Chapter 3


Over the still waters of human happiness there broods an ever-present menace. While everything goes smoothly, almost mechanically, on the surface, there are troubled currents underneath. In fact, the happiness of the surface is sustained by our failing to face the larger issues of life and death that loom in front of us and refuse to be swept away by any mortal expertise. And then comes the storm: the ease and comfort are shattered and we have suddenly to contend for our very lives. The trouble may have an interior source in the form of progressive bodily illness, or it may be a family problem or else a larger issue involving the community, the nation or even the entire world. If disaster has no other merit, it at least sharpens our awareness and brings us closer to reality, which can be defined in our limited existence as the urgency of the present moment. And so, like the sailors in a ship, we can be at one moment on the crest of a wave of prosperity and the next battling for life in the all-encompassing waves of extinction. To most of us the particular disaster that had brought us close to death would itself be the dark face of reality but, in fact, it is merely an outer expression of something far deeper and more menacing. Without what may be called a reactive darkness, we would not be able to appreciate the light of day, just as Adam and Eve never appreciated the bliss of heaven until they were ejected from it. In the well-known words of William Blake in Auguries of Innocence,

Man was made for Joy and Woe
And when this we rightly know
Through the World we safely go.
Joy and Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine,
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

Once there has been an assimilation into our personality of all our life's experiences, good and bad, shameful and discreditable no less than praiseworthy and noble, we are at last qualified to enter into a greater life of the soul where we can be of positive help to many people. Then we neither judge in condemnation nor condescend in complacent virtue but rather enter fully into the soul experience of our fellows.

While things go well for us we can relax, trusting in our own competence guided by the wisdom of our time, mirrored in the smooth running of our community and endorsed by the practice of conventional religion. It certainly is a good thing to keep on the right side of God, as Job himself felt at the beginning of his saga - and he after all was a perfectly righteous man! But constant piety, even if sincere, does not necessarily protect us against the inroads of evil forces - as far as we can discriminate evil from good, which was the initial temptation to which our first ancestors fell, according to the Creation story.

To the impotence of virtue the burden of Job's sufferings bears eloquent witness, as do the lives of all the world's great martyrs for the sake of truth. Nor do the wonders of modern science and technology, or contemporary social understanding and psychology, help the person come to terms with his inner dereliction. All these are of use on an essentially rational level, but they fail lamentably to restore the wounded person who lies floundering in a sea of despair, in which there appears to be no beacon to show the way forward.

It is at this fateful juncture that the forces of darkness show their full power. They enter the scene insidiously disguised as angels of light intent on saving the shattered victim and leading him to the true light. The contract is ludicrously simple: leave everything to us and follow us in faith. We will lead you to health, prosperity and power such as you never dreamed of in the earlier days of your childish innocence. The temptation to throw one's life open to the obliging powers of darkness and trust to what is fondly believed to be God's providence, is enormous. In times of peace and general prosperity such a renunciation of the will to outside agencies would seem inconceivable, but in the face of persistent misfortune, the victim's confidence is severely tried. There is an instinctive reaching out towards anything that affords immediate support, for readily available security is vitally important, but the personality is in constant jeopardy of being offered up to vast impersonal forces whose effects are invariably baneful even if the agent of succour is sincere in his desire to be of help.

The most dramatic illustration of temptation, its power and the spiritual response to it, is the account of Jesus' trials in the wilderness to which he had been led away by the Holy Spirit. After a long period of fasting, which left him famished, the devil placed three temptations in front of him. In the account of the Fall, Adam and Eve were successfully seduced away from the obedience due to God to a covetousness of personal power: reverence for the Father gave way to naked self-assertiveness. In the account of Jesus, though the plot was more complicated, there was the same underlying theme of self-aggrandisement to the point of usurping his Father's primacy. Then he could, in the form of a human, claim the divine title by virtue of his own power. And so he was challenged successively to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, to throw himself from the temple parapet in order to prove his ascendancy over the natural law and his command of the angelic hosts, and finally to assume world dominion at the price of submitting to the prince of darkness.

