On Turning Evil Around: Prescient Teachings from Ernest Becker

We have seen how Rabbi Heschel calls for an invitation to “holiness” in order turn evil around. 

Awe at the miracle of “one’s own godlikeness.” Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Ernest Becker proposes something parallel when he writes that healthy religion or spirituality needs to offer the possibility of a new heroism, the heroism of sainthood. This meant living in primary awe at the miracle of the created object—including oneself in one’s own godlikeness. 

His definition of holiness seems to be echoing creation spirituality:  Learning not to take creation or existence for granted. 

Becker continues: Remember the awesome fascination of St. Francis with the revelations of the everyday world—a bird, a flower. It also meant unafraidness of one’s own death, because of the incomparable majesty and power of God. 

Books by Ernest Becker. From Indie Bound.

Instead of an invitation to holiness, Becker sees organized religion too often subscribing to culture’s commercial-industrial hero system that is almost openly defunct; it so obviously denies reality, builds war machines against death, and banishes sacredness with bureaucratic dedication.  Men are treated as things and the world is pulled down to their size. 

Religion goes along and in a perverse way, the churches have turned their backs both on the miraculousness of creation and on the need to do something heroic in this world. 

What was the original vision of Christ followers? The early promise of Christianity was to bring about once and for all the social justice that the ancient world was crying for; Christianity never fulfilled this promise, and is as far away from it today as ever. No wonder it has trouble being taken seriously as a hero system.    

“Just Who the Hell Do We Think We Are?” by Jeff Gates on Flickr.

Instead, he warns us, we have today a toll of unfulfilled life based on a continuing denial of social justice; it is a toll of internal victimage based on the inequality of social classes and the state repression of freedom…. In science, as in authentic religion, there is no easy refuge for empty-headed patriotism, or for putting off to some future date the exposure of large-scale social lies.  

This seems like a prescient naming of the current American political scene: Denial of social justice, victimage, efforts at state repression of freedom, large-scale social lies.  And also, as in the state of Florida today, attacks on artists and writers by totalitarians:   

The free flow of criticism, satire, art, and science is a continuous attack on the cultural fiction—which is why totalitarians from Plato to Mao have to control these things, as has long been known.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. xlf.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Turning evil around. Photo by name_ gravity on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you also recognize a connection between the miraculousness of creation and the need to do something heroic in this world?  And holiness?  Do you see the Tennessee three as examples of holiness in our time?  And other examples also? 

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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17 thoughts on “On Turning Evil Around: Prescient Teachings from Ernest Becker”

  1. Avatar

    The topic for today brings to mind 2 stories of heroism which I came across recently.
    As I watched and heard the stories I saw very clearly the power of ‘active love’ at work which came from those people who were offering service to others.
    Story 1
    A young man with a rare malfunctioning liver knowing he was going to die was donated half a liver by a stranger. They met as strangers.
    And through their meeting and shared experiences fell in love, becoming life partners.

    Story 2
    A retired army veteran who could not adapt to society when he left the army ended up sleeping on the street.
    Through kindness from others he rehabilitated and now has an army of volunteers helping him build a village for veterans where they can live together.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Jan Ellan, I love both of your stories shared. I will continue to “think on them.”
      They fill my heart.
      Thank you.

  2. Avatar

    Bringing peace, love and creativity are heroic actions.
    In meditation during Shambhavi Mahamudra kriya last night, I had an experience of a beam of white light extending from my root through the top of my head. I was in a very relaxed, calm and peaceful state with the joy that accompanies it. Everything about the rest of the evening, through sleep and now in the morning has benefited. Besides being a desirable state, it also serves to contrast with a lesser state of calm and peacefulness that is ‘littered with’ the anxiety and agitation that comes from living ‘in the world’.
    This was not the first time having this experience as we live in waves of peace and calmness, but it was a noticeable jump from my ‘benchmark norm’. There is a ‘supernova’ of peace and calm in the here and now. How deeply do we want to experience it? How much can all of us benefit from living in and acting out from this state of being? Serenity of being and actions in all circumstances – why not? Who do we read, follow, live and work with that is causing us to step out of our peace, even when they call us into a situation of injustice? Is it not time we call into question those people that look to ‘stir us up’ emotionally and ask us to ‘take sides’. We really have nothing more to offer in most situations than bringing the peace and love of God and our creativity into them. Is this not the peace of Christ, a gift that we may not be accepting in its entirety? — BB

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thank you, Bill.
      Sometimes, I think we forget the first ambition of some of our most powerful spiritual leaders is to show us, teach us HOW TO EMBRACE LIFE! How to truly live, to love, to laugh, to enjoy serenity and serendipity. To know joy from the inside out and the outside in.
      Jesus went to a garden to pray. He took a fishing boat out on a calm Sea. When the storm surprised full-force, he simply reclaimed the Calm! He climbed the mountain, became a beacon, a harbinger, a LIGHT Sun-strong, an energy, a power, with a stillness to be reckoned with. In the stillness, in the place of non-violence, he conquered.
      My prayer: to learn HOW TO EMBRACE LIFE, REALLY!

