“I am the Light of the World”
Regular columnist John Myhill argues that we need a better understanding of the Light if we are to lead people away from the darkness in our world.
“And the darkness did not understand the LIGHT” (John’s Gospel chapter 1)
The worrying rise in diagnoses of mental illness, especially amongst the young, should encourage us to examine ourselves and the social groups and countries to which we belong. Are more people living in darkness? What are we doing to bring them into the Light? When we see the political divisions in elections and referenda, how do we help people to love their enemies? When we see the increasing numbers of homeless on our streets, how do we help people to love their neighbours?
Kurtz, in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, believes it is necessary to use horrendous torture if he is to achieve control of a barbaric people. He is not a mad psychopath. If he goes mad in the end, it is only because he realises the horror of what he had done. He breaks down, as we all do, when we recognise the contradiction between our ideals and the darkness of their results (madness caused by emotion, empathy and guilt, not by the lack of these qualities).
It is now commonplace for national leaders to condemn such actions and apologise to the descendants of those who suffered. But the actions occurred because people gave power to such people, sometimes supporting them as heroes, sometimes turning a blind eye to the source of their financial benefits. On such actions were empires built.
In retrospect, we wish to see them as “psychotic” or “sociopathic”. But they felt they were acting as rational individuals dealing with the issues in front of them. Their actions would not have been possible if they had not been supported by most of the people in their country. People who corporately shared many of the characteristics of Personality Disorder.
It is not Pontius Pilate or the high priest who causes the death of Jesus, but the crowd who cries “crucify”.
An organisation (or other social group) proceeds with its rituals, habits, social codes and moral expectations, ruled mainly by what Burke calls “latent reason” (things have always been done this way because it works) until a tipping point, when the majority in the organisation feel it is not working: the political party is not getting elected; the social group is fragmented with people taking sides; disruptive people are not disciplined; the reasons that brought the majority into the organisation are no longer achieved and people are leaving in large numbers; or people are joining the organisation in large numbers and changing its purpose. They have lost faith in their leaders.
At this point, there is a sudden up-thrust of discontent, which will focus on an individual with a will to power. We live in discontented times and thus it is easier to find a majority in any social group, who wish to be led towards: exclusion, scapegoating, territorialism, sectarianism and conflict with those outside the group.
As Christians, we must lead people away from all these things, to understand the Light, and learn to love.
The above image is courtesy of https://pixabay.com/
John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker, retired magistrate and author. His blog is at http://johnmyhill.wordpress.com/
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