It is of note that Jesus, like Elisha, possessed miraculous powers of supply in order to feed his hungry fellows. He could also control the tempestuous elements of the weather when he intervened to calm a storm at sea. But on both these occasions he acted out of compassion and not to assert his personal sovereignty which, in fact, he strove to keep secret lest he be hailed simply as a national saviour or a spectacular miracle worker. He was the humble son of man who was also the Son of God, whose work it was to bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to the troubled people around him. Far from exalting himself to a high seat of power, in all his marvellous works it was his body that was sacrificed; as St Paul writes, "He was rich, but for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). No work of mercy, no act of healing, takes place without an exchange of physical and psychical energy. God is the ultimate source of that energy, which is a product of life itself. He lavishes it prodigally on his children, who usually respond only with coarse insensitivity by abusing it and then indignantly casting the consequences of this desecration in God's face with gestures of aggrieved disappointment. Each day the fragrance of the earth's atmosphere is soiled by man's unclean thoughts and sordid passions. The individual who is left with little manifest hope, as after a period of testing in a situation of failure and tragedy, is especially vulnerable to the dark forces within his own mind, which are nourished by the psychic disorder emitted by the careless crowds. All this seems to be an extension, indeed a materialization, of the evil emanations in the intermediate psychic realm from their primary source in the fallen angelic, or demonic, hierarchies. But here we move beyond tangible human knowledge and are guided intuitively by the Holy Spirit to discern truths at vastly different levels from the cosy rational world of everyday life. In the course of casual conversation all this has a rather far-fetched, dramatic air to it, but to those involved in the deeper world of temptation and conflict, the evil can be sensed to have cosmic implications far beyond the psychological or social mechanisms through which it manifests itself.

Christ repelled the devil because he was filled with the power of God which we call the Holy Spirit. We too can be infused with that power if we live close to the divine presence day by day; the prerequisites are prayer, chastity in relationships, and service to others. But if we rely on the riches of this world for our support, we shall soon find ourselves bereft and powerless in the face of overwhelming temptation. And then our shaky will to good can easily be overridden by inner subversion harnessed to outer coercion. The chastity of which I speak is not to be seen as a purely negative withdrawal from intimate relationships, but rather such an openness to God that human relationships lose their obsessive intensity and predatory undercurrent. Furthermore, chastity should be a way of life relating to eating habits, work, entertainments, and especially conversation, no less than genital sexuality. The chaste person has a will in exquisite readiness for the next moment, whereas the promiscuous individual is so crammed with desire that his will is flabby and inert. "The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent empty away" (Luke 1:53).

And what is the will? It is the manifest action of the soul or true self, which in turn is defined as the seat of inner identity that shows itself in moral discrimination, aesthetic appreciation and spiritual aspiration. In the soul's "centre" is the spirit which is in contact with the Holy Spirit - indeed, the Spirit of God is immanent in the spirit of man in the soul's centre. It is not surprising that when the lust and corruption of the flesh and the world overwhelm the personality, the will is perverted and the person becomes the chattel of a galaxy of unconscious drives from within and dominating directives from outside. The dark face of reality neutralizes the freely acting will, so that the individual becomes one of a faceless mob that betrays its divine lineage and rushes blindly towards an animal-herd stampede that leads to a destruction of all that is upright and noble. The will can determine its course of action, but only the enlightened will chooses eternal life in God, because it lives in an atmosphere of unremitting love. The spiritual conflict is in essence a battle for the allegiance of the will.

The agent that subverts the will and nullifies its independent action is significantly called the Antichrist. Its most sinister presentation is that of a powerful, apparently well-intentioned person who exacts absolute obedience as a price for his philanthropy. But the demand is insidious and initially unobtrusive: he turns up when an individual, or a group, or even a nation is in sore straits. He is able to alleviate the personal malady or solve the national problem so that an awe-inspiring aura of omniscience surrounds him. He obligingly assumes the mantle of oracle, prophet and guide whose gifts and insights can pre-empt the future and lead to restoration and glory. Furthermore, up to this point there is no discernible evil intent; Jesus Christ himself could fit into the category. Admittedly his riches were spiritual rather than worldly, but enormous store was laid on his utterances and even on his presence as a focus for healing. But then we read the crucial text of John 16:7: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Advocate will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you." Later, in verse 12, we read that there was much that Jesus could say to them, but the burden would be too great for them at that point in time. It was the work of the Advocate, whom we know as the Holy Spirit, to guide them into all the truth.