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Largess of Soul

    Solemn oath given
    Embodiment of Spirit
    Generous benevolence
    Liberally bestowing gifts.

    Conscious animation
    Universal spiritual principles
    Actuating cause
    Of all existence.

    Movements of Spirit
    Active essential part
    Arrousing true nature
    Of the totality of self.

  4. Avatar

    On objectifying the characteristics of a hero in society that is composed of individuals who fear that their short-lived lives will be meaningless and that it is better to have a society based on loving and compassionate heroes than those driven by evil selfishness–a society where the forces of love are dominant over the forces of envy and hate. To replace a world view that it’s a dog eat dog world, that it desperately needs to have a way to control anxiety over its terrifying fear of death and that a way to do that is to repress the terror of death and keep it in the unconscious. Then the terrified can “buy into” all-powerful external figures who can “save us” from having to think about this and we can then “less anxiously” go about gaining our immortality by further sacrificing our inner selves. We can be more freed to conquer empires, build temples, write books–do whatever it takes to prosper and not be bothered by our shadow side feelings of inferiority, self-hate, guilt, hostility, etc. We can just project it on to “the enemy.” This is how we can gain self esteem, deny our mortality and achieve a heroic self image. How easily then we can shed blood to purchase our own righteousness and wage a holy war….I think we need to be very careful in our efforts to counteract this war. That we don’t create outer saints that further objectify the need for war. We need to go within and really get centered about our reasons for this. Thank you!

  5. Avatar

    “True Heart Self~Sacred Eternal Soul~Cosmic Christ Consciousness”

    Yes, the Sacred is Eternally Present within, through, among Us in beautiful sacred Mother Earth, and All of God’s ongoing Loving co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution within our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Loving Diverse Oneness Cosmos….

  6. Richard E Reich

    I am a big Ernest Becker fan, and this particular quote sounds like pure Creation Spirituality: “Remember the awesome fascination of St. Francis with the revelations of the everyday world—a bird, a flower. It also meant unafraidness of one’s own death, because of the incomparable majesty and power of God.” Thank you for this!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Rick, or do you prefer, Richard? Good to meet you here.
      Thank you for inviting Ernest Becker and St Francis. “Unafraidness….incomparable majesty and power of God.”
      A few years ago, I went as Pilgrim to Assisi, climbed the steep mountain Francis often climbed. He had a cave on top. I walked the path to the Cave. No one was around. All was so still. I went inside. I looked at the place where he knelt on the uneven stone floor and saw the place where he laid his body on he cold stone Earth. I wonder if he noticed.
      A heartsong welled up in me. I began to sing. The Cave gently echoed, sang with me.
      Francis, the Cave, the Echo, the Stone People and me. I sang freely – alone and not alone in that holy Earth Womb. I don’t know how long I sang. There is no time in such places.
      I stepped to the Cave opening and started on the uneven steps with my trusted Walking Stick.
      I made my way into the light of day. Then I saw them. The people standing in total silence all around the end of the path to the Cave. No one spoke. No one moved. No one broke my reverie. They watched me walk with Walking Stick. It was a sacred moment. I realized they had not only heard my Heartsong, they had listened. We were somehow connected in the aftermath of sacred silence. I slowly continued on the path. They were politely waiting to enter the Cave. No one rushed. Deep connection, respect, love.
      Is it possible that it could be that simple and that profound? sigh….

  7. Avatar

    Rather than creating “heroes” (individual ego glorifications) we need to value people-interwoven-in-community, people-in-family, and people-in-world as worthy of admiration. We need to praise the efforts and careers of people for their contribution to a loving, nurturing community rather than measuring their worth (or lack of it) by their (probably underpaid) salaries or their near-anonymity.

    We’ve turned into a world of solitary universes, with each person trying to survive amputated from everyone around them. We created a nightmare of lonely survival. Mass killers achieve “meaning” by desperately seeking individualistic fame online, even if they die in the act of achieving it. Suicidal people feel abandoned and forgotten by the society around them. Families live scattered across the country rather than in close community. Jobs are temporary; employees are disposable units.

    And the internet amplifies perceived “difference from everyone-else around you” into the primary measure of what IT values and reinforces: the companies profit from turning people into individualistic walking statistics whose grievances make them valuable magnets for profit-boosting corporate algorithms. Internet “fame” is a profitable commodity of individualistic glory. And it is killing the world.
    Community is the heroism of often-anonymous people all working together to make life better for everyone all together.

  8. Avatar

    The disciples never cringed at speaking Truth—to anyone who would listen. To speak in today’s culture against tyranny is similar heroism. Since Truth tempts the hearer to a higher plane, speakers of Truth exhibit holiness. The Tennessee Three showed both: They shouted to the world the Evil of the advancement of premeditated murder by an organized christofascist cult that protects criminals and lawlessness and promotes insurrection while blasphemously pretending to be agents of Christ.
    The self-righteous accusers who shouted “crucify them!” on the floor of the state legislature very quickly realized they had revealed too much of their core rottenness and hurriedly reversed their decision.
    Social media is often criticized, but those who use it to further the spread of Truth are indeed holy heroes whose seeds are strewn with the hope of raising awareness of essential reality–Creation and Creativity among us.

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