We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan,
Nothing is worth the making,
If it does not make the man.
Why build these cities glorious,
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless,
The builder also grows.
Quoted in Bruce Watson’s
The Man who Changed How Boys and Toys were Made
The collective actions of the global consumer culture have grown suicidal. This is a simple scientific observation. We need to be clear about this. If existing trends continue, specifically if we continue burning fossil fuels, a massive die-off of human beings and animals is the most probable outcome. We know this as certainly as we know any scientific fact in this class of probabilistic knowledge – and we do not care enough to stop. This is because we are hurt, we are not right in our hearts. If we loved life sufficiently we would insist the madness stop, evidently we do not. The only other logic possibility is that human beings are up against something so much more powerful than themselves, that they are helpless to improve these ecological and sociological errors.What humans create they can choose not to create, and since fossil fuel use is certainly something humans created that second possible explanation seems weak.
That leaves us with we don’t care, or at least, care enough. I think this is our modern Gnosticism, a pervasive life-sucks philosophy disguised as something else. The commercial culture looks to be one of happy faces. On the outside the American dream is an endless party in a cornucopia of the best goods the earth has to offer. Inside the culture, things are not so happy. The life advertising celebrates, with all the tricks of light and makeup, is a sham. It is not the life filled with babies and grandparents, graveyards and weddings, bills, pimples, and hugs which is our actual fate. This is our Gnostic denial of what actually is, in favor of a fantasy. To the degree that this commercial culture celebrates youth above all other stages of life, to exactly that degree it denies human life is meaningful and has value. Hence, to escape the pain of a meaningless existence, we are on this downward trajectory towards simplified lifestyles without the hope that such a future is anything but too dismal to talk about. If we can’t shop at Walmart every Black Friday this century, well, then screw the whole planet, right?
If we are to understand the meaning of the Western Christian story for us today, in our time of ecological and social collapse, we need to grant our ancestors the benefit of the doubt and by using reason and our own experience of what is real and true about being human and being a part of a larger society, try to understand what it is they are communicating poetically to us. I am arguing the Western spiritual tradition has been perverted, yet remains a source of strength for people of goodwill if we are able to be clear that this is the situation. There is a whole lot going down in the name of Jesus that is actually anti-Jesus. It is meant to be this way. That is the exact trap built into the myth. Did you really think the whole of the ancient world was persuaded by a mystery religion that had no mystery, that the initiations grew quite because Christianity itself did not have an initiation able to replace them? The preachers of the non-compassionate, hardhearted, kill-joy Christ are nothing new, nor is their Gnostic heresy.
Those who would make you feel bad about being a human being, typically using religious mumbo-jumbo in the process, are not speaking with the spirit of the creator’s wisdom but the lying spirit we have been discussing. True god and true man, that is what this means. The true god with which we have to deal is the one that created us, and created us the way we are. Whatever mysteries we may be involved in concerning gods, angels, and demons, the primary reality always and everywhere, for us, remains the human one. Those “supernatural” things should serve human needs, humanity should not be torn apart trying to serve their needs. From tip to toe we as created imperfect creatures are blessed, loved, unique, created in the image of god, children of god, the apple of his eye; how many more ways could the Church Fathers find to say it? From the lust in our crotch to the reasoning in our minds, there is nothing to fear here. It is as it should be. A vast cosmos is interdependently generating the human species, sustaining us moment by moment, creating the complex weave of each brain’s enchanted loom as the most intricate structure of molecules in the whole of known existence. We when are awake to this, which is reality, we are aware of our nobility. This is what we are currently putting at risk with our short-sighted cowardice before the fossil fuel conundrum. If we are older we are the kings and queens, or if younger the princes and princesses, of the whole. By properly using our reason and emotions we are able to build (small ‘k’) kingdoms of peace where love flourishes. We are the artists of our own lives, free to will as we will. The Gospel is a teaching about the wisdom of an authentic human life well lived, one that is lived with passion and respect for oneself, others, and the earth. The Gospel is also a teaching about the dangers to human beings of hubris and pride, particularly the pride involved in thinking you are religiously righteous. The fevered dreams of those who would be gods create demonic evil in their ignorant striving to be too good, too blissful, too rich, and too powerful.
