Chapter 9

The Inviolability of the Individual

"You shall not give false evidence against your neighbour" (Exodus 20.16).

We owe our fellow humans a great deal, because through them our lives attain balance and purpose. Martin Buber says that all real living is meeting. The variety of life in its constant parade brings forth variety of response in us also, an interminable stream of emotions and thoughts that fertilize our daily life and lay bare unimagined depths in the soul. Beneath the surface of even the most unprepossessing person there may lie worlds of fantasy and an urge towards fulfilment of immense creative possibilities. In this way meeting with other people exposes our own depths so that we begin to function as real people ourselves.

How do we come to know a person? An introduction followed by a polite conversation embracing topics of interest to us both may oil the wheels of social intercourse, but only the surfaces of the personalities are exposed in this transaction. For many people this degree of mutual sharing is quite enough; they have no desire to explore their own depths, let alone confront the emotional turbulence of the other person. Some of us are by nature inquisitive, trying to lay bare the very lives of all the throng we daily meet. In this way we can learn much of the life-history of the people, and yet we may remain as far from their true identity as when we first met them. We can know much about others by painstaking inquiry, but we cannot know a person in this way. Indeed, it is hard, if not impossible, to know anyone by a direct personal onslaught. The one assailed in this way will retreat summarily into his shell of reticence, avoiding further contact, or else he will open up with a variable repartee of falsehood mixed with wishful thinking, hoping to impress his interrogator.

It is actually easier to know God than either oneself or some other person. The reason for this paradoxical state of affairs - remembering that no one can see or delineate the Almighty - is that God is freely available to us in the depth of our own being when we are quiet enough to attend to the moment in hand. While we can never come to him on our own terms, he is eternally at hand to meet us, and he accepts us for ourselves alone. He has no favourites nor does he reject even the mightiest sinner who is potentially any one of us at a particular time. Once we know the unlimited acceptance of God in the depths of the soul, we can begin to accept ourselves without the need for either justification or propitiatory mortification. At last we can breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit, and a new life opens for us. This is one application of the teaching of John 3.3; unless a man has been born over again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. The sacrament of baptism is the outer sign of this new birth, but in due course it is experienced in the soul's centre, or spirit, in a personal encounter with God.

As we breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit, so we are transformed personally. As we undergo personal transformation, so the power of the Holy Spirit radiates from us to all those around us - and at a distance in the prayer of intercession. Now at last we can effect a deep, caring relationship with other people, both individually and collectively. We do not need to strive to know people by displaying our gifts and social eligibility. Instead, we can remain completely still and at peace within, while a stream of love so pours down from us that we are in the most intimate fellowship even with complete strangers. True personal knowledge is a state of union with the other; indeed, unitive knowledge is the apogee of all understanding. In this knowledge the two, while retaining their unique identities, are now functionally one, and there follows an unembarrassed sharing of inner problems, tensions and fears. There is also an unlimited flow of spiritual strength from the one to the other, and with this there comes an undisturbed trust and a warmth of love that far exceeds any superficial affection that we may experience on a purely social level.

When we know this degree of spiritual intimacy with another person, we are inevitably in close fellowship with many other people also, for with the breaking down of our own barriers, we are fully available to the world while remaining rooted in our own unique nature. In this state of open friendship it would be impossible to betray anyone, let alone give false evidence against him. On the contrary, as the barriers of the personality drop from us, so we can rejoice in the splendid uniqueness of each fellow being while participating with delight in that special gift. Thus we acknowledge and support the individual nature of each person we encounter in a day's work. It is indeed a social duty to uphold our fellow creatures, supporting their legitimate endeavours and protecting them against injury and injustice. But what starts as a law of social action becomes a passionate response from the soul as we live in the depths of our fellow men.

