‘Down under’ is no longer a location

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

Anytime we see advertisements regarding visiting Australia or New Zealand, the common phrase is exploring “Down Under.” It is a colloquialism referring to the Southern Hemisphere and the fact that these countries are south of most other lands. However, today, I would use the term to refer to the degradation of human encounters. We have, collectively, sunk to the depths of depravity and destruction.

The history of hate extends beyond our understanding of time and space. From the first killing described in the Bible to our present condition, we have learned nothing about controlling our impulses to express our disdain for others through hate. We have learned nothing about how hate can, not only destroy each other, but also ourselves. It is a disease that festers and grows and eventually consumes us.

Humankind was designed to accommodate many abilities, some good, and some bad. The desire to control the bad is, most often, lost in the realm of everyday living and survival. Each and every day we read of incidents that cause us to pause and step back wondering all the while whether we are in some dark place that has no light to lead us back to sanity.

We are inundated with news reports twenty-four hours a day. Not only are we in an age of immediate gratification, but also in an era of witnessing events as they unfold. On and on, the reports are described in great detail with only a warning that some of the depictions are gruesome and the details even more so. It seems that we are in a 3D movie and the scenes are right here, within our grasp.

Religious teachings offer us insight and the ability to make sense of it all. But, there too, we find that we are distancing ourselves from the morality of its reaches. Survival is not offered to the many but rather exercised by the few. The atrocities we are exposed to seem to have found receptive acceptance. There is a moment of sadness, followed by a moment of remorse, and then the next chapter is written indicating a never-ending spiral into the depths of “down under.”

No longer do we read stories, or hear wondrous deeds of selfless individuals attempting to relieve pain and suffering through heroic efforts. The missing pages of attempts to eradicate hunger or housing the homeless, or working toward a better tomorrow, can be found on the busy streets waiting for the sweepers to pile them into a heap of rubbish soon to be discarded.

Age-old prejudices are more prevalent than ever. For every inch of progress toward creating an atmosphere of connection we lose two. The flagrant display of hostility is not because of one person, or many people, but rather because the so-called disenfranchised now have found their moment in the sun. They have no fear, just anger and frustration. This is what makes it so frightening.

Anti-Semitism, Islam phobia, xenophobia, now seems to be the norm. It has gained acceptance and is, in some circles, encouraged. More than that, however, it is tolerated because of indifference. Nothing has been learned from the past. As the world continues to mature it was thought that this kind of vulgarity was destroyed with time. However, we are learning, rather vividly, that evil can, and does resurrect itself. Scapegoating deflects the root cause of the sadness spread through anger.

The nightmares of France, England, New Zealand, and the United States, reinforce the belief that religious hatred continues to permeate all societies. Hatred knows no boundaries, and left uncontrolled, or deterred, will just fester and grow until the nightmare becomes uncontrollable.

Perhaps the world will begin to realize that intolerance knows no difference between color, or sex, or religion, or even region. Perhaps we tolerate more than we can understand because we are afraid and intimidated by the attempts being made to curb our ability to live in peace and contentment.

What has happened to us? Mayhem and destruction are all around us and seems to be uncontrollable. We read and witness scene after scene of heinous acts committed in the name of something we do not really understand. Our minds, cannot, and perhaps will not, truly understand how we have gone “Down Under,” with no hope to rise above the inferno.

Hate has supplanted reason. Tolerance is not in our vocabulary. Some circles applaud tragedies and watch as our young people get caught up in the frenzy of the destruction of sacred thoughts.

Civilized societies require that we confront this evil that has infiltrated our lives. Civilized societies require us to attempt to create positive approaches to the need for survival. Civilized societies should require discourse to temper the madness to ensure the sanctity of life.

Leadership is required. Leadership is defined by example. Leadership should include the understanding of the futility of hate filled episodes. It seems that we are leaderless and the vacuum it has created leaves us with hate. We are now “Down Under,” and up and over, and sideways, and it will only change if we make it so. And, then perhaps we will surely understand that an attack against one is an attack against all.