Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder and the False History Syndrome

on the use of history to deny reality and a call to healing and justice through awakening conscience in church and community

by Stephen Muse, Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
– Jesus of Nazareth

Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
–Elie Wiesel

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” is one of those shibboleths before which the mind suddenly retreats in docile acceptance as if it were unquestionable. The reality is that history is often written to make sure that people do not know what actually happened precisely so that we will repeat it. This is why the writing of history cannot be regarded as merely an academic exercise of citing objective facts, but rather as a type of moral and humanitarian enquiry. [1] Does the historian make crimes against humanity visible and support the struggle for justice and community building or does it serve some other purpose? History written by victors rather than the defeated tends to be a kind of “designer history” serving the interests of the dominant culture by defining normality, depriving certain persons of their voices and rendering crimes and exploitation against them invisible. In democracies, control of the people happens not at the point of a gun, but by manufactured consent through manipulation of history and the media [2] and through dependency on and obedience to the increasing efficiency of depersonalizing bureaucracies [3] at the expense of individual conscience.

The Holy Spirit supports persons in tolerating the discomfort of self-examination, to bear responsibility for wrong-doing, and seeking to make amends. In the same way it takes a critical mass within the community responsive to the Spirit and accountable to one another in order to “see” trauma; to be responsible now for the history of what happened then so as to learn from it and not repeat the mistakes. This is spiritual warfare on the communal level and is vitally important as that which goes on in the interior of each person, requiring on-going vigilance, continual repentance and sustained dialogue. Without it, a collective “false memory” is implanted and cultivated by being repeated and taught to a new generation of students, which influences and shapes the meaning of their present. To the extent that history avoids engaging the voices of the oppressed and those who read it fail to examine it with conscience as God’s call to justice now, as did Jesus and the prophets, such history impedes healing by inducing soul-numbing denial that blocks communal repentance as a nation just as it does for perpetrators who remain in denial on the individual level.

What I am calling “false history syndrome” signifies the misrepresentation or omission of the historical record for the purpose of avoiding critical re-examination that promotes justice. This avoidance is symptomatic of the collective psychic numbing of a larger problem which I am calling “Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder” that afflicts nations and the faith communities institutionally most beholding to them. Communal acceptance of historical disinformation in the face of injuries that go unseen puts everyone at greater risk, including those whose wealth and power on the surface seems to protect them from it. What happens on the collective level to deny reality and impede justice very closely parallels what happens on an individual basis. Healing from trauma is important for the community as a whole because, as with individuals, it makes it less likely that victims will visit similar harm on others. The dissociative elements of not knowing, not seeing and not feeling our history accurately — personally and as a community of nations — and the cost we pay for it, is the theme of my reflections.

God’s world or mine?

Cain and Abel personify a classic spiritual struggle in which one part of humanity sacrifices another because of being unwilling to share living space. In the historical account provided in Genesis, it is the ground who cries out to God with the spilled blood of its voiceless victim and God who calls Cain to account as a result. History is tied to the earth in a way that evokes a response from God. This is often the case with severe brutality. It seems that “only God sees” what is too great a devastation for human witnesses to bear. Only one out of twelve of Jesus’s Apostles could bear the pressures involved in being with him to the bitter end.

Murder of one’s neighbor is a form of self-murder, of suicide, in so much as the Hebrew underlying Leviticus 19:18 “You must love your neighbor as yourself” means literally your neighbor as being your own self. This part of the story provides commentary on the history of tensions between indigenous hunter-gatherer communities who saw themselves as belonging to the earth as given to all by the “Great Spirit” and those who presumed to own and use the earth, justifying this privilege by referencing a Divine mandate, even when it entailed the destruction of whole peoples, an ingredient implicit to the history of colonialism such that it is argued “to be in any way an apologist for colonialism is to be an active proponent of genocide.” [4]

The history of the destruction of the spiritual descendants of Abel includes all those peoples deliberately and unknowingly sacrificed for colonialist expansion of the gold-seeking spiritual descendants of Cain. Their unheard cries and spilled blood reach God who walks upon the earth, searching out the lost and the oppressed. God is the Author of history written from the standpoint of victims who are the “least of these”, each of whom is ultimately revealed as being God’s own son or daughter. Seen through the history of Judaism and Christianity, these all have a part in the sacrifice of the Lamb, “slain from the foundation of the world” which both reveals and condemns injustice as well as opens the door to reconciling inimical communities at the cost of bearing witness to the Truth in his own blood which as remembered in the Divine Liturgy, “on behalf of all and for all”.

