Embracing the Shadow
Ego: The Actor
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important by itself, apart from anybody else. It wants to be both separate and superior. It is defended and self-protective by its very nature. It must eliminate the negative to succeed at this. The ego is what Jesus called an “actor,” usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite” (see Matthew 23).
If our “actor” is merely defended, the shadow will be denied and repressed; but if our “actor” is over-defended, the shadow is actually hated and projected elsewhere (for example, there are often homosexual ministers who hate and attack homosexuals). One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without recognizing it as evil! That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else. Jesus is never upset with sinners, but only with people who pretend they are not sinners. Check this out for yourself. This is surprising and even shocking! Why is it that this clear pattern is seldom pointed out in sermons? It might have to do with the fact that low-level religion can’t see its own shadow and projects it elsewhere. Thus the high degree of morally judgmental people among most religious groups, which allows them to remain untouched in their self-sufficiency, militarism, and materialism.
This is the classic example of dealing with the symptom instead of the cause. We cannot really get rid of the shadow; we can only expose its game—which is, in great part, to get rid of its effects. Or as it states in Ephesians, “Anything exposed to the light turns into light itself” (5:14). The cause of our unrecognized and fully operative evil is our egocentricity, not our weaknesses. Only those who are converted can say like Paul, “When I am weak, I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). When Jesus does oppose human sinfulness, it is the sins of malice with which he has no patience; the sins of weakness are always patiently healed. Jesus rightly accuses us religious folks of “straining out gnats while swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24). This pattern exists to this day.
Jesus and the prophets deal with the root cause, which is always our radical egocentricity. Our problem is not usually our shadow self nearly as much as our over-defended ego, which always sees, hates, and attacks its own faults in other people, and thus avoids its own conversion.
Gateway to Silence:
Help me see as You see.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 75-76.