By having Jesus be the one human being who was also god, we are given an image that clarifies our own creature-hood by asserting a contrast. True god manifest while remaining true man is also the most powerful expression possible of the non-Gnostic point of view. It guides our speculations towards examining the exact relationship between the rational human psyche, the visionary spirit, and the flesh. The speculations have remained fruitful for millennia now and show no signs of stopping.
“He was like us in all things but sin.” Whenever I had heard that my immediate thought was, well, than he was not very much like us at all. I have since come to understand this differently. Throughout the essays dealing with abuse I have been sharing the Jungian teaching that the shadow archetype is considered, in practice, to be 90% gold. What therapists have found is that the seemingly bad habits, character traits and emotional problems people have are often protecting important inner aspects of their personalities. There is an assertion of identity by the life force itself, sweeping the ego along. If this shadowy protection had not been there, the client would have lost their personal integrity along the way. The example I used was how an adolescent starting to smoke might be defending their identity separated from their parents and others who are forcing their will on the young person due to their own psychological problems.
These shadowy aspects of our characters are born, in part, from reactions we have had to the evil others have done to us. Attacks upon the integrity of the person bring forth these shadow powered protectors. Becoming reacquainted with our own souls involves dealing with these aspects of our life experience, which up until now we have had to repress full awareness of due to their painful implications. In my experience, what is hard for the psyche is to admit certain truths about other people if those truth are attended by extremely painful implications for the relationship in the here and now. Too many abusive families never talk about the abuse each member of the family is aware of, because to do so would be to upset the whole emotional dynamic on which existing relationships are based. Relationships involve issues of love, hate, power and powerlessness. These parts of our “insides” are among the most powerful human experiences there are. It takes something larger than ego to break out of the cages abuses create. This is where the shadow comes in. Living the lie can only go on so long, something has to give. (This is a lesson each of us alive today are learning concerning ecological problems right now). If the light of reason is denied the ability to express what it knows, the unconscious elements from the dreaming life will, at times, overwhelm the waking life. Desires without the will to resist them will arise.
Not just any old desires but exactly those that the shadowy reasoning has worked out might bring the personalities the nourishment of truth, love, or light they need but are not getting. A simple example is ubiquitous high-powered business man who drinks themselves to sleep each night. The drunk, to put it simply, may be a better person overall because they take their indulgence as a way to relax. Perhaps without the drink they would be beating their wife and children but because they have their little buzz, they make their peace with life. Over the years their drinking will bother them and become more and more of a problem until they are lead into the therapists’ office, or circumstances within their own lives perform the same waking up service. That is a sketch of a the way these things very often go. It is why those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities, our psychologists, talk about the shadow being 90% gold. The older was of talking among those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities was to say that these things are the power of sin. They are reverberations. They can be healed.
Our ancestors, in their wisdom, talked about the differences between personal sin and the more serious mortal or deadly sins.
There is a distinction being made here between the sinful reverberations of being tortured by abuse, and the evil of the abuse itself. The violence and cruelty that attends the act of evil itself is the shadow’s remaining 10%. Most people on earth now, and throughout the many generations extending back into our misty past, have not participated in the kind of actions that make up the 10%. Most people do not commit acts of incest, murder, rape, or torture. These are not the sins of the shadowy 90% but the ones that put your soul at “risk of eternal damnation,” that is, the mortal sins. Those are words designed to provoke panic. There is a reason for this. Can you see it now that it is placed in the context of the 10% of events where evil has its hour? This is the scream from the silence in Abraham’s ear – do not kill your son! Do so, and nothing you do in the rest of your life will blot out from your own understanding what it is you have done. Since we are mortal creatures with only one life to live, this is the equivalent of entering hell for the rest of your days. But this, too, is not the whole story.
The Christ came to save the lost. The 10% can find deliverance, it is what their victims pray for: that they and the evil they sew be stopped in their tracks.
