Friday, September 26, 2008

Evil and fear

Carl Jung observed that traditional Christianity presents an imbalanced view of good and evil, because the menacing dark side of reality—evil—is glaringly absent in Christian God-images. By contrast, images in other religions acknowledge mysterious dark forces both positive and negative. For instance, the Hindu Goddess Kali represents darkness, violence, and annihilation, while also representing Ultimate Reality and Source of all.

In Christian teaching, evil comes from a non-divine Source, but this denies that God is the Source of all. This one-sided view of reality also leads to denial of the shadow—that part of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. If Ultimate Reality brings only perfect sweetness and light, we want to avoid unpleasant realities. We strive for perfection and deny what we don’t like in ourselves. Nothing scares and repels us more than our own shadow, the disorderly, not nice feelings, desires, and drives that complicate our lives. And so we deny and repress them to the point of not knowing what feelings we have.

I still remember my startled recognition about 25 years ago when someone described resentment. Forcefully I said to myself, “I’m resentful. I’m resentful!” It was one moment of enlightenment in my long journey of inner work. Another step in that journey was to express my anger without doing it destructively.

As long as we are alive and lucid we have work to do, uncovering parts of our inner selves waiting to be discovered. Being rigidly moral and begging a god’s forgiveness for our wretched sinfulness does not help us to accept responsibility for ourselves. Preoccupied with doing good and avoiding evil, we refuse to befriend our weaknesses and remain strangers of our total and true selves. But spiritual health requires acknowledging the sludge. It’s the only way to avoid being phony.

The nasty consequence of losing touch with our own nastiness is that we attribute evil to others and fear them, thus igniting all conflicts, including wars. As Jungian Episcopal priest John Sanford writes, “Accusing our neighbor of possessing those qualities we hate and fear so much in ourselves is no help in solving the problem.”

Shadow denial affects all human relationships, including international affairs. It created the current tension between the U.S. and Russia, the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, the escalation of military weapons worldwide, the demonization of Islam, the war in Iraq, and on and on.

We can make pious statements about good and evil, but if we can’t honestly admit our own shortcomings, our pretty talk contributes nothing to a world crying for justice, peace, and healing. Herein lies the key to all human interactions.

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