“You have to have just a touch of rascality to be human,” philosopher, speaker and writer Alan Watts explained in one of his many recorded lectures. “I find it difficult to get along with people who don’t know that they have it. People who command that they’re all sincere, all good, all pure, bore me to death and scare me. They’re unconscious of themselves, therefore they’ll suddenly do terrible things without warning.”
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher of more recent times, also wrote about the danger of believing that you are in sole position of the truth – that you are right, and others are wrong, which can “corrupt your actions and behaviour to the point of insanity.” He uses religion as a prime example in his book A New Earth.
“For centuries, torturing and burning people alive if their opinion diverged even in the slightest from Church doctrine or narrow interpretations of scripture (the “Truth”) was considered right because the victims were ‘wrong’. They were so wrong that they needed to be killed. The Truth was considered more important than human life. And what was the Truth? A story you have to believe in; which means, a bundle of thoughts.”
He goes on to explain that all religions are equally false and equally true, depending on how you use them. “You can use them in service of the ego, or you can use them in service of the Truth. If you believe only your religion is the Truth, you are using it in the service of the ego. Used in such a way, religion becomes ideology and creates an illusory sense of superiority as well as division and conflict between people.”
We are all imperfect, here on this human plane. We all have a “touch of rascality.” Those who don’t know it, or who believe that their chosen religion makes them superior to others, are living a dull and dangerous lie. They’ve donned an external identity and have no idea what lies beneath it; they are unconscious to themselves. How can you behave in a sane, consistent, or truly ethical manner if you don’t know who you are?
In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker J Palmer writes about the moral exoskeleton; ethical rules borrowed from elsewhere, put on like a suit of clothes. “The problem with exoskeletons is simple: we can slip them off as easily as we can don them.” He adds that rather than searching for perfection, we should aim for wholeness – an integrity that comes from being what you are.
“Wholeness does not mean perfection,” writes Palmer. “It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”