Good and Evil and Our Thoughts
Increasingly I find myself losing interest in politics, especially as the volume gets louder. This is fresh on my mind because I just voted in the Colorado primary back on the 26th. I see a steady trickle of articles implying violence and similarities between our time and the 1850s just before the Civil War. No matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on, politics is problematic and frustrating, angering even. Right now the thoughts of so many are destructive, focused on destroying the Red or the Blue side. The nihilism or meaninglessness of our age has helped fuel a destructive politics that has only now to live to for. When you have only now to live for you have no patience and certainly no time to change yourself before worrying about others. Didn't Jesus say something about seeing the speck in our brother's eye while we ignore the log in our own?
But the problem isn't just "out there", now is it? We also tend to focus on evil or destructive thoughts in our personal lives too. Watchfulness over the types of thoughts we allow ourselves to entertain is crucial, so is our speech. Idle speech is very dangerous to our souls, more than we ever seem to realize.
Elder Thaddeus was a Serbian monk, his book "Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives" has been helpful to me. I read this quote earlier in the week that stood out to me.
Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God's energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed.
If our thoughts are kind, peaceful, and quiet, turned only toward good, then we also influence ourselves and radiate peace all around us - in our family, in the whole country, everywhere. This is true not only here on earth, but in the cosmos as well. When we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony. Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere. However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil. When there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go. So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that's the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good! Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.
Our starting point is always wrong. Instead of beginning with ourselves, we always want to change others first and ourselves last. If everyone were to begin first with themselves, then there would be peace all around! St. John Chrysostom said that no one can harm the man who does not injure himself - not even the devil. You see, we are the sole architects of our future.
By his thoughts man often disturbs the order of creation. That is how the first people were destroyed - in a flood - because of their evil thoughts and intentions. This is true even today; our thoughts are evil, and therefore we do not bear good fruit. We must change. Each individual must change, but it is unfortunate that we do not have examples to guide us, either in our families or in society.
- Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives
As he points out, so often my starting point is with trying to change others before I ever think about looking at myself. If each person would take up the task of slowly, slowly, moment by moment paying attention to our thoughts and trying cultivate good thoughts rather than evil it would do wonders for ourselves and begin a process that actually transforms society rather than welcoming a new boss who is just the same as the old boss.
We don't have to be activists, working ourselves up into a fury over every outrage in order to change the world. Real personal and societal change starts with the men and women who pay attention to their thoughts, and focus on cultivating that which makes them more like God.
An apt, if extreme example, would be Nazi Germany. I have been slowly working my way through "Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich". One of the books that Hitler himself apparently read thoroughly, with his own notes in the margins, is called Magic: History, Theory, and Practice (1923) by Ernst Schertel. In that work Hitler personally underscored the following sentence from that book: Horror always lurks at the bottom of the magical world and everything "holy" is always mixed with horror.
History has documented well the horrors of Nazi Germany. The evil politics of the Third Reich and individual Nazis reveal the truths Elder Thaddeus taught on the importance of watchfulness over one's thoughts.
The heart of the dark political ideology was a return to a brand of paganism focused on blood and soil and the destruction of anything that got in the way. Their intentional focus on destructive and evil thoughts disturbed the peace of the whole world and was instrumental in the death of millions. In essence, Nazism was an apocalyptic death cult wearing the outer garb of Flag and Country Nationalism.
I struggle with negative thoughts, we all do to one degree or another. This example from St. Paisios of Mt Athos describes my own struggle with many situations, but I've been there before with the car trouble:
The Greatest Disease: Evil Thoughts
...In our times, one of the greatest illnesses is the vain thoughts of worldly people. People can have all the good things in life except good thoughts. They are tormented simply through not facing up to things in a spiritual manner. For example, someone sets out to go somewhere but has a little car trouble and is a little late getting to his destination. If he has a good thought, he will say, "Perhaps the Benevolent God brought this delay in order to prevent a possible accident. How can I thank You, my God, for this?" So he praises God for the delay. On the contrary, if he does not have a good thought, he will not face the incident in a spiritual manner; he will curse and blame God: "What a misfortune, what a useless delay! And where is God in all this?"
When we accept whatever happens to us with a good and positive thought, we are helped; while on the contrary, we are tormented and come apart at the seams emotionally and physically when negative and evil thoughts prevail..."
The greatest aid I have found to limiting and diminishing my evil thoughts and focusing on good thoughts has been my prayer rule. My prayer book, incense, candles and icons point me to Christ and the communion of the saints who support and encourage me. When I can't be near my altar I try to say the Jesus Prayer as much as I can to keep me focused on Christ.
Being an activist certainly never helped me cultivate good thoughts about myself or others. Activism fuels frustration with others who aren't doing what I want them to be doing or thinking the way I want them to think. Why does our country seem to be coming apart at the seems emotionally and threats of violence increasing over politics? Because negative and evil thoughts are prevailing in the hearts of many. We won't find the answer for the meaningless lives we have in activism. Distractions won't fix the despondency in our souls as we feed one passion after another.
If we will start paying more attention to the logs in our own eyes then we will start seeing the fruit of divine joy and peace in our lives that Elder Thaddeus and St. Paisios talk about. It's a joy and peace that someone else's politics nor evil nor the devil himself can take from us.