* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fear and Family Ties: Examining the Exotic Cultural Origins of Judeo-Christian Thought

Some say that blood is thicker than water.  It's also scarier than water for a lot of people.  In the story of Isaac and Rebekah and their sons, Jacob and Esau, we find that Judeo-Christian ethics emerge from a culture that is very foreign and very familiar at the same time.  It is the very insular and fearful culture of one family that forms the basis for biblical spirituality.  This, again, refers to passages in Genesis chapters 24 through 34.

Fear is a natural human emotion, and certain circumstances and relationships can foster fear more than others.  In Isaac's case, a certain amount of fear is learned from his father, Abraham, and he responds to it as Abraham did.  When Isaac is living in Abimilech's land, his fear of the other men there leads him to tell the same lie Abraham had told about his wife on more than one occasion.  Isaac identifies Rebekah as his sister.  When Abimilech sees Isaac and Rebekah being affectionate with each other, he realizes the truth and chastises Isaac.

Abraham's insistence on purity of the bloodline is also handed down to Isaac.  When Esau (technically the eldest son) marries local Hittite women, his parents Isaac and Rebekah are not pleased.  But Esau was responding to a dynamic that his parents created.  Even though Esau was the elder son, his brother Jacob was the one that mommy loved best.  In fact, Rebekah encouraged Jacob to steal a final blessing from dad while Esau was out hunting.  If the story is to be believed, when the two brothers were younger, Jacob had demanded his older brother's birthright in exchange for food.  When their father was about to die, mom apparently wanted to make sure the deal was sealed.  So, in a feat of trickery that seems unbelievable, Jacob tricks Isaac into believing that he is Esau and Isaac blesses him.

Here is the weird bit: When Esau returns, Isaac oddly declares that he only had one blessing to give and now he's out.  Even understanding that words have power and such, this seems like a strange claim to make.  "I have two sons, but only one of you can receive my favor."  How does that not equal atrocious parenting?  To make matters worse, when Esau challenges Isaac on the "only one blessing" claim, Isaac basically curses him with a prophecy of a challenging and violent life.  No wonder Esau gets back at mom and dad by marrying a few Canaanites.

As has been mentioned, it's a simple thing to write prophecies back into stories after the fact.  If the history of these two brothers and the legacy they leave behind are the main themes of the story, then prophetic words from the mouth of their father make for good storytelling.  This is essentially the way that an oral tradition works.  One has to keep the listener interested in the story if they are to remember it and pass it down to their descendents, and foreshadowing is a very effective tool for maintaining interest.  Still, the impression of Isaac as a father comes across as less than model parenting.  And while it may still be the way some mothers behave, the intensity of Rebekah's favoritism (which leads her to encourage deceitfulness between her children) isn't much closer to an idealized picture of what a mother should be.

In any case, according to the story, Rebekah and Isaac are not happy with the idea of Jacob also marrying some local trash, and Rebekah is afraid that Esau may be angry enough to kill Jacob.  Thus, Jacob is sent off to find a wife among his family's people and live with his uncle, Laban (Rebekah's brother).  He finds two wives, as a matter of fact, and they are sisters.  Rachel and Leah are actually Laban's daughters, and as the story goes, they are the first women Jacob sees.  Since they are Rebekah's nieces, that makes them Jacob's first cousins.  Since they are also Isaac's cousins twice removed, the two sisters are also Jacob's second cousins twice removed.

Laban doesn't make Jacob's courtship easy, either.  Jacob wants to marry Rachel, and Laban demands seven years of labor in exchange.  At the end of the seven years, Laban pulls a fast one and sends Leah instead of Rachel.  (Laban and his sister must have learned from the same teacher.)  But Jacob wants Rachel, so he works for another seven years and earns her hand as well.  Their story has lessons of its own, but the basic theme in all of this can be seen in the best light as maintaining purity and in the worst light as insular and xenophobic.  After all, holiness in its most basic definition means to be set apart.

The patriarchal family of the entire biblical narrative creates a belief system out of a fearful, insular culture in which deceit is practiced even within the closest familial relationships.  All of the mandates and "shalt nots" in the scriptures can be traced back to this behavioral tradition.  While we sometimes hear arguments that the culture of biblical times was different from modern-day culture, we rarely stop to think just how different it was.  This family preferred marrying multiple cousins in order to maintain a purity apart from the influence of the rest of the world.  Does that level of paranoia seem healthy on any level?  Why do we accept rules and axioms based on fear and deception?  Why is it impossible to conceive of a scenario in which brothers are encouraged to coexist peacefully and relatives don't deceive one another just to get their way?  Aren't people capable of more than this?