And so the prophet knows when to leave so that the disciples can proceed with their own lives in greater freedom; they will certainly have gained much from their contact with the teacher, but then they themselves have to put the teaching into practice. His spirit illuminates them, so that their nature is transformed from dross to gold, and then, in spiritual communion with him in God, they can grow into mature people and continue the ministry of the Master. All this takes time: twenty centuries have elapsed since the Incarnation, and even today the Christian community is scarcely out of its childhood! But in every generation a new prophetic voice cries out the truth, and the faithful respond by a deepening of purpose and a broadening of character. This shows itself in a capacity to love more intensely. The risen Christ is never far away, but he has to be called upon in prayer; he does not assert his authority over future generations. He bids us welcome in outflowing acceptance, in the thought of George Herbert's beautiful poem Love. He stands knocking at the door of the soul in the words of Revelation 3:20, but he does not come into our lives until we respond by listening, hearing and inviting him to enter. And so the will is exercised in responding to the call - or deliberately ignoring it if we remain proud and unyielding. God does not invade our personalities, since it is his purpose that we should play our part in our own way in the maintenance of the cosmic order. Why this should be so is, needless to say, a mystery to us, creatures of dust who are here today and gone tomorrow. But perhaps our unique individuality, God's special gift to each one of us, enables us to provide a special talent for the use of the corporate body of rational intelligence. Whatever may be the reason, there is no doubt that the human is immensely privileged to be endowed with a mental brilliance and spiritual capacity of such an order as to enter into a creative relationship with God, playing his part as assistant as well as beneficiary. But the privilege brings with it responsibilities, and if the will to co-operation is perverted, the creative process can be severely disrupted.

Unlike the true servant of God, the Antichrist refuses to let his fellows go on their own way. He clings tenaciously to all who have been attracted to him, so that his apparent goodwill becomes a subtle stranglehold on an increasing number of victims. Furthermore, the power wielded by the Antichrist does not depend only on positive achievements; there is also a strong undercurrent of hatred that encourages the victims to follow the course prescribed by the evil one. They begin to see how their illness or national humiliation was the result of the perverse actions and wicked machinations of individuals, groups or classes opposed to their freedom. And so the leaders of sinister cults indoctrinate their followers against their families - whose only intention, it is alleged, was to diminish and exploit them. Or else it may be a social class, a religious group or an ethnic minority that is suspected of aiming at national, or international, supremacy. Such a group is always vulnerable because its life style marks it out as different from the remainder of the community, and if, in addition, many of its members are intellectually gifted and financially successful, the jealousy they evoke is soon rationalized to a suspicion of dishonesty, fraud and criminal intent. Those whom we instinctively fear very soon become the targets of virulent obloquy and later hysterical physical assault. It is suggested to the people by the Antichrist figure that the objects singled out for hatred, by their inbred covetousness, are plotting to take over the community, or else, if they are sexual deviants, by their sinister connections are planning to corrupt the youth of the country. The vulnerability of minorities always makes them special victims of the force of evil that dwells in all of us - including, of course, the minority group. They, victims though they may become through the jealous suspicion of their neighbours, are animated by the same forces. This is part of the great power of the Antichrist. In the end all the people may be corrupted, except for the saints on whose witness humanity survives and grows painfully into a greater reality of purpose.

