Thursday, March 01, 2012

In the Name of Fear

UK2008-493lkhMarch 1, 1692 began the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Three hundred and twenty years may feel like a long time to us, but in history, it’s a very small drop of water in a large well. Fortunately, the Salem Trials didn’t last long. In October, Massachusetts Governor Phipps put an end to it and freed over 100 people who were to be condemned in mock trials. Sometimes it does only take on person in the right place of power to prevent atrocity.  

Speaking of wells, the photo is what used to be a well built as a memorial in the spot where around 300 suspected witches were burned at  Edinburgh Castle. Single women living on the fringe of society were most often accused. Some sources will say husbands even accused their wives as an easy way to dispose of them when they no longer wished to be burdened with them.

It was hardly only an American and Scottish atrocity. Witches were burned in England, Ireland, and Wales, as well, with Ireland and Wales having the fewest numbers. It also wasn’t a new phenomenon. There have always been witch hunts of some kind, since the beginnings of written history or longer. 

All countries have their witch hunts even today. They come in many forms. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Congressmen...  Okay,  well maybe those of a certain religion or a lack of religion. Maybe those who make comments we don’t understand or agree with. Those who speak above our heads or those who can’t find an ounce of common sense. Those on the fringe who live differently. Those who make “too much” or those who don’t make anything for 30 years and still live better than those of us who have worked constantly for 30 years.

All witch hunts have one commonality: FEAR.

Back in the Middle Ages, people were afraid due to the Black Plague, to strange weather patterns, and of the fight between the Protestant Reformation followed by the Catholic Reformation. Men were beginning to be fearful of women who were learning how to defeat the plague of malnutrition and otherwise educating themselves (Men should very well be afraid of a well-educated woman! You know that’s the big reason so many Old Testament passages mark the man as in charge of the wife, because they were afraid of letting women have power. It’s also the reason women couldn’t vote for so long.). There was a lot of fear going around. It was all due to one thing: the unknown.

They had no idea what was causing the plague. Or the weather shift. They were at a loss as to which religion was right and who would go to hell for believing the wrong one. They were very much convinced that bad things happened due to some reason they thought they could put a finger on, and so many fingers were put on any reason they could find.

Have we changed much since then? Yes, we know what caused the plague, but we blame everything under the sun for causing cancer, including the sun. We know … well, scientists tell us why the weather shifts but even they argue among themselves. It’s cars, it’s humans, it’s cow manure, it’s … well, they don’t know for sure and that leaves us in a panic.

We’re supposed to CONTROL our worlds, aren’t we? How do we do that if we don’t know the cause? Who do we blame?

We’re big on blame.

We blame Republicans and Democrats. We blame Christians and Atheists (and every other religious belief). We blame God when we have troubles or we refuse to believe in God because He “lets” bad things happen. We blame business owners. We blame workers. Sometimes we’ll actually take blame ourselves. Sometimes we blame ourselves far too much.

It all comes from fear. 

Today’s big witch hunts are against bullies and homosexuals. Why? Granted, bullies are to blame for many things. But then someone or something made them the way they are. They didn’t come out of the womb bullies, did they? Shouldn’t we also take responsibility in how we deal with bullies? Maybe our reactions feed them or weaken them. Yes, we’re afraid of bullies. That’s understood. But what is a bully? It could just be those making laws we don’t like. It could be those rebelling against laws in a profane or violent manner. How do we know it’s not us? Is that what we’re afraid of? 

Why the big fear over gay marriage? Why the fight? Homophobes are afraid for a reason. Do they know why? Is it because their church tells them it’s “wrong” as though any human has the one right definition of right or wrong? Do they believe, as people did in the Middle Ages, that those living “in sin” are bringing tornadoes and earthquakes and the possible end of the world?

Seriously? Have we not come farther than that yet? If we know better, why do we care who gets married? Think it’ll rub off like the Black Plague?

Fine. We’re afraid. That’s okay. What’s not okay is to blame everything under the sun for bad things happening when … guess what? Bad things happen. They just do. Weather happens. Disease happens. Imagine how population would thrive if disasters, disease, and war didn’t happen. Then it would be starvation, just as if hunters don’t decrease the deer population, the deer starve.

We’re so afraid of death because of the unknown. We don’t know what happens next, or if anything does. It scares us. We’re afraid of those different than us because we don’t understand why they are. We’re connected and we want to understand. All well and fine. But maybe, just maybe we don’t need to understand. Maybe we can just shrug and say fine, so be it. What comes, comes. Yin and yang. Good and evil. Right and wrong. Republican and Democrat. Balance. Nature has a way of working itself out beyond our control.

How about taking a deep breath, throwing up your hands, and making your day more joyful by realizing you can’t control everything (something I tell myself often, since I’m a bit of a control freak – silly, I know). How about you run your life and I run my life and if you don’t try to run mine, I won’t try to run yours?

If I’m wrong about the sinners not taking the whole world into hell, I guess I’ll have to shrug and apologize later. But just like every Doomsday prophecy so far, I haven’t seen any actual evidence of that happening. Or maybe hell is what sinners are creating in their own worlds that overflow into ours?

“Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.”
Kin Hubbard

Maybe he’s right.

I’m a big believer that the Ten Commandments were meant as guidelines as to how to make our lives happier. I do believe we would be happier if we followed them. For ourselves. Not to use them to judge others. (Okay, I do believe murderers and such should be jailed because you know … they’re interfering with other people’s rights to run their own lives.)

So how about we all relax? How about we stop being so rude and vile and making those around us so unhappy? How about we argue our own case with respect for those with whom we argue, with full recognition either of us, or both of us, could be wrong? No name calling. No blaming one whole group for any one thing we don’t like (witch hunt!). No personal attacks on our opponents’ character (he who has no sin, cast the first stone).

I’m willing to try this out. Anyone else? I have plenty of fear. Trust me: Heights. Closed-in places. Large dogs. Mice. Social situations. Wondering if I parent correctly and well enough. Thinking I may be far too neglectful of friends and it may backfire on me. The thought of my very opinionated opinions hurting those I don’t want to hurt (I don’t want to hurt anyone, really, like them or not). Knowing I might actually be wrong now and then (that’s a joke, son). Loss. I have a huge fear of loss (which is why I so often write about it).

Fine. I have fear. That doesn’t mean I should insist no one ever get on a ladder or in an elevator, play with a large strange dog, not jump up on a chair if a mouse is in the room, or talk in public. I’m glad others can do those things without fear. I don’t understand how the do, but I can appreciate their difference that allows things to happen that I won’t make happen.

What is it that scares you about whatever it is you’re so against? No need to tell me. Journaling is wonderful therapy (so is novel writing). But ask yourself: What’s so scary about it?

Oh, why did Ireland and Wales have fewer witch trials? Simple. They blamed fairies for misfortune instead. Maybe we can just do that.

(If I’m captured by fairies and held hostage in revenge, someone come bail me out, please.)

UK2008-449-lkhEdinburgh Castle
(talk about a fortress against fear!)



Anonymous said...

LK Hunsaker said...

Thank you! Nice to know the quote I used in Moondrops & Thistles meant a lot to a reader, also!