There is a sadness I feel when I encounter people whose lives are driven by fear. A sadness comes over me because of what is lost. I imagine what wonders and surprises and hopes and healings these people might have brought to the community had they not given up and settled for comfort or security or control.
Fear contributes to pusillanimity, and Aquinas teaches that pusillanimity (little-souled-ness) is a kind of pride or arrogance insofar as a person settles for his or her bad opinion of himself rather than learning one’s gifts and what one might contribute to the greater community.
“Pusillanimity is a greater sin than presumption,” he warns. It leads to sins of omission, especially as regards works of justice.
It is important to be hunter gatherers seeking and hunting for examples of courage around us. And among our ancestors as well–members of the communion of saints whom we love for their courage. We can call upon such people, their stories and examples, at times of temptation to fear.
It is important to bring to mind the lives of people who have lived out of vision and courage and have not closed down their hearts.
It is also important to fill up with a sense of the joy that cosmology brings (“wonder brings joy,” St. Thomas says) so that we can stand firm in the presence of struggle and doubt. It is important to pass on a sense of strength to our children and young people instead of a sense of dependency, a dependency that is baked into a consumer-driven economic system. Or a sense of defeat, despondency and self-pity that pessimism breeds.
The great psychologist Otto Rank offers a profound observation when he says that pessimism is a philosophy of hatred that springs from self-hate.
First, that pessimism is a philosophy—it is a way of seeing the world and interpreting it while trying to find our place in the world. But that it deserves to be called a “philosophy of hatred” is very strong language—who wants to invest in a philosophy of hatred? Who would confess to believing in such a philosophy?
But here lies Rank’s wisdom and depth—that he dares to unmask where pessimism comes from. It comes from hatred. Hatred of life, hatred of possibility, hatred of the powers of imagination and creativity to recycle bad events, hatred of hope. To be continued.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 295.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Self-judgment. From the documentary video “PTSD: Managing Your Mental Health” Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you agree with Rank that a philosophy of pessimism (and the fear it breeds) is born of self-hatred? Does this shed light on a cure for fear?
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