The powers of evil from without work by activating the springs of hatred that lie deep in the psyche. Just as we would not seek God if we did not contain something of the divine nature within ourselves enabling us to identify the source of all goodness, so we would not respond to temptation were the need not already there, dormant and waiting to be satisfied. The type of person who prides himself on his virtue, rather like the Pharisee in the famous parable of Luke 18:9-14, is especially vulnerable to the attack of the evil one. The reason for this is not his hypocrisy, which can easily be unmasked and dissipated by a robust sense of humour, but his ignorance of his inner disorder. This inner disorder we all harbour, but nothing can conceal it from our notice so successfully as self-righteous piety acting in concert with a judgmental denunciation of all that falls beneath it. Below this imposing edifice the foundations are not infrequently rotten with lust, avarice and resentment, vices that are, to a greater or lesser extent, festering in us all until a situation arises in which we are able to see what is happening and take appropriate measures to deal with the trouble. But the moralistic type of person is so entranced by his own excellence that he sees no need to look any further into himself - and when he finds a less acceptable type of person succeeding materially, he becomes increasingly jealous. If, like the Pharisee of the parable, he has no deeper love for humanity, he will seethe at the prosperity of the wicked, a reaction we all share to a greater or lesser extent. Psalm 73 is a graphic account of the anguished meditation of a good man on the success of scoundrels, but in the end he comforts himself with the reflection that the evil ones have their final reward in destruction, whereas he, the just man, looks forward to fellowship with God in a relationship that makes all worldly pleasures trivial by comparison. This is excellent as far as it goes, but can we dismiss our erring fellows forever? Can there be a lasting union with God in a heaven that is exclusive of so much human nature?

In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee the completely unworthy sinner, as he approaches God in the temple, suddenly has a blinding awareness of his own wretchedness, and commends himself to God's mercy in pure faith. He is accepted because God's nature is love, and we can safely believe that God's love dwelt subsequently in him so that his life could thenceforth be directed to serving his fellow creatures and not exploiting them. By contrast, the Pharisee, while exulting in his own righteousness, could contemptuously reject the squalid publican alongside him at prayer. We could only too easily imagine the Pharisee's indignation if a member of the lower orders, such as the publican, started to prosper. All the morally disciplined man's virtues would appear to have been of little avail in life's race, and soon the darkness within would well up uncontrollably. As it could never be tolerated in the consciousness of the Pharisee, it would soon be projected as hatred on to the publican and his many peers in our morally ambivalent society. It is at this point that the Antichrist would be so welcome a figure - and he in turn would enlist the self-righteous person eagerly for his own work of destruction. The scapegoat delineated by the evil one would in this way be a most welcome target on which to discharge all the pent-up, though unacknowledged, venom of the masses.

In this context one can meditate only in fascinated horror on how the Germans, possibly the most civilized people in the world, were so seduced by an agent of evil intent that they descended to a barely conceivable barbarity, of an order that could have destroyed the roots of society had it succeeded in its terrible purpose. The tragedy started with the German defeat in the First World War, a bitter pill for a very proud, martial nation to swallow. In addition, the Versailles treaty showed no mercy on the vanquished: the victors were intent on the complete humiliation of the Germans and their allies. The attempts at a new order of peace founded in the League of Nations were futile, as the League showed its impotence to enforce any order, and in addition a terrible economic depression hit Europe and America in the period of the early thirties. Few countries suffered more severely than Germany, where the rate of inflation galloped to unprecedented heights. Successive governments failed to make an impression on the economic situation, and finally the country was seduced by a demonic demagogue, Adolf Hitler, who offered a fresh hope with his revolutionary policies. He preached national redemption with a society modelled on the heroes of Wagnerian opera, while the darkness lying behind this imposing façade was projected on to the character of an especially vulnerable group, the Jews, who were far too successful in their undertakings and therefore easily accused of draining the German economy of its resources. The Jews had been, until the establishment of their own state of Israel, the perennial international scapegoat because of their amazing capacity to succeed materially, their religious exclusiveness, and their dependence on the goodwill of the countries where they lived. When all was going well they were tolerated, even esteemed, but in times of depression all the troubles could so conveniently be attributed to the traditional slander of their scheming dishonesty. Furthermore, there were other figures of detestation also in the Nazi state: gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, mental defectives and homosexuals, to name the most prominent. Each group was loathed because of its distinctive ethos that cut across the fierce uniformity demanded of the regenerated German people.

