How could he/she/they do that?
How could that foreign dictatorial egomaniac be so cold-hearted as to invade a country and displace innocent people from their homes? How could that ugly, old, corrupt American politician lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top? How could that group of uberwealthy individuals tweak and influence social and political events in such a manner as to line their already rich pockets while disrupting the world's economy?
If you find yourself asking yourself or others these very same questions, then allow me to issue you a kind word of warning…
…you better check yourself…
…because you are fully capable of the same atrocities.
Related to this potential for even the best humans to slip into activities evil, it was C.S. Lewis who, in The Weight Of Glory, penned these wise words:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
In what is, I think, a succinct and quite appropriate partner to this quote, English reformer and martyr John Bradford quipped…
…”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
If you read my recent writings on hubris and on ego, then you already know where I am going with this: unless you have humbled your hubris and slain your ego, you are setting yourself up—especially as you age—to be capable of the same selfish and self-serving atrocities.
Why Aging Humans Who Fear Death Will Do Great Evil
Why is this?
Why do we humans—especially as we gain power, prestige, fame, money, and glory with advancing age—seem so capable of committing such atrocities against our fellow humans, and of becoming, as C.S. Lewis wrote above: “a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare”?
Setting aside, for now, the distracting discussion of why a kind, all-knowing, all-powerful God could ever allow evil things or wicked humans to exist in the first place (hint: if he didn't, you would be a soft, gooey marionette-puppet-muppet stripped of free will), I can certainly tell you why I suspect we see such monstrosities emanating from our fellow human brothers and sisters.
It is because when mortal humans advance in age; with each year that creeps on; with each hair that grows gray; with each wrinkle that manifests; with each joint that fails; with each backbone that creaks; with each chunk of cartilage that degrades, we fear our impending and inevitable death more, more, and more.
It is this very fear of death that will make an old man or old woman do insane things.
Put yourself in one of these evildoers' shoes.
You have passed middle-age. You sense that you are perhaps halfway done with your life. So now, your sole source of fulfillment is to pile as much as you can into the God-shaped abyss in your heart; a hole that only God can fill, but a hole that you seem to find temporary, fleeting satisfaction in instead filling with money, investments, trusts, charities, legacy, promotions, power, downloads, follows, fame, votes, real estate acquisitions and everything else that makes you comfortable, at least for a little while, that you're not only well-prepared to go into your later years without any fear of want but that your name may live on into infinity in the history books and through your family name.
You sense that death is coming. You know it could happen in years, maybe months. Tiny moral compromises, and sometimes big moral compromises, begin to become just a bit more justifiable and acceptable to self. Cheating here and there to accelerate the growth of your hoard of wealth. Paying for a few votes. Doing something big that gets attention, so that you can get voted for again. Shifting history. Chasing glory. Perhaps even trampling just a few less notable, seemingly insignificant, underling people in the process.
This impending fear of death that makes something deep inside you yearn for an infinite existence on this earth—even after you've departed—may ultimately manifest in the same Ghengish-Khan-esque power-grab displayed by so many that have come before you: chock full of murder, blood, rape, violence, pillaging, and other moral atrocities; or it may simply manifest in you simply cheating on your taxes here and there, redrawing a few property lines, and lying to a handful of city officials. There are certainly other more moral and upright ways for your death to be gained and to rock this world long after you depart, but maybe you don't know about these options or haven't found them palatable.
Ultimately, as you age, especially in the absence of a union with your Creator, you have great potential to embark upon a final, mad-grab attempt to be a god on Earth before your soul departs.
These are the mortal dangers of an oversized ego paired with a tendency to excessively love life and be attached to life.
This is why aging humans who fear death can do great evil.
What You Can Do To Avoid Doing Or Being Evil
So what do you do? What do you do about “those horrible monsters”? What do you do to ensure you don't become one yourself?
