Do you know the most dangerous thing on earth?
Massachusetts, 17th century. Neighbor turned on neighbor. A feverish hysteria grew. More than 140 people were imprisoned and 20 people executed.
We believed they were witches.
Before Salem, we persecuted Galileo for heresy. Burned Joan of Arc. Assassinated Gandhi. Lynched Ed Johnson.
Our beliefs told us slavery was justified by a God who also told us women have no business voting. So sit down, be quiet.
We believed in a flat earth. If you and your boat kept sailing toward the horizon, you'd eventually fall off.
It feels a bit like we're falling today.
A secret agent named Q working with the military to arrest top Democrats and Hollywood elites for child sex trafficking?
"The arrests have already begun," one friend said recently. "The military wasn't at the inauguration to keep people out. The military was there to keep people in."
It feels like we are back in Salem.
The most dangerous thing on earth?
It's the human mind.
Our beliefs are threatening the future of this country.
Jan. 6 was a preview of what is possible.
"Five people died. And as bad as the riot was, it could easily have been far worse," writes Marc Thiessen in the Washington Post. "Imagine what might have happened if the throng, carrying zip ties and weapons, had found [Mike] Pence? Imagine if they had found the boxes containing the electoral votes?"
They called for mass executions.
They wore sweatshirts: "Camp Auschwitz."
They came from all over, including Chattanooga.
(Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, this is your worst hour. Your silence is unforgettable. In so many places, I hear people brainstorming for candidates to run against you. These aren't Democrats. They're Republicans.)
"What happened? How did the world turn upside down?" David French writes in The Dispatch. "How did support for perhaps the least courageous and most dishonest man ever to sit in the Oval Office become a litmus test of strength and bravery for many millions of followers of Jesus Christ?"
French is a conservative, a wonderful intellectual and Iraq War veteran who has consistently opposed Trump.
Know what the far-right conservatives did?
Threatened him, his wife, his children. Bomb scares. Mocked them at church, school. Phone calls, screaming voices, online lies. (Read his column "An Important Apology Shows the Path Past Christian Trumpism.")
We did this.
Our human mind.
It begins online. Social media can sidestep facts and logic in such compelling, witchcrafty ways. One video about a faked moon landing leads to another 10 videos about a pizza parlor in Washington DC. In a chaotic world, we'll grab anything that gives us (illusions of) control and security.
QAnon folks aren't alone.
We all do this — reaching out for beliefs that help us cope with the unspeakable anxiety of modern life. My mind's gone on fool's errands, cooked up fantasies, wild theories and half-truths. Let he who is without delusions cast the first stone.
My friend? The military-at-inauguration guy? Funny thing: He's as honest as they come. Sacrifices time and money on mission trips. Give me $1,000 to keep safe? Hand it to him and not a penny would go missing.
Do you know the most promising thing on Earth?
It is the human mind.
The human mind is Stephen Hawking, Toni Morrison, Ansel Adams, Malala Yousafzai. It is the Gig. It is COVID-19 vaccines. It is the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. It is Buddha, Mother Theresa, the Psalms. It is the Human Genome Project, atom splitters and wind farms.
The human mind forgives, delights, meditates, questions, solves, admits, loves, contemplates, elevates, transcends.
The human mind understands.
To paraphrase the United Negro College Fund: our minds are terrible things to waste.
In the years after witch trials, Salem was devastated by what it had done.
They called for fasting and repentance. The Day of Official Humiliation, they called it.
How do we go from delusion to humility?
How do we go from danger to promise?
What are we doing to nurture and watch over our minds?
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.