Works of Darkness: On John 3:20-21

· Religion
Authors

For every man that doth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.  – Douay, KJV splice of John 3: 20-21.

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Prologue

Every time I hear these words, in whatever language or version they may be spoken, I ask myself, if my works are sufficiently “in the light”. In order to ensure this possibility, I am providing this text as an example of one of my works, hoping that it does not remain in darkness by remaining undiscovered by the search engines. It is also to be hoped that my words are true, such as the shafts, if not the deeds, of the legendary Robin Hood.

We understand the the concept of darkness less in its literal sense, though validly so, than in the sense of that which is kept unknown to others, to avoid exposure of misdeeds.  If I keep you in the dark, it is I who really am in the dark, who is not shining a light.

Some evil, of course, is of such a nature that it has the effrontery to make itself manifest.  However, even in this case, there may be an element which remains in the dark, as the following foreign joke might show.

Two thieves are being tried, each for a distinct act.  The first one is sentenced to five years, for being such a coward as to commit his crime in the dark.  The second one, awaiting his hearing, takes heart – he stole in broad daylight.  Nevertheless, he received the same sentence, for his audacity in exposing his felonious action to all.  But psychologically, what was not revealed to us, is his need for attention.  Such was the case of a certain Erostratus who burned down the temple of Diana.

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Shades of Darkness

Consider the nuances of the Nazi Holocaust.  We all know about it.  Some argue that all the Germans knew about it.  If they did, notice that they preferred to lie, and keep their knowledge in obscurity. They knew bad things were happening, but could deny knowledge of the worst things.  But cowardice too, is an evil, and wishes to be kept concealed.  Fortunate would have been anyone who lived in a place remote enough not to have seen or heard anything at all of what was happening, but society was far too controlled.  The leadership named its enemies, if not all the ways of dealing with them.

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Dark Chambers

This brings us to the first idea when we heard about the above-cited text by John the Apostle.  We thought of torture.  Am I wrong to think that the population of Nazi Germany did not know that people were being tortured in medical experiments? I doubt that any radio transmission mentioned it.  So, for the purposes of our next paragraph, we wish to separate this extreme torture from the run-of-the-mill Gestapo procedures, which does not mean we approve of any of the two.

In some of the western countries, ordinary police brutality, while objectionable (when kid gloves would do), is a far cry from the process of rendition whereby prisoners are swept off into the clandestine chambers of countries with less compunction than those of the “virtuous”.  Out of sight, out of mind.

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Order though Anonymity?

Did the emperors of the pre-Christian era have their enemies killed by executioners who hid their faces behind masks?  This is a really cheap way to stay out of the light.  At the very least, no sunburn, no damage to facial skin by ultraviolet radiation coming through a depleted ozone layer.

Ditto for police forces with balaclavas or even sturdier headgear to cover the faces.  The unspoken messages are that neither shall we know who these people are, nor shall we speak to them.  Clear out, or get taken in, wounded if necessary.

Of course, these types of head wear simplify timing problems.  Black Marias generally moved around at night.[1]

This shows the advantage of living in a small community with the police force knowing everybody, or the larger, traditional community, where at least the person responsible for a beat was similarly aware of the nature of the populace.  We are also reminded of a movie, possibly Mississippi Burning,  in which a Ku Klux Klansmen frightens the Afro-American in another town, and is berated by the local Klansmen for interfering with the affairs of the latter’s community.

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“Obscurantist” Lifestyle vs. Obscure Lives

Thinking of medieval torturers, and hooded offshoots of Spanish religious ritual costumed penitents such as the Klan, made us think about the works which go on behind a cloister, where no visitors are allowed.  How can we square putting works in the light with this cloistered seclusion?

Our solution is that these monasteries and convents are governed by a constitution, are subject to outside review, and subject to the authority of their religious body.  This, at least, is true in the Christian religions which have such institutions, such as the Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic.  We do not know how it stands in Buddhism.

