The Greater Jihad
Quote:The Greater Jihad
There is a mindset that can make us susceptible to religious extremism and fanaticism. An understanding of this mindset can help us to guard against this type of psychological and spiritual infection while providing us with helpful insights into our human nature.
The way we perceive the world around us says a great deal about who we are and what we may become. A neighbor's child has been taught to critically examine the literature he reads and the television shows he watches in order to discover satanic and evil influences and messages that might not be readily apparent. It is certainly possible to seek out evil and satanic influences in the world around us. Moreover, those for whom seeking out evil influences becomes an obsession (unlike my neighbor's child) are likely to find evil influences in everyone and everything around them.
On the other hand, it is also possible to seek God and gain awareness of all of those influences in the world that reflect God's love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. If we but care to look hard enough, we can find the good in almost everyone and everything around us.
These two methods, of seeking God or seeking the satanic, have vastly different effects on the psyche. Turning our attention on God's goodness may have the effect of humbling us as we recognize how unworthy we are of God's freely given gifts of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. We feel small and contrite as we are awed by God's omnipresence and greatness.
Focusing our attention on the evil influences around us causes us to feel righteous, judgmental, and justified as we come to hate and despise the evil we perceive. We are always ready to find the dark stain and the evil in someone or something else, such as the speck in our neighbor's eye. We substitute our judgment for God's judgment, all the while assuming that the two are one and the same. We become unable to detect the evil that grows completely unchecked in our own hearts. The psychological term for this is projection. We project onto others the evil that we cannot face in ourselves. The split inside of us grows and, as we increasingly assume that we are the good surrounded by evil, we lose contact with the other side of our nature that becomes increasingly evil. We may assume that God is on our side, almost as if God was our employee and would support whatever we desired. We should be hoping that if we humble and purify ourselves sufficiently, and completely change our lives to ones of service, then maybe we could be on God's side.
All of this highlights the Grand Paradox of our human nature, that the more certain we are of our own purity and goodness, the less good we become, and conversely as our awareness grows of our own failings and shortcomings coupled with a desire to change and improve, the more good we become. This Grand Paradox teaches us that we do not know ourselves nearly as well as we think we do. Indeed, we are often completely unaware of our own motivations.
As we consider the attacks of September 11, 2001 we see extreme examples of people who were absolutely convinced of their own righteousness while they murdered thousands of men, women, and children. Within the teachings of Islam there is mention of the greater and the lesser jihad. The lesser jihad is the war that we fight with others, while the greater jihad is the war we fight with ourselves. This important teaching is similar to the Western saying that we are always our own worst enemies.
The attacks on September 11th have been called cowardly, and yet the example of people who give up their own lives to attack an enemy is not in keeping with our understanding of the term cowardice. Perhaps what was cowardly about these attacks is that the attackers did not have the courage to fight the greater jihad and root out the evil in their own hearts.
The question that must follow upon this is, do WE have the courage to seek out the enemy within ourselves and to see what WE have become? It is a difficult and painful process, especially at a time when we have been wounded by such a terrible attack. It is much more gratifying to seek an enemy outside ourselves than it is to root out the enemy within, but how can we expect religious extremists to examine themselves if we lack the courage to do likewise? Are we willing to make the painful effort to become worthy of being on God's side? Perhaps we would really rather not see just how far we have fallen. Does anybody really believe the Christian edict to love our enemies and to do good to those who do us wrong? When anger influences us, it seems much easier to bypass those teachings in favor of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Looking critically at our own failings and shortcomings is a painful process that threatens to plunge us into guilt and self-loathing. This is neither the intent nor the desired result of such an exercise. The whole point is to come to grips with who we really are and to learn to forgive ourselves, secure in the knowledge that God does not hold our failings against us but forgives us completely, still loves us completely, and only wants us to recognize our errors so that we do not continue to commit them. Sweet absolution is the sure and certain outcome of our soul searching and cleansing if we are but willing to let our selves be absolved.
We human beings now live in a world in which we can no longer afford to ignore the unpleasant parts of our history and our nature that we would prefer to gloss over, justify, or pretend do not exist. We must be willing to save ourselves, regardless of the initial discomfort of such salvation. The rapid proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is slowly turning our earth into one big powder keg with lots of fuses and many sources of ignition. If we, the people of the Earth, are unwilling to quench the flames of jingoistic patriotism and self righteousness, then there is little hope for us, our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on. It is not yet too late for us to change the likely tragic course of history. We need only care enough to stop and take a good long look at ourselves and see what we have become.
There are no others, there is only us.