The Freedom To Serve the Good
The God / Satan duality makes no sense. Its illogic is obvious to children whose innate insightfulness and curiosity haven’t been been paved over by a theological belief system. Obviously, a loving and omnipotent God wouldn’t allow Satan to do evil things. Nor would God need to create odd tests for humans, such as “Here’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but don’t ever eat any of its apples!” A truly kind and omnipotent God wouldn’t allow evil to exist in the first place. With no evil in the world, a good God wouldn’t be placed in the uncomfortable position of having to outsource the dirty work of the world to nasty old Satan.
So what does make sense? What we call good and evil seem to be inextricably related. In contrast, they define each other. If one didn’t exist, how could we understand the other?
This makes obvious the polar nature of consciousness. As the father of a young child, I’m witnessing first-hand how humans rely upon dualities to learn basic concepts. Day is the opposite of night. Light is the opposite of darkness. Hot is the opposite of cold. [My son is only just starting to grasp these concepts. Right now, pretty much everything is “Ball!”]
What if, instead of bifurcating good and evil into separate camps, we regarded them on one continuum? And what if everything in the universe — ourselves included — were involved? Is a wave good or evil? It seems obvious that a wave is just a wave, so it’s neutral. What if that wave were the perfect tube that I rode to win a surfing championship? Then it would appear good. But what if that wave were a tsunami that killed my family? Then it would appear evil.
Does the universe rejoice in the good and bemoan the evil? Does it want to increase the one and decrease the other? Maybe that’s our job. Rather than relegating this responsibility to a higher power, what if awareness of this duality provided calls to action in our daily lives?
I see another polarity that runs parallel to the Good / Evil one, which is measured in degrees of freedom. On the Good side, I see the wisdom and freedom to act in ways that are of greatest service and positive impact to others. On the Evil side, I see the choiceless enactment of insuppressible, mindless reactions. Another way of looking at this would be as a saint / slave polarity, in which the saint has unbounded freedom and the slave has none.
I’m no saint — I’ve made plenty of bad choices that have resulted in suffering — but I do believe that every day, each of us has the power to make choices and act in ways that have the saint-like quality of helping increase the Good in the world. That is, unless circumstances (external and/or internal) have imprisoned our innate ability to do this. When this tragedy happens, we fall down the downward spiral of darkness, and have no choice, it seems, but to slavishly act in ways that express the Evil side of the spectrum — reactively acting in ways that cause harm to others, ourselves, and/or the planet.
As people who care deeply about contributing to the good in the world (what the ancient Greeks called ethical humans), I believe it’s much more than our duty to strive to act in ways that express the Good — it’s our privilege. Doing Good in the world — helping others, solving problems, relieving suffering, protecting those who are vulnerable from harm, affirming our basic humanity, etc. — is its own reward.
At the same time, I feel enormous compassion for people who mindlessly, heartlessly, slavishly lash out and increase the suffering of the world. No one in their right mind consciously chooses to do this. They do it because they see no other option, because they’re deeply confused, or because they’re under the delusion that evil means can achieve good ends.
How this applies to our current political situation and myopic leadership in the US should be obvious. I don’t want to digress into accusations and finger-pointing. My intention is to invite people to reflect on how the line dividing good and evil runs through all of us and all things, and how at any moment (unless mentally enslaved), we have the opportunity to act in ways that support the Good, which is so much greater than ourselves and our own personal needs (but also includes this). Have you found any way of living that’s more beautiful or rewarding?