By telling you a little piece of my personal story, I hope to shed light on the misguided teachings which I believe inform the politics of the religious right. And in so doing, based on personal experiences while living next door to the Iron Curtain, I also hope to shed light on how fascism operates. Especially, where some religious misconceptions may be influential, and used as a leveraging tool. And the parallels to authoritarian government practices, as legislated into post-911 law, are staggering.
"A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it." -- John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861
A very dear friend of mine and I went to college together. At that time, a very pretty woman with smarts and humor but nervousness too, she surprised us all and entered the Dominican convent.
She left the convent and got married seven years later, completely transformed. Far from nervous and skittery as before, she was and is still so serene, I almost have never seen anything like it. One can feel the beautifully settled and centered vibe around her, as if one could literally touch peace in her aura.
What was responsible for that dramatic shift? Spiritual guidance.
And here comes the surprise. My very dear friend told me that at this Catholic convent, the spiritual teachings had nothing to do with God, the light, purity, la-la….instead, it had everything to do with making peace with one’s own shadow. IE., one’s dark side.
The irony is that having fully embraced, studied and come to understand her dark side, this skittery but smart sweetheart of a person had transformed into a half-angel, who also happens to be human with realities and darkness of her own. Just like all of us. And it was amazing to see the transformation. That was about twenty years ago, yet the change still remains remarkable to me. And a lesson. A very interesting one!
Contrast this with “religious” teachings which emphasize the light, in God and in people. So-called “morality” ends up being a finger-pointing, head-shaking, consternation-stirring sermon. All because those religious seekers have forgotten one thing: They too have a shadow side, just like all the rest of us. And the mask they wear to hide from the painful reality of who they really are, and who we all are as humans, ends up fueling their own darkness instead of transmuting it. All in the spirit of “goodness” and “light” and “God”, judgment becomes the offshoot.
And judgment, of course, always results in polarizing.
Sound familiar? Sound a bit like what our country is doing right now?
Denial of the shadow also would seem to explain why the religious right vociferously trumpets their adamantly pro-life position, while simultaneously comprising many of the most pro-war individuals in the country. How ironic is that?
And yet, it all makes sense. When we deny our darkness and suppress it from our own awareness, we don’t take responsibility for it. And that does not make us better human beings. Far from it. Denial actually lets the darkness within run rampant. Festering in its dark corners, the darkness breeds like a mold spore, whose only cure is sunshine and the light of truth. It is only when we face the reality of who we are, that we can take responsibility for it.
What created the deep peacefulness in my friend’s psyche was not merely “facing” her shadow and taking responsibility for it, but especially studying and practicing compassionate understanding of that dark side. Without indulging it, of course. That very act of understanding seemed to transmute it. And the word “transmute” was one which she referred to often, saying that spiritual direction offers us ways to actually transform our shadow. Which only happens when we stop denying it, while rigorously practicing self-understanding, and also cultivating attitudes which transform that shadow. (IE gratitude can transform self-pity, etc)….
My x-Dominican nun friend and I also had interesting talks about sin and guilt. As a Latin-Greek linguist and biblical scholar, she said that the Bible has been mistranslated. And this, of course, would be “shot down” instantly by the religious right.