24 June 2011

out of the shadows

On this Sunday, the 26th, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture will be observed.  (Or for short, the International Day against Torture.)

For the past decade, starting with 9-11, our country has had a relationship with torture that we can safely call “conflicted.”  It’s probably true that most countries have engaged in torture at some level.  But rarely are the practices that constitute torture stated as public policy.  And very rarely are they stated as public policy in a country that prides itself on being a beacon of human rights.

In his book, On the Threshold of Transformation, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr speaks of Jung’s concept of “shadow” as “where we put our qualities and traits that we deem unacceptable.” (194)  It’s our blind spot; it’s where we put stuff that we don’t want to deal with.

Cultures also have shadows.  Cultures of all kinds have them:  businesses, churches, even nations.  “Everything that seems unsuitable goes underground…Soon we forget the shadow’s existence, and we believe our public image.  When that happens, a group or nation is capable of doing great evil without recognizing it as evil.” (210)

Sometimes feelings of guilt hinder us from resolution.  We try to deny or redefine our actions.  However it happens, we can find ourselves acting with impunity.  We act as though we are a special case; we should be exempted from the penalty that, in any otherwise objective sense of the law, might justly be imposed.

In the particular case of our country, for two presidents in a row, it has been stated public policy to keep torture in the dark.  None of the architects of torture has been legally charged, and Obama’s refusal to even call for an investigation puts us in the category of being a nation of men, not laws.

Jesus has interesting words on the shadow, words that apply to all of us.  “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) 

On the matter of cultural shadow, Rohr notes that “God sends prophets to make nations aware of their shadow side, which usually results in the prophets getting persecuted or killed.” (210)

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