Evil and the Immigrants

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If evil comes into the country by way of immigrants, who may be terrorists – and evil is defined here as the willingness to commit acts of violence in the public square – it should and must be resisted – but not primarily in the way that most presidential candidates are suggesting.

The Pathwork Guide’s conception of evil is that it is about domination – the denial of another’s free choice – and this includes slavery and exploitation, as well as the unleashing of terror on unsuspecting people – and it has other components, as well. Evil has its birth in a numbing process, where people no longer feel connection with others – the dehumanization that is so essential in wartime, to make it possible to kill the enemy. It’s certain that terrorists don’t see their victims as fully human.

Becoming numb is a process many of us experience as children, when we are exposed to conflict or pain and can’t cope with it except to numb it out. The Guide says (PL 34): “But when such numbness has become second nature and is maintained long after the painful circumstances have changed and when the person is no longer a helpless child, this, in the smallest measure, is the beginning of evil; this is how evil is born.”

To be numb to one’s own pain means equal numbness to the pain and suffering of others, the Guide says. This “is a passive attitude of indifference that enables one to watch others suffer without feeling discomfort oneself. Much of the world’s evil is caused by this state of soul.”

And then there is the third stage – what we are primarily concerned about in today’s political climate: the active infliction of cruelty, for what could be more cruel than blowing up a bomb in a café or a subway station. This comes from fear, the Guide says, and reasoning like this: “Either I allow my feelings to reach out in empathy with the other, or, in order to deflect this strong influx of warm feelings, I have to behave in the exact opposite way.” The next moment such reasoning is gone, the conscious decision forgotten, and what remains is a compelling force toward cruel acts. In these instances, all harm, all destructiveness, all evil results from denying the spontaneous real self, and substituting secondary reactions that in one way or another are always connected with fear.”

The terrorist only exists as the end product of a numbing process – a process that transcends boundaries of race, class, religion and nationality. The brutal indoctrination of young fighters which is characteristic of ISIS and Boko Haram aids and supports this numbing. Yet this process is something that has happened to every one of us, to a greater or lesser degree, when we let indifference or the desire to give in to cruelty take over and thwart the natural, open, and generous impulses of the real self.

For most commentators, the response to the terror acts of ISIS is, first off, placed in a different category than the same kind of self-numbing, indifference, and cruelty that exists everywhere. But it is really the same. Recognizing that we ourselves have the same tendencies allows us not to react with instinctive fear when the issue of refugees comes up.

A most beautiful example of welcoming the immigrant came my way as I was writing this column – the posting on Facebook by Pathwork Helper Susan Thesenga, whose daughter Pamela has a fiancé who is Muslim. On Thanksgiving, here is what Susan wrote:

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house they came – Pam, Cecilia, Cristian, and Abdul, our new young Iraqi friend, who has been in the US on refugee status for almost a year. We held a ceremony at the Sevenoaks Retreat Center medicine wheel, honoring those Native Americans who were generous enough to welcome all the refugees from Europe at that time (who, like the current Iraqi and Syrian refugees, were fleeing religious persecution). We walked around the wheel. At the east, place of new beginnings, we gave thanks for our birth. We walked to our present place on the wheel and gave thanks for where we are in our lives now. We honored and lit candles for those who have passed on – parents, relatives, and the dead in Iraq and Syria, and placed them on the center stone–representing the center of all life–known by many names–Great Spirit, God, Allah. Then we came back to the house and had a typical American feast of turkey and all the trimmings, ending with pumpkin pie. Next year we hope we will have Driss Bensaidi, Pam’s fiancé with us.

Contributed by Alan Saly—Chair of the Pathwork Press Committee.

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