America is not well. This is not a controversial statement. People from all walks of life, all beliefs and political leanings and religious bent, when honest, are forced to admit that the United States of America is ill, in a deep and pervasive sense. Perhaps the only point of contention on this is whether the disease is terminal – can America be saved, or must we shed the carcass?
When diagnosing, the prevailing method of education is to assess the symptoms, and then develop the diagnosis based upon what one has seen. This is done for mental illness, physical illness and even in our day to day lives, when making judgements centered on the people which make up our interactions. When looking at America, the symptoms are numerous: school shootings, fentanyl deaths among a larger opioid crisis among an even larger overmedication crisis, a dishonest and divisive media, untenably high housing prices, a lingering pandemic, an increasing inability to purchase adequate amounts of food for many Americans, significant numbers of homeless children (not to mention the adults), pervasive police brutality, and a plethora of other symptoms; not that they are less concerning, but only that they might be missed when looking at all these that would be deadly on their own.
In the face of the Uvalde and Buffalo massacres, we are yet again faced with this form of tragedy but, perhaps even more damning, we are again faced with the apathy that follows, as we Americans have become almost inured to these rampages. This apathy is perhaps the most concerning of all the symptoms, as it is always the emotion that seems to flood all people, after the immediate reactions from whatever tragedy we are faced with fades in immediacy. In this blog, I have often spoken about impotent rage, and this apathy always seems to pervade after our rage is confronted by our impotence to change the situations that our country is continually faced with. Apathy is only replaced when we are directly affected – when we know someone who is wasting away with a needle in their arm, when a family member is on the verge of homelessness because of soaring rent, when it is our grandparent that we are not allowed to see as they die in a hospital because of uncaring pandemic restrictions. This lack of care, except when we are directly affected, speaks to another symptom of the American sickness – the disintegration of community.
While symptoms can lead a shrewd individual to an accurate diagnosis, they can also lead one astray. Perhaps even more often than leading one astray, they take too much of our attention, and it is the symptom that is treated. While this can have beneficial effects, as I am positive addressing any of these symptoms listed above would, they do not attend to the underlying disease, and thus, at best, put a band aid on a severed artery. At worst, we can delude ourselves into thinking that the situation was handled, while the disease continues to metastasize. Addressing symptomology can only start once the disease has been accurately identified and the symptoms are attacked in a systematic manner, where one is aware of how one affects the other, so that there is long term change, with an eye on the next decade or three, not just on the next fiscal year.
So what is this disease? In many ways, to my eyes, it is the death of religion and community. We, as Americans, prize individuality to the point of danger. We idolize ourselves and our stories over the stories and challenges of our communities, our families and our country. In this hyper individualism, we have also placed ourselves above God, believing that through human rationality, through science, through politics or sheer will, we can attend to the ills that have plagued our nation for so long, and only continue to get worse. This is not the case. We cannot succeed in curing the cancer at the heart of this country, until we recognize that it is a cancer of spiritual and religious rot.
This is not to say that we can simply ask God to fix our problems, and sit back and watch as this is done. Rather, we must recognize that all our efforts need to be in service to Him, and not to our own selfish and short sighted goals. Our actions can only be tuned to success and the betterment of humanity when they are in line with the Heavenly will. In this country, all too often do we forget that the Divine will is not simply our own.
Attending to this disease begins first with compassion for the people around us, for the neighbors that have political signs on their doors that we despise, for the person begging at the corner of the gas station, for the woman struggling with the decision to abort because she has no support and no one to help her. By realizing that we are the servants to the lowest among us, by giving ourselves to those who are most needy around us, and by having compassion even for those that we cannot find a single common piece of earth that we share other than our shared humanity – this is how we can begin to address the symptoms that threaten to