Baha'i News -- America's 'axis of indifference' Sunday, March 24, 2002

America's 'axis of indifference'

'Business as usual' doesn't square with images of war

   A FEW months ago, I would have applauded the concept of vertical beams of light as a symbol of the now-destroyed World Trade Center. But now, more than six months after the horrific event, I find myself wondering whether this is appropriate. It is as if we are trying to re-create something that has been lost, something that stood for something now forever destroyed, and we are trying to somehow hang on to that memory.

    Now I say, let it go - the symbol, the memory of buildings, the horror of that day. Do remember the firefighters, the flag, the fear, the frustration, the unknown. That symbol has been engraved in practically every person on the planet. Continue the discussion of what is appropriate to best symbolize the overall tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

    I wonder also about our now 5-month-old war against terrorism. Don't get me wrong; we need to do what is right and eliminate certain forms of evil from this planet. The big questions are: What is and causes evil, and how do we get rid of it?

    Graphic images of bombs, snow-covered mountains, the continuing frustration and tragedy called the Middle East, the seemingly near end to a recession and our "back to business as usual" create a strange juxtaposition of images.

    There seems something terribly wrong about hearing of wars, terrorism and deaths, and then switching quickly to an ad about some prescription that will solve everything wrong about ourselves.

    I am afraid about statements about "the axis of evil" and wonder how the innocent citizens of targeted countries feel about being demonized. More important, I wonder if a casual approach to that "business as usual" and constant demands of buy... buy... buy are creating a culture of indifference to those things that aren't on our economic or spiritual agenda.

    I have long felt that two things hold this country together, which are both mighty shallow - cheap energy and our willingness to buy everything we can get our hands on.

    What is happening to our culture? Could it not be that an "axis of indifference" (to underlying causes of evil, religious understanding, lasting cultural values, etc.) creates a situation more potentially evil than evil itself?

    Many memories tell of people who did not act, who were too busy, it wasn't their issue, etc. - and then evil flourished.

    My biggest question for myself is how I can better understand the deeper truths and need, and how to move myself to change - to destroy indifference, to deal with my own issues of evil, intolerance and misunderstanding.

    My too-often indifference to the needs of the planet in my architectural work has contributed to the "evil" of global warming. I contribute and help satisfy America's gluttonous appetite for bigger and better things.

    My need for reanalysis of my own work should apply to every project I do.

    Does that new church I am seeking to design really need 50,000 square feet of space for a huge level of intense activity on Sunday? Is this really what God wants? What is it about our structures of organization and our teaching methods that may be part of our problem?

    Did the inventors of Sunday school in the 1800s realize that their ideas would result in huge complexes focused on hourly once-a-week lessons? Should we rethink our concepts of how we do things, as part of our continuing search for post-9/11 meaning?

    The 9/11 attack on buildings will forever be a symbol of the failure of architecture to build positive models for all persons. The attack should result not only in new methods of security and structure, but also in new visions of how we live and have our being. I and all of us have much to do.

    My action in buying a gas-electric hybrid car is one small step in saying we need to change the way we view and purchase our so-called "necessities" of life.

    I am amazed at how comfortable my little car is, and my unanswered question is: How many lives would have been spared and how much energy saved for future generations if America had continued the push of the '70s and defined freedom differently from "I'm going to drive whatever the hell I want" and "the SUV is not a car, it's a truck."

    The freedom of getting more than 43 miles a gallon (in my first two months of hybrid travel) is not yet enough. Seeking to commute by bike as much as I can (usually a couple of times a week, but I'm working on more), I find the biggest problem is not the logistics of getting from here to there. (What will the weather require me to wear? How much time do I need?)

    No, the worst problem is just deciding to do it! Once I make the decision, everything else is easy. A part of my newfound freedom of feeling air and muscles and all senses work in harmony is the realization that individual action can and must make a difference. My attitude now - what would happen to the world if everyone wanted and did the same things that I want and do? - I can answer more positively yes! for at least a few of the actions I take.

    My final example of symbols and freedom is to reflect on what we can really do if we set our minds to it. As a member of the Baha'i faith, I was called to be faithful to this season of fasting, which meant no food or drink from sunrise to sunset from March 2 through March 20.

    Getting through the excuses (I can't do it; this idea is ridiculous; I need at least water; I won't have the energy to do my work), by the time the evening meal does arrive I have learned something about myself and what I can do. I also have great respect for Muslims in their fasting for a longer month, a longer day and a variable time of year!

    All this shows that we can get through the excuses to learn more about ourselves, to be open to God's grace and love, and look at the world in a slightly different way. Thus my conclusion is to get beyond the "just do it" of a war that in reality also targets us, to the "let's all do it" of commitment to our deeper selves, our own as well as future generations, and love of other peoples, countries and religions, realizing that we have incredibly positive resources and opportunities.

    Let's hope and pray that we get through our axis of indifference to be a genuine model of America for the rest of the world. That will be our real spotlight of memory and symbol of Sept. 11.


    ROBERT L. ROGERS is president of Architectural Alternatives Inc. in Blacksburg.


    I have long felt that two things hold this country together, which are both mighty shallow - cheap energy and our willingness to buy everything we can get our hands on.

©Copyright 2002, The Roanoke Time

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