Misconceptions of the spiritual arise out of a long history of human thought that tries to reconcile experience with reality. If there is anything we can learn from history, it is that we are usually wrong.
In so many ways, we can be glad that people have recorded their ideas and experiences. But even so, we can often miss the point, turning ideas into sacred scriptures that are not to be questioned or contested.
As moral agents, we reserve the right to compare, critique, accuse, judge, convict, blame, sentence, punish, and condemn.
One person, whose life was recorded, and whose death became a focal point of history that continues to have an effect on our conceptions of reality, is a man named Yeshua, born in Bethlehem, a carpenter from the town of Nazareth, in the province of Judea. We set the year of our calendar according to our best estimation of his date of birth. I suppose he might be someone worth considering.
The elite members and rulers of the Roman province of Judea, with the support of the people, raised this man up for execution for the capital crime of sedition and rebellion against the emperor, for the ridiculous claim of being the anointed one, the king of the Jews. It was ridiculous because he was a homeless wanderer, a nobody from nowhere.
What made him remarkable was his ability to give up his right to accuse, to judge, and to condemn. Instead, he said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
The same thing that motivated people to cry for the man’s execution is our own need for someone to accuse and take the blame for the sake of freedom, prosperity, peace, and security.
The great empire of our day has instituted a system of laws and a constitution that reflects the best thoughts — at the time of its origins — regarding the means to live as a free and equal people, respecting each other’s rights as human beings, while at the same time attempting to provide several mechanisms to undermine the corrupting influence of power.
However, the new emperor is determined to exclude the homeless wanderers, the nobodies from nowhere from the privileges of citizenship, expelling them from within the empire’s borders for the sake of freedom, prosperity, peace, and security.
The empire is divided over how to treat strangers. The emperor and his supporters claim to follow in the footsteps of the homeless wanderer of the distant past, while ignoring his pleas to be kind and show hospitality to strangers, and to love their neighbours, even their enemies.
The divisions arise over opposing ideas about the threats to freedom, prosperity, peace, and security. On each side of the argument are accusations that the ideas of the opposition are ridiculous. For that reason, the empire is at an impasse. One side blames the outsiders and the apostate insiders who have different ideas. Another side blames the system that needs to be fixed and the people who have designed the system for their own benefit.
The legal and political system sets the tone of the public discourse. Leadership is determined by a popularity contest. Celebrity wins.
If something goes wrong, the opposition is to blame, the other is at fault.
The legal language presupposes an adversarial relationship between plaintiff and defendant, between the prosecution and the defence. Accusations are made, charges are laid, arguments are heard, judgments are rendered, sentences are administered. The court of public opinion is always in session.
Yet, at the heart of each individual is a spirit of accusation. We blame others for the injuries we feel. We look outside of ourselves for the causes of our pain.
We imagine malevolent forces in the world, and, as humans do, we compare ideas to what we experience in physical reality. Metaphors help us to understand our world, making sense of our senses. We personify evil, attributing certain thoughts and ideas to an adversarial entity that is intent on causing pain and harm.
When we cannot find any way out of our predicament, when there is nothing left to blame, we can still insist on our innocence by blaming an invisible, malignant will that invades the mind and seeds it with corrupt thoughts. The Satan of ancient sacred texts is a name that means adversary or accuser or enemy.
With a little introspection, we realize that we ourselves are to blame. Sometimes we look inside to discover that we have brought this situation upon ourselves.
How can we do what is right? We still have no idea what we are doing. We are intent on blaming, accusing, condemning and killing.
Perhaps we can follow the example of the story we have heard about a homeless wanderer who let go of claims to power, wealth, fame, and significance. He let go of blame, accusation, judgment and condemnation. He forgave.
He destroyed old ideas about the forces of evil and rendered them powerless and obsolete. The gods and demons of old were exposed as fictions designed to explain the human experience. The laws designed to limit behaviours to what was socially acceptable and beneficial had become the means to oppress people rather than liberate them, to execute them rather than to give them life. He demonstrated as much by becoming the lamb led to the slaughter required by laws that men devised but attributed to God.
So the life of this one man was a challenge to free people by providing a different example of life and an alternative motivation to fear that transcended even the finality of death. Forgiveness silences the accuser. There is no longer a need for blame, accusation, judgment and condemnation if we are able to let it go and move on in an ongoing quest to know truth, create beauty, and do good.
He may have been killed but he lives on as an example of the supremacy of love.
Love is what creates and sustains, and what will remain.
But what about the law? Should there be no justice? Forgive and move on? That’s simply not possible. Or, at the very least, it is suicidal.
Yes, there must be constraints and limits on behaviour. Parenthood teaches us the value of the word, “No.” As children mature in an environment of love and respect, responsibility is granted with greater freedom. We learn that we are our own worst enemy, accuser, and adversary. We have to confront our own “demons.” We need each other to better understand our own identity, to overcome our fears and bad habits and worst inclinations, and learn how best to work with each other for the benefit of all.
If you are looking for a model, consider the work of the Delancey Street Foundation. If you are person of faith, consider Oasis UK. I am sure there are many more opportunities for creatively overcoming the problems of our world with good.