Besides praying for those in power, you can begin by relying in full humility upon the grace of God, and acknowledging that in the absence of His strength, any effort of yours that is reliant upon your own strength will ultimately fall short. You can then proceed with the following three steps of action.
First, do not underestimate the power of an impending death to influence one's morals, including your own. Old people can be wise, and often they are indeed wise, kind mentors, especially those who have embraced full humility and managed their ego as their years have progressed. But old people, especially those who are at the risk of being replaced, being voted out, dying, or otherwise losing their power in society, can also be despicably cunning and evil. So proceed with caution. To better understand your own role as you age, and how you can blossom as a mentor and guide who does good for this world rather than being stuck in achievement-based focus of adolescence and young adulthood, I recommend you read Arthur Brook's excellent new book From Strength To Strength.
Second, embrace death, recognize the honor in death, quit fearing death, and if you have them, train your children to do so as well, including with their cats, dogs, and goldfish, and especially when an uncle, aunt, grandparent or other family member passes. Despite what I am about to share with you being somewhat long, it is the very best way to sum up our society's current, misplaced view of death, and was written by a previous podcast guest of mine named Charles Eisenstein (full essay entitled “The Coronation” here). Charles originally wrote this in the “early days” of the Covid-19 madness, and it's still quite relevant:
“Over my lifetime I’ve seen society place more and more emphasis on safety, security, and risk reduction. It has especially impacted childhood: as a young boy it was normal for us to roam a mile from home unsupervised – behavior that would earn parents a visit from Child Protective Services today. It also manifests in the form of latex gloves for more and more professions; hand sanitizer everywhere; locked, guarded, and surveilled school buildings; intensified airport and border security; heightened awareness of legal liability and liability insurance; metal detectors and searches before entering many sports arenas and public buildings, and so on. Writ large, it takes the form of the security state.
The mantra “safety first” comes from a value system that makes survival top priority, and that depreciates other values like fun, adventure, play, and the challenging of limits. Other cultures had different priorities. For instance, many traditional and indigenous cultures are much less protective of children, as documented in Jean Liedloff’s classic, The Continuum Concept. They allow them risks and responsibilities that would seem insane to most modern people, believing that this is necessary for children to develop self-reliance and good judgement. I think most modern people, especially younger people, retain some of this inherent willingness to sacrifice safety in order to live life fully. The surrounding culture, however, lobbies us relentlessly to live in fear, and has constructed systems that embody fear. In them, staying safe is over-ridingly important. Thus we have a medical system in which most decisions are based on calculations of risk, and in which the worst possible outcome, marking the physician’s ultimate failure, is death. Yet all the while, we know that death awaits us regardless. A life saved actually means a death postponed.
The ultimate fulfillment of civilization’s program of control would be to triumph over death itself. Failing that, modern society settles for a facsimile of that triumph: denial rather than conquest. Ours is a society of death denial, from its hiding away of corpses, to its fetish for youthfulness, to its warehousing of old people in nursing homes. Even its obsession with money and property – extensions of the self, as the word “mine” indicates – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. All this is inevitable given the story-of-self that modernity offers: the separate individual in a world of Other. Surrounded by genetic, social, and economic competitors, that self must protect and dominate in order to thrive. It must do everything it can to forestall death, which (in the story of separation) is total annihilation. Biological science has even taught us that our very nature is to maximize our chances of surviving and reproducing.
I asked a friend, a medical doctor who has spent time with the Q’ero in Peru, whether the Q’ero would (if they could) intubate someone to prolong their life. “Of course not,” she said. “They would summon the shaman to help him die well.” Dying well (which isn’t necessarily the same as dying painlessly) is not much in today’s medical vocabulary. No hospital records are kept on whether patients die well. That would not be counted as a positive outcome. In the world of the separate self, death is the ultimate catastrophe.