To undermine a neighbour is tantamount to destroying him. The sin of bearing false witness, or giving untrue evidence, threatens his reputation, challenges his personal authority, puts his livelihood in jeopardy and may easily end his life. It can be linked to the sin of making wrong use of God's name, when that name is invoked to swear falsely against another person. Perjury is the extreme use of evil communication to destroy another person's life. It is the ultimate sin against God himself, putting his name at the disposal of the evil forces that so often appear to be in control of the world. Usually the attack made on the name and character of a fellow human being is less dramatic than this. It more often involves the use of subtle innuendo veiled by ingenious half-truth to cast a smear on his integrity. In this way a person's career can be blighted and a promising relationship between two people wrecked. The tendency towards calumny is one of the commonest sins in everyday life, so much so that when we encounter a genuinely kindly person who bears no rancour against his neighbour and refuses to add his quota to a general foray against an absent member by the assembled mass, we are immediately arrested in our tracks. Sometimes, of course, the uncritical person is merely simplistic in his approach to his fellows, remaining blissfully unperceptive of their baser motives. But on other occasions, the kindly one is a very evolved person on the spiritual level, one who has traversed many hardships himself and has learned a greater charity as a result of his own humiliation. Charity follows the chequered experience of life, and is more developed in the later stages of our career on earth. It is quite a different quality to permissiveness, which is negligent and detached. Charity is in essence a mature, wise distillation of love and experience, caring and committed, seeking to preserve the evil-doer for the good that is within him also. An emotionally mature person is, as we have already noted in connection with sexual relationships, an exceptional phenomenon; he takes no pleasure in gossip and scandal, preferring to regard his fellows kindly and to keep his own counsel.

Why, in fact, do we tend to speak ill of our neighbours? Why in daily living do we so often flinch from the truth, and utter falsehoods? In some instances there is a deep-seated hatred against a particular national, racial or religious group to which the victim belongs, and in others there is an unfortunate association between a particularly invidious situation in the past and the present circumstance to which the victim relates. In these respects we can recall with horror the enormous calumnies directed against the Jews in past ages as well as in our own century. They have been accused by their detractors not only of plotting world domination but also of indulging in foul ritual practices using infants' blood. The result of the hatred based on jealousy and inflamed by the fear that ignorance engenders was the mass persecution of Jews in European pogroms down many centuries and the wholesale murders of the Nazi era. It was said by the minister of propaganda of the Nazi regime that the greater the lie, the more likely was it to be believed. Another vile persecution, this time of Catholics, took place in England in the latter part of the seventeenth century, following the publicizing of the false popish plot by Titus Oates and his associates. These terrible instances of mass persecution and indiscriminate killing following the spread of false evidence against innocent groups of people reveal how near the surface of the personality of most of us are cesspits of hatred against our fellow creatures. When all is going smoothly for us we can afford to display our tolerance, even concern, for the stranger in our midst. But once we are threatened with financial loss, we soon reveal a baser side to our character. To retain our supremacy and that of our family (the "little tiger" of William Morris) we will all too often stoop to the vilest calumnies against the foreigner or the individual who is somewhat isolated because of an unorthodox style of life.

One of the most unseemly aspects of hatred against racial and religious groups is the tendency for the individual victim to become totally submerged in the hated group. Those who hate such groups are in fact creating scapegoats whom they can subsequently attack and destroy in bulk. The individual member of the proscribed group loses his precious identity, at least in the eyes of his detractors, and becomes a representative worthy only of ostracism and destruction. This process of degrading the person by lowering him to the common herd is diametrically opposed to the love we should bear another person in the light of God's universal love, when he ceases to be a mere member of the crowd and becomes an individual of value in his own right. The executive power of evil strives continually to destroy all that is noble and good, bringing the creatures down as a mass to the primal chaos from which they originally emerged by the divine word and act. The way of Christ, by contrast, lifts prostitutes, tax-gatherers and other sinners to the height of their unique promise, so that they begin to shed the old ways and enter a new life of purpose, sacrifice and transfiguration. In this respect it is as ill-conceived to favour certain groups unduly as it is to denigrate them. Whereas the race-hater herds together all individuals who bear the proscribed name irrespective of their moral stature and longs, at least unconsciously, for their exposure and final destruction, the race-lover places all members of the favoured group on a uniformly high pedestal of esteem, despite the obvious unworthiness of some individuals. The error of esteeming national or religious groups on a personal level is as fundamental as that of denigrating them en masse: an ideology takes the place of a living relationship, and the individual members of the group become mere pawns in the mind of the idealist. They cease to be real people who can be met in a living situation and whose witness can enrich society as a whole.

