In light of the newest accusations against Bishop Eddie Long, I thought it would be timely to re-post a prior Decatur News Online column of mine from back when news first broke of Bishop Long's alleged offenses. To wit:
I’ve been out of town this week, so I’ve missed all the Sturm und Drang about the accusations swirling around Bishop Eddie Long and his alleged harem of young men from his youth group known as the LongFellows (puns abound, but I’ll refrain).
My faithful readers know I’ve written about Bishop Long previously, criticizing the prosperity gospel and his mansion and his fleet of limousines. But now there’s a new potential blot on his flowing robes. Now there are four young men accusing him of sexual impropriety. And I’m very intentional about saying “potential” and “accusing”, because as an attorney I’m very conscious of our sacred concept of the accused being innocent until proven guilty. Much as I’d like to see Bishop Long (or any hypocrite) knocked off of his high pulpit, I’m doing my best to resist that while he’s still innocent.
And why is it that I want to see him knocked off of his pedestal? Is it simply because I’m so pure that I can delight in the downfall of hypocrites? Somehow I doubt that. That would imply that I myself am not a hypocrite, that I’m not someone who calls for a high moral tone and a grand degree of enlightenment all the while wallowing in moral mediocrity and fuzzy perceptions.
There’s a fancy German word (is there any other kind?) for this concept: Schadenfreude. Basically, Schadenfreude refers to pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. And isn’t is pleasurable to see people on their high horses knocked off their mounts, especially when you don’t think they have any right to be up there?
Mind you, when it comes to preachers who rail against homosexuality only to be found guilty of their own purported sin, it’s quite easy to rejoice in their downfall. And when said preachers organize retreats and conferences to “cure” people of their homosexuality, and when they stage marches and invoke the name of great civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of their discrimination in the name of God, it’s very hard not to root against them.
I really want Bishop Long to fail in his endeavors, because I believe them to be ill advised and contrary to the path of enlightenment. But if I am to be a true practitioner who walks in the light, I should refrain from rejoicing in his possible downfall. I should not take pleasure in his pain. But I really want to!
Why? Why is it so satisfying to me to revel in the flaws of self-proclaimed, self-aggrandizing holy men?
I think it’s probably because I like to project everything I can conceive of as evil onto a shadow figure, which makes me no better than those who rail against homosexuality. I believe that many religious ultra-conservatives who are upset about homosexuality are motivated by fear of the unknown, or fear of something different, or simply fear of the Other. I see the Shadow as a solid explanatory archetype: In brief, it’s essentially that part of a person’s psyche that is repressed, denied, and is home to many of our darker tendencies.
We like to project our own Shadows onto other people or groups of people. This usually manifests itself in our establishing of dualities in the world, often in some sort of we/they grouping wherein we assign all undesired traits to “they”. Note that the Shadow isn’t necessarily limited to an individual person – it can also be applied by one group of folks to another group. In other words, we thrive on enemies, because they allow us to project our own darkness onto some other group of people (‘the Other”).
For the religious ultra-conservatives who deplore homosexuality, the LGBTQ community is their current hot-topic “Other”. I’m not suggesting that all homophobes are repressed closeted homosexuals (but there definitely are a few, and perhaps Bishop Long is one of them). I am suggesting that for whatever reason, these religious folks have decided that much of what’s wrong with today’s society can be ascribed to the growing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality.
In order to escape from this cycle of repression and projection, consciousness, self-awareness, and self-knowledge are key. As Jung himself put it:
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Would that Bishop Long and his ilk could come to that same sense of enlightenment, that they would realize that repressing their own Shadow only forces it to emerge in damaging ways. And would that we would all do so likewise.