It’s Not Either/Or. It’s Not Them or Us. It’s We.
The Zealots and the Pharisees
Richard Rohr expands upon the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Third Core Principle: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”
There seem to be two typical ways to avoid conversion or transformation, two diversionary tactics that we use to avoid holding pain: fight and flight.
“Fight” is what I’ll call the way of Simon the Zealot. It describes people who want to change, fix, control, and reform other people and events. The zealot always looks for the political sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person over there. Zealots consider themselves righteous when attacking them (whoever they are at a given time), hating them, even killing them. When they do, they believe they are “doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2).
Zealots often have good conclusions, but their tactics and motives can be filled with ego, power, control, and the same righteousness they hate in others. They want to do something to avoid holding pain until it transforms them. Such people present Christianity as “a cult of innocence” as opposed to a movement for solidarity.
As long as they are the problem (whoever they are), and we keep our focus on changing them and correcting them, then we can sit in a reasonably comfortable position. But it’s a position that the saints call pax perniciosa, a dangerous and false peace. It feels like peace, but instead is the false peace of avoidance, denial, and projection. The Peace of the Crucified comes from holding the tension.
This brings us to flight, the second diversionary tactic. This is the common path of the “Pharisee,” the uninformed, and the falsely innocent. Such people deny pain altogether and refuse to carry the shadow side of anything in themselves or in their chosen groups. They allow no uncertainty nor ambiguity as they scapegoat and project their own wounded side somewhere else! There will be no problems. It is a form of narcotic, and at times probably necessary to get some people through the day.
Both fight and flight people are subject to hypocrisy, projection, or just plain illusion: “We are right; you are wrong. The world is divided into black and white, and we alone know who is good and who is bad.”
“Resurrected” people are the ones who have found a better way by prayerfully bearing witness against injustice and evil—while also agreeing compassionately to hold their own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there—it is here. It is our problem, not theirs. The Risen Christ, not accidentally, still carries the wounds in his hands and side. The question becomes: How can I know the greater truth, work through the anger, and still be a life-giving presence?
That is the Third Way beyond fight or flight, which in a certain sense includes both. It’s fighting in a new way from a God-centered place within, and fleeing from the quick, egocentric response. Only God can hold such an act together within us.