The Destructive Potential of Humankind

meteorToday is Friday, March 14, 2014.

“These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” ~ Anthony De Mello

Nope, it won’t be a falling meteor or an atomic bomb.  It will be an inside job.  We will be the culprits, the authors of our own destruction… unless, of course, we wake up and realize what is happening in time to save ourselves.  There’s still time.

The quote above seems so up-to-the-minute, but it comes from Anthony De Mello, who died back in 1987.  In fact, the book it comes from, One Minute Wisdom, was first published in India in 1985, and in the U.S. in 1986.  That’s how far into the future De Mello could see. As far as I am concerned, he was astonishingly accurate.

I was amazed to read that this man was a Jesuit priest. There have been a few priests of that faith who really seem to “get it,” Thomas Merton and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin being the other two that I know of.  I’m willing to believe there may be more.  In fact, I desperately hope there are more.  But, of course, the Catholic Church officially disagrees with me.  I was not surprised at all to read that the Catholic Church conducted a review of De Mello’s work in 1998, concluding that his positions were “incompatible with the Catholic faith.”  (Interestingly, the review was led by Cardinal-Prefect Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Beendict XVI.)   That, alone, is enough to make me want to read all De Mello’s books in their entirety.

Politics Without Principle

Well, we certainly do have that right now.  The newspapers are full of stories about politicians whose various indiscretions have been found out.  We have politicians who vote against something that they know would be good for people, simply because it was proposed by someone from the opposition party.  We have politicians who argue for free speech, but who want to shut down anyone who disagrees with them.  We even have politicians, liberal and conservative alike, who shamelessly use religion or morality as a tool to persuade masses of people to agree with them, but whose policies will inevitably be used against those same masses of people, either by design or by accident.

It may be impossible to achieve perfectly principled political leadership, but it will certainly help if more people are willing to get involved in leadership, especially at the local, grassroots level.  Local communities must be established and become more and more self-sufficient and self-sustaining.  People need to stop waiting for “the government” to do everything for them.

Progress Without Compassion

We have this, too.  The big pharmaceutical companies are making more and more magic potions to end our ills.  Well, not end them, exactly, because that would end our need for the potions, and thus, end their profits.  So instead, the potions simply make our symptoms go away… for a while.  But in their stead, we have some kick-ass side effects that require… more medication, what do you know!   The more miracle cures out there, the more illness.  Somehow that doesn’t sound like progress or compassion to me.

Nowadays we have more electronic gadgets than ever before to make our lives easier and more convenient.  The trouble is that we need more and more electric power to run our gadgets, and that means more and more dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear fission to feed the steam engines that make electricity.  That means more drilling for oil and digging for tar sands, with the result that our air, water and soil are polluted and animals’ natural habitats are destroyed.  Where’s the compassion in that?

The Dalai Lama made a great observation in a message entitled “A Human Approach to World Peace.”   I’ve put the second sentence in bold.

It is ironic that the more serious problems emanate from the more industrially advanced societies. Science and technology have worked wonders in many fields, but the basic human problems remain. There is unprecedented literacy, yet this universal education does not seem to have fostered goodness, but only mental restlessness and discontent instead. There is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow this is not sufficient as we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness or in overcoming suffering.

We talk a lot about raising our gross national product and our standard of living.  We talk about lowering our taxes and our unemployment rate.  No one seems to know how to  raise our standard of happiness.  There seems to be no way to raise consciousness and lower stress without lowering our so-called standard of living.  Something has to give, and so we allow our group consciousness to remain low and our stress levels to skyrocket while we buy more “stuff” and use up more energy, because that’s the real meaning of progress, isn’t it?

Fortunately, there are people who have started to realize that we are being controlled by our “stuff” and our drive to make life way more comfortable than it is supposed to be. More and more people are stepping back and taking stock of their lives.  More people are opting out of the rat-race.  This is the trend we need to nurture.

Wealth Without Work

Multimillionaire Warren Buffett says that he pays lower taxes on his income than his secretary does, and that’s because the tax rate for income from investments is much lower than that for actual earned income.  Basically, as soon as we made it easier to amass money with investments than with earned income, we began to value wealth without work.  The vast majority of Americans don’t realize this, however, preferring to believe that ideas such as “Protestant work ethic” and “Yankee ingenuity” will win the day.  We must stop rewarding wealth without work.

Learning Without Silence

This is one very few Americans will resonate with, because we don’t value silence.  The airwaves are filled with radio and TV chatter.  The Internet is buzzing with words, words, words and more visual stimulation than you can shake a stick at.  It was once estimated that introverts comprised only about 25% of the American population, but statistics show that the ration of introverts to extroverts is closer to 50-50.  Still, American culture seems to favor characteristics associated with extroverts, such as being outgoing and outspoken, and being friendly even to strangers.  For Americans, silences are awkward, so we fill the silence with talk.

You may say, “Well, I was told to sit down and shut up in school.”  Maybe so, but the silence of a classroom full of students who are filling out worksheets or taking a test is not the kind of silence De Mello meant.  What he did mean, I think, was taking the time to process things in silence, spending some time each day in meditation or contemplation.  Another concept that has to do with silence is Zen mind.  This is the state we are in when we have exhausted all the answers to a question that we think we know.  It is at this point that we are ready to learn something new, that we did not know before.

Religion Without Fearlessness

This must have been one of De Mello’s positions that the Catholic Church was so worried about, because after all, the Catholic faith is based on the idea that everybody is a sinner and we should all be scared enough of going to hell that we will do whatever the priest tells us to do so we won’t have to go there.  Fifty Hail Marys or whatever – the more mindless repetition, the better.

True spirituality requires fearlessness, whether you consider yourself a member of an established religion or not.  It means having the guts to believe that there must be a reason for our lives, even if we can’t see it.  it means being willing to forge, hone, nourish and maintain an inner connection with Divine Spirit, and trust that the insights we get from this connection are solid.  It means being willing to act on those insights, even when they seem to go against or call in to question the accepted wisdom of the day.  It also means standing up for what you believe no matter whether or not it is politically expedient.

Worship Without Awareness

So many people go to their respective churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to participate in pre=formatted, one-size-fits-all worship services in which people say formulaic prayers or call-and-response drills in unison, chant endless repetitions of prayers, mantras and hymns, and then listen passively to sermons or homilies.  They pray while bowing, sitting, kneeling or standing, but their prayers are all talk and do not involve active listening to Divine Spirit.  The effect can be mind-numbing.  And that is usually just one day a week. The other days, most people sort of forget about their spiritual beliefs.

It is so important for us to become aware of who we are and why we are here on earth.  It’s vital for each and every one of us to understand our purpose in life, and our agreements with other Souls who show up as long-term or short-term characters in the ongoing drama of our lives.  It’s necessary for us to understand how our thoughts, words and deeds affect our own lives and the lives of others around us.   It is imperative for us to understand how the law of cause and effect works, and how we as individuals contribute to the society in which we live, and the progress of the human race, in general.  Without these understandings, no matter how we worship, we will never fulfill the purpose given to us by the Creator.  🙂

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