That's a rhetorical question, of course.  Some people don't believe people are capable of anything more than this.  Some people believe that we are indeed deceitful, conniving, and scared at our very core, just like Abraham's family.  The only person in the bloodline who seems to have any sense is Esau, who sees the relationships around him and decides he wants nothing to do with it.  Although even he goes a bit overboard with marrying four Canaanite women just to spite his parents.  Children of all ages are influenced by their parents' dramas, and the patriarchal line of Genesis is no different.  Everyone has choices, though.  We are only bound by the fears and beliefs of our parents as far as we want.  We have the option to claim an identity based on trust and hope rather than fear and deception.  And we don't have to go overboard like Esau in order to do it.

The desire for separateness brings up another issue for modern American society, however.  If those who wish to honor biblical standards of behavior also were content to keep themselves apart from mainstream society, there are few people who would challenge them.  Like Abimilech, leaders would most likely say what they could to make believers feel safe and let them do as they wished provided it didn't infringe upon the livelihood and well-being of others.  However, some believers want to hold everyone to their standard.  They want the whole of the population to be compelled to adhere to a standard that has more to do with fearfulness than it does with right and wrong.  And many of them are quite willing to practice deception in order to get their way.  While we can see a biblical precedent for this kind of behavior, this is not keeping oneself apart.  This is not maintaining holiness.  This is bullying, plain and simple.  Frankly, I believe we are capable of better than that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Evaluating the Power of Prayer: Is It Magic, Meaningless, or Personally Transformative?

A couple of times in the story of Isaac and Rebekah, the practice of prayer comes up. It will continue to come up frequently in scripture, obviously, so a basic understanding of prayer seems appropriate at this point. Even among religious people, there are different beliefs about the value of prayer. Some people claim that prayer can heal disease, mend broken relationships, provide guidance or comfort. However, there are also medical studies which suggest that people have more post-surgery complications if they know that strangers are praying for them. Whatever the case, any understanding of prayer has to take into consideration the belief system in which it originates.

Most Christians would agree that the God they believe in is omniscient, omnipotent, and loving and compassionate beyond human capability. In light of this view of an external divine being, prayer can have only a few possible interpretations. Sincere prayer can only be magic, meaningless, or solely valuable to the person doing the praying. Public prayer can also be used by people who want to convey the appearance of righteousness and holiness for political reasons, and prayers can be used by people who want an excuse for certain actions or decisions. These distortions are less than sincere, however, and this is an important distinction to make. It goes without saying that the practice of using prayer to manipulate other people’s opinions or perceptions is despicable and abusive.

But why would sincere, effective prayer be equated with magic? Any time people believe that they can have a supernatural effect on the world around them, this is the practice of magic, witchcraft, or alchemy. If God can be convinced to take action by a person’s persistence or faith, this actually places power in the hands of the believer rather than a deity. It is really no different from deciding that if the right color candles are lit and the right incantation spoken, you can make another person fall in love with you, or recover from an illness. Of course, one may believe that God is a loving and all-powerful being who simply waits for the actions of believers in order to have an impact in the world. There’s nothing to prevent a person from believing that the prayers of the faithful can move God to action. But a person who believes in that particular flavor of witchcraft or magic should at least recognize it for what it is.

If there is an all-knowing, loving deity who cares for people, then it follows that such a being would do what it was willing to do, whether people asked for it or not. If God intended to heal someone, it would seem that the person would get healed whether anyone prayed for it or not. So, if prayers are not magic, and if God is completely powerful and loving, then there’s actually no real value to prayer. God will do what God will do, whether believers request it or not. Otherwise, people are constantly at the mercy of those who choose to pray rather than a divine power.

None of this changes when one considers the idea of prayers for guidance. In witchcraft terms, this would be called divination. People have also used astrological charts, tea leaves, Tarot cards, bones, gut instinct, self-help books, and any number of other resources for guidance. It’s natural to want to know what the right answer is before making a decision. But if one can coax an answer from God by fervent prayer, this is really no different from sorcery. Likewise, if God wishes to put a believer’s feet on a particular path, wouldn’t he do so with or without a specific request for guidance? There is nothing loving or compassionate about playing games with people’s fates based on whether they ask the right questions.

