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 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?