November 20, 2007
Love and Compassion — Lost in Translation
If you are interested to know how much love and compassion there really is for ourselves and one another in this country and for the rest of the world just look at how we treat society’s outcast – the weak, the sick and the needy. I am speaking of the incarcerated sitting in jails, prisons and mental hospitals, the homeless living on the streets and those sleeping in shelters, the poor and of course the addicted.
The entire ministry of Jesus Christ revolved around working with this same population. Due to life experiences, I have come to believe that his message of hope to his followers and enemies, alike, can be boiled down to two basic ideas – live free and speak one’s personal truth. The path for achieving this Enlightenment is through love, compassion, and forgiveness towards one’s self and to all others. Both thoughts, of freedom and truth, are interwoven; you can’t have one without the other. In America, we talk a lot of about being “the land of the free.” It sounds good, but lately it appears to ring hollow. I see little evidence to support this notion. And the truth is almost nonexistent. On many different levels, slavery seems quite rampant in our communities.
The popular message of Jesus became such a threat to the Pharisees, the social elite of his time, who’s ridged rules determined who could become a member and who could remain one. The Pharisees had Jesus killed not for his inflexible ways, but instead because of his liberating ones. According to the Book of John, Jesus reportedly said, “The truth shall set you free.” His ministry represented freedom while the Pharisees unconsciously demanded slavery. After all, were they not still worshipping the “golden calf” as their ancestors had done ever since Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt thousands of years before? Have they ever known or tasted freedom?
After his death, Jesus’ works continued to be carried out by his disciples during the First Century A.D. Over the next two millenniums, beginning first with the Roman Catholic Church and later with hundreds of protestant denominations have come to lay claim to Jesus’ legacy. Just as the Pharisees had developed a set of stringent rules for living, this same pattern emerged within this newly organized religion called Christianity. Where Jesus message to his followers had been about freedom and truth, Christianity communicated, from the pulpit, a new message of slavery through the manipulation and distortion of the Gospels and the Old and New Testaments. Church officials, who were the educated ones, instilled a fear of God into their followers out of pure greed.
Instead of promoting daily faith in God, the Church replaced faith with fixed, life-long beliefs in a man-made doctrine. Worship and praise in a mythological deity, “Our Savior,” became a substitute for having direct relationship with God. God was literally kicked out of “His own house” and not welcome back. Its congregations were asked to blindly adopt often-irrational and confusing ideas for perpetually entertaining the human mind. This heavily encouraged line of thinking defied common sense and intellect serving as a surrogate to naturally relying on one’s own senses for ferreting out truth from fiction, the wheat from the chaff. Truth and freedom were replaced by the Church with lies, shackles and chains – total subservience to its leadership and its fuzzy doctrine were required to become and remain a member in good standing. Like Judaism, Christianity began worshipping its own version of the golden calf and ironically, I believe they are the exact same thing. What could it be?
Instead of a message based on Jesus’ love and compassion, the church promoted one of guilt, shame and fear. This formula worked very well for centuries keeping wounded souls in pews and their money flowing into church coffers in the name of Jesus. This misconduct has been going on ever since the Church’s official formation under Roman Emperor Constantine, in the 4th Century A.D. What impact has this perverted exposure had on man, on world history and where we now find ourselves today? How corrupt or sick could an individual or an entire family be today after hearing this shameful and cancerous message with its negative energy passed down through families repeatedly for dozens of generations?
Would it be hard to imagine or to assume that a human being would unnaturally inherit a negative self-image that would lead to self-hate and to self-destructive behavior? Would these persistent and toxic messages result in soft hearts developing over time or harden ones? Would one expect love and compassion to fill our hearts or hate? These negative emotions, along with the complete separation from God, would cause every nerve in our body to throb just like when one’s thumb is repetitively hit with a hammer. As a result, “a drug” becomes a necessity to numb this endless pain and suffering.
This violence by the Church whether in the form of mental, emotional, physical or sexual abuse begins to manifest itself throughout society as this repressed negative energy inside of man surfaces only to be inappropriately acted out against one’s self and on others. The late Fr. Anthony de Mello, a native of India, had this to say about the impact of institutions on people,
“We have people in the world like this [they practice no violence]. No matter what scholars and priests and theologians tell you, there are and have been people who have no quarrels, no jealousies, no conflicts, no wars, no enmities, none! They exist in my country, or, sad to say, they existed until relatively recently. I’ve had Jesuit friends go out to live and work among people who, they assured me, were incapable of stealing or lying. One Sister said to me that when she went to the northeast of India to work among some tribes there, the people would lock up nothing. Nothing was ever stolen and they never told lies – until the Indian government and missionaries showed up.”