There is another option, however. Whether any sort of divine being exists or acts in the world, prayer can alter the perspective and the attitude of the person doing the praying. When people take the time to quiet their minds and sincerely align their attitudes with their values, there can be a profound personal impact. One may not be able to cure cancer with an attitude adjustment, but a person can certainly find peace and guidance from a still moment of contemplation or prayer. There is also the matter of gratitude to be considered. Recognizing and expressing one’s gratitude can be an extraordinary way to align one’s actions and intentions with deeply held values.

The objection may be voiced that prayer must be directed outward, by definition. How can one seek guidance if there is no higher power to do the guiding? How can one express free-floating gratitude without someone to be grateful to? I honestly don’t see the problem with turning inward for guidance, or in acknowledging gratitude without a deity to address. Just as happiness and anger and sadness are emotions that don’t always have discretely defined objects, gratitude is an emotion. One can be thankful without addressing the thankfulness to anyone in particular. And I believe that many people already know the answers to their important decisions, although we don’t always trust ourselves. We want some sort of reassurance, especially when our ideas seem out of sync with mainstream thought. Realizing one’s capability to guide oneself can empower a person to take action even when there are no blatant signs from above to rely on.

In fact, taking action is perhaps the most effective way to ensure that a prayer will be fulfilled. There is perhaps a temptation to wait for an external deity to do something. This temptation is fueled by a perception of an external divine that is wiser than any person and capable of producing miracles with the same ease that human beings breathe. Without an illusory deity to grant wishes, it falls to the individual to act in accord with a sincere prayer. Hopefully, such action will not only be in accord with an ephemeral wish, but also in alignment with deeply held values. So often, people can be their own answer to prayer, if they are only willing to act in accord with what they want and bring forth the power of creation that dwells within every person.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Relying on Signs from God and the Abdication of Personal Responsibility

Much of the book of Genesis is about cultural history: where places are located and the origins of their names, the lines of successions of various places’ rulers, and the lineage of the forefathers of the Jewish people. Then there are stories about those forefathers, some of which seem like they could have been written by a sensationalist modern-day screen writer. Although some people see only encouraging spiritual lessons in these stories, the tales contain some rather disturbing content as well. Taking things in bite-sized chronological chunks doesn’t necessarily give a complete picture of what’s going on with these people, so the next few segments will dwell on a span of chapters from Genesis 24–36.

After Sarah dies, Abraham takes on another wife, Keturah (presumably a local Canaanite girl), and she is young enough to bear him six more children. The descendants of these children became the Letushites, Leummites, and the Midianites. Although the Letushites and the Leummites are not mentioned again, the Midanites thrive as nomadic, polytheistic shepherds until Moses raises up an army to destroy them. The atrocities of that hostility are not enough to put the Midianites down, though, because they return later on to be a thorn in Israel’s side during Gideon’s time.

Abraham apparently did not have the same kind of close or instructive relationship with the sons of Keturah as he did with his son Isaac. Still, before he died, Abraham gave considerable gifts to the children of his concubines (plural) and sent them away, leaving Isaac with whatever was left. But Abraham didn’t think a Canaanite girl would be good enough for his son, so he sent his right-hand man back to the land of Abraham’s people to get a wife for Isaac. The servant set out for Nahor, the town founded by Abraham’s brother, where he met Rebekah, the grand-daughter of Nahor (which means she’s Abraham’s grand-neice, and Isaac’s first cousin, once removed).

When the servant sees Rebekah, he knows that this is the woman for Isaac. He claims that this is because he prayed to God and defined the precise signs by which he wanted God to guide him. The precise signs were the first girl who offered him water to drink and water for his camels, and to make it easy on God, the servant stood next to a spring. This level of hospitality was not uncommon for the region and the time, so the servant was basically making it easy on himself. When he saw Rebekah, he also rushed to intercept her, doing his part to help things along.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban (who will show his true colors when Isaac’s son Jacob comes a-courting), and her mother, Bethuel, approve of the marriage and send Rebekah off to join Isaac in Canaan. The story suggests that they approve because of the servant’s tale about praying to God and then seeing Rebekah, and her display of hospitality in offering water to him and his camels. While it is impossible to know what goes on in the mind of every modern-day believer, it seems suspect to dictate exactly how a god should reveal the right decision. If I want to go out looking for a wife, I could say, “God, send me a sign by having the woman you want me to marry smile back when I smile at her.” I could then go out and smile at any attractive woman I encounter, and voila! God has spoken.

