Who ever thought we would say this, but it seems to be the case that society could be collapsing before our very eyes. The common bond that forges a basis for unity is disintegrating, indicated and exemplified by the litany of headlines that continue to bombard us. We know them all: people inexplicably refuse vaccination, thereby overcrowding hospitals and threatening everyone. The majority of Republicans promote the big lie. 30 million overly armed militia stand ready. Fox news dissolves truth, broadcasting untruth and falsehood. The list goes on: increasing attacks on blacks, Asians, Jews, women. Cruel despots are lauded. Mobs seek to overthrow the government, US senators believe that other peoples’ children, children of the nation, are not their responsibility. And we are supposed to applaud when Bezos and other bozos of the super rich revel in their own spaceship.
How much of this can we stand? And why is this happening?
The first and most obvious answer is that the benefits and goods of society are not shared. The rich and powerful have taken most of it, leaving mere crumbs for those who struggle the most. This thievery in itself is enough to explain a demise of democracy, but there is another level. We know that each of us, individually, lives in an egocentric world that we have created for ourself, and that that self-centeredness continually corrodes and weakens social bonds, but there are also national ideologies that form a social glue. The German language has a word for this phenomenon: Weltanschauung, a combination of Welt, which means world, and anschauung, meaning to look on or view. Usually translated as world-view, it refers to a culturally shared perspective that encompasses many dimensions of life together. History is replete with examples. The Middle Ages of western Europe, for example, existed for centuries within and under the order imposed by the Roman Catholic church. Closer to home, the US has in the past been motivated by various Weltanschauungen, be it the optimism of the unlimited resources of a new continent, westward expansion under a divinely inspired Manifest Destiny, or the mobilization to fight and prevail in WW2. Neither necessarily good nor bad, they represent a common perspective that shapes a culture’s view of reality.
Three central beliefs joined to form the Weltanschauung of 20th c America: The American Dream, the American Empire, and White/Christian America. The Dream was the illusion that anybody could climb the ladder of success, a dream that gave hope to those struggling economically. It was a fabrication, of course, but it functioned as a powerful bond. And because we were so great, we had a right to rule the world and take what we wanted. And that was a god-given right because we were a nation favored by god, the christian god who empowered white people.
What we are currently witnessing is the dissolution of these three beliefs that have been operative in the minds of millions, consciously or not, and the extreme Right’s agitating these same millions by bemoaning the loss of Empire and the loss of the “Christian Nation”, blaming these losses on immigrants and Muslims. They never mention that it is they, the rich, the corporations, the powerful, who took away any vestige of the Dream that might have remained.
Gone, then, is the American Dream where everyone who worked hard could be a success. Gone is the self image of a glorious country who had a right to rule the world, the city on the hill, casting a beacon of light to the rest of the world. And gone is the falsehood of a White/Christian America, created by the Founding Fathers and gifted to their descendents. And, we might add, thank god they are gone. They were and continue to be destructive in so many ways, and the violence that ensues is tearing apart the fabric of society. Realizing that they are losing the images that structured their minds, the millions are encouraged to fight the loss and follow the fascist leaders who promise a return to the supposed golden era. We will make America great again, they promise. And the path is littered with hate crimes, militias, big lies, voter suppression, and insurrection.
There is another way. If it is true that societies create a Weltanschauung by which to live, and if it is true that the big three elements of the American Weltanschauung are no longer functional, can we not develop a perspective that would enable us to function in harmony rather than disintegrate from within? On the personal level, we can say: love yourself. Accept who you are, grow, advance, open your mind. On a social level, follow the quintessential teaching of the ages: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s not that difficult. And on a planetary level, realize that we are all one- humans, rocks, trees, animals, water- everything. We are an integral part of the whole, not dominant over it.
This approach is not some pie-in-the-sky solution, nor a sermon emerging from some religious piety. This unifying perspective is in reality a practical solution for survival. If we cannot realize that love for self, others, and the planet is the only Way to survive, we are in danger of losing everything.
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.