But is it? Consider this perspective from Dr. Lissa Rankin: ‘Not all of us would want to be in an ICU, isolated from loved ones with a machine breathing for us, at risk of dying alone- even if it means they might increase their chance of survival. Some of us might rather be held in the arms of loved ones at home, even if that means our time has come…. Remember, death is no ending. Death is going home.'
When the self is understood as relational, interdependent, even inter-existent, then it bleeds over into the other, and the other bleeds over into the self. Understanding the self as a locus of consciousness in a matrix of relationship, one no longer searches for an enemy as the key to understanding every problem, but looks instead for imbalances in relationships. The War on Death gives way to the quest to live well and fully, and we see that fear of death is actually fear of life. How much of life will we forego to stay safe?
Totalitarianism – the perfection of control – is the inevitable end product of the mythology of the separate self. What else but a threat to life, like a war, would merit total control? Thus Orwell identified perpetual war as a crucial component of the Party’s rule.
Against the backdrop of the program of control, death denial, and the separate self, the assumption that public policy should seek to minimize the number of deaths is nearly beyond question, a goal to which other values like play, freedom, etc. are subordinate. Covid-19 offers occasion to broaden that view. Yes, let us hold life sacred, more sacred than ever. Death teaches us that. Let us hold each person, young or old, sick or well, as the sacred, precious, beloved being that they are. And in the circle of our hearts, let us make room for other sacred values too. To hold life sacred is not just to live long, it is to live well and right and fully.
Like all fear, the fear around the coronavirus hints at what might lie beyond it. Anyone who has experienced the passing of someone close knows that death is a portal to love. Covid-19 has elevated death to prominence in the consciousness of a society that denies it. On the other side of the fear, we can see the love that death liberates. Let it pour forth. Let it saturate the soil of our culture and fill its aquifers so that it seeps up through the cracks of our crusted institutions, our systems, and our habits. Some of these may die too.”
Third and finally, release any white-knuckled death grip you may have on, well, not dying, and instead, embrace the beautiful afterlife that can follow your short time here on earth. Anticipate the intense glory and bliss that I write about here; begin to live your life with the grace, patience, generosity, unselfishness, and affluence of time that will spill into your life if you live with the mentality that you truly are going to live forever, as I write about here; and embrace the simplicity of receiving both that glory and that forever afterlife, which I teach you how to do here.
Ultimately, you will die.
As you've just learned, some will hear that message and go into panic mode, setting aside any semblance of morality, upright values, and noble or honorable beliefs to instead pile as much grain into their silos as possible before the famine of the death-reaper rolls in, so that they may through their legacy, name, wealth and conquering, somehow live on in infinity. As a result, great atrocities are committed.
Others will hear that message, nod and smile, and with peace, joy, and gratefulness in their soul, go love the world as much as they can with the wonderful life they've been blessed with, no matter how short or long that life may be.
Which one will you be?
Will you be delivered from the fear of death that leaves so many mortals subject to lifelong slavery? (Hebrews 2:15)
Will you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, knowing that God is with you, and that His rod and His staff, they comfort you? (Psalm 23:4)
Will you look forward to the day when God will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for all those former things will have passed away? (Revelation 21:4)
The choice is yours. For now, please be skeptical and cautious of old people who are in positions of power, embrace the honor of death, and look forward with great anticipation and gratefulness to the forever glory that will come after your last breath here on earth.
Allow me to share a few final words once again from Charles Eisenstein before closing:
“Already we can feel the power of who we might become. A true sovereign does not run in fear from life or from death. A true sovereign does not dominate and conquer (that is a shadow archetype, the Tyrant). The true sovereign serves the people, serves life, and respects the sovereignty of all people. The coronation marks the emergence of the unconscious into consciousness, the crystallization of chaos into order, the transcendence of compulsion into choice. We become the rulers of that which had ruled us. The New World Order that the conspiracy theorists fear is a shadow of the glorious possibility available to sovereign beings. No longer the vassals of fear, we can bring order to the kingdom and build an intentional society on the love already shining through the cracks of the world of separation.”
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