Why We Must Help Those Who Cannot Help Themselves

I spend about as much time as any other well-informed person being concerned about the problems America is facing and, like everyone else, not having a clue about what I can do to help ameliorate the situation. I feel that I should be doing whatever I can. I certainly agree with Edmund Burke’s observation that evil can triumph only if good people do nothing. But evil has no objective, ontological existence. It consists entirely of the absence of the good, as darkness is merely the absence of light, not a black fog that can overwhelm the light. Only adult human beings can intend evil, and evil is always intentional. It is simply gratuitous malevolence, the intent to harm another human being (or perhaps any living being) when doing so is unnecessary. As Scott Peck argued, evil is a mental illness. It could conceivably be cured and eradicated. And that should be a goal of any and all genuine religions.

Trying to think constructively about the realities most Americans now live with, I remembered a saying by the Gnostic’s totally human Jesus, speaking as an inspired prophet, in The Gospel According to Thomas:

I stood in the middle of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and none of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty and seek to depart from the world empty. But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways.

Yes, I understand that feeling. In many passages in these documents that were suppressed and destroyed by the victorious Roman church, Jesus uses drunkenness as a metaphor for the human condition of being deluded about and ignorant of our actual spiritual condition. The perversion of what he taught as being about a future reign of God on Earth or, worse yet, as being about the soul’s ascent after death to Plato’s concept of heaven, is a lie, a mendacious, cynical, and hypocritical lie, perpetrated soon after his death and still perpetrated by the greedy who care about nothing but maintaining their own power.

I am convinced that Jesus had an Awakening experience out in the wilderness, although wilderness may have been a metaphor for his own previous ignorance, and hoped to awaken others to the spiritual reality he could then perceive. It is Awakening that cures us of evil, “let us not be overcome by temptation, but rescue us from evil,” from any willingness to harm others. A hopeless ideal, you might think, and as far now from ever being achieved as it was then, but nevertheless an ideal, probably the only ideal worth all of humanity’s efforts.

I hope you can understand what I mean by all this. It is difficult, especially if you think your ordinary, mundane personality is the only reality. There is another wonderful passage about Awakening in Clement’s Excerpts from Theodotus:

Those that are most asleep think they are most awake, being under the power of dream visions very vivid and fixed; so that those who are most ignorant think that they know the most.  But blessed are they who rouse themselves from this sleep and derange­ment, and raise their eyes to seek the Gods and the truth.

Thinking about the conditions most Americans live in, I also remember the haggadah of the Three Temptations in the Wilderness (in Matthew). Now, for the Gods’ sake, don’t be simpleminded and think this story was ever intended to be history. It is a teaching story, like many throughout the Bible and the Talmud. Pay attention to its point, that Satan (here still the Prosecuting Attorney in the Court of Heaven, as in Job) offers Jesus the three temptations of wealth, fame, and power, which Jesus rejects. These three temptations, “Let us not be overwhelmed by temptation,” did and still do lead to most of the evil in our world.

Instead of great wealth, a spiritually mature person will want only enough to ensure the security of his or her family and, better yet, of the network of people his or her life depends on–but how many Americans have even that much?

Instead of fame, a spiritually mature person will want to love and be loved, and to be appreciated and valued by people whose appreciation is worth having,

Instead of power, a spiritually mature person will want to be useful, to be able to contribute to making society better for all people.

Persons who pursue wealth, fame, and power are, at the very least, accessories to evil. As Scott Peck argued, any supposed religious leader who pursues them is a fraud and a criminal. Any supposed religious leader—pastor, minister, priest, bishop, High Priestess, whatever—who does not denounce pursuit of these temptations is also a fraud, lacks even a basic understanding of what religion needs to be about.

The problem for people of faith, of any sort of faith at all, who are the huge majority in all human societies, is not the people of other faith communities, but the people who simply don’t care, who don’t care about any sort of religious values, who don’t care about other human beings, who pursue a life of pure selfishness. I’m pretty sure that is a severe type of mental illness as well.

