Lesson 13- Nature, Balance and the Passion of Jesus
In my last program, I was exploring how two laws of nature, one involving territorial defense and the other social identity, were instinctually built into creatures in the natural world. Since, the Bible says, that the natural world reflects the Wisdom of God then it is to our benefit to try to understand them and how they play a role in our own lives and survival. The more we understand our connection to the natural world, the better we will be able to understand our own behavior and, where necessary, to modify or cooperate with these innate laws which often motivate us on the unconscious level.
Some well-intended people, erroneously believe, that we humans stand alone in fighting wars over territorial boundaries. A number of years ago, I attended a World Affairs Council presentation in which they showed a cartoon called "The Hat." It showed two soldiers dressed in opposing uniforms who were guarding a boundary line drawn across the grass in an open field near a forest. As they marched passed each other, with rifles on their shoulders, they glared across the line with eyes full of hate and suspicion. Suddenly, one of them stumbled and his hat fell on the other side of the line. Every time he started to reach across to retrieve it, the other soldier pointed his rifle at him in a threatening manner. Meanwhile, in the background, the creatures of the forest were crossing back and forth across the line with no concern at all for this arbitrary territorial boundary. Obviously, the point of the movie was that only human beings are stupid enough to create territorial boundaries and then fight each other when they enter each others turf. Its a nice idea but it isnt true. It is because of our connection to the animal kingdom that we do this because, as any naturalist will tell you, the animal world is full of territorial conflicts.
We often fail to see this played out in the natural world even when it is happening right before our eyes. Our pet dogs are territorial animals and that is why they make such good watchdogs. Our house and property becomes their turf and when someone approaches it, they begin to indicate their concern and opposition by barking, growling, and making intentional movements that threaten attack. If the intruder is another dog, they will really go wild because he is a more obvious competitor for his territorial rights than humans. By the same token, loose dogs in our neighborhoods are constantly marking out their territorial boundaries to indicate to other dogs where their turf is. Often we observe a dog walking down the street stopping every fifty yards or so and urinating on the wall. Most of us assume that he is just relieving himself, when, in truth, he is using his urine, which carries his own particular smell, to mark out his territory. If you stay around to watch, youll notice that other dogs stop at these marking posts and sniff them to discover the identity of the dog that is claiming this as his turf. In like manner, young adolescent boys mark out their turf by writing the name of their gang on the walls of buildings and nations create borders often marked by fences, walls, flags, or guard posts.
If, as I said, these natural laws come from the Creator, there must be some good purpose being served here that has something to do with the survival of life, because, as I have said, God is preeminently pro-life and everything that is necessary for its development and survival. A clue to the reason is found in Robert Ardsley is book, "African Genesis" where he writes:
"SOCIETY (which is based on territory)) IS THE PRIMATE'S BEST FRIEND. In group cooperation he has found a weapon that multiplies the number of his eyes, the weight of his muscles, the ranks of his fighting teeth. Through his social mechanism, the primate has made sure that he will get the greatest return from his own SECRET WEAPON, THE BRAIN; and suffer the least disadvantage from his weak body.
There is an order in all the wild animal world. We stand before a cage in a zoo and observe what seems to be a kind of happy free-for-all or anarchy. In any case it is a life free of rules, and perhaps that is, so why we like to go to the zoo. But in a state of nature, the life of the animal is not so. He follows the rules and regulations of territorial behavior. If he is a social animal, then he obeys the rules and regulations of his society and his personal desires must, on occasion, give into the necessities of his society. In this the animal accepts and subscribes to a kind of morality.
The wild animal is not free. If he be monkey or ape, then order is imposed on his behavior by the survival of the young, which must be educated as well as fed and defended; by the demands of the territorial defense; and by the laws of dominance... Above all since he is an animal who depends on society for survival, order is imposed on his desires by the demands of his society. The primate is the most well regulated fellow. But let one thing--TERRITORY--be absent from his life and anything can happen."
Mr. Ardsley then goes on to tell of 350 Rhesus monkeys who were removed from their territory and shipped by sea to a new island. During the trip, the sense of territory broke down and chaos broke out. He writes:
"Without the disciplines of territory and society, mothers scrambled for food without regard for their infants. Time after time the mother fought her own child for food. No males rose to the defense of mate or child. Without territory, there was only terror. And by the end of the trip ten infants were dead.
When they finally arrived at the island and the monkeys were released, the males established territories and social dominance and peace and harmony once again returned.
