Our Suffering: Part 2 – Cataracts & Echo Chambers
Today’s blog follows on from Part 1. You can read it here.
I’m reminded of the life of a fellow sufferer many moons ago, St. Paul. He was beaten, he was stoned, he was thrown in prison, all for the hope of reconciling opposing cultural paradigms. He believed that prejudice in people could end and be replaced by flourishing communities of togetherness. Famous for his Damascus Road experience, he told the story in a way that was not about the actual moment, but about what changed in him in that moment. He does so by mocking his old dogma:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
Paul is sarcastically boasting. He was the big-cheese, the Dux, the straight-A student. For his entire life he had been fashioned to be the zealous epitome of Hebrew political motivation. But during one midday horse ride it all changed. He was blinded by a Light that loosened his ideologies. Society-imposed monocultural cataracts fell from his eyes. In that moment he saw what he was and what he had been. And it was ugly. After a long contemplation of that life-defining moment, Paul emerged as the antithetical praxis of staunch mono-culturalism, which significantly contributed to the creation of, what historian Thomas Cahill calls, “the world’s first egalitarian society.” No small feat.
Paul’s previous way of thinking no longer fenced him, no longer kept him from having shared kai with his Roman neighbours. In fact he called his previous way of thinking complete rubbish. Suffering, instead of privilege and position, became the expected cost for him to achieve community cohesion across cultural lines. After all, the One who had blinded him with light was Christ the Sufferer, the same One he had previously thought of as a weak faux-leader. Paul became a community building extraordinaire because his leading influencer was familiar with suffering, familiar with laying down his agenda for the sake of others, familiar with speaking to racism and religious falsity when society was anaesthetised to what was right.
I don’t use this story of Christ and St. Paul to promote my Christian faith in this tough time. I use it because we need inspiration from people who have trod the path of suffering. I also use this story as a self-critique because my own religion, for roughly the last 1700 years, has been rife with diabolical stories of fundamental monstrosities. We have proclaimed Christ and praised Paul, but for eons have not acted like either. Christianity has been the causation of suffering, of actions that have imbibed political power, not sacrificial love. Every agenda, postured in the constructs of privilege, is susceptible to a conceited heart in free-fall. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton writes, “the greatest evil is found where the highest good has been corrupted.” Christianity is wonderful, yet when corrupted has burned homosexuals at the stake and slaughtered Muslims. And vice-versa, Islam when corrupted is just as answerable as Christianity. Sadly we’ve seen what extremists have done from both sides of the fence.
But don’t think for a moment, “Ah, there you go, religion is the problem!” Not even close. Science is more than guilty of obsessive fundamentalism. Scientific theory was the fuel that justified apartheid, assimilation of indigenous peoples and their flora and fauna, and not to mention the ethical cleansing of Europe. By the time the twentieth century came there had been two decades since Nietzsche’s The Madman proclaiming the death of God and religion. Science and technology were the new means by which society could be saved from the religious Dark Ages. Yet the twentieth century emerged as the worst century in human history. Science and technology in the hands of corrupted hearts proved to be worse than the battles within four millennia of the Abrahamic faiths. In the hands of religion; in the hands of science; in the hands of politicians; in the hands of chatroom racists, grotesque suffering can come to us through anyone locked in their echo chamber listening to their self-created playlist on repeat.
It seems that for us webbed-up-disconnected-moderns this unconsented hurl into suffering alone has had the power to rip off our headphones and turn off our playlist, to help us see our fellow citizen as they are. It’s not fair it’s happened this way, but that’s what it is and in responding the way we have, a spirit of heaven - making humanity truly alive - has come to our earth and made us woke.
Read Part 3 here