God, as both King and sacrificial Lamb, is always on the side of the oppressed. Both Mosaic and subsequent Ecclesiastical New Testament history are written from a liberation perspective. When Jesus stands up to read from the Isaiah scroll in his hometown of Nazareth, the people are at first enthralled by his articulate reading of the Scriptures. Religion as “history” and “ritual” ensuring the status quo is comfortable and familiar. But when the people begin to realize that Jesus is entering history as a threshold over which to pass into God’s liberating, community-making activity now, as a call to action sharing God’s heart, of experiencing the world through God’s eyes, and of loving the world with God’s love, then as they say in the deep South, he’s “gone from preachin’ to meddlin.” Meddlin’ can get you lynched.

Why? Because it threatens the power and the privilege of those who use history to avoid being responsible for current injustices; to avoid repentance and argue as did Cain after murdering his brother, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) Why does the CIA routinely provide funding and philanthropy for prominent professors to do research and write essays that back U.S. policy? [5] It is ideological strategic warfare conducted in the intellectual arena. History is not neutral. It has a valence and serves either to awaken conscience or to put it to sleep and so reflects the struggle in every human heart on a daily basis. Healing and empowerment on the individual, personal level is connected to healing collectively and we can learn a great deal from examining this connection closely.

When believing becomes seeing

A woman who was raped developed PTSD symptoms months after her rape when she learned that her rapist had killed another rape victim. Why? Because she re-interpreted the history (memory) of her rape as having been “a life-threatening attack.” “The critical ingredient that makes an event traumatic is the subjective assessment by victims of how threatened and helpless they feel.” [6] History is meaning-making. When I believe it, it becomes so and as the mind goes, so goes the body. PTSD symptoms are always experienced here and now, even though the original events that precipitated them, occurred in the past. It is the new meaning evoked by the rewriting and subsequent believing of that history that creates destructive changes for the person in the present. History can create trauma where there was none and can heal it by the mere fact of reworking the meaning of the event through a retelling of it and engaging it in the present.

In this way, a man who was gently and tenderly sexually molested by his mother over a period of years on a weekly basis, found healing 40 years later as his story was told for the first time after he had been mandated to therapy for boundary violations in an otherwise successful military and industrial career. It had come to light unconsciously and destructively through his acting out the untold story in some compulsive behavior. He began to find healing and an emotionally available new life, by courageously revisiting the original scenes of the childhood victimization and reworking the meaning of the events that had shaped his beliefs at the time, incarnating the pain and thereby honoring the voiceless cry of the child-victim still alive and mute within his nervous system. Atonement with his dissociated visceral self occurred slowly as the man embraced and incarnated those unheard cries of pain, rage and sadness lying dormant in the ground of his own flesh. God heard his cries in the presence of another human being. It is never too late to redeem the ravages of the past, but this can only be done now by facing the truth of what has been denied, not merely intellectually but embodied and witnessed in community through dialogue with others. History is replete with the voices of victims crying out from the ground waiting to be heard.

This is why the telling of the history of God’s people, including all crimes against humanity such as slavery, holocaust and other forms of collective genocide, is so vital and must be retold and witnessed within the community who enter into it afresh as a kind of spiritual plumb line and call to action in the present. Where this does not occur, the seed of the original crime continues to produce the fruits of further destruction wherever it is planted and God’s word remains dormant until activated by personal encounter. “Doing” history is a form of spiritual warfare on the collective level as much as is mental prayer within the inner being of each person and each involves a relationship of dialogue. They are two dimensions of the same indissoluble link between the Spirit (ontological) and the flesh (existential) given the Divine gift of free choice: the true coin of the spiritual realm, e.g. “I set before you this day life and death. Blessing and curse, therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). It is only when the body confirms the truth of the words, that feelings appear and persons are set free. In the same way it is only when the body politic is willing to privilege and engage the voices of the oppressed that justice can emerge as the foundation for building authentic community.

There is both a personal and a larger sociopolitical context for “seeing” trauma. What if, like a person afraid of grief and shame, the culture as a whole isn’t ready and/or able to “see” the event and avoids the truth. What then? Sexual abuse of children was well documented during the second half of the 19th century in France. In 1859 French psychiatrist Briquet made the first connection between symptoms of “hysteria” (somatization and dissociation) and childhood histories of trauma. [7] Interestingly, as soon as this occurred people like Alfred Fournier objected that the memory was being falsified. At the time he called this “pseudologica phantastica” which meant that the traumatized children were falsely accusing their parents of incest; they were only imagining their injuries. Pseudologica phantastica represented societal resistance to seeing the victimization. It was just too painful and would require too much work to bring justice. So the answer was to blame the victim, even if it was France’s own children. Collectively, this is the same as avoiding repentance on the personal level. Maintaining the illusion of propriety and righteousness of the oppressors is valued over protecting the victims from abuse. This is a theme that repeats itself over and over in history and is no different in 2007 then it was in first century Palestine during Jesus’s time or 5000-6000 years earlier with Cain and Abel. It is a denial and abandonment of Christ wherever and whenever it occurs.

Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder

On the individual personal level, the core issue in post traumatic stress is the inability of the soul to integrate the reality of particular experiences resulting in psychic numbing, hyperarousal, and repetitive intrusion of the trauma in the form of unintegrated images, behaviors, feelings, physiological states, and interpersonal relationships. The experience of helplessness at the core is a kind of biochemical fixative that stabilizes traumatic stress in the autonomic nervous system like a photograph that doesn’t change so long as the victims are voiceless and the community refuses to see any alternative. Shame and the attack on character resulting from helplessness in the face of victimization dismembers a person. Silence of the community in the face of victimization of a person or a people, in effect demoralizes or discourages them, by attacking at its root, their sense of belovedness, cutting them off from self, others and God in the depths of the heart which is frozen in mute helplessness. This dismemberment is the spiritual core of the injury evoking despair, the most dangerous of the so-called seven deadly sins, because it paralyzes freedom of choice; the place of personhood from which the active encouragers of hope, faith and love arise.

The strongest predictor of whether someone will develop PTSD is whether or not they dissociate during a trauma. Interestingly, the rate of total amnesia following traumatic experiences is three times as high for Hispanics and two times as high for African-Americans as for Caucasians. [8] Could this have anything to do with who has power and control in society; with who already feels helpless because of systemic cultural circumstances and historical fallout? Like the nurse in her tent who later discovers news of her near death, victims of aggression are tempted to dissociate in the context of a society for whom they remain invisible, exploited and constantly under threat.

Racial profiling and equating economic class with Divine blessing and/or failing to consider the impact of arbitrary privilege inherited by white citizens is a clear signal to people of color that they are more likely to be injured again; and if they are, that no one will respond because they are not visible. They do not matter except as a commodity for exploitation by the dominant group that has dehumanized them for the purpose of using them and because they are reminders of how suspect is some of the foundation upon which the privilege of a few is built. When there is a clear history of exploitation for centuries that does not figure prominently into current historical analysis, this in itself constitutes a factor engendering traumatic stress. In the same way as the victim of incest is injured again by the denial of her perpetrator when he is confronted, if there is no validation it is more difficult for the victim to persevere in her recovery from the damage of her past. She may regress and be thrown into doubt about her own experience. “Did it really happen? Was I at fault?” This is why public memory of every crime against humanity in any form is so vital to identify. It is invisibility that helps make such crimes possible in the first place, but it is a peculiar kind of invisibility — very public and yet hidden at the same time. Hitler’s so-called “final solution” to the Jewish “problem” was made possible because first having had their citizenship revoked without any public outcry, the Jews became invisible from a purely bureaucratic standpoint. That is, since the state did not recognize them legally as citizens they were not protected by law and could be imprisoned and exterminated without having broken any laws and hence, without remorse of conscience. [9] How do we explain public silence and passive compliance in the face of this and other atrocities?

healing and justice require a community:

As a pastoral psychotherapist for two-decades I have seen on a daily basis how fear of grief and loss affects our lives and the many ways each of us avoids the truth about ourselves. Even the late Sigmund Freud zealously defended a theory that emerged out of his own denial regarding the problem of sexual abuse of women because the Victorian society he lived in at the time wasn’t ready to hear it and his fear of rejection by his peers outweighed his desire to honor the truth. This human frailty underscores why as Judith Herman, MD in her classic volume Trauma and Recovery has pointed out, a community witness is needed.

The systematic study of psychological trauma depends on the support of a political movement. Indeed, whether such a study can be pursued or discussed in public is itself a political question. The study of war trauma becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the sacrifice of young men in war. The study of trauma in sexual and domestic life becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the subordination of women and children. Advances in the field occur only when they are supported by a political movement powerful enough to legitimate an alliance between investigators and patients and to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial. In the absence of strong political movements for human rights, the active process of bearing witness inevitably gives way to the active process of forgetting. Repression, dissociation, and denial are phenomena of social as well as individual consciousness.” [10]

In Freud’s case, under pressure of societal censure and rejection, he retracted his original theory that sexual abuse was the cause of “hysteria” in his women patients replacing it with the “Oedipal” theory that it was the children’s longing for the parents that created in their imagination memories of abuse by adults who should have protected them?\blaming the victim again. His psychoanalytic work unwittingly compromised his patients’ history by seeing it from the perspective of the abuser and more than a half century later, the leading U.S. textbook on Psychiatry (Kaplan, Friedman & Sadock, 1980) still appeared blind to women’s reality stating that “incest happens to fewer than 1 in one million women and the impact is not particularly damaging.” We now know the enormity of the problem as one out of three women report sexual assault in childhood [11] and the U.S. Justice Department estimates 250,000 children are sexually abused annually [12] while another 3 million children in the U.S. were reported abused and/or neglected [13]

What happens on an individual level happens on the collective as well. Denial affects churches and nations and it is much more difficult to get at because, as Dr. Herman points out, a critical mass of persons is needed who are able to tolerate seeing the problem as a problem. This is one of the essential points of James Loewen’s thesis in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me that systematically surveys history books used in American high schools. Ironically the U.S. spends billions of dollars to ban and police mind-altering drugs yet we let these mind-altering, character-deadening “history” books pass without any problem, even though they are soul-dulling patriotic propaganda that do not help our children dig deep enough to find facts that invite wrestling with the ambiguities and moral issues that could help build their character, test their values and inspire in them a thirst for justice and a willingness to make sacrifices for it.

