It’s an image that is hard to fathom, even harder to shake. Especially in 21st century America. Hundreds of men, mostly young, carrying torches, bearing Nazi flags, some heavily armed, loudly proclaiming their cause of taking back America for white people. Like a scene from Night of the Living Dead, it was both frightening and seemingly unreal.
I am not proud to admit that my first reaction to seeing this scene was an unmitigated gut reaction. Viscerally upsetting, I felt anger towards this mob of protestors, judging them as vile and against all that I hold dear in my values of love and inclusiveness. If I am honest, the intensity with which I judged these people was no less than the intensity of their own condemnation of their perceived enemies.
Jesus said, “Your enemies will be members of your own household.” In my reaction, to this scenario, I came face to face with the underlying cause of what I judged in “them” and the root of their condemnation of the “other.” In depth psychology, it is called the “shadow.” I spoke about this dynamic last Sunday. The shadow is a contradiction in ourselves that we don’t want to face. We like to think of ourselves and want to show the world our mask, our persona, the likable virtues and hide the dark aspects. The problem with this tendency to disguise these disliked qualities of our nature is that they don’t do well being ignored. Like a petulant child who is ignored, they find a way to get noticed, to find expression in their world.
I believe, that what we saw in the white supremacists in Charlottesville protest was the projection of their own shadow. Their inability to face and embrace their own undesirable qualities forced them to release the inner tension by projecting the source of their own discomfort on a race of people. As Psychologist and author John Sanford explains:
• The Nazis were an example. Having identified themselves as a super race and a divinely superior people, they were no longer able to recognize their own inferior qualities. The hidden, inferior qualities in them were therefore seen in the Jews. The Jews had to carry for the Nazis what they would not see in themselves. They carried the burden of the hate and fear and loathing that, in fact, the Nazis had for themselves. The ensuing wholesale and horrible slaughter of the Jews was a futile attempt by the Nazis to exterminate their projected inner enemy. The beginning of the solution to the problem of the enemy is to recognize it within ourselves. We carry the enemy in our own hearts.1
While it is easy to rush to judgment and condemnation of what offends us in others, it is far too dangerous, when unchecked and unexamined. In our spiritual life, there is nothing more important to our growth and evolution than awareness. Awareness is the space of nonjudgement that can notice everything that arises in us so that it can be clearly seen, examined and understood. It is the Light that both reveals all that is True and Sacred and Loving, and the shadowy aspects as well. The source of our wellbeing and the source of our discomfort lie within us.
Moral superiority rooted in a judgment of another is no better than racism. The Crusades showed us the devastation that can result from unbridled sanctimonious authority.
My heart goes out to all those who have suffered as a result of this display of hatred and violence. I have compassion and a soul aching desire that this kind of hate filled activity come to an end. I will speak for inclusiveness, and acceptance and love and respect for all people. I will take part in peaceful assembly holding to the principles of nonviolence as a counter voice to bigotry and racism. And, most importantly, I will remain aware of how I can become part of the problem that I would seek to solve if I judge and condemn those who oppose my values. My work when I get triggered is to invite the Light of Truth to show me where, in me, I still hold my own prejudices, where I carry exceptions to unconditional love, and where condemnation is given a righteous face. Only in such radical honesty, am I able to heal, and thus offer a pure heart of love and peace to enmity in the world.