Jealousy is probably the most important factor leading us to give false evidence against a neighbour. What we ourselves have failed to achieve we begrudge in the life of someone more favoured than we are. That we may in fact be less worthy than the other person is too intolerable to consider, and instead we conjure up fantasies of intrigue and subversion to explain how others always fare better than we do. That underhand manipulations do sometimes allow less worthy contenders to win the accolade of public esteem is well known. That secret cabals may play a part in misdirecting justice is no idle thought, but in the end those who work subversively earn their reward of exposure and humiliation. People attaining spiritual mastery do not patronize these circles. The false accusations levelled at Christ were an amalgam of jealousy and fear. His opponents could not bear his effortless spiritual superiority and they were afraid that he would expose their weakness to the crowds. In fact, had they trusted Jesus, he would have supported their frailty and given them strength to face the darkness within them. But pride prevented them from either opening themselves to him or permitting his healing love to suffuse their distorted personalities with new life. Pride is certainly the deadliest of the sins because it will neither yield it nor receive love from anyone else. Therefore it leads to absolute stagnation, until its proverbial departure before the inevitable fall: only a major calamity can force it to be relinquished, and then at last the power of love can penetrate the bereft personality. Rancour, jealousy and the fear of being exposed in one's naked impotence all feed pride, which in turn will plot to put an end to anyone who may threaten its tenuous security.

We may also be tempted to give false evidence against a fellow creature because of fear, itself often a product of ignorance. Throughout the earlier centuries of our era there was a fear of witchcraft, so that any person suspected of possessing unusual psychic faculties was in great danger of denunciation and death. Most of the victims of this calumny were women, who are in any case generally more sensitive psychically and more aware intuitively than men. These tend to function most efficiently physically and intellectually; in this way the sexes complement each other. Quite a number of women denounced as witches were either victims of deliberate malice or else somewhat disturbed mentally; in those days, mental illness was regarded as a demonic manifestation and the insane were treated with great cruelty. We can give thanks that the modern scientific age has put an end to much subterranean denunciation of innocent people on charges of witchcraft, as knowledge of the workings of the mind has replaced primitive superstition. On the other hand, the modern mind is not the measure of all things. The unconscious is the repository of psychic powers that transcend purely rational understanding, and these are our way of knowing both the spiritual realm and its demonic counterpart.

The fact of evil must neither be allowed undue domination nor should it be smoothly eased out of our awareness by plausible rationalizations. In our own psyche and the collective unconscious of mankind there are dark, subterranean elements of great potency that could do untold harm if ignored, for then they would be given free rein. That some psychically attuned people work in concert with demonic agencies is as certain as that others work with the communion of saints and the ministry of angels. Those whose allegiance is to the demonic are practitioners of witchcraft and their influence should not be disregarded. But they are not to be persecuted, let alone destroyed. Their actions will be their own condemnation, and eventually they will crawl for assistance to those who are able to help them by the grace of God. The right way to counter this menace is by informed education on psychical matters, religious observance and especially the practice of constant prayer. In the intangible, nebulous psychic realms it is the power of God that alone can cleanse a contaminated atmosphere; we assist the Deity best by contemplative prayer and faithful intercession for those who are in special danger. When we plot against those whom we suspect of evil in these realms we play into the hands of the forces of darkness. In the words of Christ, "Love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5.44 5). St Paul expands on this theme in Romans 12.17-20, when he instructs us never to pay back evil for evil, and to let our aims be such as all men count honourable. If humanly possible we should live at peace with everyone. Above all, we should not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution. We should not let evil conquer us, but use good to defeat evil. It can, in other words, never be right to give false evidence to convict even a person of known criminal associations whom one would wish to eliminate entirely from the society of innocent people. The end does not justify the means.

We can also be tempted to give false evidence in order to curry favour with those in authority, or to gain the approval of those whose influence we might later use for our own ends. Thus Jezebel arranged for two scoundrels to charge Naboth with cursing God and the king: Naboth was sentenced to death by stoning, and Ahab went to take possession of his vineyard (1 Kings 21). However, the wrath of God, which is the full working of his law of cause and effect, descended on Ahab and Jezebel, and both died appalling deaths. In the instance of Jesus, it was Judas Iscariot who betrayed him by an allegation that remains obscure. In the subsequent trial, many came forward with false evidence but little of it tallied. He was accused of claiming to pull down the temple of God and then rebuild it in three days, to which he kept silence. A not very dissimilar accusation was levelled at Stephen before his martyrdom, when false witnesses were produced to claim that he was continually saying things against the temple and the Law, and that Jesus himself would destroy the temple and alter the customs handed down by Moses (Acts 6.11-14). When men of noble character fall foul of popular approval there is no end of calumny that will be flung against them. Indeed, there are few more enjoyable experiences for unregenerate people than to witness the humiliation of the righteous. Those who stood in amused approval as Christ hung from the cross have taken their places in the mobs that hounded unpopular minority groups to death in later centuries. Christ himself always takes his place with the persecuted, for he knows what terror enters the hearts of those about to be killed with wanton brutality. He would also take his place with the persecutors, for he understands the warped minds of those who can only destroy that which is beyond their comprehension. But they must know themselves in truth before they can accept Christ among them.