History as a form of denial

Instead, in many instances the same social forces that silenced Sigmund Freud keep our communities naively celebrating as hero’s persons like Christopher Columbus by ignoring or downplaying certain facts. In Harvard historian Sam Eliot Morison’s 1954 book Christopher Columbus Mariner, to his credit he includes the observation: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.” Yet, as contemporary historian Howard Zinn points out, the author’s concluding summary provides a different emphasis for his readers, directing them away from critical moral analysis.

Columbus had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great?\his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty, and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to this most outstanding and essential of all his qualities?\his seamanship. [14]

What is intended by the misdirection of saying there was “no dark side” to his seamanship while ignoring the glaring blasphemies and savage cruelty of his leadership recorded in his own published journals that evidence the malevolent dark side to him as a “Christ-bearer”? Like a movie director, the angle of the historian’s camera directs the reader’s attention. Jewels of truth are then placed in the setting of a summary that trumpets the glory of seamanship effectively denying weight to the enormous atrocities that point to the dark side of Columbus’s character and intentions which surely reflect the rapacious imperialism of European culture at the time, having betrayed Christ for Mammon and now like the prophet Jonah, finding itself in the belly of a Trojan horse version of Christianity foisted on the natives to their near utter destruction. Cultural genocide is only briefly alluded to with a whisper, thus leading the reader far a field from conscience and instead, toward a cheap religious-patriotic sentimentality that has no substance and purpose other than help readers find pleasure in contemplating an illusion that supports the mythical foundations of American culture. It is like focusing on a slave’s happiness in receiving an extra helping of potatoes from the kindly slave master who rewards him for his excellent blacksmith skills, all the while overlooking the great evil of slavery itself! Such a spin throws water on the coals of conscience that could have been ignited by critical examination of how these same colonialist policies are at work today keeping Americans blind and numb to our contemporary collective sins which include continued militarization of the world through second rate arms selling; misrepresenting the raison d’etre of continuing expansionist wars aimed at control of natural resources; and economic exploitation of labor throughout the third world, all the while trumpeting our support for democratization and human rights.

Facing injustice from the ground up:

While it is true as the late Rev. William Sloan Coffin observed, “All nations make decisions based on self-interest and then defend them in the name of morality” [15] the test of a Democracy is its capacity to engage in critical self-examination that supports justice. But, as with the cry of sexually abused children in 19th century France, when self-examination threatens to call to account the larger hidden power structures and entrenched privilege that have been operating outside our own laws without accountability to the people, intense resistance arises.

What does it take for the community to engage in humble, sustained self-questioning dialogue together rather than in mere mechanical polarized debates that serve as entertainment and diversion from such dialogue? The fight to arouse conscience and interest of the privileged members of a community is almost always brought about from the ground up by the oppressed themselves banding together, rather than by those in power. It took 400 years to find enough critical mass to begin to change the effects of racial discrimination in America and only then, a hundred years after a bloody civil war fought largely over this issue, and the victims themselves began to organize and resist continued oppression at a sacrificial price that won over the “silent” majority by activating their consciences.

Gaining the right to hold property and to vote in the American Democracy along with putting an end to the crime of woman abuse was begun by women themselves challenging religiously justified, legally protected and social entrenched male power and privilege permitting economic, political and sexual exploitation of women. The right of a man to beat his wife “as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb” was protected by American and English law until the beginning of the twentieth century. There were no safe houses for women in the United States until the mid 1970′s. Assault was not considered a crime because it was “domestic” — a justification not so different from permitting a slave master to punish and dominate the slaves he “owned” in ways that society would not tolerate being done to a free white man, because they are seen as less than human.

It is our own heartlessness, self-indulgence, complacency and greed that permit us to write and passively accept innocuous superficial historical romances that do not stimulate critical examination and questioning for its meaning for us today. This has proved extremely difficult in the church which all too easily aligns with worldly power as well. A recent case in point is until the early 1990′s Americans denied the fact that as many as 10% of our clergy were sexually abusing their own parishioners, violating their professional and faith covenants and the church hierarchy was covering it up. Literature in the clinical arena began to show up coterminous with lawsuits in the public arena and more and more victims came forwards to be heard now that the community was listening and money was at stake.

