The Old Testament speaks of the unmanifested universe as a void, an unbounded sea of emptiness, swirling with an as yet undefined chaos, in the moments before Biblical creation. More like Arthur Clarke’s Jovian monolith than the blank-slated p’u of Taoism, both the Taoist blankness and the Biblical void are nonetheless similar in this respect: both principals refer to the being of nothingness before the creation of something begins.
In my understanding of the Taoist principal, the blank slate is the goal, the place you want to go so you can have a no-place from which to begin, kind of like showing up at a train station and not being nonplussed when you find yourself boarding a plane. In that way, all action stands independently, the result of commitment to and focus on that action.
Biblical Creation, on the other hand, is about an (arguably) logical progression from nothing to one thing that begets two things that beget four things, and on and on, right on through today to Judgement Day and Armageddon.
In America, at least, this Judeo-Christian belief lends hope and faith in tomorrow, that something new will happen, which will cause something else new to happen. Most of us believe that what we do has consequences, that we could take action and cause something wonderful and extraordinary to happen in the next moment that may not have been possible before.
Yet hiding from our perception of growth and replenishment is a singular truth – that regardless of how we live or are guided in our earthly lives, the indisputable destiny is the same: from the moment we are born, we are moving to decay and death, and so to a physical nothingness. So too the Earth, having been brought into existence, cannot be exempt from suffering its own decline and eventual destruction. It has been dying since “Let there be light,” for something cannot die until it first lives; it cannot be lost until it is had.
Nothing doesn’t always beget something. Sometimes, nothing begets nothing. But something always eventually becomes nothing. We are all, always, headed to nothingness.
America has been dying for 229 years, ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self evident…” because although there would be no United States without the established British colonies, this country would not have been possible unless the Founding Fathers were willing to accept a nation without King George’s rule.
They had to imagine an entity unruled in order to come up with a new country. “These truths,” wrote Jefferson. New truths. Our truths. Not George’s. That’s all great, but here’s the catch – now that we have a nation in which everyone is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we have a country where the precious can be lost.
Perhaps Jefferson was empowered to write those words because we have evolved into a culture where we are willing to risk the most precious, even though we know that eventually it too will be gone. Perhaps he knew, even as his quill scratched the words on the page, that even in the best of nations his brand of populist idealism would eventually die.
But at the time, to Jefferson and our Founding Fathers, the “truths” were the light of creation. What are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but plants, animals and man, Eden and the joys of the feast, the pleasures of dreaming, the freedom to think and to act? All these were given to us to become a spectacular nation, and from the moment of their giving, our nation has been growing… and dying.
September 11, 2001 was a day that called to us to come from nothing. For “W” it was a day that gave him his special purpose. It is said that is the moment George W. Bush became president, and perhaps he took those infamous “My Pet Goat” moments to steel himself to perform his duties as he saw them.
As Brent Scowcroft was quoted as saying recently, “For the president… there was something unique, if not divine, about a catastrophe like 9/11 happening when he was president. That somehow that was meant to be, and his mission was to deal with the war on terrorism.”
So it is not surprising that when he woke from his “Pet Goat” reverie that morning, he saw the carrot of moral righteousness dangling in front of him and could not resist the temptation to bite it. From that day, through last year’s election and today, he will not let go, led by it like a fish on a line.
Moral righteousness is a sword too heavy for the hand of the humble, and too easily wielded by the hand of the indignant. Had Bush taken those moments in the kindergarten classroom and said to himself, “I have been humbled. America has been humbled,” perhaps he would have seen that “protecting and defending the Constitution” could be accomplished better by guaranteeing our freedom with the law, rather than curtailing it.
Moses fasted for forty days before receiving the Law on Sinai. Jesus humbly gave his spirit to God. Bush did not re-create himself, though, forgetting what it took to be “born-again”. His first reaction was sadly and unabashedly predictable. He let the temptations of leadership mislead him (supported in no small part by a Lucifer in the Justice Department and a lemming-like Congress).
He attacked both those who had done us harm and us. He took our power and replaced it with his own, and we did nothing. Except for a few Americans whose stories were buried by a press that was as cowardly as those who spoke out were brave, we failed. We failed to confront. We failed to protest. We failed as a nation to vote what the latest polls, at least, acknowledge as truth – we were all lied to.
We allowed Bush to continue, hoping with uncertainty that he would eventually see he must humble himself. We know he wants to, so why won’t he? When he was addicted to drugs, he humbled himself and was “born-again.”
Now, new demons control him. His heart has been hardened, and unless we are able to part the sea of lies, deceptions and secrecy with open, honest and fair words and actions, coming not from wounded hearts but from hearts of bottomless joy, we will all drown with him.