I’m not talking about people who call themselves atheists (most of whom are actually agnostics) or who refuse to claim membership in any sort of church or religious tradition. They are people who care enough about religious values, truth being one of the most important such values, that they insist on labeling themselves accurately. Persons who actually are atheists, who neither believe in nor care about any religious values at all, never call themselves atheists. Instead, they use whatever term is the most respectable in their society. In America, that term is “Christian,” which therefore has become meaningless. This is why the Mafia consider themselves to be good Catholics.

At least half the population of America has no understanding at all of how our socioeconomic system actually works, because the people who should have explained it to them—teachers, pastors, politicians—have instead lied to them and exploited them. Some of these people are deluded themselves, but far too many are lying consciously and purposely. If you, from your own privileged position of education and occupation, look down upon the people who unfortunately believe the lies, if you do not get that you are personally obligated to help them, then, as Grayson Capps sang about George W. Bush, you are a lying hypocrite.

The wealthy have always been able to maintain long-term strategies to preserve and enlarge their wealth and power. They have never given anything to the common people unless they were forced to. The American people are at a huge disadvantage now relative to the rich, who have corrupted our entire system for their own benefit, not caring how many people they harm by doing so—and that, of course, is evil.

What can you do? What can I do? At the very least, tell the truth. Whenever you have the chance, call the liars what they are. Tell people that Biblical inerrancy, unregulated capitalism, and Puritanism are the tools that the criminally wealthy and their dupes use to exploit them. Remember the wisdom of the great Hillel:

If you are not for yourself, who will be?

If you are only for yourself, what are you?

And if not now, when?




  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Evil and good are relative stances based on moral criteria.

    The moral war is not between good and evil, but between conflicting ideas of ‘good’.

    • KateGladstone

      If they are “relative stances,” what are they relative _to_?

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        One another.

        • KateGladstone

          That doesn’t make sense to me. Is there anything at all which (as you judge it) can never be right — no matter what else one may “relate” to it?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Only one thing.
            Rape/sexual assault.

            But, since others do it without guilt, I can only presume that those people have different morals to me.

    • aidanakelly

      No, I’m defining “evil” in absolute terms, not relative. “Evil” is the intent to harm another when doing so is not necessary. Intent is a human decision.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        That is still only your opinion, though.

        Plenty disagree. That is what I mean by relative. There is no universal morality.

        As such, people judge others by their own standards.

        Necessity is an overused word, too. What some deem necessary, others deem either a luxury or pointless.

        • aidanakelly

          Hmm, you seem not to understand what I mean. If person A kills person B on purpose, when there is neither reason or need to do so, how would that not be evil? Try not to make up silly excuses.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            You added reason as well as need.

            There will always be a reason for the deliberate killing of another person.

            We may not agree on that reason, but there will be one.

            In your blind scenario, person A deliberately kills person B.
            There is no motive, no ‘need’ for the murder.

            Do we define that as evil or insanity? By whose criteria do we judge the killing?

            To go metaphorical. When a tiger kills a lamb, is the tiger evil, or is it a good tiger?

          • aidanakelly

            I don’t think you are paying attention. Only humans can have evil intent; animals cannot. The reason for a killing may be that the person is simply evil, i.e., mentally ill. SO far you have not answered my question.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I don’t see how it would be evil.

            I certainly would not call mental illness ‘evil’.

          • Aine

            Your continued demonization of mentally ill people is disgusting and incredibly ableist. Mentally ill people are far more likely to have violence committed /on/ them than by them. Please stop equating evil to mental illness. It’s revolting that you even think that’s an acceptable thing to do.

