One of the 20th century’s most delightful gifts was the mythicist, Joseph Campbell. He may have been all of history’s most enlightened scholars of comparative religions and after you peel away the genuflections, gimme-gimme prayers and a few “Is This Really Necessary?” human sacrifices, all religions have startling similarities.
Our own local albeit extinct Tataviam had a creation story nearly exactly copied from Genesis.
Campbell taught at Sarah Lawrence College for years and was world-renowned for his lectures and insight. You’d think with such a calling the guy would flirt with being stuffy. But he was author of several amazing, heady and terribly interesting books, including “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” Absolute charming fellow. Near the end of his days, he was asked what was that one thing that he had learned from studying worshippers, from those wearing bones through their noses to sporting giant papal hats.
I’ll never forget Joe’s answer.
He presented a sliver-wide gap between thumb and index finger. His joyful countenance grew deadly serious. He said: “We get into trouble the INSTANT we fail to see the Thou in our brother’s eye…”
The elusive “Thou.” Our Christhood. Or invisible link to all things. The very connection to God.
From Joe’s logic, I know I am in trouble.
A few weeks ago, a friend texted me a short video. It was taken in the boys’ restroom of what could be any middle school in America. The institution formerly known as junior high can be an insane asylum to begin with. Girls who had just learned cursive handwriting a seeming 20 minutes earlier dress like Las Vegas hookers. Boys come in outlandish sizes, ranging from bodies belonging to kindergartners to 35-year-old merchant marines.
I still ask myself. Save for Divine Intervention, would I calmly pull the trap door that would end the life the bully probably just 13 in this film?
The victim in this clip would have to put on 20 pounds to make it to 98-pound weakling. His assailant was easily two-and-a-half times his size. Methodically, he kept hitting the other child, picking him up effortlessly and slamming him headfirst, over, and over, and over again, into the tile wall. Minions encircled, cheering him on, taking the wretched smartphone videos. The body, soul and psyche were not meant to absorb such blows.
How many TikTok views from our two-headed American culture? Some toothily inhaling the beating. Some shocked and sickened.
I was struck by the abject hopelessness, on so many levels, of this senseless, devilish beating. There was no place to run for the little kid. Fists struck him. He was kicked. Then the horrific slamming, head first again, into the vile, cold walls of the boys’ bathroom.
Did that film make it back to the school administration? Did the young psychopath get the obligatory “tut-tut,” and a negative paragraph added to his file? Maybe a three-day suspension? Did the bully’s parents see the video? Were they shocked? Proud at the machismo? I can’t imagine being the father of the child not just beaten, but dignity ripped and torn from him. Honest to God? They’d be still digging up Bouquet Canyon, searching for where I buried the bully alive, along with his parents.
And that is my particular sin. More and more, it’s harder and harder to forgive. I feel my soul is slowly sailing out to a dark and treacherous sea.
Another hero of mine was the 20th century philosopher and spiritual healer, Joel Goldsmith, founder of The Infinite Way. In the listing of unorganized religions, he championed a life’s path that was a cross between the New Testament and Buddhism. I’ll never forget, hearing Joel on a tape. During World War II, with totalitarianism, socialism and Nazism threatening the planet, Joel, a Jew, was asked if he could forgive Adolf Hitler. Goldsmith’s reaction? He giggled. Like a little kid, he giggled at the absurdity of the question, then responded: “What if Mr. Hitler called me for a treatment?”
I am currently light years from that clarity, that kind-heartedness of Goldsmith and Campbell.
Had dinner with friends a few weeks ago at the Backwoods Inn. One dear pal lamented that he used to rise in the morning and check the day’s headlines. Every few days, there would be some whopper of a story about man’s stupidity, evil or vulgar inhumanity. He noted that now, sunrise brought a dozen of these stories — every, single day. The sane of us, we all ache for order. Sanity.
My own heart? It’s been longing more for retribution. Not that it was any banner anniversary, but the California Rangers were disbanded in 1855. They were a special unit, formed by the SCV’s own jefe indiscutible, Ignacio del Valle. Ignacio was also one of the major players in the state and mayor of Los Angeles. He used local talent, including gunfighters Cyrus Lyon and W.W. Jenkins, to clean up the crime-ridden El Pueblo and boy howdy, did they. In a year-plus, the Rangers worked themselves out of a job. They hanged, shot, stabbed, beat and hurt the feelings of anyone remotely suspected of being a nuisance.
Every day, I see more and more photos of murderers and rapists, let out on a nickel’s bond, only to cause more ripples in a national lake of blood and grief. In this odd new partnership, the government and even fellow citizens enthusiastically open the cages to let monsters roam, leaving families with only mourning.
I’d probably cheer to see a return of the California Rangers. They cleaned up L.A. Then what happened? Civilization was supposed to advance. But, 168 years later, it’s only worse.
And I’m worse.
My heart has gone dark because I could see, pulling the latch that opens that trap door, sending an eighth-grade boys’ bathroom bully into the abyss. And with him would go my soul, the one that failed to see the “Thou” in my brother’s eye.
And still. I ask if it would be worth it.
John Boston is a local writer. His bookstore is johnbostonbooks.com.