Even more terrible was the almost unanimous assent conferred on the regime, especially in its early years of government before the Second World War. At this time, both Catholic and Lutheran churchmen gave their tacit - and often explicit - support, while the professional bodies expelled Jewish members. The medical profession was soon to perform experiments on Jews and gypsies in preference to animals: animal experimentation was banned early in the course of the regime, but no such prohibition extended to the human species. Of course, before one condemns the approval of the German people outright, one has to acknowledge the skill of Hitler in radically reducing the unemployment figures, building imposing motorways and restoring national morale. But he also built up, quite illicitly under the terms of the Versailles treaty, a gigantic military machine. The aim of this was ostensibly to regain lost territory but in fact to attain world domination, so that the ideals of Nazism could be fulfilled internationally. The fate of the Jews in German-occupied countries during the Second World War is a potent reminder of what this meant in terms of human suffering. And yet, as we have already noted, there was general assent for a very long time, even among practising Christians, perhaps due to a basic culpable indifference if not actual malice. None so blind as those who will not see! And the Antichrist blinds men's vision, just as Christ restores sight to the blind.

Hitler's minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, enunciated a telling general law: the greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed. Once it resonates with the emotional needs of the hearer it will ignite the fuel of his prejudice to a scarcely extinguishable flame of enthusiasm. The same principle holds for racism, sexism, and the acceptance (and also the rejection) of the objective reality of psychic phenomena. It is our emotional nature, the "feeling" function of Carl G. Jung, that is our Achilles' heel; through it the forces of evil can strike at the root of our personality. But, of course, it is also sensitive to beauty and the pain of those around us, and can be the way of release from selfish preoccupation to a greater concern for other people. The person who is at the mercy of his emotions is a great public menace; when he can control them from a higher spiritual centre, they can become the inspiration of enormous aesthetic and altruistic creativity. Then they fertilize the active will and can lead to a glorious flowering of the personality.

"Whom Jupiter wishes to destroy he first makes mad", was the way James Duport put it. But the powers of evil are most probably the fallen angelic hosts now imbued with demonic zeal, and they can unleash the dark forces in all of us, whether on a personal, communal, national or international level. The ultimate madness is a rush - like that of the Gadarene swine, into whom malign forces entered after a famous healing by Jesus - of the people to a destructive fury that finds its end in a hatred so intense that nothing less than the total extermination of the abomination will suffice. In a less dramatic, more common way none of us is exempt from feelings of hatred; if we fondly believe that we are "above all that sort of thing", circumstances will soon arise in our personal lives that serve to dispel any such delusion. To move towards a state beyond mortal desire was the Buddha's prescription for the attainment of the life free from suffering that finds its end in the transpersonal bliss of Nirvana. But in fact we cannot move beyond desire until we have experienced it and fallen victim to its noxious embrace. Only then can the desire itself be redeemed from selfish indulgence to communal charity. There was one, Jesus Christ, who, though truly beyond mortal desire inasmuch as the Godhead dwelt fully within him, nevertheless, at the time of his baptism, voluntarily took on himself all mortal desires, and in so doing revealed the way towards their transcendence. The way is the antithesis of hatred, which finds its end in total darkness; it is the slow, painful way of love that, to quote 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, is patient, kind, meek, unselfish and slow to take offence. On the contrary, it keeps no score of wrongs nor does it gloat over others' sins. It delights in the truth and there is nothing it cannot face. There is no limit to its faith, hope and endurance. Above all these qualities, it never comes to an end. The end of hatred is the destruction of the loathed object; the end of love is its transformation in the divine image; God is both the foundation of love and its end. But love is more than a liberal sentimentality. It follows a full crucifixion of the personal life, so that all desires are seen to be fatuous except the desire to know and serve God - and therefore the creation - as completely as one can.

But even an earnest desire to serve the created order can go wrong. Once again, the events in the twentieth century give us food for reflection. The Antichrist is mutable in form and can assume many unlikely appearances.

Chapter 4
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