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Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Have Found the Devil...

I have been thinking about the devil for some time now. It's not that I believe there is a guy running around in red pajamas carrying a pitchfork. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I don't believe in that guy, or any embodied devil - any more than I believe in an embodied God. Nevertheless, throughout most of history people have believed in some sort of devil or devil equivalent that seems to persuade us to do less than our best - at times much less than our best. Even today, in our scientific era, many people continue to believe in a devil. For contemporary folks, I believe that their choice to continue to believe in a devil is a creative way to avoid personal responsibility for their mistakes. If you can say "the devil made me do it," you can avoid responsibility in many people's eyes. Fortunately, that strategy doesn't often work well in the courts.

What about the spiritual giants of history? Many of them wrote of a devil because the devil was part of the Church's official teachings. They must have been having some kinds of experiences that led them to believe this devil business make sense, right? Surely all of these tremendously honest and forthcoming people didn't independently decide to play some kind of con game writ large by speaking and writing of a devil that wasn't there!

I have been reading St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. She wrote extensively of the devil, and has the usual medieval preoccupation with snakes, worms, and the depravity of humanity. When I read her descriptions of the activity of the devil, however, the suspicion I have had for a long time is confirmed. If you want to understand who this devil is that people wrote of, simply substitute the word "ego" for "devil." You can elect to believe that the force that makes you choose not to do the good you want to do and instead do the bad you don't want to do is an external devil, but it would be much more accurate in contemporary terms to say that it's the internal force of our ego.

Ego, in the eastern sense, believes there is a permanent and unchanging "me" that I have to prop up and defend at all costs. So when I see a homeless person who needs something to eat and I reach for a dollar bill, my ego screams, "don't do it, there may not be enough for me!" When I become aware that there are people without health care and I find myself thinking that the appropriate moral response would be universal health care, my ego tells me that I worked hard to get what I have and if we give people health care I will lose my position of privilege. When I start to see signs of my aging in the mirror, my ego tells me I need a younger partner to make me feel younger. When my partner gets sick and can't be sexual, my ego tells me someone as splendid as I am deserves sex whenever I want it. In fact, the ego is all about me, even - and perhaps most especially - when me comes at the expense of others.

Sounds a lot like the devil, doesn't it?

The remedy is to repeat the following manta, "It's not all about me." In fact, you might say that the less it's about you the more evidence of spiritual maturity we can find in you. The person who runs around primarily concerned about themselves, perhaps even seeing spirituality or religion as a way to get more for themselves, is in truth a spiritual toddler. Why do I call them a spiritual toddler? I call them toddlers because like toddlers they have created an imaginary world in which they play, a world which always affirms them, in which they are in charge, and in which nothing can ever go wrong. The problem is that world doesn't exist outside our imaginations - and more than a few church sanctuaries.

I have found the devil, and he is [in] us!

1 comment:

  1. I like your mantra, Bishop Craig. I have used that mantra on a few occasions. I could stand to use it more often. Thanks for the reminder.