Founder's Letter 2004

by Norman Fischer | November 01, 2004 at 7:14 PM

Muir Beach, CA. November 4, 2004

Dear friends,

Some ruminations today on the Presidential election:

A sad result, for me, as for so many others. As I looked at my feelings immediately after the result was clear, I became suspicious. I felt defeated? As if I myself had lost the election. Was I really that sure that things would change dramatically for the better under Kerry; no, I knew that wasn’t really going to be the case anyway. Was I so compassionate that I felt this badly on behalf of the poor world? Maybe it was partly that- but only partly. Maybe also I had over identified with this election, making it, just as the other side had made it, a referendum on the Sixties, a replay of the old feud between the Silent Majority and the alternative culture. Maybe I, along with many others of my generation, had been secretly hoping that this election would vindicate our point of view, showing the world that we had been right all along, and that the majority agreed with us! That the Clinton years were real- not just a boomer interlude between conservative regimes.

I asked myself: how noble is this? To whatever extent my grief over this election is personal I need to let go and forget about it. And to occupy myself freshly with the question, what really happened here, and what do we do next?

The election, as many wrote, turned on religious issues, or at least on what some define as crucial religious issues- abortion, gay marriage fundamentalist Christian faith.

Possibly there is more to think about here than we have thought before. Possibly we all need to think harder, and with a more open mind, about what faith is and why it might be important, and what our obligations as human beings ought to be. Not so much our preferences, our freedoms, our needs and wants- but our obligations. Maybe we ought not to be so quick to assume that what we believe, what seems right and good and reasonable to us, is really correct. Do strong Christian believers have a point in seeing abortion as taking another life? Taking another’s life isn’t a choice we allow in our society- murder isn’t an option. To call abortion murder seems too strong; yet when is a human life a human life: five months after conception, five minutes? At point does a fetus become “another?” Possibly “choice” isn’t a good framework at all for thinking about abortion.

And gay marriage: maybe the question is not whether gay people have the right to a sacred union, or to equal protection under the law, clearly they have both, the latter by virtue of the U.S. constitution, the former according to the dictates of their own consciences or the teachings of whatever religious traditions they believe in. The question is, is there a difference between gay unions, and what we have been calling “marriage,” heterosexual unions. And maybe there is a difference. Certainly some Christians, Muslims, and Jews think there is, and gay marriage does violence to their sense of marriage’s sacredness, and isn’t that important, to take into account people’s religious sensibilities, even if they are difficult for others to appreciate? And the difference between “marriage” and gay union, for a religious believer, might be this: that gay union is based on preference – love: that is, the basis of a gay union is “we want to be together for life.” Whereas in a heterosexual union (at least to some, at least theoretically) the basis is a Biblical pact that commands two people, beyond preference, to marry in order to procreate, extending God’s destiny for the species onward (isn’t this, after all, the theme of the entire book of Genesis?). Believers understand that people are brought together in marriage not in preference but in the service of a mystery far larger than preference, and the that mystery inheres in sexual union as procreation. So yes, heterosexual unions could be seen to be different- and it is this difference the Christian right insists on. Then the question becomes- can there be difference without inequality? Difference without dishonor, without the diminution of the “other,” the one who is not like us? How strong the human impulse is to set standards, and then to insist that all adhere to the standards, and that those who don’t or can’t are either intolerable (as gays are intolerable to many) or if tolerable, lesser. I wonder how a gay person or a woman who has chosen an abortion felt after the election.