Like Freud, once having denied the truth our hearts know, having sold ourselves to lesser gods than the Living One who is the Creator of all peoples, it becomes inevitable that we live in various forms of psychological denial and rigidity in order to keep our sins hidden. This means the truth of our hearts is betrayed. Jesus said, “The sheep will not answer to anyone but the Master’s voice.” Thus great effort is spent writing history imitating the master’s voice, using religious justifications so we have the appearance of righteousness, but without its substance, “religion without power” as Timothy writes. The Truth sets us free, but only if it we risk choosing to fight for it and live it.

Honoring voices from the wilderness:

For those with ears to hear, the voice of God cries out most clearly from the unknown depths and most loudly from the voiceless dispossessed. Jesus of Nazareth was born in a forgotten despised enclave of Galilee among the “people of the land” as they were called by the Jerusalem elite who owned 90% of the wealth of Israel at the time. Israelites were a subjugated people held in contempt by the Roman Empire which saw the Jews as a strange and insignificant people. The Jerusalem elite, in turn, saw the people of Galilee as “not worthy of being butchered,” [16] They considered their women “vermin”. The Apostle Luke was well aware of the irony of these tremendous discrepancies in political power and socio-economic status when he wrote

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; and Herod being Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanais Tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiphas the Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.

To whom will the word come alive again in our time? And who will risk loss of power and privilege by speaking and fighting for it? There are multiple justice issues related to America’s unconscious denial of the class elitism, virulent racism, economic exploitation and violence that continue to funnel people into our judicial and prison systems. America has more people incarcerated than any country in the world with a disproportionate number of African American, Indians and Hispanic (not to mention mentally ill whose numbers are increasing dramatically as funding for public mental health treatment is withdrawn), again evidencing the inequities that remain from our legacy of materialism, discrimination and cultural genocidal practices. Such injustice remains unobserved not only in our prisons, but in the backyards of forgotten crossroads in our country such as recently in White Clay, Nebraska where four liquor stores exist in an unincorporated “town” of eighteen people just outside the dry Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation, (which former President Bill Clinton described as a “third world country” in America’s heartland). Ten thousand cans of beer are sold in a single day to the impoverished Lakota people whose genetic make-up puts them more at risk for alcoholism than any people in the world. This slow genocide justified by American (white) law as “business” which is filling the pockets of a few people at the expense of an entire nation is not unlike the smallpox-infected blankets deceptively given out by British General Jeffrey Amherst which decimated the Indian people a couple centuries earlier. Same old story. Why does it get told over and over and not recognized for what it is? History again. Who is telling the story and for what purpose?

(T)he easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation to save us all)?\ is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.” [17]

In the American context, what is particularly disturbing is that the “legal” basis for Western civilization’s treatment of the indigenous peoples (estimated to have been as many as 100 million in the Americas, prior to 1492), including the founding of the city of Columbus, Georgia where the author lives, which was created by the forced removal of Creek and Cherokee in the Trail of Tears, rests on the spurious and blasphemous religious law of a medieval Pope known as the “Doctrine of Discovery”. In practice, this law provided that wherever Christians went, as the “superior” religion (race? civilization?) they were entitled to claim it all — the land and its resources and even the people themselves as slaves. And this is exactly what happened, even when it meant contradicting our religious faith and our own laws and democratic process. President Andrew Jackson used executive privilege and authority of the Presidency, as others since him have done, to overrule the will of congress and throw the Cherokees off the land even though they had converted to Christianity in large numbers, clearly had “discovered” the land before the Europeans and even done due diligence to legally acquire it through use of American system of law and upheld by the Supreme court?\all to no avail. Why? Historian Richard White explains

The Cherokee are probably the most tragic instance of what could have succeeded in American Indian policy and didn’t. All these things that Americans would proudly see as the hallmarks of civilization are going to the West by Indian people. They did everything they were asked except one thing. What the Cherokees ultimately are, they may be Christian, they may be literate, they may have a government like ours, but ultimately they are Indian. And in the end, being Indian is what kills them. [18]

In other words, neither our own law, other people’s law or Divine law would be allowed to stop European economic expansion, even if it means cultural and biological genocide.

Being responsible for the painful truth

Some argue genocide is too strong a word. Nazi Germany’s clear intentions in World War II galvanized a horrified public momentarily shaken from complacency by photographs of crematoriums and mass graves of German citizens evidencing clear genocidal intent, but only after the fact. Drawing on the work of Raphael Lemkin who first coined the term “genocide” in 1944, Ward Churchill, scholar of the impact of federal schools on the destruction of Indian culture, suggests that “any policy undertaken with the intent of bringing about the dissolution and ultimate disappearance of a targeted human group as such” is genocide. [19] But it need not be so stark and clear. In fact the insidious nature of seemingly lesser forms are just as dangerous. Addressing the U.N. committee drafting international law to protect world citizens, Lemkin defined three forms of genocide: biological, physical and cultural.

