Published on Thursday, April 22, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
The Golden Mean is Gone
by Joyce Marcel
Did Barry Goldwater mean to kick Aristotle in the seat of his pants when he accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1964 by saying, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue?"
I'm with Aristotle, who exhorted us to seek the "Golden Mean."
"Too much exercise destroys strength as much as too little, and in the same way too much or too little food or drink destroys the health while the proportionate amount increases and preserves it," Aristotle said in "Nicomachean Ethics." "The same is true of temperance and courage and the other virtues, for he who is afraid of everything and does not stand firm becomes a coward, and he who fears nothing and rushes into danger becomes foolhardy... Temperance and courage, then, are destroyed by too much and too little, but are preserved by the mean."
While it may be difficult for an individual to find the exact mean between, let's say, gluttony and anorexia or cheapness and profligacy, how hard is it to figure out that convincing a 17-year-old to strap dynamite around his waist and blow up himself along with a bunch of strangers is nothing short of extreme cowardice? Same with nose-diving airplanes into buildings. Or stealing land and, for that matter, oil. Or putting your soldiers in harm's way with lies and deceit.
Most of the problems in the world today seem to be caused by religious extremism - or fundamentalism - whether it be Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
I keep a frightening news photo over my desk; it shows a group of Iraqi women shrouded in burqas. Some of the women have cut eye-holes for glasses, but all the bodies are veiled from head to toe; their noses stick out under the fabric. A religion that makes women wear tents in public is what I would call extreme. But so is one that tries to destroy Title IX or roll back Darwin.
When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) spoke about the Iraq situation in Brattleboro, Vt. recently, he said, "What was conceived as a campaign against terrorism, focused on al-Qaeda, is increasingly perceived by many of the world's 1 billion, 200 million Muslims as a war of aggression by the United States and our predominantly Christian allies, against Islam itself. This, I submit, is a disaster."
Then he quoted American Christian leaders who "speak for President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's strongest supporters." For example, Reverend Franklin Graham, who gave the invocation at George W. Bush's inauguration, said on NBC, "I believe [Islam] is a very evil and wicked religion."
On "60 Minutes," Rev. Jerry Falwell called the Prophet Mohammed "a terrorist." On the Christian Broadcasting Network News, Rev. Pat Robertson said, "If I say something that Islam is, you know, an erroneous religion, then I get criticized by the Anti-Defamation League. You just want to say: 'When are you going to open your eyes and see who your enemy is?'"
I believe we might be facing a religious World War III. What happened to the Golden Mean? For that matter, what happened to "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," a crucial part of all the great religions of the world?
In my darkest thoughts, I believe that none of this is really being done in the name of God. I believe it is being done in the name of power. Whether it's Osama bin Laden trying to bring down Western civilization, or whomever is running Hamas this week trying to make sure that when Palestine becomes a state, they're the ones running it, or Ariel Sharon building a morally indefensible wall and Jewish fundamentalists teaching their children how to defend it, or Bush and his cronies trying to convert the Iraqis to Christianity and corporate capitalism, God is only the burqa. God is the shield behind which they hide.
"Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in?," wrote Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. "What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love."
When it comes to extremism, Goldwater didn't know what he was talking about. I stand with Aristotle and George Carlin, who said there is only one commandment: Keep thy religion to thyself."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.