, movie distribution houses, telephone systems, and radio stations. In truth what government supports are governments that will guarantee protection of Capitalistic enterprise, and they will place in power the necessary government to accomplish that end by whatever means it takes. In truth what Capitalism actually does in the name of the United States is to reap the greatest profits by producing for the least possible cost regardless of the consequences to the peoples of other countries. These are the realities that turn people against the United States. We do not understand them because we do not see them as others do.
Capitalism, not Democracy, is at fault. As Capitalism has grown in this country, it has saturated over time its primary base, the absolute needs of most of the people for housing, clothing, transportation, and food. Once saturated, new goods had to be designed and new demands for them created. Advertising has taken on that role. But consumption is a never-ending process only as long as there are adequate numbers of consumers. Americas population could not absorb the quantity of products the system had to produce to continue profits for investors, consequently, more markets had to be acquired. Russia, after the fall, showed promise. China shows promise now. Unfortunately, as Capitalism moves into countries with huge populations, some of its basic tenets cause problems.
An example will suffice. A department store in the city of Yantai employs hoards of personnel, four girls wait on a single customer buying a sweater with similar numbers at other counters. A conscientious Capitalist would see incredible savings by locating a checkout counter at the exit and laying-off excess personnel. But for China, with a population of 1.3 billion people, finding jobs is a problem. Capitalisms desire to hire as few people as possible to turn out products at the least cost, efficiency of operation its called, runs counter to the demands forced on the government to find jobs for so many people, if only to provide them with a sense of worth and personal dignity. Capitalism does not want nor can it thrive with a conscience. Democracy must have a conscience. Capitalisms mobility across the globe has fostered more hatred for the United States than any other single cause, either in its support for "friendly" governments, even if dictatorial, or in its exploitation of the people. Martin Khor, in his article "Global Economy and the Third World" describes how such corporations raid resources and ship them to the wealthiest industrialized nations. New trade rules imposed with the support of these transnational corporations leave the Third World countries virtually helpless to protect themselves. Indeed, Ralph Nader and Lori Wallach, writing about GATT and NAFTA, stated, "Approval of these agreements has institutionalized a global economic and political situation that places every government in a virtual hostage situation, at the mercy of a global financial and commercial system run by empowered corporations." The full power granted to corporations by these multi-national agreements cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing that they do not contain regulations of commerce to protect environmental, health, or labor rights including prohibitions against child labor. Is it any wonder other nations hate us?
Khor amplifies the consequences of this intrusion by noting, "Some corporations are also concentrating their sales efforts on the markets of the Third World, where they can sell lower-quality products or products that are outright toxic and thus banned in the industrialized countries." Is it any wonder America is hated? But these companies sell more than products; they sell a culture, a consumer based, and valueless culture. Foreign countries despise this erosion of values and fear loss of a cultural identity and subsequent loss of values associated with their culture. Richard Barnet and John Cavanagh in a study on "Homogenization of Global Culture" reflect on the consequences of the globalization of entertainment that sends western television, film, fashion, and music into virtually every country overpowering local stations and media. A standardization ensues dominated by the west. They note, "The strongest remaining ideological barrier to American music, television, and film is Islamic fundamentalism." That was in 1996. The "values" apparent in this western intrusion into other cultures: huge audiences, fame, and money achieved by costly venues, advertising, and sex. Given Americans desire to assert family values, the transfer of this pop culture to all peoples seems a perversion of the peoples values. Is it any wonder that so many hate the United States?
Now that we have confronted the reality behind the myths, it is necessary to reflect on how Americans and their government can respond adequately to the primary cause of the terrorists acts. The reality the terrorists see cannot be erased without changing the way the Capitalistic system operates on our behalf. The terrorist knows only that its Americas wealth and that of the industrialized west that manipulates and corrodes their country. They do not know what Americans believe to be true. If America continues to let the transnationals and the power elite control the operations of America abroad, it will continue to suffer from the atrocities terrorists commit. The world has changed, and we have been the instruments of that change. As the Bible says, "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."(Hosea 8:7)
We have wired the world; they know now how the rest of the world lives. We must recognize that a more equal distribution of the worlds resources must be achieved if discontent, deprivation, and hatred are to be assuaged. Our beliefs in what America should be, a melting pot of the worlds communities living in tolerance and harmony, reflect desirable and universal values. Americans must take back control of the government to ensure that those values, and not those of the profit based transnationals, are those seen by peoples around the world. Correction of the myths that motivate one people to eliminate another will respond to the primary cause that under girds terrorism.