I believe in the noble savage, or rather in the idea that in the absence of an overriding desire or fear a person’s essential nature is compassionate. So I’ve always been interested in evil although I think it’s overrated. When the lights are on all those monsters lurking in our psyches stop being powerful and threatening and full of magic and promise and cruelty, and they start looking like the poor frightened childrens’ neuroses and festering sores that they really are.
And just the other day the media accidentally exposed one of these banal and terribly sad situations in a way which showed at least the first half of the whole ugly process. Ted Haggard hadn’t been driven by his demon to do much harm, yet, but he’d shut the monster in its box and begun to feed it.
Here’s his own description of the process, in the letter of apology to his church:
“There is a part of my life, that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.
“Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
“The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. The darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe. [...] I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.”
“I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.”
He seems like a sincere man. I disagree with his politics, his religion, and pretty much most of his outlook on life, but it’s impossible not to feel that he was in a pretty difficult position as a homosexual with a conservative fundamentalist mindset. Haggard’s not a hypocrite for engaging in gay sex while espousing the idea that homosexuality should be “cured”, because he hasn’t been able to believe that his being might be authentic and his religion backward.
How do you deal with a situation where your religion and culture tell you to hate yourself? Perhaps it’s inevitable that if you’re not strong enough to believe your own feelings above what you’re taught, and reject part or all of that teaching, then you will apply the hatred you’re taught both inward and outward.
This is the single most important reason, I believe, for the humanist project of an open and tolerant society. One in which our fears and desires are not hidden and cancerous, eating away within us and distorting our culture and behaviour.