On the other hand, if I am enjoying bachelor life, I could say, “God, send me a sign by having the woman you want me to marry ride up on a grizzly bear, juggling artichokes and singing Mack the Knife.” I could then sit in my house all day and determine that God doesn’t want me to marry anyone. I might make such demands based on my level of interest in the result, or as a way of acting out a self-destructive drama. Either way, the decisions I make determine the likelihood that I will get what I want out of the situation. Attributing things to God serves the twofold purpose of getting human beings off the hook and making the decision indisputable.

The response to a prayer of Isaac shows a different side of the perceived external divine, however. Rebekah was childless, so Isaac prayed to God that she would have children. His prayer was answered. Rebekah got pregnant, but she had a feeling that something was wrong. God told her that the twins she was carrying would establish nations which would be at odds with each other, and that the older would serve the younger. Some kind of cosmic practical joke? “I will answer your prayer for children by cursing you with children who have problems getting along with each other.”

Well, these kinds of prophecies are easy to make after the fact. There are many women in the world who get pregnant without praying for it, and there are many women in the world who don’t get pregnant despite fervent prayer. Just as prayer doesn’t make the right bride appear, prayer doesn’t make conception occur. If it did, that would be like magic. And while it’s convenient to blame a divine prophecy for the behavior of siblings, the story reveals plenty of reasons why Rebekah’s twins, Jacob and Esau, would have a difficult time getting along with each other, not the least of which was parental favoritism which led to bullying and deception. We surely can’t lay all of that on the shoulders of an external divine being.

It’s convenient to place control of all that is good or bad in the hands of an external, all-powerful being. When we like something that has happened to us, the external divine can serve as an object for our gratitude. When we don’t like what has happened to us, we can blame an external divine instead of our own choices, and if we are fearful enough of that external divine being, we will accept the consequences without too much complaining. After all, “everything is just as God wants it to be.”

The problem, of course (as has been stated before), is that people make decisions and choices that impact their lives and the lives of people around them. Sometimes, it would be easier just to be honest with ourselves about what we want. After a long journey, if you are willing to ask the first attractive girl you see to marry your master’s son, just be honest about it. Gut reactions and personal desires are going to determine those things anyway. Just be honest with yourself. If you want to go out and get a job, make the decision to go out and do everything within your power to get it. If you just think that you should be working, out of a sense of obligation, be honest that your heart isn’t really in the search. Figure out what is standing in your way, and be honest about what you want. The results of being blatantly honest with oneself can be profound and life-altering. Attributing every outcome to something outside of oneself is a form of victimhood, and it can lead to seeing oneself as weak and incapable. Most people are strong enough and capable enough to be honest and take responsibility for their own actions.

Accepting a realistic level of personal responsibility for our circumstances is healthy, as is recognizing what aspects of our lives are simply out of our control. Just because something is out of our spectrum of control, however, doesn’t mean that it is meant to be or willed by an omniscient being. Sometimes, things just are. There’s no divine purpose behind a bad relationship, or a toxic work environment, or problems with the construction of a house, or the death of a family member in a car wreck. One can potentially reap spiritual benefits from any circumstance, but that again comes down to personal choice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Morality of Being Willing to Kill a Child Doesn't Change Just Because You Think God Told You to Do It

Continuing with the narrative of the Old Testament story, Abraham and Abimilech make peace, the elderly Sarah gives birth to Isaac and promptly becomes too jealous of Hagar to bear having her around, and Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael (Abraham’s firstborn) out on their own into the wilderness, with God’s blessing. Which brings us to Genesis 22, in which Abraham takes his son Isaac to a mountaintop with the intention of sacrificing him to God. He reportedly does this because God told him to, and thus Abraham is willing to go through with it. At the last minute, a ram caught in a nearby bush (seen to be provided by God) is substituted for the boy, and God makes a promise about the future of Abraham’s bloodline.