The above situation stands in stark contrast to the works in the dark of certain religious sects, or their secular equivalents.  In some cases, deprogramming is considered necessary to bring a person back to sanity after having been recruited.  There is no outside control, except that which authority might have provided for, probably to a limited degree.

Certainly, a sect at Waco, Texas, was presented by well-known American magazines as requiring federal intervention.  It appears that the Russians could deal with terrorists more efficiently, although in both cases, we suspect that masked elite forces were involved.[2]

How, then, shall we evaluate the life of an anchorite, a John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey in the desert?

While we can not be totally sure of the lack of moral turpitude of such an individual, his solitude implies that he neither kills, steals, lies; nor is tempted by anybody or anything in his surroundings.  A satellite can look down upon him, he is not really hidden.  Where is there more light than in the desert?  An excellent place for hermits suffering from presbyopia.who want to read the Sacred Scriptures.

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Other Concealment

The honour due to parents and authority often manifests itself hypocritically, but this is not as bad as the dishonour through mockery behind their backs.

Hypocrisy, as any lie in general, is a concealment of the truth, but it must be remembered that there is no obligation to cast pearls before swine.

Records which should be available to the public, to ensure accountability, are an interesting case.  When I was young, an article in a Canadian financial weekly recommended Swiss banks, for their secrecy rules.  Now, these are accused of operating in darkness.What are we to make of this?

New rules about banking suggest that everyone who exceeds a certain amount in his accounts, deposits, or withdrawals, is up to no good.  This is a violation of the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty as far as the possession of money is concerned.  We do not doubt that ill-gotten gains are the result of friendly, open-market transactions.  We do doubt the secretive intentions of those who want to scrutinize the books of those who earned their money honestly.

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A Utopian Solution and its Opponents

Sometimes, it seems to me that the ideal would be that we all lived in glass houses, by which I do not mean a species of panopticon, but a respect towards one’s fellow beings which this would entail.  The fragility of such constructions would also mean that absolutely no one in that society, not even the police, could have firearms.  Governments spying would be overloaded, so would need to be sharply reduced. Obviously private moments would be suitably screened, of course.

Living in a small community is something like the above situation.  Some people cannot stand that everyone knows everyone else’s foibles.  For this reason, they prefer life in the big city.  There are certainly valid reasons for living in a metropolis, but when one seeks to avoid prying eyes in relation  to one’s private life, no matter whether the hours are lit or not, one is hiding one’s deeds in the darkness.

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Conclusion

In an attempt not to be rigidly dogmatic, we have given a definition of darkness, and an example of a society where there were different shades of the same; where torture and extermination were known or not, but racism and brutality, without any doubt.  We have backtracked to the idea of torture in the Dark Ages, and then returned to the present, showing how authority uses concealment of its agents from our eyes. We then compared the lifestyle of hermits and the cloistered with that of sects.  This was followed by a few lines on other forms of keeping light away, and finally, a Utopian solution, which by its very nature, cannot be put into practice.

What remains for us is that in clear-cut cases, we, as individuals, are to be examples of light in the darkness.  Where we have the necessary courage, we can undertake such legitimate procedures as to encourage authority to be more responsible.  If we go further, it’s over to the dark side.  The religious person can pray, others can only hope.

[1] Our reference is specifically to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  For the former, see “The Gestapo is Born” in The History Place. (article not linked, as unsuitable for younger readers).  For the latter, see Gulag: Soviet Prison Campos and their Legacy, pp. 15, 16.  Our reference is more to the arrests than the vehicles, but they go together.

[2] In the Waco case, total government victims and fatalities were about 25%, with 5% fatalities, while the other sideat least 58%, more if some individuals left the site voluntarily before the denouement. In the Moscow Theatre Hostage Crisis, police forces managed to avoid the 80% casualty rate which could have been caused by a successful terrorist action.  Only 15% of the hostages were killed, all the terrorists, and none of the government forces.  The attack had international approval.

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