This reminds me of an incident that occurred when I was twenty-one and just out of the Navy. I decided to visit my aunt in the "Devil's Pocket" and so, one Saturday afternoon, I hopped in my car and headed for her home. As I was driving down her street, I saw her youngest daughter, Donna, who was about ten, walking in the opposite direction. I honked my horn, waved, and stopped to ask her whether her mother was home. She came over to my passenger side window and was talking to me when suddenly a muscular arm reached through the driver side window and grabbed my steering wheel. It was Mr. Devers, a man from the neighborhood, whom I hadnt seen since my youth. It was obvious that he didnt recognize me. "What do you think youre doing? he demanded. I tried to explain but it was obvious from the threatening look on his face that I wasnt getting through. Finally, Donna came to my rescue and identified me. "Oh, young Joe Reilly. Im sorry Joe, I didnt recognize you!"... "Nothing to be sorry about, Mr. Devers. Im glad that you cared enough to act."
Thats the way it was in those old territorial neighborhoods. Nobody did anything to anyone else without the rest of them caring and they looked out for and protected each other. So, if on one hand, their territorial sense separated and made them hostile to strangers, it also cemented them into a loving and caring community with each other.
Today, in the newer and more affluent neighborhoods, the sense of territory has shrunken to ones own house and property. The sense of community and connectiveness with others is missing or greatly weakened. Often people dont even know their next-door neighbor except for a passing "Hello!" and they dont get involved in each others lives. I doubt very much whether any one would pay any attention to a young girl being called to a strangers car or, if they did, would feel any responsibility to investigate or interfere with it. Our territorial concerns have been reduced to our house and our family and our territorial battles are often with our next-door neighbors.
By the same token, the parish church, which in the older parishes was the nucleus which bonded the people together and gave them a sense of community and belonging, has become a place where strangers meet once a week for an obligatory hour, exchange a weak "kiss of peace" with people whose names they dont know, and compete with each other to be the first one in their cars so that they can rush to return to the isolation from which they came. Few, if any, stop to talk or consider congregating in the parish hall for an "after-Mass" snack." Everybody is in a rush to return to their small world of atomistic existence. Thats what happens when the sense of territory breaks down. Instead of being cells in a social body, we become isolated cells with no body.
In some sense, we are creating our own hell because if God, who is Himself a community of "three-in-one", is Love, and love is connectiveness to others, and heaven is simply to be in the presence of God, then hell, which is the absence of God, must be isolation. Those in hell must feel totally separated and alone.
C.S. Lewis addressed this issue in his book "The Great Divorce" in which he proposed that hell was where you got everything that you wanted as soon as you wanted it. At first, the reader thinks, "No! Hes got it backwards. That's not hell. Thats heaven." Then Lewis goes on to explain that when a person first arrives in hell he is informed that all he has to do is to wish for any THING and it would be his. As he strolls down the main street he notices all of these magnificent mansions that have been wished into existence by their occupant. Finding an empty space between two of the mansions, he wishes his own dream house into existence and settle down to a life of pleasure and ease. However, within a short time, conflicts develop with his neighbors. One has a tree that is one foot over his property line and sheds leaves into his yard. The other has a dog that barks when he is taking an afternoon nap. Step by step the irritation of having to deal with other people grows until finally he says, "Who, in hells name needs you. I can have any THING that I want so I dont have to deal or even interact with you." So, he wishes away his dream house and moves further down the road where he finds an empty spot where no one has built. However, eventually, others arrive and before you know it, he is again surrounded by annoying neighbors with their different habits and ways. Unable to tolerate this, he moves again and again and again until finally, he, like all the long-term residents of hell, is living in a wonderful mansion, filled with wonderful THINGS, totally isolated from everybody else.
Do you get the point that Lewis is making? Any relationship between two different persons requires that each makes some concessions to the others differences. Anyone who has been married for a long period of time knows this and those that dont often wind up in the divorce courts. Having been married for 42 years myself, my wife and I often laugh about each others idiosyncrasies and have learned to compromise and to tolerate it when our personality differences clash. I have met people who, having been single for most of their lives, find it difficult to marry anyone because they have become so set in their ways that they have lost all flexibility. The only person they can stand to live with is themselves.
Anyway, to return to my major topic, these natural laws that influence both animals and humans, cut both ways. Territorial defense, which is the basis for identity, is the source for both conflict and peace: conflict with those outside the territory and peace with those within it. This being the case, it would appear that any hope for world peace is hopeless because identity and conflict seem to be inseparable. In order for me to be "ME", I have to resist becoming "YOU" or I will lose my identity and the same is true for you.
Marx was wrong when he thought that he could eliminate "class conflict and oppression" by eliminating private property. He thought that it was only the differences in income that caused one class to oppose and oppress the other. Therefore, like many utopians who dream of perfect worlds which have no basis in reality, he wanted to create a "classless society" where everybody would be equal and the same. Thus, in communistic states, like China under Mao Tse Tsung, they even tried to have everyone dress the same by wearing Mao jackets.