Supposedly, the promise God makes to Abraham at the end of this horrifying story is the seventh promise God has made to him, but the promises are all strikingly similar: God grants Abraham a stretch of land (although he doesn’t provide any legal documentation that anyone else would honor), he promises Abraham lots of “children”, and he makes promises about how mighty and prosperous those children are going to be. Since the Jewish people are the ones who scribed all of this after passing it down through word of mouth for generations, one would expect them to be the heroes of the story. The promise by God is obviously intended to be indisputable, except that this story calls into question God’s morality and trustworthiness.

First of all, why did God find this test to be necessary? Abraham had already made a pact with God involving sacrificing animals, and then he made a further pact with God requiring physical mutilation, for which Abraham and his descendents really didn’t get anything further from God for the additional requirements. It is as if an insurance company decided to add an enormous fee onto the premium while offering no additional benefits, simply because they don’t quite trust their customers. Even though Abraham is faithful with the requirements of previous agreements, God decides he needs to be tested. The primary reasons to test people are either because you want to verify they know the material or because you don’t trust them. Abraham obviously knew the content and requirements of the previous arrangements, because he did what God had requested of him. So, this test can only be about God not trusting Abraham, which seems remarkably insecure for an all-powerful deity, but there it is.

Readers of this story may see spiritual lessons about trusting God in difficult times or about God providing what one needs or about God honoring the faithful. Such lessons are much easier to accept if one doesn’t think too much about the motivations of God in the matter. It’s one thing to think of a being as all-powerful and deserving of respect, but the all-powerful being’s behavior in this story is petty and manipulative. Who challenges someone to see if he will kill his own son, just to prove a point about divine might? Later on, Christians would see this story as a mirror of God’s own sacrifice of his son, which is an obvious narrative parallel, except that the God of this story in Genesis seems to have some psychological issues, not the least of which is a profound insecurity that leads him to require further evidence of Abraham’s faithfulness, just so God can renew a promise that wasn’t made with an expiration date.

So, apparently to satisfy his own ego, God commands something immoral, confirms that Abraham is willing to do this immoral thing without question, and then steps in and saves the day. Say what you will about God’s provision or trustworthiness, but the entire situation wouldn’t have existed unless God had contrived it and the sacrifice wouldn’t have needed to be provided if God hadn’t required it. Certainly, there were other gods worshiped in the area at the time, and there are reports of other people sacrificing children. The archaeological evidence of any widespread culture of child sacrifice in the area is scarce, but the Jews certainly accused some neighboring peoples of the practice. To the casual observer, the willingness to sacrifice one’s child is evidence of equal moral depravity, whether a ram gets substituted in the end or not.

It comes down to a matter of blind obedience. Trust without thought can be dangerous, even dangerous enough to put people’s lives at risk. If one believes in a Creator, then surely one must assume that the Creator provided human beings with brains for a purpose. Not to use those brains for rational thought seems like an insult. Beyond that, trusting in an external source to provide a way out of difficult situations abdicates personal responsibility. If one knows that killing a child is wrong, it is ludicrous to lose one’s moral compass for the sake of trusting something outside of oneself. The concept of an omnipotent and all-loving external divine being opens the door for people to stop reasoning for themselves. And if they can pin any horrific behavior on that omnipotent and all-loving divine being, then the mindless faithful and the god are both beyond reproach.

The entire concept of trusting God, even when what he asks seems suspect, opens the door to rampant justification for bad behavior. On top of that, people often wind up with different ideas about what God wants. How does one determine who is right? It would makes sense for believers to rely on their own internal awareness of what interpretation respects other people and acknowledges the innate beauty and value of every human being. Instead, the deciding factor is often which interpretation is expressed with the greatest amount of outrage and conviction. Plenty of horrific acts throughout the course of humanity have been pinned on God, because no one can legitimately argue against God. The truly horrific part is that God did not swoop down and stop any of those actions with a ram caught in a bush. Nor will he. The conclusions believers choose to draw from that observation are likely to be different from the conclusions I come to, but the fact remains that God does not intervene when people do immoral things in his name.

