What is the Meaning of Life
Freedom from our Evil Nature
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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Program 122 Freedom From Our Evil Nature by Ernest O’Neill
We’re talking about a certain problem that almost every human being in the world faces at some time in their lives. The problem is getting the good in our natures to overcome the evil in our natures. In other words, most of us have experiences of sitting and thinking some very good and holy and generous thoughts. Suddenly, without warning, there comes right into our mental horizon a thought of lust or evil or hatred that is so wretched and rotten that we can’t believe it comes from us.
Yet, most of us have that kind of experience. We’ve all tried, on occasion, to be very, very good, and found that there seems to be a tide of bad that rises from our very hearts that we can’t possibly understand. It is the kind of experience that was talked about by Joseph Conrad in his novel “The Heart of Darkness”. We hate to travel inside our heart of darkness and find it so dark, but some of us have done and have been incredulous.
We cannot believe that such an evil exists within us. So, we have been talking about where that comes from. What we have been saying is that it ties up directly — these two sides of our nature, this good side and this bad side — with two views of life. If you view life as having come about by time plus chance, by some impersonal evolutionary process that just has taken place and has no meaning or order to it, then you’re in a position of great loneliness and desolation.
You realize that there are five billion other people in this world and they are all trying to get what they need for food, shelter and clothing. It’s up to you to grab what you can and they are all trying to grab what they can. So that makes for quite a competitive situation commercially and financially. That produces tremendous covetousness, greed and anxiety on our part from the point of view of our possessions.
It produces in us, of course, a great desire to get what we want, when we want it, whatever it costs anybody else. That is what produces, at times, the anger and the greed, the covetousness and the grabbing attitude that we find rising within us. Now, on the other hand, if there is behind this universe, with all its carefully ordered orbiting planets and with its DNA molecules and with its chart of the elements so carefully arranged in order and with these personalities that we have,
… and with the seasons that come and go so regularly year after year — if there is an intelligent, personal mind behind this universe who made us because He really cares about us, and he loves us, and he can be trusted by us, then that produces in us a great relaxation and a great restfulness. You begin to realize that you’re not at the mercy of the other five billion in this world, but the one who put you here knows that you’re here. He has planned for your subsistence and your survival as carefully as He has planned for the survival of Mars or Venus.
Then there can come into your life a great deal of relaxation and a great deal of peace and a great deal of ability to think of the other person before yourself and to provide for the other person before yourself. That produces many drives and many tendencies that are not selfish, just as the other attitude, where there is no Creator,(and therefore “you have to look after yourself, Jack, whatever the cost”) that produces selfish drives and a whole selfish attitude and motivation.
So, what we have been saying over these past weeks is that the two attitudes that we find within us, the desire to do good and the desire to do evil, ties up with two views of life. One regards the world as the only thing we have to depend on — the things that we find in it, the circumstances that we have in it, and the
people in it — those are the only phenomena that will produce in us the security and the significance and the happiness that we know we need. That view of life produces a drive toward selfishness and towards indifference to others.
On the other hand, the view of life that regards this creation and us ourselves as being cared for by a loving Creator who is also our Father and whom we can trust, produces in us a sense that He will provide for our security. He will provide for our significance. He will provide for our happiness, whatever all the rest of the people in the world do or don’t do. So, the two attitudes in us come from two views of life.
One is a practical atheism. That is, it is a living day by day as if there is no God. The other is a practical theism. At least a theism, a practical belief that there is a dear Creator who does know if a sparrow falls to the ground and who has counted the hair of our heads. That’s where those two attitudes come from. But what we have been saying, of course, is that an understanding of that alone simply intensifies the agony of our situation.
It’s too easy to find yourself in the same situation as that illustration that is used of a psychiatrist who treated a man for many months, because the man was beating his wife. One day the man came into the psychiatrist’s office and he looked so happy. The psychiatrist said, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The guy said, “No, I haven’t, but I’m happy because I now know why I’m doing it.”
So we can end up in that situation where our position is worse than before, because we know the situation, we understand why we’re like this, but we can’t make any change in our behavior. Many of us are like that. Even if you have not heard the explanation of the problem before, you are able often to understand some facets of it, but that is not the difficulty. The difficulty is not knowledge. The difficulty is not understanding. The difficulty is how to get free from that monstrosity within you, that other self, that old self, that creature inside you that is like Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.
How do you deal with that? That is what we have been talking about. We said that many of us have tried psychological treatment. We have tried psychoanalysis. We’ve tried reading the right books on the power of positive thinking or on controlling your temperament. We have attended sensitivity groups. We have done all kinds of things. We have used all the tricks of the trade… the cold showers in the morning, the thinking of the good things that we can think of about the other person in our office.
We’ve tried all those tricks, but we have ended up still in a worse situation than we were at the beginning. The old self, this old monster of evil and lust and anger inside us seems to burst out all the more vehemently all the more we understand it. Of course, what we have been saying is the reason for that is that this is not just something you have created in your own personality during the years of your present life.
This, in fact, is known throughout philosophy and theology all down through the centuries as what we call an old, evil nature. It is not just human nature. Human nature is not in itself evil. Human nature, of itself, is fairly neutral. This evil nature is something that we have had bred into the human race from the very beginning of time. In fact, it’s as old as the human race. From the beginning of the history of the human race a group of us men and women began to live as if there was no God.
So we created among ourselves tremendous neuroses that were connected up with the realization that if there is no God, then we have to look after ourselves; if we have to look after ourselves, then we have to beat out everybody else in order to get what we need. We bred into ourselves and into each other and into our children down through the years an attitude of insecurity, an attitude of distrust, an attitude of desperation that has become part of you and me down through these centuries of our human race.
So, what you face is something that is as old as the race itself. That’s why it is so stupid to try to deal with it through sensitivity groups, or through a little psychoanalysis or a little encouragement through a sensitivity group. This is something that is as old as the race itself. It is something that has to be dealt with radically by a power that is greater than your own mind and your own will.
That’s why your own will is so impotent when it comes to dealing with it. So, that’s what we have been sharing. Let’s talk tomorrow about what has been done about it and what we can do to experience deliverance from it.