Do We Have a Dark Side?

When the first Star Wars movie came out, I stood in line to see it (or, stood in queue since I was in London), with my wife and two kids.  This movie, and its sequels, have plots pitting good guys against The Dark Side.  Those on The Dark Side are consumed by anger, hatred, cruelty, selfish ambition, and a lack of love for others.

To the general public, the idea of a dark side of human personality may be relegated to the imagination of science fiction writers and not real life.  People go to costume parties dressed as Darth Vader, with no serious thought about what Vader represents.  The British rock band, Muse, released an album in September 2018 with a song titled The Dark Side, the idea taken from the movies.   The theme of the words is simple:  I am in pain and depressed, set me free.  Taken seriously, the dark side of Star Wars is an enslaving power of evil and not something entertaining or transitory.

Do we have a dark side, or is it just sci-f?  A recent edition of Scientific American has an article about the work of three European scientists. They have discovered a common core of nine dark traits they call the Dark Factor of Personality.  This is ethically, morally and socially questionable behavior and attitudes, accompanied by beliefs that justify the behavior and attitudes.  The traits are egoism, Machiavellianism, moral disengagement, narcissism, psychological entitlement, psychopathy, sadism, self-interest, and spitefulness. They have also developed a self-assessed Dark Care Scale that can be used to discover the degree to which a person is influenced by the dark side of their personality.

The idea of dark traits is nothing new for the Christian.  The Judeo-Christian tradition has always recognized the dark side of human nature starting with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The potential for human freedom is always threatened by the potential for evil.  We desire complete liberty of thought and behavior without regard for anything and/or anyone else.  Like Adam and Eve, we want to become like God.  History and literature give us many examples of people who lost this battle with the dark side as did Adam and Eve.  In biblical literature, Samson, Saul, and David immediately come to mind. Literary examples come to mind, such as Shakespeare’s Othello and Hamlet as well as Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote about the shadow side of personality a hundred years ago. For him, the shadow is the dark side of personality, everything we have rejected, despised, denied, or never knew was there.  The fact that we are unaware of our shadow is the problem, for it is involved in everything we say or do.  Because of our desires, we wrestle against an unknown entity, our shadow. The Bible calls this iniquity, meaning crooked thinking: putting high value on the least valuable and struggling to know the difference.

In his book, Makers of the Lie, psychiatrist Scott Peck gives patient anecdotes of behavior that on the surface would seem to be good, but the results are evil.  In one case, a family was in therapy.  The son had been designated as the one who would be the scape goat to bear the guilt and suffer the punishment for the misdeeds of the rest of the family.  The boy was suffering intense emotional and physical pain as a result of his assigned role in the family.  The parents were convinced their treatment of the son was loving and for the benefit of the son, so the family was resisting treatment. Peck called this parental attitude and behavior the making of a lie – not recognizing and admitting behaviors done in the name of family love were destructive.  Peck calls this behavior “evil.”  Anything not done in love for the benefit of others is to be controlled by the dark side and results in evil.

Mental health professionals talk to patients and clients about personality integration as a way to be rescued from control by the shadow.  This means admitting their unconscious shadow exists and recognizing in what ways evil thoughts and behaviors are initiated from the shadow.  The goal is to bring the shadow part of personality into everyday consciousness and learning to deal with it positively.  I think this is valid as far as it goes.

I believe the Christian gospel aids in the integration of personality. Theologian Paul Tillich wrote that all people have an ultimate concern, but unless the content of that concern is God, it is not ultimate.  The dark side pushes our concerns toward things that are selfish, transitory, and not ultimate.  I believe our personalities can become fully integrated only when we relate to God as our ultimate concern through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Let’s not go over over to The Dark Side!

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