Children of Darkness

By Don McCormick

This essay may seem to be a complaint about the human condition and the uncertainty of knowledge, but it is not. It is about the limitation of knowledge gained through experience and the use of reason and about the awareness of truth, justice, love and hope through intuition. It begins with a Chinese Proverb which I think is an example of experience, reason, and intuition compressed into a humorous phrase:

It is bad luck for a man to be famous and for pigs to be fat.

I once thought there was a Pax Romana. Today, as I sleep in front of the one hundred channels of propaganda, I think there must be a Pax Americana. My amnesia is the same as that of the Roman citizens who built their world on slavery and corpses and did not let the conflicts in the countries they conquered disturb their peace. Tacitus, the Roman historian, commented that, under Tiberius all was quiet…” [in Palestine], but all was not quiet, there was rebellion. Tacitus was not interested in reporting killing and unrest that did not require the direct intervention of the Roman legate in Syria. If the unrest was controlled locally by one of Herod’s sons, that was a Roman peace.

Today there is peace in the Americas as long as the allies or enemies in Africa, Iraq, Korea, or Indonesia do their murdering at home. It is no wonder that the oppressed commit suicide. It is no wonder that Jesus has been reduced to a connection with positive thoughts. It is no wonder that the best ideas we can find are fatalistic and that Zoroaster and St. Paul said our hope was in the resurrection.

Putting hope into a future life rather than the life you are living has always been a difficult idea to grasp. Also, changing the world so that truth, justice, love, and peace abound has not been done in the past and seems unlikely to happen in the future. The problem has been that men will lie, steal, cheat, and murder to make their short lives physically easier. Individual sacrifices for the good of others are ideas more in tune with another world than flowing from the experiences of this world. However, we are the heirs of the words of many men who thought the transformation of this world would create the next one. From an elitist point-of-view these prophets of transformation were merely peasants complaining about their oppressors. From the point-of-view of the common man the words have been poetic, philosophical, and religious. But in spite of the high regard for these words, hope for the common man has not been in the resurrection, but that he will change places with the rich and that the rich will suffer. This has been true regardless of warning about how hard it will be for a rich man to enter heaven.

Whether heaven waits means little to men who embrace revolutionary ideas with passion and certainty. In our time there has been an abundance of these men. They have made war against corrupt governments and in some cases have replaced one form of corruption by another. In Cuba, Fidel Castro and his men and women defeated Batista making class warfare a stark reality for every person who could watch TV or listen to radio. Before the Cuban Revolution began Ernesto “Che” Guevara wrote in his Canto a Fidel:

…and if the path is bloodied by ironwe ask for a shroud of Cuban tears

to cover the guerilla bones

in transit to American history

Nothing more….

And when the end of the battle for

cleansing operation against the tyrant comes,

there, at your side, ready for the last battle,

you’ll have us…

Che was questioned after his capture in Bolivia and before he was executed:

“Are you a Cuban or Argentine?” asked Selich.
“I am Cuban, Argentine, Bolivian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, etc….you understand.”
“What made you decide to operate in our country?”
“Can’t you see the state in which the peasants live?” ask Che. “They are almost like savages, living in a state of poverty that depresses the heart, having only one room in which to sleep and cook and no clothing to wear, abandoned like animals…”
“But the same thing happens in Cuba,” retorted Selich.
‘No, that’s not true,” Che fired back. “I don’t deny that in Cuba poverty exists, but at least the peasants there have an illusion of progress, whereas the Bolivian lives without hope, just as he is born, he dies, without ever seeing improvements in his human condition.”

Revolutionaries like Che shifted their faith and their hope into guns and bombs and were not, and are not, content to wait for the resurrection. The Cubans were and are in many ways like the Jewish Zealots who killed themselves at Masada rather than be captured by the Romans. The Cubans may starve themselves before they are overrun by imperialists.

At Masada, a thousand Jews had taken over a palace-fortress built by Herod on a huge butte-like rock in the desert thirty miles south of Qumran. The Romans were determined to destroy them. Tacitus explained why: “It aroused their indignation that only the Jews would not give in.”

