From Bystander to Ally
As the Paris victims are being mourned, we can slowly start to ponder and think and reflect: what is our role as a community of people not directly involved, not being threatened or persecuted? Is there one?
My parents taught my sister and me always to make sure if we can help, when confronted with an accident or incident where somebody needs help. And if we can’t make sure we don’t are bystanders ever. Here, with the Paris events unfolding, we have been and are bystanders and spectators, something Susan Sontag spoke about in her book „Regarding the Pain of Others“. We certainly shared thoughts with neighbors and followed the news. And we made up our minds about the events. Many voices debated whether the victims are to blame for their bluntness – and most recently one of the founders of Charlie Hebdo Henri Roussel, accused posthumously the editor-in-chief and his team to have overdone it, to have crossed a line, risking too much.
So while we still reflect and mourn, there are many that agree with Henri Roussel and feel that there are victims who are innocent, and victims, who have done something unwise, irrational or at least not very clever – things like speaking up in public in a Fascist regime, things like insisting on satire as a century-old artform in France, things like wearing the wrong clothes in the right place at the wrong time, blogging in a country where the Sharia rules. So are there victims who deserve their fate? Something in me rebels, and I continue to ponder and wonder, why I rebel. Something just is plain wrong in this argumentation with cause and effect on a personal level, something isn’t fair, it feels superficial, devoid of real empathy as well as cruel. There must be a deeper lesson, I know there is one, if we are to establish the true brotherhood of man.
Yesterday I met with a friend who was attending a conference in Berlin. Over coffee I mentioned to her my concerns, and I mentioned to her my prayer for clarity and support. This friend is a president of a large university and a truly clever woman. She said, that the moment we push back the responsibility for the crime out of our own life into the lives of others, we deliberately decide to be a bystander. And our lives seem safe again.
This insight resonated immediately with the work I had done in prayer for the current situation. In order to be more than a bystander, in order to be an ally at all times, I went home and my thoughts went deeper into a real answer. I have no better books for this kind of spiritual quest than the Bible and my favorite Bible commentary Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy. These books have never ever let me down. The Bible being the #1 book about humanity’s story with God tells us where we are from and where are going, it informs us with two allegorical accounts about two different views of what man is and how mankind is struggling to understand which one to follow. The first account of creation presents man as a spiritual idea, as being an idea of an infinite Mind, being „the image and likeness of God“ – the second account (written centuries earlier) presents a myth about a dustman Adam and a dustwoman Eve, created by a different God now called Yahweh. Already in the second generation murder is the order of the day. Cain justifies the homicide of his brother Abel with his own envy and with Abel’s striking difference, accusing his brother with his own crime. Abel is different, true, and he lives a different form of individuality. Cain distances himself from Abel’s otherness and throws into Yahweh’s face the question: „Shall I be my brother’s keeper“?
The Bible is filled with stories where individuals are persecuted or killed for being different. Joseph wearing his multi-colored coat, Jacob’s son, having dreams which later turn out to be prophetic announcements, is sold by his own brothers because of envy and hate – charging Josef for wearing something different and for being different. Other prophets, who by definition are solitary individuals who see more and do more than others, have been persecuted because they were independent, because they didn’t lie or exchange pleasantries with humanity. Christ Jesus, the ultimate symbol of innocence and purity, was persecuted, convicted, and killed in a show trial, in which „reasonable“, terribly twisted arguments were voiced, convincing people at that moment of the rightness of the execution.
We think we would not have let those brave individuals down, we would and will not let down our brothers and sisters in their difference. But honestly, it takes tremendous humility, unselfed love and daily alertness to develop courage and mental resilience. And to look around and see how we are doing as bystanders today. So now I feel it is time to talk about the real enemy, which is not an individual, doing something which others don’t like, the enemy is also not a misguided hateful human with a striking lack of autonomy and empathy. The real enemy is evil.
Studying and praying with the Bible and with observations I find that it is the aim of evil to become reasonable, and real, and one way of doing this is to charge the victim with the crime. I feel I am now at the point of insight where I hoped to be. It is my thesis that one reason why we all don’t realize fast enough what is going, is our unwillingness to pinpoint evil as the crime itself. Evil is not a person, place, or thing. It is a terrible lie of a life next to God, good. It is an assumption, a suggestion. The Bible knows this, Goethe’s Faust knows this, authors like Tolstoi and Kafka have written about this. And Mary Baker Eddy has systematically and courageously presented this insight into the nature of evil for the 21st century, paving the way for a deeper understanding of God as supreme Love.
She didn’t mince words when she wrote: „As of old, evil still charges the spiritual idea with error’s own nature and methods. This malicious animal instinct […] incites mortals to kill morally and physically even their fellow-mortals, and worse still, to charge the innocent with the crime.“
This observation has far reaching consequences, I find. It arouses us to see what is really going on. It stirs us to support humanity in a much more fundamental and active way. As God’s children we are all intrinsically innocent and pure, and the trick of evil – no person, no place, no things – in blaming the innocent should be detected.
There will be a time to discuss without contempt what art forms can and will do in a world increasingly diverse and less historically informed – f.e. about the power of political cartoons and about the deep-seated long tradition of subversive, sassy satire in France and elsewhere. There will be a time to consider whether free speech is the same as responsible speech. There will be a time to seriously find out how to support all those brave individuals who lay their lives on the line in order to pave the way for a better future for all. But this time is not now, when the victims are still being mourned.
At this point the bottom line could be this: We can be allies to our brothers and sisters by closing the ranks and not letting any twisted argument come between us and our fellow man. We can stop accusing the victims and move on to perceive more of every one’s spiritual, intact individuality which we explore and get to know better as we get to know God better.
When we are asked „Where is Abel?“ or „Where are Stéphane, Elsa, Georges, Bernard, Ahmed, Philippe, Bernard, Philippe, Frédéric, Jean, Mustapha, Michel, Franck, Yoav, Francois-Michel, Philippe, Yohan, Clarissa?“ we will not reply „Shall I be my brother’s keeper?“ but we can say: „Here I am. These are my brothers and sisters – I am their ally. I defend their eternal individuality. I take a stand for autonomy of thought. Because I gradually see more and more that evil is neither a person, a place, nor a thing, I will be eventually able to also include Saïd, Chérif, and Amedy in my prayer. Evil itself is the crime.” Without this admission flowing from the supremacy of Love, Spirit, how could the family of man ever be realized?
Who is writing?
In my work as Christian Science practitioner and writer I draw on listening to God and listening to people.
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