What does it take for a person, in the face of evil, to be motivated to fight it? Clearly, it is not enough simply to be exposed to an evil force at work. Many do not see the evil. And many who see something they detest are nevertheless not moved to put themselves on the line to combat it.
My own experience suggests the possibility that — in contrast with that old anti-war slogan, “Make Love, Not War” — the emotional, moral, and spiritual foundations for a battle against evil are laid first by the experience of being blown open, heart and soul, by a love of what’s sacred.
I’ve had two main experiences of feeling called to take on the forces of destructiveness in the human world. In both, the call to battle I experienced was preceded — by some months — by a transformative spiritual experience of a more positive, beautiful kind.
My present decade-long battle against this dark force that has arisen in the American power system began in early September of 2004. I was not happy to answer that call because, for the preceding half a year, I’d been following another far more beautiful calling.
A profound experience of Wholeness had transformed me, and I was tremendously excited about articulating an insight that I’d had about Wholeness being the source of our deepest fulfillment. I articulated that insight in an essay, and in a talk I delivered in several places around the country delivering, with the title “Our Pathways into Deep Meaning.” [The piece can be seen in the Supplementary Materials.] And I was happily outlining my next book THE MAPPING OF THE SACRED.
That book remains unwritten because the call to battle summoned me away from the contemplation of the good, the true, and the beautiful and required me to focus instead on the evil, the false, and the ugly. What a trade!
But still, there was no doubt that I must join the battle because ITALIC: the sacred that I’d come to appreciate so much more deeply than before was in jeopardy.
The next major piece of writing, and the next big talk I gave, was the next year (2005), and it had the title “The Concept of Evil: Why It is Intellectually Valid and Politically and Spiritually Important.” In that speech, I said something about how it came to be that I perceived the evil force at work in America today:
QUOTATION: [Much of my adult life has been spent studying the play of destructive forces in the human system. (The word ˜evil’ even occurs in the subtitle of one of my books.) But it was not until recently that my experience of these destructive forces plumbed me so deeply that the notion of evil” became a palpable reality.
Part of what opened that door, I believe, was my having had, in the spring of 2004, a spiritual breakthrough regarding the very opposite of evil. This experience gave me a vision of a Wholeness and a deeper sense of reverence for the good, the true, and the beautiful. This experience seems, in retrospect, to have sensitized me to those forces that work to destroy such wonderful forms of good order.]
It is only very recently that I have noticed the parallel between this sequence of events in 2004, and how I came to my previous life-changing calling in 1970.
What happened in 1970 was that, in August of that year, I experienced a bone-shaking, life-changing moment of insight that led to my writing my first book, THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES: THE PROBLEM OF POWER IN SOCIAL EVOLUTION. (First published by the University of California Press in 1984.) It is a work that seeks to answer the question, Why has civilization developed in such destructive ways, and why has the course of history been so tormented?
It would not be too much to say that my whole adult life hinged on that moment.
But upon reflection, I see that this moment itself hinged on another important experience– this one less about brokenness than about wholeness. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote (One Big Thing I Once Saw” at http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=471), years after the experience, about that moment:
QUOTATION [Suddenly I had a vision of the earth as this Great Living Whole, a single body of which we are part. And that vision of this Whole then moved into a sense of how we are part of that body of the earth. At that time, I’d been reading a book by a fellow named Fritz Kahn called THE HUMAN BODY IN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION, and from it I had developed a sense of a sacred and beautiful, intricate and life-serving wholeness to the human body. What a beautiful miracle that something so whole and synergistic and adaptive and exquisitely crafted as the human body –as indeed Life in all its forms– could just emerge into existence in this mysterious cosmos.
So for me, at that time, the image of the body was one that had a kind of divine aura about it. And so when I saw the Earth as this wonderful Whole –and this was, I believe, some years before Lovelock came out with his Gaia hypothesis (or at least before I got wind of it)– I was already getting into a kind of numinous space.
And then the spiritual excitement crested as I envisioned people like me as certain kinds of cells in that body. By “people like me” I mean those who were suffering because of the sorry state we saw the world to be in…. Just as a human body has special cells that fight infection by mobilizing for combat against invading cells, so did we human cells –upon beholding the infection of a sick civilization on our planet– experience suffering so that we will be moved to cure the sickness.”… One can embrace the suffering if one can see it as an intrinsic part of Doing God’s Work, so to speak.]
And months later, immediately preceding the coming of that insight into the force that had swept the civilized creature up into a tormented social evolutionary process, there was a moment of seeing something sacred about the living systems out of which we emerged and those within us.
In both of those instances of major missions to confront the forces of brokenness, it was the experience of the sacred that had first lit my fire. The call to battle arose out of that.
I wonder: is this how it always is? Love of wholeness first. Being moved to deal with brokenness second?
[NOTE: My brother, in his work as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with people who have suffered profound trauma, has observed something akin. Trauma, he says, occurs when people have experiences they do not have the resources to handle. It remains an unintegrated experience, a kind of brokenness, one might say, in the person’s psychological structure. In his work in trying to help such people move toward greater wholeness, my brother has written, “I have found that those who can access internal and external spiritual resources often are the ones with the most success in being able to work with their trauma.” People need “resources” to heal, and “the deepest resources are at the Spiritual level — like “faith” that can allow people to “move through impossible spaces,” and other kinds of connectedness that allows them to tap into “strength beyond their limited selves.”]