As families, friends, and supporters gather for the funerals of the innocent victims of the horrific Orlando shooting, I see three profound challenges coming to the fore for our society.
One is simply this: In this day and age, the twenty-first century, homophobia is a grave sin that can no longer be tolerated by any religious group, be it Muslim or Vatican or any other tradition. It is long past time for the human race and its religions to heed the proven scientific data: that about 8% of any human population is going to be gay or lesbian; that more than 450 other species have been documented as having homosexual populations; that nature is biased in favor of diversity. Period.
It is particularly tragic that many of the murdered, being Latino, had fled to the US from Puerto Rico and other traditionally Catholic countries because they could not be free to be themselves under the rigid rules of the Catholic church (rules, I hasten to point out, that are based not on Jesus' teachings but on those of Augustine and popes right up to today who have chosen to ignore scientific findings on the diversity of sexuality in our species).
Not only were 50 people murdered and another 50 seriously injured for "partying while gay," but the FBI is investigating reports that the perpetrator was a homosexual himself operating out of self hatred. I wonder where he got that from? Quite possibly from the fanatic elements of his religion, and from his father.
A second lesson is obvious: Why does our country allow citizens, some of whom are deranged and self-hating, to buy guns whose use was intended for the military only? Apparently even the US Congress is beginning to act on this none-too-subtle issue after a filibuster by some Democratic congresspeople. Good for them!
The third challenge is one I have not heard anyone else talk about, but I think it is the biggest issue of all. It is a challenge to Silicon Valley to stand up and be counted. Recall that the killer, in the midst of all his shooting, calmly called 911 on his iPhone to tell police that he was doing this in the name of ISIS...exchanged text with his wife...and then went on Facebook to see the interest he'd generated. Let us be honest: The cell phones, tablets, and other must-have gee-whiz gadgets that litter our world are also used by ISIS, Al Queda, and self-hating men who perpetrate group killings on a regular basis. What can Silicon Valley corporations do about this? Surely they do not want their inventions to be used for evil purposes. Yet they are so used.
Evil is not going to disappear through technology and new gadgets. Deep change has to come from some other place.
Here is something Silicon Valley can do to enable that change: Invest in supporting movements that are working hard and with far too little financial backing to combat the forces of evil in the human soul.
The late and great monk Thomas Merton tellingly described the shadow side of human nature that gets amplified when it links to modern technology, when he wrote the following:
Man begins in zoology
He is the saddest animal
He drives a big red car
Whenever he goes to the phone
To call joy
He gets the wrong number
Therefore he likes weapons
He knows all guns
By their right names....
Now he is putting anxiety
He flies his worries
All around Venus
But it does him no good....
Man is the saddest animal
He begins in zoology
And gets lost
In his own bad news. (1)
Merton points out that flying into space--which was the technological dream of the 1960s when he lived and wrote this poem--is a modest adventure compared to the greater challenge which is to "cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves. This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous." (2)
Merton, who died in 1968, was referring to the big technological dream in his day to get to the moon, but his teaching still resonates with today's technological achievements of iPhones, Facebook and more. What if we had heeded his advice 48 years ago and explored "the most important of all voyages"?
It is not nearly enough that technology companies make continuing profits for their shareholders: it is imperative that they support those movements and efforts that research the deeper layers of human consciousness to explore where all the evil comes from and why joy is so scarce that we are driven to embrace guns instead of one another. It is time to explore the reptilian brain's influence on our decisions and especially those of men (in whom Adrienne Rich points out there very often lies "a fatalistic self-hatred" - a self-hatred fueled in part, I would propose, by homophobic religions and culture).
Many techniques have been devised over the centuries by spiritual geniuses and cultures to explore the depths of the human psyche. Among these are practices of silence and contemplation, sweat lodges and whirling dancing, mantras and mindfulness, yoga and meditation, ceremonies and rituals. I have been involved in recovering many of these traditions and in telling the world about the people who have lived them out, and whom we call mystics, for over 40 years.
For 20 years I have been involved in reinventing the Western Liturgy using rave and dance, dj and vj, and I have seen powerful results. In creating schools with a proven pedagogy for both adults and for teenagers from the inner city, we have demonstrated that we can indeed lead people through creativity and letting go into their healthy empowerment. In my book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, I have offered metaphors or archetypes to recover a healthy understanding of Masculinity since there is so much toxic masculinity out there poisoning the souls of young men.
Investment in this kind of important work from Silicon Valley would be a powerful way to increase access and practice to an avenue toward inner and an outer peace. There are many other movements too in our time that have teachings and practices to offer. Let Silicon Valley respond to the misuse of its inventions by supporting those who take us deeper than gee-whiz technologies into the soul arena where the struggle against evil truly takes place. Let Silicon Valley tax itself in order to create more of a balance between sickness and health, necrophilia and biophilia, because currently necrophilia is gathering all the headlines. It does not have to be this way.
Deeper journeys into the human spirit are possible. As Deepak Chopra has put it in the Foreword to my recent book on evil, the departure of millions of people from organized religion does not mean that evil is being more seriously addressed: "the satanic side of human nature seems more intractable than ever" and evil represents "the simple greatest obstacle of spirituality in the twenty-first century," he observes. (3)
What Merton calls "the most important of all voyages of discovery" is an adventure calling us all forward. Silicon Valley could help. Where is Silicon Valley in this crisis (besides making gadgets available to the madmen of the world)? Is it willing to step up and be counted? I challenge Silicon Valley to invest in this deeper journey of discovery, one that elicits the Cosmic Christ, the Buddha Nature, the Image of God embedded within all peoples.
(1) Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton's Creation Spirituality Journey (Novato, CA, New World Library, 2016), 178.
(2) Ibid., 131f.
(3) Deepak Chopra, "Foreword", in Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil and Soul and Society (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Press, 2016), xiii.