Josephus, the Jewish historian of the Roman-Jewish War, in service of the Roman Emperor, Titus, created a speech for Eleazar, the Zealot leader at Masada. Josephus’s information came indirectly from the two women and five children who survived the killings and presumably told the Roman soldiers what had happened. Josephus has Eleazar say to his followers:

“Does not death liberate the soul from the body, which is subject to so many ills, and allow it to depart to its pure abode? Even if we had taught the opposite — that is, that life is the greatest good for man and that death must be a misfortune — we must still with a stout heart face the situation in which we now find ourselves. God has long decreed that the whole Jewish people must quit this life, since they have not cared to make good use of it. Not merely the Egyptians and Syrians have massacred the Jews in their midst but even the Jews on their own soil have had to contend with the Romans, and those who have been only slain in battle are to be felicitated, for of the others some have died on the rock, some have been tortured by flogging and fire, some have been half eaten by wild animals and then, for the laughter and sport of their foes, kept alive to be eaten again. But most miserable of all are those who are still alive and have prayed for death but have not had their prayers answered…. miserable old men sit in the dust of her shrine [the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem], with a few women reserved by the enemy to be victims of their shameless outrage! They had hoped to retrieve themselves and to avenge themselves on their enemies, but now that hope is gone, let us hasten to die with honor. Let us hasten to take pity, while it is still possible, on us and on our children and wives! How the Romans will hate us for having resisted! Is a man to see his wife led away to be violated, to hear the voice of his child, with bound hands, crying out to his father? If the Romans have their way, not one of us will die before we are captured. Let us hasten to cheat their hope and leave them in amazement at our death and wonder at our fortitude.”

These words attributed to Eleazar still inspire the Israeli Army. The present day counterparts to the Romans have not yet breached the walls of Cuba and Fidel has not yet given a speech like Eleazar’s. Because of the communication links and the ease of travel in our world it is unlikely that such a speech will be given. Yet, I believe that the mentality of the Zealots at Masada and that of the Cuban and other revolutionaries of today are much alike. You may regard this way of thinking as heroic or moronic in the same confused way that Josephus regarded his Jewish kin while he served the Roman Emperor, but you cannot ignore either group.

In both cases we are left with many dead bodies and words that will not pass away. Words worse than the black humor of the Chinese Proverb we quoted. A few people are famous and some are fat pigs, and the masses continue to serve them to the rulers while the elite classes lie to everyone about the Pax Americana. The common people want to believe the rulers and to think that not doing anything and resting at home are peace. I have heard that 750,000 Iraqi people have died because of the U.S. sanctions against the Iraqi government. I heard it on Pacifica, not the network news. I have heard that the Cubans have been dying by the thousands every year for the last thirty years because of the U.S. embargo of their island. I have heard that 100,000 Indians have been killed in Brazil to foster commerce. I have heard that a small number of very rich people and their companies control the government of the U.S.. I have heard that these same people manage the news. I have heard that if that were not so, the famous broadcasters would have bad luck. I have heard that all common men are cynics, but that their deaths, even by suicide, will not stop the “Children of Darkness.” Life would go on without them.

Since Zoroaster was born (628 BCE) there has been a notion that God (Ahura Mazda ) is engaged in a war with evil spirits led by the Devil (Ahriman). For 3,000 years before Zoroaster, Ahriman was winning the war, but for the 3,000 years after Zoroaster the advantage has shifted and will continue to shift to Ahura Mazda and his followers. He believed that God, the Creator, would be the ultimate victor and that men freely choose which side they will follow. The Followers of Truth and Justice ( Ashavan ) would be resurrected and go to heaven and the Followers of the Lie ( Dregvant ) who do evil would go to hell and dissolve in a river of molten rock. Not all of the people who followed Zoroaster had such a clear vision of God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell. In time they would say, “though one be armed with valor and strength of wisdom and knowledge, yet it is not possible to strive against fate.” Thus, in the middle of the war between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, men of clear vision found the weapon of doubt. In battle, doubt, which is usually wrapped in fear and is unlike uncertainty, brings death and is the destroyer of worlds.