In the far less dramatic environment of everyday life we stab the reputations of the people close to us and of whom we are unconsciously jealous, especially when we are bored and dispirited. Character assassination comes easily to those whose minds have no creative work to plan. It is well said that the devil always finds work for idle hands to do; how much more potent is the mischief sown by the mouth of one whose mind is empty and whose life has no overall purpose! Mischief-making is a common and very destructive social evil. It trades on the weaknesses that we all inherit, and inflates a minor indiscretion into the stature of a major misdemeanour so that the unfortunate victim is placed subtly but irrevocably outside the pale of the society of his peers. No longer can he be trusted, as his presence becomes increasingly offensive to those who at one time counted him a valuable colleague. Personal friendships of long-standing have been destroyed by mean-hearted scandalmongers who have sown distrust and aversion where once there was warm affection. Shakespeare portrayed this catastrophic sequence in the innocent love between Othello and Desdemona subtly undermined by the calculated insinuations of Iago, who is a symbol of the devil wrecking human relationships and bringing all fellowship to the chaos of distrust, loathing and murder.

When we consider the sorry situation of evidence falsely given against a fellow human, we are brought up sharply against the divided attitudes we ourselves all too often exhibit towards those around us. Even those whom we sincerely admire we secretly envy. Those whom we believe we love we often distrust inwardly. When someone whom we have genuinely esteemed is discountenanced, possibly unjustly, how often do we secretly exult in his humiliation while publicly proclaiming our shock and indignation, rather like Job's comforters! Betrayal is a constant human theme. Indeed, it is probably necessary for all of us to experience its bitter ache, for it cuts us down to size, the size of a little child. Human awareness expands more through the darkness of isolation born of suffering than in the garish glow of hearty conviviality. The uncomfortable lesson that we all have our price and no one can be totally relied on causes us to turn our trust to the One who alone does not fail us. When we know God we no longer require the support of human solidarity, and then, paradoxically, a tenderness is born in us that can take in and accept all human frailty. As we have faced our own vulnerability, so we can protect all that is vulnerable in other people. Love blossoms authentically when we know we have nothing to offer except ourselves in our tragic weakness. It may be that Jesus himself gained the final victory of the spirit when he gave up his own tortured spirit to his Father, and he left the world that had so shabbily received his service with pure forgiveness.

It is in the spirit of forgiveness that we cease to think evil of other people. When we are bereft of all selfish ambition and can be open to the present moment in joyful acceptance, we are also receptive to all life. We can accept everything as it stands without judgement, indeed with thanksgiving that we have been chosen to participate in the world's history at this present time and in this particular situation. It is when the mind is not focused in one-pointed awareness on the matter at hand that it starts to drift aimlessly into realms that are not productive. Among these unhelpful domains are the affairs of other people. Vain imagining leads to false judgements and jealousy, and soon the mind has conjured up a series of potential enemies who must, from that time onwards, be carefully watched lest they cause one harm. Therefore when Jesus says, "Pass no judgement, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you" (Matthew 7.1-2), he is stating a fundamental law of life. As we colour life with our own opinions and distort it with our prejudices, so these aberrations return to us as surely as the waves of the sea beat against the shore according to the tide. A great advance in our understanding breaks through when we learn to accept people with joy on the particular rung of the ladder of spiritual growth that they have attained. Then we need no longer make unnecessary demands on those of modest understanding any more than envy those far advanced on the spiritual path.

It is when we are deeply centred in the soul that we are centred in humanity also. God is known in the highest point of the soul, and he is the integrating factor in all our relationships. His Spirit leads us all on to our final encounter with reality whose human form is Christ. To sum up the whole matter: if we are to speak the truth about our neighbour, we must be centred in the truth about ourselves, and this truth is that God is nearer to us than our own being when we are still and aware of the present moment. St Paul puts it thus: "The secret is this: Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come" (Colossians 1.27). This Christ is also among us in the divine community of which we are an integral part. When we know this with our heart, soul and mind, we will fulfil the injunction "This is what you shall do: speak the truth to each other, administer true and sound judgement in the city gate. Do not contrive any evil one against another, and do not love perjury, for all this I hate" (Zechariah 8.16-17). When the love of God reigns in our heart we will never again imagine evil against any person.

Chapter 10
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