Can you imagine that? A cold, sterile, uniform world in which everybody had the same house, drove the same car, wore the same clothes, thought the same thoughts, and had the same income. Only a world based on misguided human wisdom could be so foolish. God, who created the natural world that is full of variety, must be French because He, like they, says "Viva la difference" or "Hooray, for the differences!" Thus, Nature, like a good marriage is based on balances in which a harmonious order is creating by balancing out contending differences. Thats the only way that I can be "ME" and you can be "YOU" and there be peace between us. I have to learn to live with you while resisting the temptation of trying to force you into becoming "me." However, I also have to resist your attempts to force me into becoming "you." By each of us protecting our own identity and integrity, we will learn a modified version of the Wisdom Prayer which would say: "Lord, give me the patience to accept those things in others that I cant change; the courage to change those things in others that I can change for the better: and the Wisdom to know the difference." All relationships modify and change the behavior of those involved and so the secret of keeping ones identity is knowing what you should or could change and what you cant without losing who you really are.
This is a lesson that the multicultural world of modern life has taught us. In the past, people thought that you could force others to believe what they didnt want to believe. Thus people were persecuted, tortured, and burned at the stake in an effort to change their beliefs. Common sense tells us that any change brought about by these methods are invalid because all valid changes take place only through free will. And God, most of all, is a respecter of our free will. The Dameans, a music group composed of four Catholic priests, wrote a song called "The Song of Thanksgiving" which says:
"Love thats freely given want to freely be received.
All the love You poured on us can hardly be believed.
And all that we can offer you is thanks; all that we can offer you is thanks.
They were simply repeating Catholic theology that, unfortunately, some of our ancestors did not always understand. In the 13th Century, St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the same sentiments when he said, "Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards (or dangers) of the nobility of Man."
Ideas, like everything else, have to remain in balance and that balance is best attained when there is free competition between them. You dont respect another personas identity by surrendering your own, and that, unfortunately, is what some well meaning Catholic liberals try to do in the name of tolerance. If we were to follow them, we would "give away the store" and lose our own identity. True identity remains committed to its own essentials. Thus, the Church, while recognizing areas of agreement and compatibility with other religions and philosophies, staunchly upholds it own position in areas of disagreement and incompatibility. The Jews and Muslims believe in God and so do we. They say He is one and we agree but add that He is Three in One. Thats not negotiable. The Muslims say that Jesus was a great prophet, we say that He was the Son of God and that cant be compromised. The Humanists say they want a world based on "equal justice" where every child has a decent standard of living and we agree. They say that to accomplish this we must create a world of Super Tolerance where every idea and lifestyle is equal and children destined for poverty or any type of social handicap should be eliminated by abortion. We say that there are right and wrong ideas and lifestyles and you dont solve the problem of error or sin by defining truth and sin out of existence. Sin itself is not negotiable. How the sinner should be treated is. And the answer for the problem of poverty and social handicap is not the elimination of the people they affect but rather the opening of our resources and hearts to them. As I said before, Truth is the midpoint between two opposing extremes and the midpoint between two extremes is just another name for balance, and balance is that of which the natural world, and perhaps the whole universe, is composed. Somebody up there likes balance.
It is interesting to note that this is the hallmark of the Church on most issues. Are we saved by faith or works? The Protestants say "faith alone" and the Church says, like St. James, "Faith without works is empty." Therefore, we are saved by both. Do we know God through faith or reason? Again, some say by "faith alone" and the Church says "by both." The reason that the Church moves so slowly when confronted with new theories and ideas is because it has learned throughout its history that one has to wait to see how the new theories and ideas play out and then to find a way to balance the past with the future. Otherwise, one becomes mired in an intractable past that will never change or goes flying off into a rootless future that has no connection with the past. The Church is never so right as when it demonstrates this balance and never so wrong as when it loses it. To grow organically, one has to learn how to balance the past with the future, the old with the new and, if you have survived for over 2000 years, as the Church has, you must, despite your mistakes, be doing something right.
I have spent a lot of time exploring the natural world because in order to understand what salvation is, we have to understand what damnation is. We are part of the natural world but our call is to become supernatural and that is the goal towards which we are moving. One of the philosophical teachings of the Church is the Hierarchy of Being that means that there are levels of existence in the natural world and that each level builds upon the previous ones. For example, everything is composed of atoms, which join together to become molecules, which join together to become compounds that join together etc. Each level combines with the previous level to form a higher level and thus every higher level contains the features of the previous levels and then some. The laws that govern the atoms, govern our atoms. The laws that govern the cell govern our cells. The laws that govern the flesh, governs our flesh. And, if, as we believe, we represent the growing tip of this process, then we contain everything that went before plus something that has never been seen before. In other words, the Creation, of which we are a part, is struggling upwards towards higher levels of being. It is, in Jesus words, seeking the fullness of life and it is this fullness of life that is the Kingdom of Light that is saving us from the futility of life that is the Kingdom of Darkness. He has come to set us free from the world of "compulsory laws" upon which the natural world is based and to lead us into the world of freedom and understanding, upon which the supernatural world is based. All the levels before us have to be understood as necessary "stepping-stone" leading the Creation towards its fulfillment. As St. Paul says, "The whole creation groans like a woman in childbirth waiting for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God." But how does a creature who is rooted in the natural world become a son and daughter of God and an ambassador for a revelation that is yet to come?
