Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

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Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in "Batman" (Warner Bros, 1989)

Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in "Batman" (Warner Bros, 1989)

It is a difficult road to travel when someone simply wants to be a decent human being. For the desire to do the right thing, to be fair, just, loving, compassionate and yes to have empathy for others, usually leads to inner conflict and suffering. Before that desire comes into being, it is possible to have a certain kind of interior freedom, to do what one wants without regard to others, without guilt or remorse. Until it is discovered that something is wrong, does harm, the action will cause no inner pain or chaos. Until perhaps the day comes, when one sees that they are indeed naked; the tables are turned and they experience what they so easily dish out to others is wrong, because of the pain and confusion they have to go through. That is the beginning of the hard road to becoming truly a decent human being.

Until an event happens that allows us to have empathy for others, the world is inhabited only by card board cut outs, objects to be used, abused, and when empty, to dispose of. The cries of those who are victims do not touch those who have not experienced suffering in a like manner and learned from them. Of course there are those who do not learn, can’t possibly, or for some, simply won’t. It is easier that way.

In the first Batman movie this was brought out very clearly, at least for me. Batman was a decent man, he wanted to do the right thing, conflicted, neurotic, filled with a sense of his own inadequacy. Also a victim when a child of a horrible, senseless, crime, which allowed him to have empathy for others who suffered the same fate. Hence his desire to fight evil and crime; he had a strong empathic response for others. Which gave his life meaning, but was also a burden.

The Joker in contrast (in some ways a very attractive character, at least when one was watching his antics from the safety of a theater seat, with a bag of popcorn and a coke, safe and secure, being entertained), was a happy camper, he loved his work, always laughing as he went about killing, destroying what was beautiful, no inner conflict or desire to change. Living in a world where he was the only subject, all others were objects; chess pieces to be moved around or destroyed at will. All the while smiling or laughing. So in a way he had the upper hand over Batman, for he had a certain type of freedom, which giving of oneself entirely to evil can give. Though in the end of course it destroyed him, for perhaps self destruction was really his goal. For when the inner world becomes a fortress, the world lived in becomes more of a problem, until finally there can be a final showdown; as the end of the Joker shows.

Once some sort of responsibility is taken for ones life, inner conflict will follow, at least for most. A sense of failure will ensue with the temptation to simply give up. However if that is not given into, another kind of freedom will come into being. Self knowledge, will free the one who has it, from being overly influenced, or controlled, by the failures of others. For ones own inner struggle, will give a certain kind of compassion for the follies, weakness, and hypocrisy, of others. For it is seen in oneself, there is no need to project it onto others in order to deal with it. Also there is no self condemnation either, for that is just another form of self destruction.

People’s world view will also dictate how they will deal with this inner journey. As a Christian; my faith in Christ, my relationship with him, his grace and mercy, will play pivotal role for me. Which is also healing and life affirming; a relationship that only deepens as I get older. People of other faith tradition will also have very good ways of helping them on their journey. Those with none, find other avenues to facilitate their own journey towards inner integration.

One of the weaknesses of religious people is the all too human tendency to make their own path the true one, others being left out. When in fact, all images of God are limited and need to be stretched. God is not something owned, not an object to be carried around, nor can God’s work in the world by deduced by certain scripture verses, over used, in order to simply back up ones special place in the scheme of things. No, God is equally involved in all lives, for in God we live, move, and have our being.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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