From Akhenaton to Pope Francis: the meaning of true and enduring change

15.02.2014 - Silvia Swinden

This post is also available in: Spanish, French

From Akhenaton to Pope Francis: the meaning of true and enduring change
(Image by Akhenaton, Image Wikimedia Commons)

Following previous references to the Pressenza article on the Akhenaton Syndrome (that explains that often what follows to the death of an enthusiastic reformer is a return to the previous stage, sometimes to an ever worse state of affairs) it is interesting, in the light of the new Pope’s presentation as a reformist, to quote from Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy a couple of paragraphs related to his inspirational figure, Saint Francis of Assisi. In doing so the intention is not to discourage reform, or revolution, but to examine the elements needed for innovation to persist in time.

“In the matter of saintliness, Francis has had equals; what makes him unique among saints is his spontaneous happiness, his universal love, and his gifts as a poet. His goodness appears always devoid of effort, as though it had no dross to overcome. He loved all living things, not only as a Christian or a benevolent man, but as a poet. His hymn to the sun, written shortly before his death, might almost have been written by Akhnaton the sun-worshipper, but not quite-Christianity informs it, though not very obviously. He felt a duty to lepers, for their sake, not for his; unlike most Christian saints, he was more interested in the happiness of others than in his own salvation. He never showed any feeling of superiority, even to the humblest or most wicked. Thomas of Celano said of him that he was more than a saint among saints; among sinners he was one of themselves.

“If Satan existed, the future of the order founded by Saint Francis would afford him the most exquisite gratification. The saint’s immediate successor as head of the order, Brother Elias, wallowed in luxury, and allowed a complete abandonment of poverty. The chief work of the Franciscans in the years immediately following the death of their founder was as recruiting sergeants in the bitter and bloody wars of Guelfs and Ghibellines. The Inquisition, founded seven years after his death, was, in several countries, chiefly conducted by Franciscans. A small minority, called the Spirituals, remained true to his teaching; many of these were burnt by the Inquisition for heresy. These men held that Christ and the Apostles owned no property, not even the clothes they wore; this opinion was condemned as heretical in 1323 by John XXII. The net result of Saint Francis’s life was to create yet one more wealthy and corrupt order, to strengthen the hierarchy, and to facilitate the persecution of all who excelled in moral earnestness or freedom of thought. In view of his own aims and character, it is impossible to imagine any more bitterly ironical outcome.”

I’m sure things have changed a a great deal since the Middle Ages but this is a cautionary tale, not dissimilar to Akhenaton’s (coincidentally mentioned in one of the paragraphs) by way of introduction to the question of reform or revolution.

Once Obamamania succumbed to the reality of increased military activity in American foreign policy, increased nuclear weapons budget, increase in drone killings, Guantanamo remaining open, and unchanged role of American economy in the international arena, the field was ready for another idealised saviour to take his place in the hopes and yearnings of a world population feeling the full weight of a dehumanising and meaningless system. Let’s call it Panchomania, (Pancho being the traditional nickname for those called Francisco). Deserved or not, such expectation and idealisation of one person, no matter how much power they may have to change things, rarely matches that person’s real possibilities, as they normally function within structures with their own dynamics. But even when reform may happen, its top-down quality, well but passively received by some, absolutely rejected by others, often lacks the strength to prosper beyond the charismatic leader’s own life.

True and enduring change is a function of transformations that happen in the minds and hearts of the peoples, reflected no doubt in their choice of leaders. Those who seek to promote a nonviolent revolution, both personal and social, concern themselves with the dissemination of tools for people, everyone, to develop their own internal reference. Power tends to concentrate power. money tends to concentrate money. Neither is the correct tool for the creation of a society with equal rights and equal opportunities for all, a humanised society. Only reflexion about one’s actions, coherence, inner peace and solidarity towards others, treating them in the way we would like to be treated, open the future to a new kind of human existence.

Big Media loves ‘manias’, the quasi-messianic furore that accompanies the discovery of yet another idol, and just as we fall in love and massively project on the beloved a complete image of out ideal partner, only to discover later that they are not who we thought with the feeling of being disappointed by the other, so we ‘fall in love’ with the new idol because the propaganda of the celebrity savvy media is well aware of the desires and wishes of the population. They should know, they put them there. And we project them onto this new idol, unaware of the contents of our own consciousness!

Leaders may be inspirational, and yet, the moment of inspiration necessary for a deep and enduring change in all structures, in all people, require contact with a much more personal source of inspiration, the sacred flame burning deep  within human consciousness, but obscured and silenced by the noise of daily struggle and imposed material expectations. It awakens and makes itself heard at times and then some golden age takes a human group on a leap towards a fuller existence, only to decay and to give way to the next inspiration, the next civilisation.

But something has changed now, we live in an interconnected world and nobody is out of reach of the pain and suffering of the victims of widespread violence, in all its forms, nor of the wave of inspiration emerging, spreading, reaching out, hoping to arrive on time to give birth to the Universal Human Nation before the New Dark Ages of the spirit set in. Simplistically it could sound as the old allegorical battle between Good and Evil, but more useful for the process of awakening to a truly human existence, we are here in the presence of a choice between a mechanical life as a reaction to our own and human history as well as external conditions, or an intentional life, guided by Utopias, ideals, dreams and all those goals that may look unachievable from where we are but set the direction of our action towards the just about intimated and marvellous meaning.

Categories: Humanism and Spirituality, Nonviolence, Opinions
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