Friday, October 19, 2012

The Demon Within

"I could never do that."

It's something you might have thought, too.  We read in the newspaper or online, in the daily news or in conversation, about great evils.  Theft, murder, drug abuse--the list goes on.

As moral, law-abiding readers, as I am sure you are, your reaction to such atrocities might range from disbelief to sadness.  Mingled somewhere in there might also be a sense of bewilderment.

How could someone do something so hideous?  What would lead someone to commit such an evil?  

At times I find myself falling into a dangerous "us" and "them" perception.  Here I am, with my like-minded friends and family, living a pretty moral life.  But over there are "those" people, doing all sorts of evil things.

It seems that in an election year, this "us" versus "them" attitude is even more pointed.  Either political party looks across the line at the opposition and wonders how they could espouse such disrespectful/immoral/dangerous views.

Now, be assured: I'm not leading you down that slippery slope of relativism that says we can't make judgment calls regarding the morality or immorality of certain views.  

Wrong is wrong.  There are certain political positions that advocate for things that are always evil (for example, abortion).  

But here is the thing: while I might like to tell myself that there is a wide, wide gulf between me and those who support or participate in evil, in reality the distance between us may be very short indeed.

Pride likes to persuade me that I am above those heinous crimes on the front page of the paper or the doctor who performs an abortion.  

But I think it's a good reality check to remember that--given different circumstances--the perpetrator could just as easily be me.  

You see, when we've been given compliments about our kindness or when we've been going to church each week or giving to the poor, we might start to forget about that dark spot, deep within us.  Everyone has it.  It's that deep, dark hole left within us by that scourge of original sin, the mark of concupiscence, that says inside, "Non serviam!"  I will not serve.  

The psychologist Carl Jung would speak about the "shadow": the dark side of the human psyche.  Jung once painted a picture of the shadow.  He created a tiled room, void of any windows, and there in the corner, an ominous figure wearing a large black hat and bearing the sinister face of a rat. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have a shadow.  We all have parts of our personalities that are dark and capable of great evil.

There is a devil and Satan does indeed tempt us.  But we can't overestimate what we ourselves are capable of doing and thinking--on our very own accord.  We don't need the devil to accomplish great evil.  We can do that ourselves, using the demon within.

There is a Latin phrase: "corruptio optimi pessima," which means the corruption of the best is the worst.  Even the most virtuous, most holy of persons is capable of the greatest of evils.

It's an important point to ponder, lest one fall into the trap of thinking that he or she is superior or immune to grave error.  

The dark side of our personalities is hard to confront.  It's scary to admit to ourselves what we have thought or done--things perhaps known only to ourselves and to God.  But recognizing the shadow is important.

Why?  Well, for starters, looking at the darkness within myself, I can have more sympathy, patience, or understanding for those who have committed or support evil.  Perhaps, if I had found myself in his or her shoes, I might have done the same.

The shadow makes us humble.  

It also makes us realize that, if there is a space between "us" and "them" (albeit, not as wide as we may have thought), it is mostly because of God's grace.  God's grace moves us to virtue; it is our will that moves us toward evil.

If I am going to church, living a relatively moral life, giving to the poor, well, it's really because God is providing me with the grace that sustains me in these good practices.  God is the reason and I play my small part by cooperating as best I can. 

"But for God's grace, there go I."  But for God, there can go any one of us.

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