Will Charleston Wake Us Up?

06/19/2015 05:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016

Will Charleston wake us up? When a 21-year-old who has hardly begun to shave more than twice a month says (as reported by multiple media sources) that he wanted to start a race war, and was willing to kill nine people in order to do it, is it time for us to look at ourselves, again -- and ask some piercing questions -- again?

Has the human race lost control of itself? Is this just another aberration, or have there now been enough "aberrations" to make us ask: Are we really this primitive, this barbaric as a species? What is the problem here? What is causing all of this?

It's our beliefs.

In my observation, in my opinion, it's our beliefs. Every single thing we do is based on a belief that we embrace. All of our actions have their foundation in thoughts we hold about the outcome those actions will produce, and those thoughts are deeply rooted in the beliefs that sponsored them. A young man with a distorted mind just proved that to us.


But the distorted mind of one more perpetrator does not allow us to continue refusing to look at what is at least one source of our societal problem. Minds become distorted by ideas and beliefs that distort them. So what humanity holds, and shares, as its most sacred and important beliefs had better be accurate, had better make sense, or they will contribute to, if not outright sponsor, behaviors that none of us can make sense of -- except those who perpetrate them.

What I have been saying for 20 years in 30 books and hundreds of lectures is that it is humanity's beliefs about God that have produced humanity's dysfunctional experience of itself. Hundreds of us -- no, actually, thousands of us. Wait, let's say it like it is -- millions of us use our beliefs about God as justification for what we are doing.

Now that may or may not be the case with this 21-year-old man in South Carolina, but whether or not his actions grew out of religious fervor or faith, I am sure they emerged out of feelings of righteousness, and the idea that righteous indignation requires and justifies punitive action. And where do you suppose that idea came from? Well, I know of at least one source.

And so, i repeat: the ideas about God held in the common culture are used as justifications for what many humans are doing. I can tell you that political and paramilitary movements around the world are using those ideas right now -- and proudly declaring that they are doing so. Individuals are using those ideas every day -- and proudly announcing that they have bettered their chances of ending up in paradise because of it.

Even those who have no beliefs about God are widely impacted and deeply affected by those who do. It is a fact that many of the civil laws of our societies are based on restrictions and instructions found in Canon Law or Sharia Law. The result: people who may have no belief in God or Allah at all are affected by the mandates of those who do, who claim that their man-made rules and regulations have proceeded from a Divine Source and therefore carry the highest moral authority.

The time has come for us to admit that huge swaths of humanity believe in a God of righteousness, judgment, condemnation and punishment -- allowing us to be righteous, judgmental, condemning and punishing with each other. After all, we reason, what's good enough for God ought to be good enough for us.

The Bible narrative -- to cite just one example -- actually tells us that as a matter of recorded history over two million people have been killed at the hand or the command of God. And we are advised by many religions that God's love can turn to wrath -- and does if we displease The Almighty.

Do we think this has nothing to do with how we, ourselves, behave? Do we imagine there is no connection whatsoever between these thought systems, these beliefs, and the actions, choices, and decisions of individuals and groups across the globe?

Yes, we do. Many of us do. Even as we declare with impunity that when we commit atrocities in the name of a Higher Power or a Greater Good, they are absolutely moral and correct, but that when the same things are done to us, those actions are immoral and evil, and those who perpetrate them are subject to God's judgment and retribution (to say nothing of our own).

And, amazingly, we fail to see the contradiction.

We use anger to end anger, violence to end violence, killing to end killing, and fail to see the contradiction. We sanction the killing of people by our own government as a means of our government showing people that killing people is bad. And we fail to see the contradiction. "An eye for an eye," we say, "and a tooth for a tooth." And we claim that this is the word and the law of our loving God. And we fail to see the contradiction.

It is clear to me that what is required to change our lives and change the world is to change our beliefs. First, our beliefs about God, about whether such a Divine Entity even exists, and if so, what it wants and requires. Second, our beliefs about ourselves -- about who we are and why we are here. Third, our beliefs about others -- about our relationship to them, and to the Earth. Finally, our beliefs about life itself -- about its reason, purpose, and function.

Yet what could cause or create a shift -- or even a willingness to look at and evaluate, with the possibility of shifting -- our most sacred and basic beliefs? What could cause us to simply take stock, to ask ourselves, frankly and honestly: Are these ideas that we hold about God and about ourselves working?

Can humanity even be honest with itself? Does our species have the capability to see the truth and to say what's so? Or are we so blinded by what we need to be true, by what we have been told is true, by what our parents and their parents before them have sworn is true, that we cannot even consider the possibility that something may not be totally accurate here?

Is it possible, just possible, that there is something we don't fully understand about God, about Life, about who we are and why we are here -- the understanding of which would change everything?

Let these be our questions for the day.

(Neale Donald Walsch's latest book is God's Message to the World: You've Got Me All Wrong, Rainbow Ridge Books, 2014)