The next story told once again by de Mello is a conversation between him and a very conservative missionary in India, at a spiritual conference;
“He came to a workshop of mine. As I developed this theme over two days, he suffered. He came to me the second night and said, “Tony, I can’t explain to you how much I’m suffering listening to you.” I said, “Why, Stan?” He said, “You’re reviving within me a question that I suppressed for twenty-five years, a horrible question. Again and again I asked myself: Have I not spoiled my people by making them Christian?”
Acts against humanity aren’t random at all; they are coming from a similar violent source like religion and all other repressive institutions. Show me an abused person and I will show you someone who is acting out in some form or fashion against society. We have all become brainwashed. As a European folk saying instructs, “Call a man a thief and he will steal.”
How many times does a child or an adult need to hear the Ten Commandments read out loud to begin feeling like a “no good” sinner and start behaving like one just to prove it? How do most families control unacceptable behavior of family members – with violence and by no other means? It’s all anyone of us seems to know. How does society control explosive conduct that violates our social norms – through the use of laws, fines and imprisonment?
Each year, we pass law after law arresting and locking more and more people and building more and more modern-day dungeons to contain us. Today, we are rapidly building prisons across the United States instead of much needed hospitals, the warden serves as “a master of men” and not as a Shepard of sheep or a “healer.” In lieu of therapeutic environments for healing these facilities are hostile ones inflicting more harm to its guest. “After doing their time,” most of these broken men, women and children will be released back into their community without being cured of what got them sick in the first place. Guess what happens.
Upon their release, it’s no surprise that close to seventy percent (67.5%) will become repeat offenders by “breaking the law” only to return to jail or prison within three years of being set free. Do you call this a success? How much sense does this make to allow this large segment of society get away with functioning so ineffectively? We are a society of hard-asses – “tough on crime”; do we deserve anything different?
How about social etiquette with its refined ways, it is a more sinister form of violence? Socially acceptable in most communities, etiquette suppresses and shutdowns one’s own natural ability to respond spontaneously to random situations based on our five or “six” senses rather than a more programmed one. Once cutoff from one’s own feelings this reactionary behavior is like that of a robot than of a human being. In Dixieland, we instill and revere this polished behavior in our children, it is highly embraced and touted over the unchecked and “rude” example from our neighbors to the North. What is the price to one’s self-esteem for responding like some parrot on cue – it’s incalculable?
Social etiquette purports to be one thing when in reality it is another. Pretending to be “prim and proper” or “professional” is just a public persona to living authentically and it kills a person’s spirit, in the process. We slowly choke on this ever-growing vomit. Etiquette is solely a figment of one’s imagination for the purpose of achieving and maintaining order – manners at the dinner table, politeness towards parents and all adults including complete strangers, submitting to dress codes and conduct at school, church, work and in other social settings, following written and secretive membership rules.
It’s unnatural and only pushes us farther away from ourselves, never closer. As a community, we have been unable to face the truth about past events and the present crises. We continue taking away more freedoms as a result of our inability to get honest about whom – we are and what we are. Most of us are asleep and don’t even know it.
Anthony de Mello, S.J. wrote the following comment said about Jesus in Awareness;
“Someone once had a terribly beautiful thing to say about Jesus. This person wasn’t even Christian. He said, “The lovely thing about Jesus was that he was so at home with sinners because he understood that he wasn’t one bit better than they were.” We differ from others – from criminals, for example – only in what we do or don’t do, not in what we are. The only difference between Jesus and those others was that he was awake and they weren’t
How beautiful is that?
“Our troubles, are basically, of our own making…” is a quote out of the textbook Alcoholics Anonymous, first published in 1939, from which the group took its name. Most any recovering alcoholic would readily acknowledge that his or her delusional thinking warped their outlook on reality. This occurs while drunk and while “dry” leading them to make irrational and unrealistic decisions later causing many self-inflicting wounds.
It’s important to note that some fifty percent of all alcoholics grow up in alcoholic homes and this exposure undoubtedly impacts their self-esteem, self-worth as children and sets the stage for how well they will or will not cope as adults. Their childhood coping skills that helped him or her to survive as a child, in their dysfunctional home, are no match for life as an adult. Using these immature skills lead to repeatedly making poor decisions and experiencing painful consequences. This creates feelings of added guilt and shame that fuels more unmanageable drinking and drugging producing a vicious cycle.
