Like so many, I was deeply saddened on Saturday when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate for the Supreme Court. It was another blow to to the future of our country, and I found myself thinking “How can the people who voted for him sleep at night? How can anyone so callously and thoughtlessly give this obviously unfit man a lifetime appointment to such a powerful position? Are there no limits anymore?”
The sheer cruelty, ugliness, and insanity regularly displayed by Donald Trump and his followers have frequently elicited such thoughts in me in the past several years. Indeed, I have to admit that my faith in humanity has been seriously shaken. Oh, philosophically I retain that faith; as a student of A Course in Miracles, I continue to believe that in spite of our darkness, our true nature is of God and thus is ultimately good. But on a practical, everyday level, I’ve been shocked and appalled at just how dark that darkness can get. There are moments every day when I am struck speechless at the latest example of utter barbarity or sheer Kafkaesque insanity.
So, I’ve been looking for ways to bolster my faith in humanity in a time when it seems that faith has no firm foundation. It’s a big issue that touches every area of my life, of course, not just my daily engagement with our crazy political scene. One thing I do is my Course practice, and that has been extremely helpful. But I’ve also found it helpful to put what is happening into a mental framework that makes faith in humanity sensible and rational to me. I find that I really need that to give me the inspiration and strength I need to get through my day.
This framework encompasses both the darkness and the light of our nature. Looking at the dark side, I’ve tried to cultivate a healthy skepticism without descending into bitter cynicism. By “skepticism” here, I mean being skeptical about apparent goodness. I mean a willingness to acknowledge just how dark even consciously well-intentioned people’s motives often are (including my own), to see through the face of innocence, to say along with my partner Patricia “Tengo mis sospechas” (“I have my suspicions”) when faced with dubious proclamations of nobility and goodness. The key is to be able to do this without succumbing to the temptation to cynically say “They’re all rats. End of story.”
Looking at the light side, I’ve tried to cultivate a healthy trust without letting it descend into naive gullibility. By “trust” here, I mean trusting in genuine goodness. I mean a willingness to see the real good in people (including my own), to give them a chance to express the better angels of their nature, to have faith in their ultimate goodness even when that goodness is hard to see. The key is to be able to do this without succumbing to the temptation to gullibly say “It’s all good. Sure, Mr. Nigerian prince, I’ll give you my credit card numbers. What could possibly go wrong?”
I think the challenge with both the dark side and the light side is that we have a tendency to think we are doing the healthy option when we’re actually doing the unhealthy one. In other words, we think we’re simply being appropriately skeptical when we’re really being deeply cynical, and we think we’re being appropriately trusting when we’re really being dangerously gullible. In my experience, this second confusion is an unfortunate tendency of spiritual seekers, who naturally want to cultivate spiritual trust, but can easily be taken in by charlatans who want to exploit that trust. The only way I’ve found to undo these confusions—and this way is far from perfect, given our human fallibility—is the constant effort to be vigilant, discerning, and committed to the truth.
The attitude I’m trying to cultivate, then, is skeptical trust. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I don’t think it really is. It simply means taking both the darkness and the light seriously. It means looking at the darkness of human beings squarely and honestly, while also searching for the light and trusting that the light will have the final word. It means standing before everything that seems to argue against faith in humanity, and persisting in that faith nonetheless.
This isn’t easy, but without persisting in my faith in humanity, I don’t think I could even get out of bed in the morning. I think this is the only way to make it through these troubling times, the only way forward to a brighter future.