[6 minute read]
Hopelessness, powerlessness, God, and shame. Repressing our evil potential co-represses celebrating our goodness. Suffering is our fate, and why the Redeemer came. Psychology yaps out both sides of its mouth, so I prefer a Polish poet.
I see someone hurting, but can’t feel helpful. I resort to God-platitudes because I don’t know what else to say. And then I feel shame. Psychologists describe shame as a gap, a figurative distance or space, between who I feel like versus who I wish I were. I am not all that I wish I were.
I can offer God-platitudes to someone else, but recognize I don’t often internalize the platitudes myself. That gets mixed together with wanting to feel helpful and consoling, but being unable to. Double shame. And there I am feeling double shame when my friend is hurting. Triple shame…
And then I think, I’m not even capable of comforting myself without booze, etc… This friend needs a different friend. I’m not enough for my own self; how could I ever be enough for anyone else? I’m trying to exert control over a situation, over someone else’s pain; shame on me. But I don’t like to feel out of control.
I wouldn’t be obsessed about control if I internalized and believed my own God-platitudes. Why can’t I believe in God better? Why can’t I feel God within me? Why can’t I let God guide how I think and act? How can God see me as worthy of anything? Why can’t I stop this pandemic? Why can’t I figure out when I need a hug, or why I want one?
“Humans are evil. We can’t be ‘good’ on our own.”
I’ve certainly thought that before, but don’t buy it entirely any longer. I’m growing fonder of a philosophical psychologist who believes that, until we let ourselves imagine how basely evil we can be, we cannot realize how miraculous it is that we aren’t more evil! We are terrified of letting our imaginations go there, so fail to credit ourselves that we haven’t! Repressing our goodness along with our potential for badness.
An emotionally abusive partner pats himself on the back: “At least I don’t hit her.” That’s horrible. But, if you put yourself in the shoes of any abuser, where else would you begin a transformation? Have we repressed horror of our own evil potential so deeply that we cannot at all empathize with an abuser?
Do we credit ourselves for not being so bad? Why do we feel we could never be that bad? Because it’s not within us? It absolutely is; we just haven’t dived that deeply into our unconscious! We have been raised or conditioned so that our potential for evil is so deeply repressed that we can’t imagine it as part of us. It’s in us: Watch out for the tragedy of unexamined history repeating itself.
Are we independently and exclusively responsible for how good we are? Or have we fortunately not suffered traumas, or succumbed to groupthink, that have made us act out the badness within all of us? It’s probably, as usual, a mix of many things.
If we don’t feel great about who we are (and who does?), is it because we don’t let into this mix the notion of how evil we could be? Let’s give ourselves some credit!
“Humans are evil. We can’t be ‘good’ on our own.”
I have certainly felt and thought that many times. But I’m not so sure anymore.
The Christian dogma on the Incarnation is usually accompanied by some notion that we are hopelessly evil and needed redemption. Something inside of me is rejecting the narrowness that redemption is a remedy to being evil.
Saying that humans are evil is very different to me from saying that humans do evil things.
Many sages explain that evil acts are mistakes consequent from radical freedom and a radically rational will without radical perfection. Being imperfect/incomplete, to me doesn’t mean being intrinsically evil. Being fallen doesn’t mean being hopelessly broken. Our journey through life happens in a classroom of learning; we are bound to hurt others as we learn, and bound to be hurt by them as they learn. Learning is a form of suffering.
Nowadays I’m not thinking that worthiness is something to be regained by some magical act of Christ as much as it is something we already have that’s waiting to be recognized by us. Like, God already loves us just as we are, but we can’t consciously acknowledge that to ourselves–conditioned by shame, and suffering, as we are.
The same philosophical psychologist mentioned above believes that life is not only full of suffering, but life is fundamentally suffering. I agree. The God of my understanding became human, and certainly had joy in his life, but it ended in great suffering that he willingly endured, as a signal of loving solidarity with all the suffering we endure. A classroom where a cosmic lesson is taught.
I’m a passionate person who experiences intense feelings–both negative and positive. Some currents of psychology tend to pathologize that as the “emotional dysregulation of borderline tendencies.” Since joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin, maybe I’m just a thick coin? Sometimes flipping and spinning very fast.
Psychologists want us to feel our feelings and not repress them. Just don’t feel them too much. And it’s “wrong” if they change too fast or too often. Like me, they just don’t know what the hell to say. The problem with platitudes.
“Just as pleasure can turn into pain, so pain can turn into pleasure…” [Why we need pain to feel happiness ]
Good and evil are two sides of the same coin, too, which is the human person with extraordinary power and freedom. When plain language is insufficient, we try platitudes. And when they are insufficient, poetry:
“There is no light without darkness, no accomplishment without suffering, no happiness without sadness…even if the sadness is just knowing that no happiness lasts forever. Our journey together will always have this balance…a pendulum cutting through time to etch the memories that we all cherish. Just know I accept your love and freely give it back…laughing or crying you make my world a richer place.” [J. Zock]
Neil D. 2020-03-22 (2 days ago, COVID-19 cases 15,219; deaths 201)