By the time of the Essenes (2nd BCE through 1st CE) ideas of good and evil similar to those of Zoroaster were expressed by this Jewish Sect. These were the people who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls. They called the followers of God the “Children of Light,” and the followers of the Devil, the “Children of Darkness.” The Essenes had many prophets, and prophets often write current events as if they will occur in the future, or as if the authors were in the past and had predicted the current event. It seems that this is a way to save yourself from oppressors, but it has seldom worked. The oppressors have often killed the prophets and the ghostwriters, too.

To the Essenes, the “Children of Darkness” were their Roman oppressors and their betrayers among the Jews of the higher classes. The common people knew then, as they know now, that the war is between the classes and it is about doing good or doing evil, motives aside. Further, war is about material wealth and spiritual values and it is fought by building up or tearing down the natural world.

Zoroaster thought that the followers of Ahura Mazda were the farmers and ranchers, those who loved peace and order and did productive work. He thought that the nomads who robbed and killed his friends and neighbors were the followers of Ahriman. That is how the Essenes and the followers of Jesus saw the relationships between “Children of Darkness” and “Children of Light”: Roman vs. Jew, Rich vs. Poor, Urban vs. Rural, Class vs. Class. How much has changed since the 1st century? Doesn’t the common man see Ancient Rome in all of the governments and their armies? Are the rich and the elite classes still not regarded as the “Children of Darkness?” Wars continue and hope is still in the resurrection and in the life that is to come. But what will cause this transformation? Shall men despair and call fate their master and luck the slayer of famous men and of pigs? Where is their certainty?

Voltaire wrote a story called, Micromegas, about an inhabitant from Sirius who visits earth. He is 500,000 feet tall and on his way through space he picks up a gentleman from Saturn who is only a few thousand feet tall. As they walk through the Mediterranean the Sirian asks his comrade how many senses the Saturnians have and is told: “We have seventy-two, but we are daily complaining of the smaller number,” “To what age to you commonly live?” “Alas a mere trifle; … very few on our globe survive 15,000 years. So you see that in a manner we begin to die the very moment we are born: our existence is no more than a point, our duration an instant, and our globe an atom. Scarce do we begin to learn a little when death intervenes before we can profit by experience.”

This delightful imitation of Swift makes us realize that knowledge gained by experience will not be the wellspring of hope that leads to certainty if only because of our physical limitations.

In some sense, we are stuck like ants in molasses. Our lives are too short to know very much about how and why the universe works. Reason and scientific methods are good only for step-by-step learning and complete knowledge will span all the generations of man and beyond. We are given a little experience and sometimes intuition to grasp truth. Our myths are the truths we can measure by intuition. The words of philosophers, ancient and modern, often sound very convincing, yet they are not forever and they seldom offer hope.

The myths of “Followers of the Lie” and “Followers of Truth and Justice,” and “Children of Darkness” and “Children of Light” can be grasped because we daily experience doing evil and doing good. But we do not become wise by this knowledge. There is a quote from Voltaire’s Candide which exemplifies our conundrum:

“Do you believe,” said Candide, “that men have always massacred one another as they do today, that they always have been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchers, fanatics, hypocrites and fools?”

“Do you believe,” said Martin, “that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they found them?”

“Without doubt.” said Candide.

“Well then,” said Martin, “If hawks have always had the same character, why should you imagine that men have changed theirs?”

“Oh!” said Candide, “there is a vast deal of difference, for free will–”

Yes, free will. Now, we return to Zoroaster and to the Essenes and to Jesus and to our Sunday Schools, but something has changed since all of these people spoke and not many men have noticed. The step-by-step building up of our knowledge of the universe has taken a giant leap in the last one hundred years. Both heaven and hell have shown their reflections on earth in ways never imagined in the past.

Dr. J. Bronowski said in The Ascent of Man :

At twilight on the sixth day of creation, so say the Hebrew commentators to the Old Testament, God made for man a number of tools that gave him also the gift of creation. If the commentators were alive today, they would write ‘ God made the neutron’. Here it is at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, the blue glow that is the trace of neutrons: the visible finger of God touching Adam in Michelangelo’s painting, not with breath but with power.

What has happened in physics has changed every man on earth whether he knows it or not. More than anything it has humbled us. It has made us reconsider our nature. Again, from The Ascent of Man:

One aim of the material sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable….