Among the acts specified in the original draft are “the forced transfer of children … forced and systematic exile of individuals representing the culture of the group … prohibition of the use of the national language, or religious works, or the prohibition of new publications … systematic destruction of national or religious monuments or their diversion to alien uses … destruction or dispersion of objects of historical, artistic, or religious value and of objects used in religious worship. [20] Significantly, the chair of the U.N. committee was the delegate from the United States who orchestrated the elimination of the entire category of cultural genocide from the final document, presumably because it didn’t serve U.S. interests.

Does it matter that we fail to question the meaning of these actions in our city councils when they decide to declare Columbus Day a holiday or that we do not debate this history in our schools as more than an ancient artifact, but as a vital memory having meaning for all Americans now and a claim upon our future? As pastor Martin Niemoller observed in Nazi Germany in his time, we are all affected by the slowly creeping injustices that go unchallenged among us wherever we are. If we do not challenge genocidal activity as a community, then we are inviting it to continue until one day the monster eats us all, as is the case for every addiction which is always a symptom of some degree of denial and evasion of the truth that is part of the moral sickness of post traumatic spiritual disorder.

In Germany, they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant?

In a terrible twist on an old Biblical maxim, “The first shall be last,” perhaps the most “forgotten” of all Americans are the original inhabitants of the United States. They are part of America’s greatest blind spot because we, like Freud, are in denial about the real price they paid and continue to pay, for our profit. The truth is that Americans live on land we stole from the indigenous peoples, breaking the word of our own laws again and again as in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie, practicing cultural genocide and sending out a plethora of sentimental, one-sided propaganda in our children’s history books and from Hollywood over our television screens to continue falsifying the historical record. Such illusions served the myth of American rugged individualism to preserve and grow the so-called “American Dream” — itself a fantasy invented in the 1930′s after the Great Depression, probably as a kind of dangling carrot for people coping with the depression of the times. Pursuing the American Dream is a sloganizing metaphor that invites hard work in the hope of advancement, when in fact the large majority never will be able to succeed in this and it only helps fuel the coffers of the very elite rich who become even wealthier and more powerful at the expense of the rest. This is particularly appalling when it is observed that of the 400 richest men in America, only 31% gave to not-for-profits in the last year, suggesting clearly that wealth does not lead to philanthropy without the strings of control attached designed to the reinforce the power and increase the holdings of the wealthy. In reality the disparity between rich and poor continues to increase:

Between 1983 and 1998, the net worth of the top 1 percent grew by 42.2 percent, while the net worth of the bottom 40 percent dropped by 76.3 percent. In other words, the bottom 40 percent of the United States population lost three-fourths of their family wealth over the past twenty years. As of 1998, the top 1 percent of Americans owned 95 percent of the country’s assets, and the top 60 percent own 99.8 percent of the nation’s wealth. [21]

To the extent that some actually enjoy such a “dream” while most are striving to attain it without questioning what it continues to cost the world, we like Sigmund Freud, are likely to remain defensive about sustained self-examination, e.g. of our commitment to promote justice and human rights in the world, even while proclaiming to the world how we are experts in it.

According to my friend Jamie Moran, In the Iroquois tongue, a “warrior” is one who accepts responsibility for “protecting the Sacred Origins of existence.” Jesus was executed in accordance with religious and political law, not because he was a miracle worker, healer and sage, but because as a King, he threatened the entrenched religious, political and economic power-possessing beings seeking to preserve the status quo. Ultimately Jesus was fighting for truth in the heart and justice in the community regarding the Sacred Origins that gives life to all cultures and races and he did this at the price of his own. This is always the sacrificial stance of every great prophet, priest and king who stakes their life to the meaning of their word spoken in behalf of all the people. “Unless a seed is planted in the ground and dies, it dwells alone.” If we cannot see that protecting the Sacred Origins is exactly what is at stake in how we write and disseminate history then we are missing a critical hermeneutic that separates history as artifact and curio from history as the trail of blood, sweat and tears of such warriors who became martyrs (witnesses) in their efforts to secure freedom, not for the few, but for all human beings.

A call to Christian conscience and away from false religion

If it is only back then in the first century that Christ was betrayed, what is there to do now? If I have never owned slaves, am I responsible for my ancestors? Does a painting or an archeological “artifact” belong to a museum because it has possessed it since it was first stolen or was illegally removed by desecrating an ancient burial ground a half century earlier or two or three? Am I free of responsibility to others for my inheritance of the power and privileges handed on to me as an English-American male? What if as in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, the Gospel is a kind of “icon of eternity”? In other words, the betrayal of Christ is something that is happening now, just as when Jesus was reading the scroll of Isaiah, he realized it was being fulfilled at that moment. The powers and principalities that threaten to devour us cannot be defeated by slogans or eliminated by rituals alone. These may help us suffer the disease or tolerate it, but the cure of the infection lies much deeper. Perhaps Christ saw it in the difference between the widow and her “penny” and the philanthropists whose large sums surely took the front page of the Jerusalem Times away from her … but not her headline in the Gospels. Jesus saw the spiritual poverty and injustice involved in uncommitted heart-numbing bourgeois complacency: “worldliness … is essentially the capacity to look past the unfair distribution of the world’s wealth in order to affirm one’s right to its spoils.” [22] But worldliness is not only America’s problem. Nicholas Berdyaev diagnosed it as a spiritual disease affecting Russia a century earlier, weakening it to the point that a terrible anti-Christian revolution took place that was far worse than the feckless Christian theocracy it replaced. [23] Unfortunately the virus is spreading fast around the globe. The same forces at work tempting Jesus 2000 years ago are at our doorsteps today, inviting us to choose where we stand.