“He was like us in all things but sin.” Maybe a modern way to understand this is that Jesus had the 90% shadow in common with all of us, what he did not do was one of the acts driven by the 10% of the dark side that has passed from ignorance and mistakes into that which is truly evil. With the power of creation in his hand, the Christ said “No” to some of it, the old lesson from Eden. He committed no mortal sin, that is he did not partake of some parts of the human experience – those which are dominated by the demonic. He did not ignore these events, just the opposite. As god he chose to know these experiences as the victim, not the perpetrator. What Jesus Christ teaches is that as the victim he sees the truth of the human heart, exposing the liar that would darken it. On the cross he exposes it once and for all time. There is nothing to fear in natural death, that is not the gateway to hell, evil is. There is nothing to fear in the natural way of the dance and the drunk, the marriage and the tears. Our creator created us mortals, creatures meant to be passionate and moved by love. There is something to fear in the use of our rational powers of consciousness when we choose to use them to increase violence and cruelty. Then humankind brings something forth that does not exist in nature: it creates pain for its own sake, not in service of a higher good. In this bloody mess there is something for us to fear. Humans can feel it in the air when torture is occurring and long ago labeled it demonic. To fear trespassing against a personality the way those who abuse others do, this fear is said to be the fear of the Lord, the fear said to be the beginning of wisdom.
Those whose lives are drawn to enact the evil of the 10% are in turn reacting to powers not normally a part of general human experience. Serial killers, Hitlers, et. al., the whole bunch are dealing with much more than just personal shadows. They have a contract of sorts to work out with the Christ light. They have acted against another being’s personality, the spark of divinity they did not create, cannot extinguish, and have no right to abuse. Since they too are a personality, there is a complicated situation here. It is one that we cannot fully understand, the mystery of iniquity. “Judge not that ye be not judged” for though some will carry the cross and some will carry the sin, both are invited to the marriage taking place on that old wooden cross. Jesus is the trap for the demons, liberator of the children, and the one who binds the devil, the strong man. He unites true god and true man, catching out the conscience of us all – the one family of humankind.
We have been at this for tens of thousands of years. There is, in the end, only human beings and what they do to one another. This is both the kingdom come, and the condemnation. Evolution designed us to learn by making mistakes. Only when we are free to make mistakes do we stand any chance of ever arriving at wisdom. There needs to be a limit on where the mistakes are allowed to lead, if we are not going to find ourselves involved in more than we can handle. The 10% evil in the shadow is that which should remain out of bounds. When those bounds are trespassed, the mistakes enter taboo territory and they ring hell’s bells.
The contract worked out with Jesus is one built on “I am sorry.” It is signed in blood, that is, the next day the person must act differently. The power of the Christ is the power to choose to do good, from this day forward. What is past is gone, it is done and cannot be changed. Whatever causes and effects that are rippling along from those things a person has done but now regrets are not going to be altered by gnashing teeth and wailing. They might be, might be, by the actions a person takes for the rest of their remaining lives, however long or short that might be. This is repentance, the first coming of the Lord in terror. Here is the big secret – Jesus is the most powerful monster of them all. The key point of baptism is saying out loud “I renounce the devil,” unafraid of the 10% and willing to evoke their wrath. When people get into religious arguments, basically my invisible friend can beat up your invisible friend, this is the teaching they are misunderstanding.
Once the blood contract is signed in the flesh of a person they become people of the day. Those changed by their searing encounter with their conscience now reach for the new dawn, looking forward to the tomorrows of their lives. It happens once someone knows in their bones that the so-called second coming of Jesus, when we pass through the door of death and return to the ground of our being, is the Word coming in love to claim his creature, child of the cosmos, precious and unique throughout all time. The simple innocence of life which we once knew in our childhood was born of ignorance. That carefree innocence can be ours again as we age and increase in our understanding, if we learn to embrace, even rejoice in, our very creature-hood. Yes, scars remain in the resurrected life, that is in the story too. We are not going to pretend that evil does not exist, but we do insist it is limited. Faith is the conviction lived that life can be fun, we can be happy, and our lives given away to those we love in the labor of building our little ‘k’ kingdoms can be made both beautiful and meaningful. This is the good news.