This is Part 2 of 3! Click here for Part 1!
In Part 1 we explored the case for embracing the dynamic tension inherent in being part of the Family of Creation, thereby helping humankind evolve toward greater social and spiritual unity. But what makes this unity so difficult in the first place? If, as we've discussed, reality is like a Celtic Knot we're all entangled in, what makes this Knot so messy?
EVIL, OR EGO?
Let's approach this from where we left off in Part 1: our goal, whether we're Progressive, Conservative, or otherwise, is to cultivate both righteousness and hospitality.
For some, this both-and, pie-in-the-sky, have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too vision may seem overly romantic. More righteous Conservative folks might point out, fairly, that it’s easy for me to criticize the institutions and traditions and civilization we have, but difficult to build them, so I could show a little more respect to my forbears’ efforts to secure a stable life for me and the rest of humanity. More righteous Progressive folks might point out, fairly, that institutions and traditions and civilization have granted me enormous unearned privileges, and I haven’t had to learn firsthand just how thoroughly broken they are – if I had, maybe I wouldn’t think them so redeemable. And both sides might balk at the use of words like hospitality, accommodation, curiosity, and mercy. These can seem naïve amidst our polarization, where only righteousness, purity, stalwartness, and justice – as defined by each opposing side – are seen as viable agendas. After all, aren't we "at war" with each other?
Beneath the bravado, I think this war-mentality reflects our polarized modern anxieties about evil. Progressives are convinced they’re trying to topple it, Conservatives are convinced they’re protecting against it, and neither see softness as up to a task that only hardness can seemingly accomplish. At worst, both sides accuse each other of being the strand of evil in the Knot of our society, and the offending thread must be cut lest it strangle the possibility for a better world.
Despite all this acrimony, it seems to me that, fortunately for all of us, the problem is not evil, but what I and many others have come to call ego, as well as its extrapolations empire and entropy. In fact, if we look closely enough – including at the Bible – we find that when a wise person uses the word “evil” they’re usually actually talking about ego, empire, and/or entropy, not about some unadulterated, ethereal force of cruelty, corruption, and deceit. Not even the devil in scripture is portrayed as such a force – it is always more wily and heterodox than malevolent, and is feeble compared to Spirit. Because Spirit is an unadulterated force of benevolence, beauty, and truth, it seems our binary-addicted minds had to fabricate a fictional "evil" opposite. And this "evil" is a modern fiction at that, only appearing since the spread of imperial religion, Lord-archy, and Church-ianity, and diverting our attention away from the realities of ego, empire, and entropy. By extension, this also diverts us from the realities that can transform ego, empire, and entropy – Soul, as well as its extrapolations Community and Energy. So, if it's not evil we're talking about, then what exactly are ego and Soul?
OUR COMMON DIVIDEDNESS
In the Christian understanding of the Christ – the Creator-in-Creation – everything and everyone in existence has:
a Soul – an eternal, inner, preexisting goodness, originating directly from Spirit, which embraces suffering, love, and therefore spiritual evolution
an ego – an ephemeral, outer, accreted grasp-iness, more bound to physical reality and protecting us while we're here in it, which resists these things, and therefore can cause suffering
We understand that the Soul comes from, and is a part-manifestation or part-reflection of, Spirit. We don’t know where ego ultimately comes from, though as I’ve posited, it seems unlikely to be some kind of “anti-Spirit,” even while it does seem to have roots in both nature and nurture. Whatever the case, the Soul is older and larger than the ego, containing it. But the Soul is also more mysterious, hidden under the shallow, dominating exterior. Much of the task of spirituality is to undergo the hard work of shedding the layers of the ego, gradually giving the Soul full expression. And in the Christian understanding, this particularly requires engagement with the Circle, Cross, and Cycle.
We typically refer to the Soul, ego, and this task of spirituality in the context of the individual. But they apply just as much to societies and to the Cosmos as a whole. Just as an individual can progress in embodying their Soul more than their ego, societies and the Universe can progress in embodying Community more than empire or Energy more than entropy, respectively, also via engagement with the Circle, Cross, and Cycle. Jesus was a master guide of all dimensions of this work, teaching and exemplifying what it means to welcome “Life” (Soul and Energy) and “the Kingdom of Heaven” (Community). In this, while he recognized the inherent wholeness – or selfhood – of everything and everyone, he did also recognize our simultaneous dividedness – in terms of ego and Soul – and our need for greater wholeness – Selfhood.
As with societies and the Cosmos, we could say political factions and ideologies themselves – Progressive and Conservative – also have egos, and can promulgate different versions of empire and entropy. When we start framing things in this way, we begin to see our struggle is not so much with each other, but with ourselves first and foremost, and secondarily with the suffering we cause because of our own dividedness. We see too that our predicament with each other should be treated as – rather than a war between opposing egos or a between one "Soul-full" political faction and another "ego-full" one – a matter of Souls trying to empower one another's best selves.
If something exists, it has both an ego and a Soul, and is part of the Family of Creation for a good and Sacred reason. If something has a name, it has a place and purpose in the Circle, Cross, and Cycle of Christ. Our task as individuals and groups is to call that forth.
So, more specifically, how does this work apply to Conservatives, Progressives, and all of us? How can this understanding of ego, Soul, and the Circle, Cross and Cycle alleviate our polarization? What can we do to weave a healthier Knot, to mature as a Family of Creation?
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this post - Revolution and Revelation!
In the meantime, I offer you some reflection questions:
How have you been shedding the layers of the ego, empire, and entropy?
How have you been giving the Soul full expression?
How have you been living in God’s dynamic image?
How have you been seeing these things happening at a broader, social level?