On a global scale the shift of capital in to fewer and fewer hands has been even more pronounced. According to the 1999 United Nations Development Report, eighty countries have per capita incomes lower than they were a decade ago, and the assets of the world’s two hundred richest people total more than the combined assets of 41 percent of the world’s population — that’s more than the combined wealth of two billion people. [24]

What does it cost the world for so few people to enjoy such control? Not to recognize this and to continue with the illusion that the majority can “have it all” perpetuates the false-history syndrome.

Religious affluence easily suffers this same fate as well. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70AD, they flooded the empire with so much gold recovered from the Temple that the gold market in Syria dropped by half its value. Ironically, it was the wealth taken from the Temple of Jerusalem which was later used to build the Coliseum where Christians were tortured and ripped to shreds by lions in front of spectators for their enjoyment. Such enjoyment is surely part of the collective psychic numbing and hyperarousal of the Roman populace, sick with post traumatic spiritual disorder. More than likely, they also suffered from false memory syndrome perpetrated by historians weaving myths about Roman superiority and the inferiority of the enslaved, exploited nations they colonized. “The stigmatization of poverty is closely connected with the psycho-social dynamics of stigmatization in general … since those who are stigmatized are imputed to be impoverished, that is, fundamentally defective as persons.”[25]

According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is revealed not in great fanfare of the powerful, but invisibly and in unheralded actions of sacrificial love like the poor woman putting “all that she had” into the Temple Treasury for the benefit of all. Viewing the world through the heart of the Divine historian, this woman’s penny revealed her infinite riches in the Kingdom of God. She who had no worldly income and therefore little worldly value, in recognizing that everything belongs to God whose good pleasure is to give it away, she revealed herself as a spiritual child of Abel, beloved to God. Blessed are they whose love renders them empty as our Lord was empty, for they shall be filled with the bounty of the Lord’s table. She had not acquired the fear that so easily accrues to a heart so sated with unexamined privilege and possession that it leads to excusing oneself from the Divine invitation to the wedding feast of Grace. Wherever the “business” of making a profit is placed ahead of love for humankind and stewarding the Creation as belonging to God who gives it to the whole community, and not just for the welfare of a few, it serves as an excuse to betray the call to “love kindness and to do justice and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) by sharing communion with all others. Surely this is a destructive course.

Repentance and love for enemies includes all:

Having acknowledged these things I must also admit that like the first century individualists Annanias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1ff), I hold back a portion from the community for myself and my family out of fear disguised as common sense and reason. I struggle with the fact that I do not trust the heart of humanity or God enough to risk giving everything to “follow Christ”. To the extent that I have worked the fields of my vocation in this life, not to contribute to the family of humankind, but to overeat at the trough of the bottom line of “profits for the few at the expense of the many,” I will doubtless be hungry in the Kingdom of God. Why? Because I have learned to nourish my soul on food fit only for pigs, course nourishment indigestible by the soul which lives “not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” giving life to all the world.

I who have inherited the spoils my ancestors received by systematically cheating and killing the original inhabitants and exploiting millions from other continents, will suffer the fire of conscience of being forgiven by those same forgotten victims who have been robbed, lied too, enslaved and murdered. God will show me Grace only through their mercy in order to heal my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. I who have often lacked the will and desire to pay the price of entering into the Wedding Feast prepared by the Lord and the Widow and all others like her, shall be last. Nevertheless, I have hope that by the mercy and economy of God, even the likes of me shall receive a portion of the distribution made to the starving masses of us who in living, failed to realize that God is Love and it is not possible to enter heaven by betraying any part of earth and any one on earth. In the end, I will approach God and my ignored and despised “lesser” brothers and sisters as a beggar, crying out “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner!” believing and hoping not only in the Lord’s mercy and goodness, but asking forgiveness from Abel and all his descendants as well.

What are the implications of this hope and prayer now while I am yet alive? Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh I am told, used to say that the only possible stance for an Orthodox Christian in the Church is one of repentance. As we chant in the Divine Liturgy, “We have found the true faith” it is not cause for feeling superior in any way, but rather for entering still more deeply where even Jesus himself feared to go, into the world’s Gethsemane, crying out to the Holy Spirit for strength where my own fails me. For unless God builds the person, the temple, the community or the country, those who build it build in vain.