According to Jesus, we have to experience a second birth or be born again. Nicodemus, thinking that Jesus was talking about a physical birth, asked how was it possible to enter your mothers womb again. Obviously, Jesus was talking about a spiritual rebirth to a higher supernatural level where our rational nature will overcome and control the animal that lies within all of us. In other words, to use medieval terms, is it possible that the Intellect will succeed in controlling the Will and pull it away from the false goods by leading it to the true good? Will the human race finally overcome the unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil and choose to follow the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
Jesus said that He had come to SHOW us the way to eternal salvation that is the "fullness of life." Is it possible that in His passion, death, and resurrection, He gave His final and greatest teaching by becoming a living visual aid that showed us the way to this rebirth that transforms us from the natural to the supernatural level?
Do you remember the incident in Matthew 16:23 where Jesus told the Apostles that He had to go to Jerusalem when He would suffer and die and rise from the dead and Peter objected saying that it was not necessary for Him to do this. With uncharacteristic fury, He turned to Peter and said, "Get thee behind me Satan!" You are a dangerous trap to Me. You are thinking merely from a human point of view, and not from God's." What is this human point of view that Peter is expressing that threatens to become a "stumbling block" to Jesus resolve to face His own passion and death. Its the point of view that pain and suffering are bad and unnecessary to accomplish great things. Too often we look upon the Crucifixion as an example of pain and suffering and thereby conclude that we must seek them out. In the center Ages people wore hair shirts and punished their bodies through different kinds of mortification. And although this does serve the purpose of challenging the fleshs hedonistic tendencies, it may not be the real message of the Crucifixion.
We are very fond of saying that Jesus died for our sins, as though dying was the total story. If it was, then it shouldnt matter what type of death he experienced. He could have been hung, poisoned, beheaded, strangled or beaten to death. However, none of these forms of death would have sent the same message. Jesus said, "If you want life and you want it fully, pick up your cross and follow me." It may be that His method of death was His last and greatest teaching for us. Instead of signifying pain and suffering, which are passive and which many type of death could have signified, it came to signify "struggle" which is active. And any naturalists will tell you, it is the basis for life. Life is not made for wimps. It is full of challenges and those that accept them grow and survive and those that avoid them stagnate and die. The easy life is the fruitless life because as Frederick Douglas once said, "Without struggle there is no progress." The Stations of the Cross tell of how He struggled up the Hill of Calvary and how he fell three times. And each time he got up again. And, after his death, to every one amazement, His defeat turned into a victory as He rose again to a higher level of existence. Was He trying to show us some deep natural law of the universe and, if he was, which lobe of the brain was it aimed at. He could have used language to tell our verbal left lobe the law but the only way He could have communicate the message to our nonverbal animalistic right lobe was to show it.
What exactly did Jesus accomplish through His passion. There is no one answer because there are many levels of meaning upon which we can meditate. But one thing is for certain, based on modern psychological knowledge. He defeated our lower animal nature by rejecting its hedonistic outlook and chose instead to follow a path that exceeded our natural instincts. In other words, He chose the supernatural over the natural.
Now that we know about our animalistic right lobe and how it communicates nonverbally, let us consider the Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus, seeing the pain, suffering, and struggle involved in the Crucifixion that lay before him, began to cry and sweat blood. The Church says, that even though He had a Divine Nature, he fully shared in our human nature and thus his flesh feared pain and suffering as much as ours. Since we now know that it is the animalistic right lobe of the brain that cries and is repelled by pain and suffering, we could conclude that a struggle was taking place between his rational left lobe, which knew the Will of His Father, and his right lobe, which, imagining the feeling of the pain and suffering, wanted to avoid it. The scriptures say that He pleaded with His Heavenly Father by saying, "Father, if this cup can pass without My drinking of it, then let it be." But not My Will but Your Will be done."
At that moment, He defeated the unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He defeated the world by refusing to use His power for His own benefit. He defeated the flesh by rejecting its fear of pain and attraction to pleasure. He defeated the devil, who through the sin of Pride, refused to do the will of God, by placing His Fathers will before His own. At that moment, psychologically speaking, His rational mind, which is goal directed toward the plan of His Father, defeated His animalistic mind, which is "feeling directed" towards his own comfort, and by doing so, He affirmed that, despite our misconception, pain suffering, and struggle are not necessarily bad but may, in some mysterious way, have a redemptive value. In other words, they have meaning and it is one of the central beliefs of Catholic theology.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom