To the editor of the Journal:
Our daily moods, interests and feelings are largely determined by how our current experiences match up with our current preferences. “inner story” of the way things should be. When things follow our inner script, we are happy and hopeful.
The inner stories unfolding of each person will largely determine who they interact with. Social media and cable TV news networks provide like-minded adherents an encouraging haven where everyone seems to share similar inner narratives.
Truth be told, the so-called American “crucible” has always been more like a boiling cauldron of competing stories than a place where people with different stories come together to share and enjoy them. We have all come from elsewhere. Even the earliest known human occupants of North America likely came here from Asia via Beringia. We are all immigrants. Immigrants with our own favorite stories.
Religious systems can be seen as clusters of stories. Humans don’t know where they’re from or what they’re supposed to do, so groups collect important stories from their respected elders. The supposed sources of some of these stories seem bizarre and fanciful; burning talking bushes or disappearing tablets written in a secret language that requires magic glasses. Nonetheless, religious stories seem to inspire and uplift their particular followers. Most of the time, however, we embrace our own stories and look askance at those that are different.
The history of American religion is also the history of Protestants rejecting Catholics, Christians fearful of Muslims, persistent prejudices against Jews, and not everyone acting as exploiter of African slaves for four hundred years is not so bad than it looks; unless, of course, you are the child of a slave snatched from your mother’s arms and sold.
We often use a double standard to assess the behavior of those outside our narrative tribe. The people of our tribe “Fall into difficult times”. Foreigners are worthless cheaters when it comes to welfare. After all the heartache of not wanting government donations during this pandemic, it turns out that less than one percent of those who receive automatic stimulus checks have chosen not to cash them or return them. So I guess that makes all of us feel good kings and queens.
We desperately need a new story to share before it’s too late. This one has a very, very bad ending.