On a scale of one to ten, how much trouble do you feel we are in at the moment in our world? To judge by news and social media we are dangerously close to the collapse of civilisation and the end of the world.
As I write this the United States is in the middle of an election. Granted, it is a very significant one with implications for the entire world. But I’m amazed by how often it is framed as a grand battle between good and evil. Many of us see victory for our preferred candidate as the salvation of the world and defeat as certain global destruction. Personally I do believe that Joe Biden will be less destructive and more concerned for the marginalised than Trump has been. But is he guaranteed to be a brilliant President? I’m not so sure. And is Trump the devil incarnate? Nope.
No president, political party, or election can save the world—or permanently destroy it. I don’t mean to minimise the damage that bad leaders can do or the good that positive leadership can bring. But, I do resist framing things in catastrophic terms. Authentic spirituality requires more creative perspectives and more hopeful ways of responding than this.
THE TEMPTATION TO CATASTROPHISE
When we’re faced with a crisis, present events tend to loom large in our sight while long term trajectories and trends fade from view. This is one of the reasons that a scientific worldview can be so very helpful and empowering. When our focus is on personal safety and comfort in our short lives then it is understandable that moments like this election take on cosmic proportions. But when we place our history in the context of 14 billion years of evolution, its significance tends to diminish somewhat.
Find other posts in this Science and Spirituality Series here.
The challenge of the extreme tragedy-or-victory worldview is that it locks us into unhelpful patterns of fear. When our anxiety becomes all-consuming it drives us to seek certainty and avoid mystery. It convinces us that control is possible and will relieve us of our fears. And it makes us deeply suspicious of anyone that threatens our illusion of security. We will never create the world or the lives we long for if this is our starting point.
When our lives are framed as a cosmic battleground between good and evil then we can never relax because catastrophe is always just around the corner. The best we can hope for is what Brené Brown calls ‘foreboding joy’—the state in which our joy is always tainted by the expectation that it will soon be stolen away by some tragedy.
CHOOSING A DIFFERENT WAY
Despite the persuasive power of catastrophising, most of us instinctively know that the life we seek is to be found in a different way. In our hearts, we know that life is more vibrant when we release our fear and give ourselves over to love. We know that there is wonderful discovery and creativity when we release our addiction to certainty and begin to befriend mystery. When we lift our eyes from the immediate and begin to embrace a cosmic view we can see that that the ‘arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’ as Martin Luther King Jr. said.
Authentic spirituality, informed by the best of the sciences, leads us into a lived experience of a benevolent universe, even when we experience pain. It reminds us that we participate in just a very tiny leg of the evolutionary relay. Our world is constantly deconstructing and reconstructing, changing and emerging. And what we call evil may, in the end, be just a necessary expression of the evolutionary forces of life, death, and love. But most of all, a cosmic, evolutionary spirituality empowers us to hold the questions, uncertainties, tensions, and paradoxes together as we seek to help, nurture, and care for one another on this crazy journey.
BREAKING FREE OF THE COSMIC BATTLE
So how do we break free from the binary between good and evil? How do we resist the tendency to catastrophise? And how do we reject the temptation to villainies those who think, believe, act, or vote differently from how we do? Here are some simple suggestions:
- Hold all value judgments lightly. We can’t stop making judgment calls, but we can stop making them about life and death.
- The old cliche’ ‘this too will pass’ is true. Whenever things feel too permanent, especially crises, remember these words.
- Develop the habit of finding something good in even the ‘worst’ people or situations. And learn to celebrate the imperfect in the midst of what is wonderful.
- Train yourself to see beyond the immediate and embrace long term perspectives. Study the universe and feel the awe and mystery of being a speck in massive, 14-billion-year-old cosmos.
- Nurture a spirituality that can hold contradictions, questions, mysteries, and paradoxes without always needing to resolve them.
- Where possible make friends with those who view the world differently. Even if you don’t agree, gaining insight into how others see things can be deeply significant.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Perhaps you see the content of this post differently. If so, please share your perspective—it will be so helpful. And if you find these thoughts helpful then please let me know and add your thoughts to the comments.
- Where in your life do you fall into catastrophising? How can you move out of that cycle?
- What most helps you to resist binaries between good and evil and the temptation to villainise those with whom you disagree?
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