Our “Shadow Side”

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English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in high school, I did something that deeply shames me even today, thirty-three years later. A classmate and someone I knew from church asked me to take his tray since I was going to put mine up. The proper thing to do would be to say, “Sure, I’ll be happy to,” and put the tray up–it is a small thing, but as Jesus said, a cup of cold water given in His name is of eternal importance. Out of nowhere I said, “Why should I help you?” and walked away. I had no excuses. To this day I cannot explain my actions. I suppose that I was on the low end of the social totem pole and this individual perhaps was a bit lower–so I did a cruel, mean, and hateful thing to make myself feel better. I do not know if the person remembers it–in any case I have no idea where that person lives and that person may not remember what happened so long ago. I wish I had apologized at the time–too late now.  Psychologists have referred to a person’s “shadow side” that seems to come out of nowhere. Superficially that sounds profound–that at a subconscious level we have a cruel side that can break through into consciousness unexpectedly. I suspect, however, from the standpoint of Christian theology there is a simpler explanation–we are fallen, sinful beings. A natural love of self, which is good, turns into selfish pride, which is evil. The tendency to pump up one’s own pride by demeaning another person is part of that tendency. We have free will to resist, but we do not. We all sin, we all fall short of God’s glory. Thus, we all need God’s grace. If we have a shadow side, it is on the very edge of our consciousness rather than being far from it–we are responsible for our evil thoughts and evil deeds. Even a shadow side is a side, not separate from the self but part of the self.

I know that I cannot–and neither can any of you reading this post–overcome the temptation to pride on our own. It requires God’s help to do so. Even then, we will often fail. I suppose that is why the Catholic Church in all its branches affirms some kind of intermediate state between death and resurrection even if it is not called “Purgatory.” That prideful tendency to cut down others that reveals itself in cruelty when one’s guard is down must be, with God’s help, drawn out of our system. In my own tradition (Anglican Catholic) the Eucharist is the way to improve while in this life so that the next time an opportunity to help someone arises, I will help gladly and without complaint.

This is Ash Wednesday–“Remember, O man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” Keeping that mortality in mind focuses us to be motivated to seek something beyond ourselves, our Creator God, to help us live a life in love and service to others and live with God and our loved ones (and, I believe, plants and animals too) in eternity. Hopefully all of us can put on that armor of light during this Lenten season.

Human Violence: A Long History

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Dwellings of American Indians in Santa Rosa an...

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A recent article in Science News (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/64465/title/Massacre_at_Sacred_Ridge) has noted extensive archeological evidence of human violence dating back thousands of years. Groups not usually associated with extensive violence, such as Native American communities in the Southwest during the 1300s C. E., were guilty of brutal violence against groups of people. This should be no surprise to Christians, who believe that, whatever happened to humans historically in their evolution, in some real sense they are “fallen.” G. K. Chesterton once said that the doctrine of original sin was the only Christian doctrine that could be empirically verified. At the very least, the notion that people are not what they ought to be, and haven’t been as far back as archeological evidence extends, is true. Violence, brutality, and genocide are part and parcel of the human condition. No group is immune to evil. The attempt by some multiculturalists and Marxists to set aside some groups (such as Native Americans) as nonviolent and virtuous and other groups (such as Europeans) as violent and genocidal is true only to the extent that the Europeans were more thorough in their violence and genocide. There is absolutely no excuse for the near-complete genocide of the Native American tribes of the U. S. But that does not imply that the Native Americans were totally innocent and without original sin (in the sense of having a propensity to do wrong, not in the Augustinian sense of being born with guilt). No culture, no race, no society can avoid the scourge of having evil people in its midst. To exclude any group from the general human condition really dehumanizes them, putting them in a status that they cannot possibly reach by their behavior. The higher the pedestal, the harder a group falls. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” said St. Paul in Romans, and he was surely right. We have every right to condemn violence, mass murder, and genocide where it has occurred. But we do not have the moral right to place some groups in a status so that they could not be possibly guilty of such crimes themselves. Archeology and historical evidence may come back to bite ideologues who neatly divide human groups into the oppressors and the oppressed. Such ideologues ought to study history and realize what happens when the so-called “oppressed” take power–the old Soviet Union, Maoist China, and North Korea come to mind. Every one of us is capable of hurting our fellow man. May God give us the grace to realize that when it comes to violent people, “but for the grace of God were I.” Then we may realistically and with humility do our part to lessen the violence that so mars our world.