The harsh negative self-image and wounded self, the out of control drinking and poor decision-making are the source of the violence against self and society as their lives spiral out of control. The alcoholic and addict will pursue this insane activity at the detriment of, both, their own short-term self-interest (loss of jobs, relationships, health, finances, home and material goods), as well as, their long-term interest (incarceration, insanity or death) and at the expense of all others in their life including love ones.
We have taken this public health crisis, twisted it into an issue of morality and made it criminal highlighted by a thirty-year “war on drugs.” Due to our “righteous” approach, we are no closer to solving this epidemic than when we first declared war on it. The reason is we don’t understand the problem. How can you solve something that you are clueless to its cause? In spite of the “war”, the enormous size of alcoholism and drug addiction is actually tolerated and a significant part of our culture. It’s more proof that our society is insane and that most of us aren’t living free to see it.
The policies pursued by our elected officials are nonsense and a true crime against humanity. Who’s really the sick one, here — the alcoholic driving under the influence (because that’s what loss of control looks like or a business executive held up for five days in a crack house) or society for trying to treat both of their conditions with hate? Man has repeatedly taken misunderstood behavior and criminalized it. Any law can be written to outlaw anything. The irrational actions of the mentally ill routinely result in incarceration. Rather than view illogical behavior as a sign of a sickness that needs medical attention, it is often treated as criminal.
Of the two million adults incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons nearly one-half are considered mentally ill and locked up on minor offenses, according to a study by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006). You could all be sitting in a prison cell, right now, for something you have repeatedly have done in the past, but now find yourself locked up and enjoying this fine essay. How noble of us, how “modern” of a society – more laws, more violence. As stated in A.A. meetings, “We are not bad people trying to be “good”; we are sick people trying to get well.” Unlike religion, I choose to live by the former and have done so for the nearly two decades. I am neither interested in “beating myself up” for being human nor do I tolerate it from others.
The irrational way alcoholics and addicts behave I don’t think is much different than how the rest of our society acts. Experts say that when an alcoholic or addict starts their drinking or drugging career that their emotional development stops. For the average alcoholic, the drinking begins somewhere around age fifteen or sixteen. I believe there is plenty of compelling evidence to suggest that the rest of our society’s emotional growth stops only a few years later somewhere in the twenties. We never grow up and the advertisers and marketers selling “the fountain of youth” know it.
This explains the immaturity of this nation, the lack of honesty in facing difficult decisions and an absence of any wisdom. There’s a social ceiling stunting our mental, emotional and spiritual development even though we all continue to grow physically older. We see no value in turning 30 (years old), 40, 50, 60 and so on. Instead, of having some pride in living life and wisdom to show for it, it’s just more embarrassment and regret. I know of a couple who specifically comes to mind that are exactly thirty years older than me, the husband has a Yale degree and has been a physician for over forty years, highly intelligent and quite accomplished, but he is so cut-off from his feelings. His wife is no different. Neither one appears happy or has shown me any sign of maturity or some insight about real life. “The lights are on, but nobody is home.” They are merely puppets on a string, not human beings. By no means are they alone. Every one of our social ailments plaguing this nation could disappear if we simply grew up and grew out of them.
We will gladly put a new law “on the books” for short-term gain, a Presidential photo-op of him signing a bill into law expanding government, such as, the Department of Homeland Security for more window dressing and for our “safety.” It’s done even if the new law doesn’t solve the problem in the long run all the while stripping us of another freedom or two. We can’t build an insanasylum big enough to contain us all, so why not pass enough laws and then it will just simply feel like one. It already does. The slow simmering pot of water continues to cook this rabbit. “Our troubles, are basically, of our own making…”
I believe this explains our history and the present state of our immature nation. So we treat the weak so poorly, big deal! Guess what we don’t treat the “strong” not one bit better. There’s an old saying, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” We are a society of harden hearts. Just look at all the once strong members of our society, who we love to put on pedestals, such as, politicians, preachers and priests, movie stars and musicians, celebrities, professional athletes and CEOs. Their secret lives or a scandalous act comes to light causing their “fall” from grace in the eyes of their supporters, fans, followers or the general public. How many of them become instant outcasts – “lepers” and the “butt” of every late night comedian’s joke? Where is our love, compassion and forgiveness for them, now? What do you expect – different treatment? Don’t we just as quickly turn our backs on them as we have done along with the sick, the poor and the needy?
We don’t reject the outcasts by choice, but rather we actually don’t know any other way to love them or anyone else for that matter. That’s pretty sad. Isn’t this really a reflection about us and not about the weak? If we loved ourselves, then violence on others would no longer exist; crime would no longer exist; jails, prisons, insanasylums and homeless shelters would no longer exist. The drug war would no longer exist. Laws and law enforcement would become obsolete. Our perceived threats from our global neighbors would no longer exist. Our massive Armed Forces could greatly shrink or maybe even be mothballed altogether. Why continue to starve on the meager crumbs and harsh words of the Old Testament when everyone could be feasting to the Gospels? It’s a matter of choice.
Why die to “the letter of the law” when you can live and flourish to “the spirit.” This could all be a reality, the world could change instantaneously, if everyone simply woke up, but it requires the “strong” to get honest and acknowledge their own weaknesses. The strong are liars to their own reality, full of hate and destruction, look no further then the many troubling events presently unfolding in America and across the oceans. Are these crises coming from places of love or hate?
Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Once out of the box, the Super-ego protecting the damaged self refuses to surrender to anything including to the truth, to God. In order to get into kingdom of God, one has to get humble about who they are and what they are. That’s something the inflated Ego of the strong would rather die than submit to.
Writing this essay has convinced me of one thing of how damaging using shame against anyone and everyone through the use of the Ten Commandments whether inside a church, temple or synagogue, classroom, courthouse or on the grassy lawn of the public square is truly an act of cruelty. I now stand firmly against these tablets in exchange for a gentler message of love and compassion, forgiveness, understanding, acceptance, truth and freedom for, both, myself and everyone else.
What is the difference between guilt and shame, you ask? The definition that I like is, “Guilt is feeling bad for making a mistake while shame is feeling bad for being a mistake.” In the so-called “richest” country in the world, no one should be dumped on and left to carry the burden of shame neither among the weak nor the “strong,” whoever you are. Today, many of our institutions are failing miserably in carrying out a healthy mission for the social good – self-preservation and self-promotion now supersedes anything and everything destroying lives and this country, in the process.
In closing, I will remind you of the late A.S. Neill, the founder and headmaster for over forty years of renowned Summerhill School in Great Britain. Neill had this to say about the unwanted children that he accepted from the state-run schools,
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mold the child will turn the god into a devil. Children come to my school, little devils, hating the world, destructive, unmannerly, lying, thieving, bad-tempered. In six months they are happy, healthy children who do no evil. And I am no genius, I am merely a man who refuses to guide the steps of children.” What about original sin? “I let them form their own values and the values are invariably good and social. The religion that makes people good makes people bad, but the religion known as freedom makes all people good, for it destroys the [inner] conflict that makes people devils.”
One man’s inner conflict leads to jihad, “to terrorism” and another man’s call for a “justified” response. “We are only as sick as our secrets,” that’s true for individuals and for nations. Since the beginning of time, the world has witnessed tragically and repeatedly acts of self-hate against mankind – in the forms of war, atrocities such as genocides, homicides, suicides, assaults and rape in every conceivable form. Its time for acts of love, compassion and forgiveness to radiate from inside our bellies and spread throughout our entire bodies into our heart and soul, down into feet and up into our minds. We need to breed more whole people with soft hearts and bright spirits and less half ones without any backbone; we don’t need any more bystanders who silently and blindly watch these crimes continue unabated.
Love and compassion for oneself is the ultimate act of kindness to self and, thus a gift to the world. It’s an individual exercise and requires a daily effort, but it can literally change our hearts, change us for the better and positively affect the lives of all those who come into it for a brief moment or for a lifetime. Love and compassion are core tenants of Jesus’ ministry and can materialize to the fullest when we are truly set free to speak with integrity. The journey to freedom, this struggle is a difficult one, but it is worth every bit of it. Is there any other way to live?
Copyright © 2007, 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Love and Compassion — Lost in Translation” by Ted Burnett.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.
Alcoholics Anonymous: The fourth edition and basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous, “…Our troubles, are basically, of our own making.” Chapter 5, page 62
As a European folk saying instructs, “Call a man a thief and he will steal.” Source: Wikipedia.com
Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. Copyright Ó 1990, source all quotes of Anthony de Mello and A.S. Neill
Reentry Trends in the U.S.: Recidivism, Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Reentry Trends in the U.S.: Recidivism www.ojp.gov/bjs/reentry/recidivism.htm
New Data on the Prevalence of Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: Human Rights Watch http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/01/10/usdom15040_txt.htm (2007) Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics
Summerhill School – A New View of Childhood, Alexander S. Neill, Copyright © 1998