(Editor's Note: This is a reposting of my original entry. An alert reader pointed out to me that the comments function on my original post was disabled. This was due to a coding error -- not a Freudian blip of the keyboard. Sorry!)
When I heard the news this week that Jerry Falwell had died, my first reaction was primal. The world has one less right-wing fundamentalist nut case to deal with, I thought.
And that's the family-friendly version.
I could never be that ignorant and intolerant a human being, I thought. I could never be that parochial in my views. I could never be that sanctimonious, that inflexible.
And then I examined my own moral compass side by side with Falwell's.
Falwell famously blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on gays, lesbians and feminists.
I often point to what I consider insipid pop culture, rampant corporate and personal greed, the dumbing down of our school curricula, the failings of our foreign policy, a general lack of respect in society these days for people and their rights and, ironically, intolerance as reasons for me to conclude that as a nation, maybe we deserve what we get (not terrorist attacks, but the just desserts resulting from our behavior).
I can rationalize this comparison of Falwell and me all day and say that what separates us is a fine line between sanity and insanity, between going off the deep end and coherently expressing angry but understandable, even "justifiable" views.
It's a question of degree, my ego coos soothingly. He's a reactionary, I'm a commentator.
The fact is, at the root there is no difference between us. He and I have dualistic, discriminating viewpoints expressed in much the same way.
My ego demands that I insert a disclaimer here stating that if you examined your own thinking, you, too, would find examples of hypocrisy. But the priest who leads the Zen sangha to which I belong discourages such speaking in the third person. When we use "I," she teaches, we accept responsibility and accountability for our own actions and leave others to deal with theirs. Besides, when I say "you," it's usually just a face-saving way for me to say "I" in the first place. It dissipates reality. (And presto, I've just gone and done that.)
She goes on to teach that the vast potential for good and evil is present within each of us. We're all killers, saints, heroes, cowards, people of great compassion and people who are hopelessly uncaring. So, it shouldn't shock me when I find myself acting in ways, however subtle or obvious, that I would never ascribe to myself.
Learning that we are all inextricably interconnected with one another is the hardest task I've ever undertaken.
My ego rails at every step.