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endnotes :

1. “The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological: it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.” (Zinn, H. A People’s History of the U.S. (NY: HarperCollins 2003), p. 8.).

2. cf. Chomsky, N Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. (Boston: South End Press 1989); Chomsky, Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. (New York: Open Media Series 2002); Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. (New York: Pantheon 2002)

3. Rubenstein, R.L. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. (NY: Harper & Row 1975)

4. Churchill, W. cited in Jacobs, D. (ed.) Unlearning the Language of Conquest. (Austin: University of Texas press 2005), p. 222.

5. Cf. Gibbs, D. “The Question of Whitewashing in American History and Social Science” in Jacobs, D. Unlearning the Language of Conquest. (Austin: University of Texas Press 2005)

6. Van der Kolk, McFarlane, Weisaeth, Traumatic Stress (NY:Guilford Press 1996) p. 6.

7. IBID, p. 49.

8. Elliot & Briere, “Posttraumatic stress associated with delayed recall of sexual abuse: A general population study.” (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8, 1995) pp. 629-647.

9. cf. Rubenstein, R.L. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. (NY:Harper & Row 1975)

10. Herman, J. Trauma and Recovery. (NY:Basic Books 1992) p.9.

11. Russell, D. The Secret Trauma. (NY: Basic Books 1986)

12.McFarlane & van der Kolk, 1996. p. 38

13.(National Victim Center report, Crime and victimization in America: Statistical Overview. (Arlington, VA 1993)

14. Zinn, H. A People’s History of the U.S. (NY: HarperCollins Publishers 2003) p.8

15. cited in West, C. Democracy Matters: Winning the fight against imperialism. (NY:Penguin Press 2004) p. 155.

16. Kraybill, D. The Upside-Down Kingdom. (Pennsylvania: Herald Press 1978)

17. Zinn, H. 2003 p. 9

18.Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (Comprehensive Management and Use Plan, U.S. Dept of Interior, National Park Service)

19.cited by Gabbard, D. in Jacobs, D. op. cit. p 219.

20. IBID p.220)

21. Inchausti, R. Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, revolutionaries, and other Christians in disguise. (Michigan: Brazos Press 2005) p. 85

22. Berdiaev, N. in Plekon, M. ed. Tradition Alive: On the church and the Christian life in our time, readings from the eastern church. (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2003).

23. Op. cit. p. 86

24 Op. cit. p 86

25. (Jones, J. “Confronting Poverty and Stigmatization: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective. (http://www.incommunion.org/artciles/resources/confrotning-poverty-and-stigmatization. 2006) P. 2.

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Bibliography

Chomsky, N. (2002) Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of

Propaganda. New York: Open Media Series.

Chomsky, N. (1989) Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Boston: South End Press.

Elliot, M. & Briere, J. (1995) Posttraumatic stress associated with delayed recall of sexual abuse: A general population study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8, 629-647.

Gibbs, D. (2005) “The Question of Whitewashing in American History and Social Science” in Jacobs, D. (2005) Unlearning the Language of Conquest

Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. (2002) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon

Herman, J.(1992) Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks.

Inchausti, R. (2005) Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, revolutionaries, and other Christians in disguise. Michigan: Brazos Press.

Jacobs, D. (ed.) (2005) Unlearning the Language of Conquest. Austin: University of Texas press.

Jones, John. D. (2006) “Confronting Poverty and Stigmatization: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective. http://www.incommunion.org/artciles/resources/confrotning-poverty-and-stigmatization. P 2.

Kaplan, H, Freedman, A. & Sadock, B. (Eds.) (1980) Comprehensive textbook on Psychiatry. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Kraybill, DB (1978) The Upside-Down Kingdom. Herald Press: Pennsylvania.

National Victim Center (1993) Crime and victimization in America: Statistical Overview. Arlington, VA

Plekon, M. (2003) Tradition Alive: On the church and the Christian life in our time, readings from the eastern church. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Rubenstein, R.L. (1975) The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American

Future. Harper & Row: New York.

Russell, D. (1986) The Secret Trauma. New York: Basic Books.

Van der Kolk, B., McFarlane, C. & Weisaeth, L. (1996). Traumatic Stress. Guilford Press: New York.

West, C. (2004). Democracy Matters: Winning the fight against imperialism. New York: Penguin Press.

Zinn, H. (2003) A People’s History of the U.S. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

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Correspondence to:

Stephen Muse, Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S.

Dir. of Pastoral Counselor Training and Clinical Services

D. Abbot & Elizabeth Turner Ministry Resource Center

of the Pastoral Institute, Inc.

2022 15th Ave. Columbus, GA 31901

[email protected]

A shortened version of this article first appeared in The Messenger: Journal of the Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland. Number 3. August 2007. pp. 3-14. Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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