* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Exodus 1-2: Identifying with the Oppressed, Idolizing the Heroic, and Being Truly Human

First, it bears mentioning that, after a century of archeological research, no physical evidence has been discovered to suggest that the Exodus story is factual, while considerable evidence has been discovered which contradicts the biblical account.  I mention this not to write off the story completely, but to clearly justify an examination of the story from a purely spiritual perspective rather than getting caught up in the debate about what parts of the story are fact or fiction.

That said, there are many people who identify with the oppressed, at least in their own minds.  In popular media and in conversation, we often demonize people with power or wealth.  Quite understandably, we can feel somewhat oppressed by comparison.  Even when we do what we believe is right, like the Israeli midwives in the story, we lie about it when confronted by people we fear.  We either turn ourselves into weak and vulnerable caricatures of people, or we see ourselves as shadow agents working through subterfuge under the radar to stick it to the Man.  “We’ll show you, Pharaoh!  We won’t kill those boy children, and then you’ll get your comeuppance!” 

When we see ourselves as weak, we often do things that artificially make us feel strong.  That included ordering larger meals at fast food restaurants in one recent study.  In our minds, more food somehow equals more power.  So the things we do to counteract our perceived weakness aren’t always healthy.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It’s a clever way of spinning our wheels and maintaining a false sense of victimhood in the long run while not making any real difference in the world.  Some individuals manage to turn their awareness of oppression into purposes that change reality for many people, and that requires something slightly different from wallowing in victimhood and taking potshots at the villains we create in our own minds.  The people who make a difference recognize two things: They understand that people are not the enemy, and they acknowledge their own strength.

This sort of person becomes something of a hero in the eyes of others.  Like Moses, we may invent a dramatic origin story for them.  All of the boy-children were getting drowned in the river by the CEO’s henchmen, but Moses escaped (through the will of God) and was raised as the CEO’s grandson until he became a violent civil rights activist and had to go into hiding because of his crimes.  We build up certain people into heroes partly because what they accomplish is so extraordinary.  Unfortunately, part of the reason we build up other people into heroes is that we don’t want the responsibility of making a difference on our own shoulders.  If we realized that our heroes are not superhuman, we may start to see how we could take action in small healthy ways, not to reclaim a false sense of power, but simply to do what we know is right.

There are many characters in the story.  It may be fun to identify the people we despise as the Egyptians and to identify ourselves as the poor oppressed Hebrews, but the truth of the matter is that every person is potentially Moses.  Of course, Moses’ first response to injustice went too far.  He killed a man and made another human being the enemy, and he was ashamed of that act.  He knew that standing by and watching another person get beaten was wrong, and he knew that he had the power to do something about it.  He just hadn’t figured out how to use that power effectively.  We are no different, when we are willing to acknowledge our own power to act.  We may not get it right the first time out of the gate.  That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

So, understanding spiritual truth comes from an awareness of what archetypes we identify with and how that alters our perception of the world.  We have authentic power that stems from a deep truth, beauty, and creativity.  And we can balance exercising that power with value for the truth, beauty, and creativity in others.  When we embrace those two truths, we can do extraordinary things.  And the more we do those extraordinary things and inspire others to do likewise, the more those acts will seem like ordinary behavior. After all, it isn’t really a matter of being heroic; it’s just a matter of being human.


  1. I love this point you made: "...part of the reason we build up other people into heroes is that we don’t want the responsibility of making a difference on our own shoulders. If we realized that our heroes are not superhuman, we may start to see how we could take action in small healthy ways."

    How true this is!

    I often encourage people to read the Bible just for the cultural references and the human interest angle. Many people, including many Christians, including -- dare I say it -- most Catholics, have a misconception that the "heroes" of the Bible were superhuman, and that they could never strive to achieve a similar level of greatness.

    But the truth is, God often chooses weak, imperfect people to implement his plan -- which I find inspiring. If that bozo can do it, I have a fighting chance!

    I once saw a photo online of a piece of needlework with the following inscription:

    Noah was a Drunk
    Elijah was Suicidal
    Peter was a Coward
    Jacob was a Deceiver
    Rahab was a Prostitute
    Samson was a Womanizer
    Moses was a Murderer
    David was an Adulterer
    The Samaritan Woman was Divorced (a lot!)

  2. Indeed! Once we get on the other side of Deuteronomy, I anticipate more exploration of the concept of a divine plan.