Dead Symbols

I came across a new word recently. You may have heard of it, but I certainly had not. The word is: shibboleth.

The word has several shades of meaning, but the one I find most intriguing relates to instances where the original meaning of a symbol has been lost and the symbol now serves only to identify allegiance. The musical “Fiddler on the Roof” depicted the state of consciousness that is built with the bricks of shibboleths – bricks without straw – perfectly. The song “Tradition” hit the nail on the head, showing how loyal people can and will be to symbols that have become disconnected to their original meaning because of the comfort and predictability that such loyalty brings.

I fear that the overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens are now loyal to the notion of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in much the same way. The American dream has become a shibboleth for many, where a connection to the original meaning and requirements of the term are divorced from current understanding. This separation makes it, or any other concept thus treated, a dead symbol which must be propped up by mindless repetition to be given the appearance of relevance and vivacity.

It hadn’t dawned on me how eager people are to worship the dead until a particularly enlightening day in August of 1996. I had just moved to Atlanta from the West Coast and I was driving to work when I noticed all of the cars ahead of me slowing and pulling over to the side of the road. Up until that point in my life, such a change in the traffic flow meant that an ambulance was coming. I slowed and pulled over in sequence, but much to my surprise an ambulance never came. Instead, what appeared on the other side of the road coming from the opposite direction was not an ambulance, but a hearse!

Now here’s the kicker.

As I was driving home that night, an ambulance was making its way from the opposite direction with its lights on and sirens blaring as they often do, but it was weaving in and out of the traffic…that had not pulled over! As I said, people are much more prone to worship the dead than they are to accord the same level of respect to the living.

This is reflected in the way they interact with the symbols in life. Look closely and you will see the tendency to worship dead symbols in churches, schools, government offices, businesses and just about anywhere else you might look.

Such loyalty brings comfort as well as a false sense of security, one that can easily be manipulated and controlled because it discourages active, radiant and accurate thinking while breeding a passive, reflective and warped frame of mind.

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