But what physics has done is to show that [ step by step ] is the only method to knowledge. There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally.

This revelation of physics changes how men can understand life. Hope no longer requires a “Deus ex Machina,” “a god from a machine,” Men no longer wait on a powerful and unknown force from outside of their lives to intervene for good or evil. The kingdom of heaven is literally at hand, not because men grasp it with their senses or understand it with their minds, but because they are humbled by mortality and imperfection.

… In science or outside of it, we are not uncertain; our knowledge is merely confined within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance. And I propose that name in two senses. First, the engineering sense. Science has progressed step by step, the most successful enterprise in the ascent of man, because it has understood that the exchange of information between man and nature, and man and man, can only take place with a certain tolerance. But second. I also use the word passionately about the real world. All knowledge, all information between human beings can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance. And this is true whether the exchange is in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or even in any form of thought that aspires to dogma.

In the stories of Zoroaster, the deaths at Masada, the revolution in Cuba, the Essenes and Jesus, men have known what was uncertain; sure they understood the way of the world and their parts in it. They did not have the advantage of Dr. Bronowski “Principle of Tolerance.”

…There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns a nation, a civilization, into a regiment of ghosts – obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts.

It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ” I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Men are neither saved nor destroyed by science, but made humble by attempts to understand creation. Calling Heisenberg’s “Principle of Uncertainty,” a “Principle of Tolerance,” is a way for the nonscientist to know better what has been discovered through experience. I will paraphrase Bronowski.

Heisenberg gave a new characterization to the electron when he said it was a particle that yields only limited information. You can specify where it is at this instant, but you cannot impose on it a specific speed and direction at the setting-off. The information that the electron carries is limited in its totality. Its speed and its position fit together in such a way that they are confined by the tolerance of the quantum. This is what Heisenberg called the Principle of Uncertainty. It is a robust principle of the everyday. We know that we cannot ask the world to be exact. Heisenberg’s principle says that no events, not even atomic events, can be described with certainty, that is, with zero tolerance. What makes the principle profound is that Heisenberg specifies the tolerance that can be reached.

By intuition men know that the power of life, which had only been in the sun and stars, is in their hands. It is the same power that transforms the universe. But here is the rub: shall it be used arrogantly or humbly? Shall men be “Children of Darkness,” or “Children of Light.”? I believe like Zoroaster, like St. Paul, like the Essence Prophets and even like Che that men have a choice, a free will, and what they choose will lead to peace or not. In The Peace of God Eberhart Arnold wrote:

A deep-seated need in man makes him long that the whole of life be included in a universal harmony. Man’s inmost feeling tells him the life ordained for man is one of organic unity of all powers of the spirit and the will. In actual experience, however, the fate of unpeaceful mankind today is petty limitation, discord and disunion, inorganic confusion, and conflict of spirits and aims. Men have no unified center, no living point from which their entire thinking and doing can radiate. They lack this common point of reference, from which any effective unity must be determined if life is to prove itself strong and undivided. This dynamic integrity of life has been lost to individual men and to mankind.

Only where peace is alive and active and where its harmonious working embraces the whole of life fully can a clear conscience acknowledge peace. There can be no talk of peace and harmony if a life does not show integrity in lively and rich diversity. Impassive silence and unbroken quiet belong only to the deathly peace of the graveyard. Life is energy for enthusiastic action and reality in all its facets. Where the quickening Spirit of God’s peace fills and unites men, He puts His infinite energy into deeds of love that are varied yet consistent, animated yet stable, diverse yet whole and undivided. The peace of God is the dynamic harmony of the perfect life, vibrant with infinite riches. “Whoever finds me, finds life” is the revelation it brings….

As creative strength, god is the productive life of constructive unity. His joy in peace delights in energetic action and demands active mutual help. It aims at a community of work that creates value. The peace of God is grounded in creative justice. Peace is God’s work. There is no peace in creation without the Creator, just as there is no outward peace without inner peace of social justice and no justice without community of creative work. God alone is love. Peace is created only when His Spirit of love is at work.

As a tribute to Dr. Bronowski let us add that we can begin the creation of peace with the phrase he coined, the “Principle of Tolerance.”

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