To appreciate that we are living in difficult times, one need only spend a few moments catching up on the latest events in Washington, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia, or noticing the anomalous weather patterns plaguing the entire planet. We are clearly spinning out of control... a point that unsurprisingly seems to please the doomsayers, who are either predicting or abetting their personal versions of Armageddon. The current news also seems to play into the hands of religionists who claim that God is visiting his wrath upon us and we all need to repent before it's too late.
I don't quite see it that way. Yes, we are in a rapidly descending spiral, and yes, if we fail to alter our present course, we will certainly end up exactly where we are headed. But mostly I'm saddened that our vaunted leaders have not been completely truthful with us. They claim to be motivated by their love of God, but judging from their actions, their God seems to be an acronym for the trinity of commodities they treasure above all else: Guns, Oil, and Drugs. It is their passion for this G-O-D that fuels the war on terrorism. Saddam Hussein was not toppled in order to protect the Constitution or the civil liberties that have long been the bedrock upon which this great country was founded. To these G-O-D-worshipping statesmen (and women), the looming threat to America's future is not terrorism but the demise of the almighty dollar as the preeminent world currency.
You see, Saddam made the fatal blunder of denominating Iraqi oil in euros. Should that heretic concept ever take root worldwide, America as we know it would cease to exist. Foreign countries already own an egregious amount of the US debt - China alone has nearly one trillion US dollars in its coffers. America's total debt to foreign nations exceeds 2.2 trillion greenbacks. As long as the worldwide market for commodities is dollar based, value remains in our foreign creditors' holdings. However, even though US lender nations continue to purchase US Treasury bills, they also realize they are accumulating assets with potentially diminishing value. The first rumblings were already heard from the Chinese, who have announced that they will start diversifying their heavily skewed US dollar debt into other currencies.
Over the past few years, US interest rates have been unusually (some say artificially) low, saving America a bundle in interest payments. To date, the US has succeeded in making sure commodities are quoted in dollars, which means that non-debtor nations are virtually compelled to convert their currencies into dollars to shop in the world commodity markets. This helps keep buyers of US debt in the marketplace.
So far, most countries, including Saudi Arabia, the world's largest petroleum exporter, have honored their commitment to quote oil exclusively in dollars. But some oil-producing countries such as Venezuela and Iran may not continue to march in lockstep. If these "rogue states" and others begin to quote their oil in euros, the United States of America could be in for a very rude awakening. Currently the euro is worth approximately US $1.30; A barrel of oil that Americans purchase for 50 dollars costs members of the European Union only 46 euros. By comparison, three years ago the euro was valued at less than 80 cents, and a 60-dollar barrel of oil would have cost our European friends over 75 euros. If the commodities market goes to the euro any time soon, America will no longer have the upper hand.
Thus currencies, like empires, rise and fall. In the end, both are driven by their obsessive devotion to G-O-D.
Where does that leave the rest of us - the vast unwashed masses who know nothing of what really transpires behind the locked doors of the elite in London, New York, Riyadh, and Beijing? Where do we find our God?
As luck would have it, I am not the only one to ponder this question. The Gallup Organization recently conducted a poll titled "The Spiritual State of the Union: The Role of Spiritual Commitment in the United States" on behalf of the Spiritual Enterprise Institute (see: http://www.spiritualenterprise.org/). The fascinating data this study reports should provide months of interesting talking points for those who like to explore such matters. Two responses to the survey's questions impressed me the most. One is that 94 percent of the respondents said they believed in either God (82%) or a universal spirit or higher power (12%).
The second finding riveted my attention even more: in turns out the number of people claiming to be spiritual rather than religious is significantly on the rise. The 2006 Gallup study found that 40 percent of those interviewed considered themselves spiritual but not religious, compared to only 30 percent in a similar survey in 1999. Only 3 percent of the current respondents said they were neither spiritual nor religious. Obviously, people are feeling a pressing need to believe. The difficulty seems to be in finding what to believe in.
When one considers all this against the backdrop of global warming, sudden death-dealing weather patterns, shifting magnetic poles, increased solar flares, bird flu outbreaks in Europe, genetically modified foods, and the world being nudged ever closer to nuclear confrontation, it's not surprising that people are bewildered or that they conclude only a higher power can resolve the mess we've made of this exquisitely beautiful planet.
Personally, I'm part of the growing 40 percent. I don't resonate with those who claim to speak immutable truths stamped with the forged imprimatur of divinity. When people offer me the choice of "my way or the highway," I invariably pack my bags.
Where do you cast your opinion? Maybe our paths will cross somewhere along the road. Perhaps we can share a fire and tell stories deep into the night. I think I'd like that.