The Darkness Shall be the Light

by John O’Brien, OFM Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

The book begins with the question: “What is it to be human? This is a question we face today. Yet what comes to mind are, often, examples if what it means not to be human.” Maurice Zundel (+1975) when he was asked “Are you human?” answered No, not yet”. There are many obstacles to being human. Rabbi Abraham Heschel (+1972) said our age is an age that is losing what it means to be human. We have forgotten how to pray, how to think, how to cry, how to resist the lure of so many persuaders in our midst. We have “exchanged holiness for convenience, loyalty for success, love for power, wisdom for information, tradition for fashion”.

We legislate against murder, yet we wage war with ferocity and wipe out peoples. History is scarred with wars and more wars, with so many dead and so many tears. Our Western society looks upon people and nature in terms of usefulness. Our greed is destroying the planet. People are not cared for and many live lives of desperation and profound loneliness. We search for meaning but bad experiences tell us we have no value and our efforts have no meaning.

How do we break out of the “lie” that we have no value that our efforts do not matter? We have to begin where we are. Our reality is often best captured by writers, artists and poets. Our quest for meaning is a quest for ultimate relationship and belonging, a quest in which our masks are set aside. We all have a common loneliness. Are we alone in this maze of the self, alone in this wilderness of time, alone in this silent universe, of which we are a part and yet in which we feel like strangers? Is there on-one to collect the tears, soothe the pain, understand the agony of the innocent, the poor, the sorrowing? Such questions terrify us and we run away from facing them. They are the questions of the Waste Land.

Carl Jung, in his practice, was influenced in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, literature, philosophy and religions studies. In his practice he found many people were afflicted with hopelessness and anxiety. In several chapters of his collected works he studied this and concluded that these problems were caused by, what he called, a spiritual problem. As more people fall victims to anxiety this feeds into society. This, on a mass scale, can lead to social unrest and see the rise of people like Hitler. He saw this in his lifetime with two world wars and the rise of totalitarian states. He hoped to inform people so that these events would not happen again. Jung believed that the emergence of this spiritual problem coincided with the declining influence that traditional religions, most prominently Christianity, have had on Western societies over the past several centuries. Casting aside religion left people with problems. One of them was the fact that those who faced the questions of who they are and have they any value, have no sense of the Divine to give them meaning.

Jung believed that the rise of mass culture in society plunged people into this sea of loneliness. Modern society grew from the industrial revolution when large portions of the population left the countryside and lived in sprawling new cities. This gave birth to a mass society. This new form of existence…produced an individual who was unstable, insecure and suggestible (Carl Jung, The Fight with the Shadow). All round the individual is a large crowd and here the individual feels nullified. The industrial revolution also brought in a scientific mindset. In the 19th and even more so in the 20th century, social planners, politicians, and leaders of various industries, mesmerized by the fruits which scientific inquiry was producing in the fields of industry and medicine, came to believe that the methods of science could be used to remodel society. This led to an increase in uniformity and a drastic decrease in the importance of the individual. For in order to model and subsequently remake society based on scientific and rational principles, the uniqueness of the individual must be negated in favor of statistical averages, and the redesign of society enacted by a group of elites, or technocrats, who view humans as nothing but abstractions, homogenous social units to be managed and manipulated. Jung predicted so much of what we see today.

The Darkness Shall be the Light is a spiritual journey with T.S. Eliot. His poem “The Waste Land” (1922) shows a world that is barren and hopeless. In writing ‘The Waste Land’ Eliot found he no longer lived there. He recovered his faith. This is seen in his poem ‘Ash Wednesday’ 1930). This led him to the ‘Four Quartets’. The last three of the Quartets were written during World War II. In East Coker the world has become dark, the darkness of the war and world. He helps us enter into ourselves and face our own darkness and find strength there, a strength born of God. This book is filled with many points of reflection for all so they can be in touch with their God and His people.