Reading or hearing the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac may convince you of God’s trustworthiness and the value of faithfulness, but the God of this story behaves in such a petty, manipulative, and insecure manner that I would find him difficult to trust if I believed in him. But where do we turn in the absence of an all-loving, omnipotent divine being? Some people are happy to believe in an external divine being, even one which displays symptoms of severe psychosis, just because there seems to be such a void without such a belief. I would suggest that human beings have value, and that we all possess the means to acknowledge and respect that value, should we choose to be thoughtful and aware. I have written these words before, but they bear repeating: Every person embodies an innate truth, beauty, and creativity, and every functional adult is capable of taking personal responsibility for honoring and respecting that innate truth, beauty, and creativity. That is the divine nature. It is not outside of us, driving us to do immoral things so that it can swoop in and save the day and gain our eternal gratitude and adoration. The divine is that truth and beauty and creativity within us, and we have the power to acknowledge it in ourselves and in every other person.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Human Condition: Why Making the Same Mistake Over and Over Again Doesn't Mean We're Broken

Leading from the idea that there are discrepancies in the narrative of the Bible, Genesis 20 is an excellent case in point.  Back in Genesis 12, Abraham lied to the Egyptians, claiming that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife.  Although Abraham prospered for a while because of his deceit, he was ultimately driven out of Egypt, and the lie cost him a great deal of comfort and security.  So it seems a bit odd when, much later in his life, after it is already declared that Sarah is an old woman and no longer able to bear children, Abraham lies to another group of people and claims that Sarah is his sister.  Quite honestly, it seems that this is just another version of a story about an important event or lesson in Abraham's life.  It seems unlikely that a man would make the same huge mistake twice, especially considering the level of maturity Abraham is supposed to have reached by this point.

The stories do end a bit differently.  Not only did the lie in Egypt cost Abraham, it cost the whole world a great deal of peace and security, if we take the story at its word.  One of the things Abraham gained in Egypt was Hagar, the Egyptian servant with whom Sarah suggested Abraham sire a child.  This was not only acceptable in the culture of the time, it was justified between Abraham and Sarah as following God's will.  Well, according to the story, Sarah winds up getting pregnant in her old age as well, and she winds up resenting the Egyptian servant woman and the boy that Abraham fathered with her.   So, Hagar and Ishmael are eventually sent away, and this Ishamel is the forefather of Muhammad, and thus is an important figure in Islamic culture.  Meanwhile, Sarah raises her own son, Isaac, a patriarch of the Jewish people.  No one can say what would have happened if Abraham had simply told the truth in Egypt, or if he hadn't slept with Hagar.  The end result of Abraham's first lie about Sarah has been centuries of conflict between the descendants of his two sons.

Of course, that conflict hadn't become an issue when Abraham lied the second time about Sarah being his sister.  It's worth stating again that the story seems unlikely as an accurate historical record of Abraham's life, but there is something that rings true about it on a deeper level.  Abraham indicates that it was habitual for Sarah to be portrayed as his sister and not his wife.  It had apparently been the practice in their relationship to deceive people out of fear for Abraham's safety.  Fear is a powerful motivator, even if it leads us to make mistakes we have made before.  That is the aspect of the human experience that makes the story plausible.

People do sometimes make the same mistakes over and over again, even when it costs them a great deal.  Some may look at that trait and determine that human beings are hopelessly broken.  That isn't the most helpful perspective.  Deciding that a person is incapable or that a situation is hopeless denies a deep truth about personal responsibility.  When we believe that we have no real power in our own lives, it's easy to keep making decisions that yield different results than what we want.  When people realize their own responsibility in a situation, they also recognize their own control.  If a person sees the realistic power to change, then the possibility for making decisions differently becomes an attainable option.

People make decisions for all sorts of reasons.  Fear is often a huge factor.  In fact, just about every decision we consider to be a mistake is the result of fear in one way or another.  There is something to learn from those decisions.  We might make similar choices many times before we fully understand our power to do something different, but once we reach some measure of awareness about our own power and responsibility in our own lives, we have many more options than what fear allows.  When we acknowledge the deep truth and beauty and creativity within every person, we open the door of possibility. 

People are not broken.  People are not hopeless.  People are not incapable.  Some people have more apparent challenges than others, but all people embody the capacity to do good in the world.  Even as we make the same mistakes over and over again, the possibility always exists to recognize the deep truth and beauty and creativity within us.  It is not out in the universe somewhere, pulling strings or watching and listening and judging.  It is immediately accessible within our own beings.  Our mistakes (no matter how many times we have made them) call us to recognize the falsehood of our fears and to acknowledge the truth about our own personal power and responsibility.