My wish for the new year may sound simple but actually is impossibly complex: I wish for a dose of common sense among Americans in 2016. Read on to understand the challenges involved.
1. The first area where common sense is needed is gun violence. As of today, Texans will be allowed to wear guns in public; and the wide availability of weapons in the U.S. plays into the hands of psychos, terrorists, and other malcontents with alarming results. At issue: the American Rifle Association and its fundamentalist reading of the second amendment to the Constitution, to the delight of those making money selling weapons.
2. Another area of fundamentalist madness is the willful denial of man-made climate change by such groups as the Heartland Institute, which uses quack science (here I quote from Anthony Annett of Columbia Univ.) to mock the idea of climate change while upholding the virtues of unlimited use of fossil fuels. This, as many observers in other countries know, is a uniquely American issue driven by (guess what?) financial interests. Annett's article in Commonweal goes after George Weigel, who writes skeptically of the UN's global warming guidelines, pretending that the issue is actually subject to debate. He is a Catholic intellectual who fails to take in the encyclical on this topic by Pope Francis.
3. Finally, there is religious fundamentalism itself, which Francis has attacked (press conference on Nov. 30): "Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," he said, noting that Catholics are not immune as when they believe they have the absolute truth and proceed to attack others "doing evil." Literal, fundamental readings of sacred texts has led many decent people into extreme behavior, as we see with Islamic terrorism.
As Richard Rohr has written, literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning. People who merely want to be right and have power can easily turn sacred texts into dangerous documents, as when, in the past, Christians have advocated slavery, apartheid, consumerism, nationalism, and other "isms." Jesus himself knew, says Rohr, that not all scriptures are created equal and that certain punitive or exclusionary texts in the Hebrew tradition should not be read on the same level as those offering inclusion, mercy, and honesty.
What is needed is the Big Picture, the broad vision which puts into perspective the narrow literalism that exists on many levels. It so happens that Pope Francis, having written and spoken wisely about the dangers of violence to man and the environment, having called fundamentalism a sin, and having privileged mercy and forgiveness, is one of those who might hold a key to the common sense we need.
If only we would listen and practice what such leaders say and do instead of retreating into the fear, control, and power-seeking that results from fundamentalism. If only we would work for justice, we might have what we most want: peace.