Then too the Christian sense that life is to be based on faith – faith in what’s beyond anything we can know. Yes, President Bush is motivated by faith like this, or seems to be. It keeps him serene and very focused. I have this kind of faith too. I find it essential for balanced sane living in this dangerous crazy world. We need to understand and appreciate faith much more than we do, cultivate it in ourselves, respect it in others, see it as the groundwork for mutual appreciation and understanding. Then possibly we can let go of our prejudice against faith and ask a more important question: is one’s faith clearly held, or is it taken too personally? And the test of this is, is our faith tolerant and kind? If not, if it is distorted, narrow, then it is certain that true as it might be, we are not true in the way we hold it. With Bush and other fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, or Jew) it’s hard to tell whether faith is held in a wholesome way. Those of us who don’t share a particular brand of faith can’t really know, at least not for certain. We worry, look for and see signs of narrow-mindedness. But I’m not sure we can actually comprehend the words and concepts and feelings that are being expressed- we go immediately to fear, threat, and horror. Possibly there’s a deep sanity in Christian fundamentalism we haven’t yet appreciated. Possibly the secularization of American life, to which liberals strongly hold, is a key reason not only for the Bush victory, but also for the terrorism of 9-11.

Oh yes, terrorism, and it’s controversial associate- Iraq. Iraq. Ok yes, a bad leader was taken out, albeit under false pretenses, and that’s good. But now the situation is terrible, and the precedent- that you can go to war against a bad country because you have determined it is bad – is disastrous, hated and feared all over the world. Still, lets take a deep breath here. And note that “peace” needs to be better understood and defined. To many, peace means weakness, it means the encouragement of war, allowing others to feel they are able to be successfully aggressive. And besides, ethics has a way of telescoping over time. Suppose ten or twenty years from now Iraq does get back on its feet as some sort of Islamic democracy, a new possibility for the Middle East. Much as I hate to admit it, this is still possible. If that should happen, if the politics of the Middle East as a consequence, or partly as a consequence, changes, won’t our President go down in history as a courageous visionary? Maybe a religiously serene America of fifty years hence will look to a peaceful Middle East, with an integrated Israel, and see Bush as an inspired religious leader. Isn’t that something to hope and pray for, unlikely as it seems? But then who really knows what’s unlikely?

So – yes - suppose we trusted what is. That’s spiritual practice after all, trusting what is, not what one wants, believes, prefers, or imagines. What is. If we trust what is – and what choice is there?- then we have to trust the results of this election as what we need to go forward. What is isn’t always good. Sometimes it is bad, terrible. But usually it is not clear whether it is terrible or not; sometimes it depends on how you accept it; and even if it definitely is terrible, there’s no choice but to trust it and accept it. What is is always the only building block for what will be. The only foundation for the future. So one needs, now as always, a sober acceptance of what is. This is what is. This is what we have to build on. It might go forward into a future that is this way- or it might go forward into a future that is that way. We don’t know which. We try our best to see a future that seems right to us, and to press onward toward it from where we are. The shape of that future will surely depend to some extent on what sort of attitude we hold now, how wise and inclusive we are, how much we do or do not stick to our emotions and our prejudices, how open minded we are, how flexible and creative, how closely we can stick to love, and to hope. And on whether or not we can check our sense of despair so that we are capable of opening up our eyes and actually seeing all around us seeds of a possible good where those seeds might be present, understanding what is going on beyond our prejudices and preconceptions, so that we can make good use of our time and our life. This election certainly does open up many dire prospects- irreversible environmental disaster (we all know this is already the case, but how much worse can it get?), more violence at home and around the world, and, in general, a repressive, even fascistic, regime – always a danger when an impassioned ideologically motivated majority feels that threat justifies the suppression of all dissent and difference. Surely we need to make sure that this isn’t a future we will go to from here by speaking out, remaining vocal and active, too present and socially effective to be ignored or overcome. But possibly we need to do this not as resistance- assuming the worst and working against it. Instead it may be possible to assert clearly what one believes in, to work for this with renewed vigor, and not against something, rather using the very force of what has been established to gather energy for one’s own sense of what’s right. Divisiveness is neither good nor bad. Mostly though the root of divisiveness is faulty conception and unclear emotion. As such it dissipates energy and blunts delight in living. As spiritual practitioners we ought to be able to go beyond that.


Zoketsu Norman Fischer


Norman Fischer