Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Magical Thinking

"A Great Mystery"
- dusk in the desert -

In his insightful op-ed piece in this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks suggested that the rise of nationalism and isolationism spreading across the globe stems from the fact that so many ordinary people today feel as if they have lost a sense of hope - with no hope for a better future people often long for a return to a “mythical” past when things were so much better.   For many people, their world seems to be falling apart and so they look for someone to fix it for them, turning to to people like Donald Trump so he can wave a magic wand and make it all better.

In this morning’s article, Mr. Brooks puts it this way:

Their pain is indivisible: economic stress,
community breakdown, ethnic bigotry
and a loss of social status and self worth.
When people feel their world is vanishing
they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking
and demagogues who blame immigrants,

As I thought about all this, I reflected back upon those years when our now-adult children were growing up.  I can clearly remember all the many times when the kids got sick or injured or were sad or had problems in school or problems with relationships.  Many times they would come to my wife and I and in essence ask us to “make it all better, take away the pain, make the problems go away.”

The truth is I wanted to do that and if I could have waved some magic wand I would have, but it doesn’t work that way.  We could and did help them out by giving advice, taking them to a doctor, sometimes offering resources; but for the most part, all we could do most of the time was to “hold their hands” through it all and let them know that we were with them and they wouldn’t have to face the chaos of life alone – to this very day we still do that with our kids.

I also wonder if this is how many people understand “God,” especially in times of trouble: the “Daddy in the Sky” who can say a few magic words and fix all the problems of the world? I am reminded about something I read a while ago by the theologian, Daniel Maguire, in his book Christianity without God.

It is an alluring and adolescent temptation for the likes of us to imagine
a divine superbeing with parental passions
who is both omnipotent and all merciful
who will make everything ‘right’ on earth as it is in heaven

Just as a political demagogue or a parent can’t can’t wave a magic wand and make everything right again, so it is with “God” who is more like an “Abiding Presence” than a “Heavenly Father,” an energy of Love flowing in us all and through us all, and it’s up to us to make our lives better and to make this world a better place.

Our oceans and our air are being poisoned and the climate is less and less hospitable for human life. The world is racked by terror, poverty, war, hunger, bigotry, racism and injustice. People suffer from addictions and disease and rampant consumerism continues to eat away at the very fabric of our civilized society. There are lost of lots of things about this world and within our own personal lives that are broken and in chaos.


More than any other time in the history of the world we need to move away from magical thinking. This is the time for each of us to embrace our own sense of moral responsibility for making the world a better place, more compassionate, a more just society.  Empowered by the energy of an “Abiding Love,” it's up to us to some something about it all.

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