Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Certainty is the Root of all Sin

The world is ambiguous. From one perspective, the United States is the best country in the world. And yet from another perspective, it is one of the worst. The LDS Church is overwhelmingly bright; it is also overwhelmingly repressive. I am erudite and loquacious;   I am also sloppy and unkempt. This ambiguity is a part of the world's nature. You cannot make it fit any clean grid. Messiness is the way of things.

And yet we all try to avoid it. Talk to someone who prides themselves on being responsible and point out the ways in which they're not responsible, and watch what happens. They won't only consider it unkind; they'll respond to it with a biting fury, tinged with fear, uncalled for by the situation. Ambiguity is scary. We pride ourselves on being one part of an ambiguous cluster of characteristics; if you point out that this dividing line isn't absolute, people will get scared.

This "other side" of the ambiguous cluster is what Carl Jung called the "Shadow." It's the parts of our nature that we repress and disown because they don't fit with our clean self-image. We all have one. We couldn't be human without one. But the Shadow is still a problem. It's behind all racism, hatred, and prejudice. It is at the root of things like the Holocaust. And yet the solution isn't to get rid of the Shadow, since it's an inextricable part of you, and you'd only be getting rid of yourself. Instead, you need to acknowledge it as a part of you. And you can only do that by stepping out of the rigid self-image you've made of yourself. To cure the Shadow is to step out of this certainty into ambiguity.

Thus, everything that we see as "this and not that" has a Shadow, and the Shadow is the "that" we thought "this" wasn't. To say that the United States is unambiguously the best nation on earth represses the ways in which that is not true. And because we've repressed those negative perceptions, they pop up, disguised, as the hatred we give toward other nations. But the (extreme) truth is that those in the United States who hate ISIS for killing are guilty of the very sins that ISIS are committing. This follows because we are all connected; this is that.

Does that mean that we are all evil? Yes and no (ha!). Evil is not the Shadow. Evil is, instead, what creates the Shadow by splitting it off from the acknowledged view of things. Evil is the rejection of ambiguity. Or to be more radical, evil is certainty. Evil is to say that "this is not that," and to make the division between "this and that" absolute, we try and destroy "that." But then what is goodness? Well, goodness is to embrace ambiguity. Or, since ambiguity is the true way things are, goodness is the love of truth. It is to say that "this is that," that everything is welcome at the table of what we acknowledge. Or in other words, goodness is ambiguity is love, for what is love but a willingness to acknowledge that, in some mysterious way, I am both me and the other at the same time?

So evil, the sin of which we are all guilty as human beings, is certainty. We arrogantly believe that we know what is true and reject anything that doesn't fit that model. This is the sin of the Fall, to assume that we know what is good and evil, a sin that recurs again and again within the first few years of every child's life. Then how are we to heal from it? Well, the Book of Mormon says it very clearly: to come unto Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that follows exactly from what I have described.

In the ambiguous state, everything is tied together with everything by infinitely complex threads of love. We are all tied together through the threads that spool out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This web of hearts is ambiguity, is uncertainty, is love. To acknowledge that "this is that" that I am not you, that you are not me, that the United States is not ISIS, that I am not one of the sinners, that I am immaculately clean and pure - all this is the sin and arrogance of the "knowledge" of good and evil. But to heal form this sin is to acknowledge the love that ties me together with all things, both evil and good. It is the fracture the walls that divide me from what I've rejected. It is to minister to the rejects and outcasts, not just the lepers, but also the lepers in our own souls. It is to break my hard heart and acknowledge that, yes, I am guilty of the very things that I hate in others.

The have a broken heart is to break the hard-heartedness that characterizes all certainty. To have a contrite spirit is to acknowledge my complicity in whatever I have rejected. But there, in that ambiguous state, crucified between opposites, a light dawns. You see that paradox is not chaotic. Birds are able to build their nests and flowers are able to weave their petals without blueprints. Trees don't have to compartmentalize. Animals and plants don't know separation; and per Mormon doctrine, that means they don't know death. They never left the Garden of Eden.

But we, who have been exiled from it, can return to the paradise our animal neighbors never left. By embracing ambiguity, by seeing the paradox and poetry of the world, we step back into the paradise where, instead of knowledge, life rules. And yet we are better for having left on the sabbatical that is the Fall. No animal knows life; they just live it. But we can. That is our privilege as God's children: to step out of life long enough to realize how much we miss it, so that we, homesick, inherit all that our  Father has. For we are dead; and we will be alive again. We are lost, but we will be found.

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