Monday, September 28, 2015

Intrinsic EVIL and the gifts of its release

While the headline from the Hajj detailed the deaths of some 769 people and the injuries to another 8-900 in their mass confusion and collision during a part of the pilgrimage that received much less coverage.
As it was reported in the west, Muslim pilgrims are expected to throw stones at pillars representing the devil. This act, along with other aspects of too many faiths, points out a serious flaw in basic premise. If the devil is perceived to be 'outside' the individual human being, then, of course, it can and does become an enemy to be attacked, defeated and even obliterated. If throwing stones at pillars symbolizes the campaign to attack evil, as it is reputed to do, then anything else, and anyone else can take on the characteristics of evil. This is just one aspect of a faith premise that we call "extrinsic" and its existence accompanies most religious expressions. When couched in affirmations and support from a deity, the "devil outside" can be so monstrous and so offensive and so heinous that any act to defeat/destroy that evil takes on a righteousness and even a sacred character that would tend to bring to any participating individual feelings of 'doing right', of sanctimoniousness verging on the holy.
It is not a very large step from pillars being stoned as an integral component of a required pilgrimage to stoning infidels, who are, by definition, armies of that devil whose symbol, the pillars, were the target of physical attacks in a religious liturgical act.
Separation of our individual humanity from evil, by itself, is an act, and a perception that undermines the very notion of what constitutes a human being. Considering a spiritual act in worship of a deity to be the stamping out of evil that is not by its very nature integral to the human being supports the separating of some from others. It denies and/or ignores the common humanity that defines each of us.
Less offensive, but still exemplifying the extrinsic detour from faith, was the Pope's moving through the prison in Philadelphia, pointing out that imprisonment does not equal exclusion, and that one's evil deeds do not define that individual. Warm fuzzies like calling himself a "brother" to the prisoners, many of whom have committed serious offences including murder, is indeed a positive move from the heinous kind of abuse of both the prisoners while in prison and also their stories leading to whatever actions landed them in their cells. It elevates the issue of rehabilitation, as well as the ratio of prisoners to population in the United States (5% of world population and 25% of world prisoners) to the public consciousness. And hopefully, through such exposure, steps will result that bring about a dramatic shift in public attitudes to the justice system and its potential to "serve and protect" the body politic from punishment and alienation to deliberate and cautious rehabilitation, education, and even transformation. Before changes in legislation that will support the real time changes in prisoner treatment can happen, those public attitudes will have to lead the legislators.
However, it is the easy and dangerous naming and casting out of "evil" from our very identities, as human beings, that threatens any such transformation in both public attitudes to criminal acts and their perpetrators and the integration of a faith expression into the lives of individual human beings.
The law, medicine, scientific exploration and certainly most human discourse focuses on the empirical, the observable, the demonstrable, the repeatable and the extrinsic. We talk in what some would and have called public discourse, about what is going on outside our bodies, outside our families, outside our innermost thoughts and feelings. And, in so doing, we reduce the dimensions of our universe to the empirical, and to the objects of judgement. And as humans hard wired to find fault, based on whatever we find offensive depending on our rearing and environment, we then link our religious lives to the purpose of eliminating an evil outside ourselves.
What is much more difficult, and much more compelling is to look for the fault that lies within each of us. John Sanford, priest and Jungian, wrote a book a couple of decades ago entitled, Evil, The Shadow side of Reality. His thesis was that in our Shadow's (that theoretical component of our psyche that fences our trauma, our experiences that have been so painful that we were unable to deal with them openly at the time of their occurrence), being denied and ignored, lies his definition of Evil. Sanford argues that those traumas and painful memories lodged forever in our memory, can provide 'gifts of gold' to those who take the opportunity to 'unpack' their individual 'sack' of Shadow. At the same time, so long as we participate in the ignoring and the denial of those painful memories, we are complicit in silencing evil, and simultaneously, we risk the eruption of our Shadow in acts that both embarrass and even convict us in the public arena.
As an integral component of our collective unconscious, the Shadow of our society begs to be unpacked, and urges each of us to recognize its significance in our daily discourse of the plight and evil of "others" while simultaneously ignoring our own complicity in an act of denial of evil that ranks high in our own culpability, in any attempt to evaluate our own spiritual existence. Calling those prisoners "brothers" as a legitimate attempt to reach out and connect and to share the pain of their stories, Francis reach over a line in public discourse that is rarely crossed. And for that, we can be grateful.
However, there is so much more for each of us to "do" to integrate with courage and determination  the pain lying dormant in our Shadow and the gifts of its unpacking: finding the words to express how we felt when the event happened, especially as no one heard our story, and then finding the meaning behind the experience and how it has shaped our lives and could help to shape our futures differently from how they would have been without such unpacking.
Religious and spiritual leaders, it would seem, have an opportunity and hence an obligation to take this spiritual exercise and discipline seriously, and find their appropriate director/mentor/healer to guide their pilgrimage into their own Shadow, and the time and energy necessary to pursue the process of the encounter. It is our own life that lies buried under the weight of both our capacity to endure our original pain and the society's shared complicity in such a concentrated focus on the daily extrinsic exigencies. The busier and more complicated our lives become, we can be confident that the further down we bury our Shadow, and the more likely we are to continue down a path of conscious/unconscious denial/rejection/ignoring of the recounting of those most painful and most traumatizing events and memories...
And while we watch and listen to a tidal wave of reporting about events on the public stage of our cultural theatre, we can pause, withdraw for a time, find a spiritual friend, and begin the process of excavating the archeological earth of our unconsciousness and bring to the light of day those long forgotten memories that have bend our lives "out of shape"....never fully expecting a full straightening but certainly a more pliable, adaptable and creative and even energetic self lying deep under our "responsibilities" for those bills, deadlines and accountabilities that we confront minute by minute.
It is literally impossible to imagine the release of both the new directions and the new energies that can and will be released from such a spiritual exercise and commitment! And as Red Green would put it, at the close of his comedy show for men, "We're all  pullin' for you!"

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