An American Place

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America—the physical, actual America that we see and live in—this America needs to be understood not as in itself sacred, but as a privileged, temporary corner of “the world,” where

men and women are granted the liberty to search for truth and the life

within. Behind all the political and economic machinations of the

Founders of this country, there existed in their minds and

hearts the passion to create “an American place” in the midst of the

world, where the Good can be sought and lived. They believed there

existed the Good—some called it God, others called it Reason—and that

the Good could enter human life. Of course, political freedom exists now

in many countries of the world, often due to the influence of American

ideas, but we will never ‘ know what we have here’ if we do not

understand that the founding basis of this country was not land or

tribe, but the call for people to assemble

together and work together for the Good. Perhaps America’s people no

longer come together for this purpose; perhaps political liberty and the

great rule of law serve now only to protect the cravings for

meaningless comfort and meaningless power; perhaps the nation’s physical

strength seduces us into imagining that physical strength is true

strength; that physical safety is true safety, that external freedom is

true freedom, external democracy the true equality of people. If

so, if we believe that the outer America is the real America, we are

deceived by ourselves and, as the prophets of Israel warned, we are

certain to perish– first inwardly and then outwardly.

The laws of America, the political structure of American government, the respect for the Constitution, the rituals and symbols of the American republic—all of this external America bears traces, some brilliant and others faint and shadowy, but traces of a great vision of truth and wisdom that has

nourished the soul of mankind throughout history.

We need to find our way back to the other America, the inner America, which is to say that the modern world itself needs to find its way back to the fundamental reality of the inner world, what

the ancients called “the world of the soul.” Set aside the

usual associations with the word “soul”—associations which for many of

us have made of it something superstitious or something dull and

ordinary. Set aside the religious and philosophical clichés surrounding

the word and recognize that what it refers to is a deep, hidden

power of consciousness and moral power within every human being, a

force, an intensity of feeling and knowing that lies at the essence of

our nature, that defines us as human beings, that defines our place in

nature, on earth and with each other.

The teachings of wisdom bring to us the idea that it is through this inner power of intelligence and conscience that the Good can enter the world of man and, through mankind, the world of the earth. Wisdom teaches that the world has

become what it has become, human life has become what it

has become because man has lost contact with this consciousness and

power of understanding within himself. What is sometimes called God, so

the teachings tell us, acts in the world to help the world—yes, but not

as some fairy-tale father-figure with a white beard moving the chess pieces of history, but through the authentic consciousness of man. It is that

consciousness—mortally asleep in us though it be—through which the

helping powers operate. Through us, and into the earth, and from the

earth back to the Source as man’s genuine help for the Creator. The

Founders of America were passionately oriented to teachings that in some

distinct and significant measure reflected these ideas.

Excerpt from The American Soul, pp 332 – 334

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1 COMMENT

  1. I very much appreciate Prof. Needleman’s reference to the “…deep, hidden
    power of consciousness and moral power within every human being, a
    force, an intensity of feeling and knowing that lies at the essence of
    our nature, that defines us as human beings.” This is a defining feature of
    us, as human beings, that transcends faith, religion, or even belief.
    I discuss a similar “essence” in my new blog for Tiferet –Best regards, Ron Pies