          • aidanakelly

            Aine and Leoht:

            You simply are failing to read what I actually said. I did NOT say all mental illnesses are evil; an illness cannot have an intent to harm. any more than a tiger or a tree can. What I said was that evil, gratuitous malevolence, the intent to harm unneceddarily, is a specific mental illness, according to Scott Peck. If so, that is hopeful. We may be able eventually to cure it. I am bipolar. Not many decades ago, I would have been a raving lunatic, probably locked up for public safety. Now, although still far from perfect, I am functional. A miracle of modern chemistry.

            I live in the serial killer capital of the world. No one has a clue why that pattern exists. If we could cure sociopathy, that might also provide a cure for evil, which is a specific malfunctioning of a human mind.

            So, if you don’t stop fighting a straw man, I will go do something more useful..

  • KateGladstone

    “Instead of great wealth, a spiritually mature person will want only enough to ensure the security of his or her family and, better yet, of the network of people his or her life depends on” …
    What would you say to anyone who said — and who actually MEANT — the following:
    “I want to ensure the security of as a large a network of people as possible: if only because I depend on them, as they on me: all are interdependent. In a society where, in theory at least, money is MEANT to be the outward and visible sign that you have done/are doing something which others find value in, is it wrong to ACTUALLY do that which really DOES add value for others in the network, and to receive in return the sign of having done so?”

  • Deborah Bender

    I believe Rabbi Hillel would take issue with parts of your post. In his absence, I’ll do my best.

    You are lumping all wealthy people together. The rich as a class might not give anything to the common people voluntarily, but many wealthy individuals are generous, public spirited and philanthropic.

    IMO, one of the more pernicious teachings of Christianity is the set of class attitudes stemming from Catholic interpretations of Jesus’s reported words in the Sermon on the Mount and the camel/needle and lilies of the field remarks.

    It is perfectly understandable that Jesus would think this way, given that the entire Judean elite class depended for its privileged position on collaboration with the Romans. If you are correct (I believe you are) that Jesus’s Kingdom of Heaven teachings are about awakening/enlightenment in this life, not about earning a place in The World to Come, attachment to material goods and social position are certainly impediments to enlightenment.

    However, the sentimental idea that poor people are kinder or generally morally better than rich people has no basis in reality. Privation and suffering make some people more compassionate but others become selfish and embittered. “Give all your goods to the poor and follow me,” may have been an effective wake-up
    call to the individual he was speaking to, but as social policy it is disastrous, and it’s contrary to rabbinical Judaism. Judaism puts every person on the same moral footing, expects everyone to contribute to the common welfare, but the rich are expected to contribute more because they have more.

    Jesus’s all-or-nothing pronouncements about wealth and respect for family ties are the sort of ideas one would expect from a young man growing up in a revolutionary environment. He was, after all, in his mid-thirties when he died.

    PS You haven’t heard from me lately, because Disqus keeps rejecting my attempts to post under any of my accounts. Hope this goes through.

    • aidanakelly

      Weel, I really wasn’t thinking about those particular sayings attributed to Jesus. I was more just doing a socialist rant. Sure, there have always been wealthy individuals who are generous, but they stand out precisely because they are unusual, and are often considered to be pariahs by the rest of the wealthy class. The American 1% obviously does not believe they have a moral obligation to help the poor, and, c’mon, Deborah, I did not say or imply that there is anything noble about poverty or suffering. I agree, Disqus is a pain in the ass.

  • KateGladstone

    So, Lēoht, when you said “everything is relative,” you instead meant “not everything’s relative, because exactly one thing is absolute.”

    On what premise (presumably a “relative” premise!) do you base your sole absolute exception to your premise that all else is relative?

    Mind you, I absolutely agree that sexual assault/rape is absolutely wrong. My question is to find out what is your criterion for deciding what shall be relative, and what shall be absolute. (Whatever your criterion is: if the only absolute is “rape’s wrong; all else is relative,” then your criterion itself must be merely relative in your eyes … ?)

  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    Or a quote from Heinlein’s novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” has one character declaring to another:

    “The only sin is unnecessarily harming another.”

    or something pretty close to that.