Escaping the Metaphor

A few days ago I wrote a post called “A War on Hatred” and later it occurred to me that, although I had said more or less what I wanted to say, I had also fallen into the trap that has distorted our lives since at least 1940: The metaphor is, of course, that we need “a war on…”

Think how well we’ve done, following that emotional line. [That, friends, is sarcasm!] I was going to list examples, but perhaps it’s best to leave you to make your own lists. Intrinsic to the metaphor is that there are two antagonistic sides (at least!), one of which (at least!) must lose.

It is the essence of division, and division comes always ultimately from fear. Engage on war against fear and you assure that fear will increase, because war can only be waged from a sense of division. It is true that sometimes we engage in war out of love of those we are protecting; still, war is war and as General Sherman pointed out, it is all hell.

We don’t need a War on Terror, or a War on Tyranny, or a War on Corruption, or a War on War Criminals in Power. And above all we don’t need a War on War! Rather, we need a turning from war — and hatred — and separation — and discrimination — and contempt – and everything that tempts us to forget that all men are brothers. (And if you are tempted to jump on that time-honored phraseology as sexist or backward or whatever, you are contributing to the problem.)

Everybody knows the word “paranoia.” There is a related word, which means more or less “a turn for the better,” called “metanoia.” And that’s what we need. In fact, I think I would have to go one better and say that what we need — one by one and then together if possible — is to experience repentance.

Repentance doesn’t point fingers. It doesn’t lay blame but it doesn’t whitewash either. It recognizes that we are all part of one another, which recognition is the essence of the most powerful word there is: not “peace” or even “forgiveness” but love.

So in saying we need a War on Fear, I was wrong. What we need is a new determination to heed the poet Auden’s advice that “we must love one another or die.”

4 thoughts on “Escaping the Metaphor

  1. Interestingly, the Eastern Orthodox Christians, whose spiritual outlook is substantially different from the Western churches (both Catholic and Protestant), say that metanoia and repentance are the same thing.

  2. I think we can’t escape the metaphor. We are always at war. We are in the midst of a war and some of us come out of it each day a little bloody and pretty wounded. That’s why we have therapists. We are born into a battle and live it each day of our lives.
    There is no new story, we can only associate anything with what we know.


  3. Being at war is not the only way we can experience this magical life we are leading. Metaphors first express our lives, but then (if we are not careful or lucky) morph into walls that shape and confine our lives. Try experiencing your life not as a war but as play, as a sometimes-clumsy, sometimes-skillful exercise in the art of creation (for if we are anything at all, it is creators, like the creator from whose substance we are created). See if it doesn’t feel different. More to the point, see if what seems like external evidence does not arise, justifying that belief as evidence previously had justified your previous belief.

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