Holy Darkness, Blessed Light: Challenging Analogies For Good And Evil
We are often told in pop psychology/spirituality programs that we should learn to “make peace with our dark side” and be content to have both “light” and “dark” elements of ourselves coexisting in harmony. We are encouraged to accept that no one is perfect, and purity is not something to strive after. But to my mind, this is presenting us with a false dichotomy, making striving for the right appear like a vain struggle that should not be pursued if we want to live in “the real world”, and giving our failings far too much credit over us.
I do not see a contradiction between trying to live a “pure” life, while at the same time living in reality and recognizing the grittier aspects of existence. I understand purity to mean trying to cleanse oneself of that which is false, that which is twisted, that which is unhealthy. In essence, to become more truly human, as God meant us to be. In this, I concur with Tolkien’s portrayal of evil as being, in essence, a perversion of good, but not a “thing” in and of itself, and that Goodness is the only truly “real” thing there is, rejecting the concept of dualism.
Unlike Captain’s Kirk’s dilemma in the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within”, I do not believe that our flaws form some sort of alternate entity being suppressed within, that if let escape, can have a life of its own. While it can work for some poetic analogy, we do not have “two sides” warring with each other, we are just individuals struggling with our own weaknesses. We can only have wholeness through an embrace of true Goodness. Anything that perverts this does not derive from some alternate being within us, but rather from compromising our moral immune system. Our sins are a result and a perpetuation of this sickness.
I can understand some complaint about using the analogies of “light” and “dark” to represent the forces of good and evil to begin with, since nature presents us with both in their own unique blessedness. However, when the analogies are in place, living “in the light” is more a matter of living according to an ethic. I have no problem with “light” (energy, creativity, passion) and “dark” (tranquility, contemplation, wisdom), so long as both are grounded in truth, which I see as always direction towards the Good. Not a feel-good, perpetual smile on your face, sugar-coated good… but a deeper reality that encompasses the whole of our personhood.
This does not, in any way, exclude our stronger emotions or leadership skills, as “The Enemy Within” would have us believe, but incorporates them in a manner that keeps us from becoming slaves to them. They are not part of our “dark side”, but simply must be kept in proper order so as to destroy the delicate balance that constitutes every virtue. The same applies to sexuality. It is meant to be a thing of immense power, beauty, spirituality, and mystery. But distorted, it can become a thing that dehumanizes us and turns into an expression of violence.
So in summation: I see people as being neither “black”, nor “white”, nor “gray”, for that matter. I see us as being created in the image and likeness of God, who is Goodness itself, from the moment of our conception. Tragically, through our fallen natures (stained but not slain, according to Catholic theology), we will, to differing extents over the course of their lives, cooperate with evil and wander off the path we were meant to travel. But that never changes the fact that our truest nature is crafted for Goodness, and that path is always calling for us to return.
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