The question of Job, or, why does bad happen?
Human beings should be treasured. Material is to be used. Our crises now all originate from one source – things are treasured, people are used.
Very little commentary is posted after my columns. I do wonder if I am writing into a vacuum sometimes. But then, I have felt the same over a dozen years of broadcasting a program on co-op radio, “The History Hour.” One cannot be certain one is received, yet one cannot let the opportunity to make a difference go unanswered. So I keep writing.
Anyone at all knowledgeable about the Bible – a shrinking number to judge from polling data – knows about the book of Job. It is a classic tale, it is ancient, and it is memorable for its ambiguity. Job gets no final answer to his query about the nature of good and evil, even when God talks to him.
The poor and innocent, the powerless and the weak, have a load of injustice and suffering dumped on their undeserving heads in this life. The wicked prosper, dishonesty seems to pay, and immorality is not punished. The powerful are not in their positions for any obvious merit, and they use and abuse that status at will. No matter the proverbs about “crime does not pay” and “what goes around comes around” – all of us know examples from our own lives and observations that justice is as rare as sunshine at midnight.
It is a marvelous tribute to the human spirit that humans do not lay down and submit meekly to the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune but take up arms against a sea of troubles, as Hamlet says in one of the most famous soliloquies in the English language. He holds out the prospect that one can end troubles by opposing them, and that is why we keep on trying to change our politics, our economies, our social and cultural orders, by civic activism.
I love that about us. But I border on being a misanthropist when I reflect how little humans seem able to change our mistaken behavior patterns. Learn from history? No, not happening. Humans are not making good choices.
Why do we have such appalling politics that so many electors now loathe politicians and withdraw from participation? Is it true that the standard of character and ethical and moral standards among politicians has been so degraded that only masochists and massive egos pursue political careers?
A friend tells me constantly that 96% of us are decent human beings but that other four is pathologically without human conscience. The 4% rule us, he says. (Take a bow, Bob.) I reply, “So 96% of us allow this to happen?”
Who has not endured a bad boss? We have to endure them, or face loss of a job. Their power is a microcosm of what the ruling class and their servants in our political systems are able to do to us. Our feeling of helplessness today is measurably greater than in the 1970’s, as research has shown.
My experience of activism has burned me out; I’ve seen too often the rise of inferior characters to posts of power, and the unfair treatment of too many.
Esoteric teaching and spiritual tradition has a long history of keeping quite separated the worldly affairs of government and the economy and social leadership, and a human being’s private, soul-felt, interior condition. Keep peace with your soul, the Desiderata advises – it is still a beautiful world.
The material world is the enemy of the spiritual path, esoteric wisdom and religious ascetics will tell us. Is it, I wonder, not possible for us to find women and men who work powerfully in the world of politics and economy who are simultaneously people with a lucid vision of their own spiritual evolution? I hear that superrich types like Richard Branson or rockstar millionaires say they want to “give back” once they are fabulously wealthy. But their wealth is tainted, I feel, by how they amassed it. Capitalism gave them their positions. That system is so morally unraveled one cannot use it to a better end. The means has perverted the end of making the world better.
We cannot simply surrender the material world to the pathologically brutal or the moral imbeciles. We have to fight. But we cannot go into this struggle no better than the people we oppose. We have to be spiritually well-developed within. Our interior life has to be in order. Not perfect, but making progress.
Initiation into Mystery religion was supposed, in ancient times, to elevate one spiritually. But that was a primitive time. Alexander the Great was an initiate. His wars were horrendous, dealing death in battle and pillage and plundering, and his motivation not noble. He believed he was a god, as told to him in a revelation. Hitler too was a man of destiny, and Napoleon. We suffered for it.
What is the excuse of our moral cretins today, the powers in politics and global capitalism, for their destructive paths burned across the planet? Can we, the moral majority, bring our masters to heel? Are we spiritually ready to do it?
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.