Set Aside Your Personal B.S. – Belief System
One of the foundational ideas in Unity teachings are The Five Principles. When we consider the question “does evil exist,” right out of the gate from Principle One there is a paradox:
Unity's Five Basic Principles
- There is only one Presence and one Power active as the Universe and in my life. God the Good.
- Our essence is of God; therefore we are inherently good. This God essence was fully expressed in Jesus, the Christ.
- We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in Mind.
- Through prayer and meditation, we align our heart-mind with God. Denials and affirmations are tools we use.
- Through thoughts, words, and actions, we live the Truth we know.
If there is in fact only one Presence and one power active in the Universe, God the Good, how does evil even exist? It is not a trivial question. It is also not merely about some clever rhetorical maneuvering and defining of words. Unity does teach that our words have power, and that by engaging in positive thoughts, words, and actions we can transform our lives, and therefore the world – or at least some small portion of it. However, engaging in “seeing the world rightly” does not mean denying, ignoring, or otherwise rationalizing away things in the world that are unpleasant – even very, very unpleasant.
In this week’s lesson, Rev. Joanne asked the congregation what evil looks like to them. The responses ranged from war to hungry children to animal cruelty and many others. By whatever example one defines evil, Charles Fillmore tells us that there is one thing that is the same:
Evil must be overcome with good. We must dwell in the good so wholly that all the substance of our thoughts and our being is given over to the promotion of the good. This is a mental process in which all negation (evil) is denied, and creative, fearless affirmation of God's perfect good is steadfastly adhered to.1
What Fillmore is saying in his recipe for transcending evil is that it is necessary for each and every person, at the level of our very thoughts, to know that evil can only persist if left unattended. Denied in this context does not mean ignoring evil, but affirming that it has no power over us.
Now, this is not to say that the great many historical atrocities occurred or continued to occur only because people ignored dangers and did nothing about them. Systems of power that act in ways one may call evil are often very large, unforgiving, unrelenting, and seemingly intractable. One example of such a system that persisted for many thousands of years is slavery. There are few things one might conjure in their imagination that are worse than slavery. Almost every culture, on every continent has practiced holding people who are “others” in bondage at one time or another.
Then, in the nineteenth century, legal state-sanctioned slavery was more or less done away with. Why? because people the world over began to realize that the “evil” of slavery must be eliminated. In some places where it existed, the institution did not go away easily. The United States Civil War saw more than 1,700,000 casualties, of which 626,000 were killed by the end of the war in 1865. Other countries also outlawed slavery in the next 25 years, including – Spain 1867, Portugal 1869, Bulgaria 1879, Ottoman Empire 1882, Cambodia 1884, Cuba 1886, and Brazil 1888. In 1890 the Brussels Conference Act was signed by 17 countries, including the US, banning the slave trade. An idea whose time had come. But just as slavery had begun with a thought, so too it could only end with first having the thought that it should, that it could, and finally that it must.
Unity philosophy regarding “evil” or “negativity” is sometimes misinterpreted. When we say that we should give no power to evil thoughts or negative outcomes it means that we must recognize that when we connect with Spirit, or God, and open ourselves to receiving and acting on Divine Ideas, that evil and negativity lose their teeth. The idea of giving no power to the negative does not mean ignoring that it exists.
The Japanese have created the maxim of The Three Wise Monkeys: The three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.2 The most common interpretation in the West of this maxim is that the monkeys represent denying the existence of evil and bad things. But the original meaning is the opposite, and is much closer to the Buddhist ideas of Right View, Right Concentration, and Right Speech. By being mindful of our own actions, we can see the world rightly, and in so doing begin to transform the planet.
It is that pesky action part that gives many people cold feet. And even when we do get the nerve to take great actions to counteract evil as we see it, there remain moral questions about the actions taken to overcome the evil. Leaders and soldiers have struggled with this dilemma for millennia. Shakespeare summed up the paradox of combating aggression with aggression as King Henry V prepares his army for battle:
Gloucester, 'tis true that we are in great danger;
The greater therefore should our courage be.
Good morrow, brother Bedford. God Almighty!
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out.
King Henry to Gloucester, Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 1
I believe that it is imperative that we “distil out” what goodness can come in things evil. This does not mean justifying or rationalizing whatever the act may be, but rather that by first freeing our minds of the idea of evil, only then can it be eliminated. Then, as we continue to see the world rightly, evil will have indeed lost its sway. As Rev. Joanne tells us, when we set aside our personal B.S. we are on our way to a better world, one person at a time.
Get behind me Satan! You are a hinderance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men. Matthew 16:23
Make a list of what helps you feel your connection with God. As you journey through this week, become aware of whatever moves you away from the awareness of the presence of God. When you become aware that you have forgotten the presence of God in this moment, take a breath, choose again. Look at your list and find one way to become ware once more that you are one with the Divine.
This week, I will remain mindful not to ignore evil, as I see it, but as the The Wise Monkeys remind us to See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil.
1Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.
2Japan Society of London (1893). Transactions and proceedings of the Japan Society, London, Volume 1. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co. p. 98