Dark(?) Times

Friends and others lament these “dark times,” meaning for them one or all of these: the ugliness of Trumpism and our politics in general; and the scourges of four Pandemics— Covid-19, racism and White supremacy,  economic despair and devastation for too many even before the virus struck, and a burgeoning climate crisis. 

I share this lament, but not the negative value associated with the this usage of “dark.”

Why is the devil so often portrayed as black/dark?

As one who feels at home in the dark, the phrase “dark times” troubles me. There is so much that is good about darkness—whether it be darker-pigmented people or the underland where fungi and other creatures deepen and extend life in the soil or even the overland beauty of leafless trees in winter against the night sky. Or what about the things we learn as the result of “being in the dark” and the feeling of revelation, sometimes even elation, when we see what we had missed before? 

I experience darkness as almost always a gift, a break from the light pollution to which we are exposed every day. For example, there is more than enough light created by our neighbors and us in our small court of co-op homes as we leave our porch lights on at night to discourage criminals from breaking in. We also  live across the street from city hall, the community center, and the library, which are overlaid with light each night. 

When I go outside at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. to meditate and pray, all this light, not to mention the noise of twin-interstate highways and a local parkway that meet just outside our town, reduce the number and brightness of stars visible in the sky and compete with the chorus of cicadas.

Why is Jesus so often portrayed as white, non-Semitic?

Often it feels to me life is an unending contest where light keeps trying to overcome, even erase, dark. And light wins all the time—a system of light supremacy to which our society is addicted. Why can’t we accept, and celebrate, the reality that there is life, good life, in darkness, and that we can learn from its multitude of gifts?

White racism, White Supremacy, is a good place to start. Despite the beauty, strength and resilience of darker-skinned people even in the most ugly times, Western Civilization insists on the primacy of Euro-American positive valuation of light and the negative valuation of dark. 

In the United States, we connect White Supremacy with the subjugation and domination of African peoples. And yet, coupled with an Enlightenment mindset—namely the value of the rational over the mystical, the scientific over the intuitive and artistic, and the valorization of the individual (often to pursue their own interests over the well-being of community), White Supremacy supports and sustains the subjugation and domination of other groups as well. 

For example, Arab learning—at one time the zenith of mathematical and scientific reasoning and knowledge in the world—was discounted to justify Christian crusades against Muslim people. That same strain of Christian imperialism and the belief that Western (northern European) ideas, culture and systems are the apex of human achievement unite in capitalism and colonialism to undergird and justify the conquest of indigenous people in the Americas as well as the importation and breeding of slaves for the profit of their owners. 

A central method of the capitalist/settler colonialism drive to subdue and own land and all it contains is to label the wisdom and practices of indigenous people as primitive, without value in the modern world. Thus, today we can see not only how African Americans and Spanish-speaking peoples from Latin America continue to be oppressed, but also how the Middle East, other than Israel, is viewed as backward, and even nations and peoples further east are the victims of negativity.  

Further, this intersecting series of belief systems produce the subjugation of nature, degradation and elimination of species, and denial of what is happening in the Climate Crisis. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, non-indigenous people are trained to devalue the teaching of nature.

In short, “we” have created a worldview that highlights only some parts of reality and casts the rest into the dark—not listening to BIPOC people (Black Indigenous People of Color); not paying attention to that which makes life possible for all, namely the earth and all its parts; and refusing to build a world in which all have what they need to thrive (rather than some having far more than they need and too many not having even enough to survive).

Thus, I believe we must begin the practice of Endarkenment, to value not only things that appear dark but also the wisdom we have cast into the dark. In future posts, I will discuss this concept but suffice it to say at this point that I believe if we continue to refuse to acknowledge and accept and even celebrate the equal partnership of dark and light, we, and certainly our children and grandchildren and their children, are doomed. 

These are not “dark times.” They are times of pain, fear, anxiety, injustice, and crisis—and thus times of challenge and opportunity to radically change our ways to save us all. 

7 thoughts on “Dark(?) Times”

  1. good read this morning. Thank you for the reminders about the power of language and the benefits opportunity and promise of what we are all experiencing these days. I have been struck with the Plato’s allegory of the cave, something I haven’t thought about since my first read in high school. I have also started to use the term ” holy hibernation” instead of “lockdown” to describe the limitations I have imposed on myself regarding leaving the house during the pandemic. I also love the language of one of my favorite astrologers Pam Gregory who calls these times ripe for “accelerating evolution”. I am evolving, growing changing. Creativity is flourishing. Young people are leading, much of it is for the better. Some of us welcome the dark times and watch closely what it is called and who seems to flourish.

  2. Hi Dr. Robin,

    Thank you for sharing your article on Light and Darkness. I think that much of the misinterpretation of light and darkness derives from the first 4 verses of Genesis where God separates the intertwined expanse of light and darkness and calls the light good. To me, this simply means that that which is of the spirit of God is light and that which is not of the spirit of God is darkness. Spirit is not skin pigmentation. However, some Christian theologians have misinterpreted the meaning of darkness to justify the mistreatment of people of color.

    Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world. His Godly spirit is light and we should identify and avoid darkness because it does not represent that which is of God. Thus emerges the concept of Satan being the prince of darkness. However, as you so eloquently stated, both light and darkness as physical entities can be used to more fully enter into the spiritual light of God.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Darryl Walker

    1. Dear Darryl, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your wisdom and great facility at expression.

      I agree that the Genesis account is a central, perhaps the central, element in this question. However, I have a different view of what it means. I have long believed that the initial stage of creation involved the darkness and brooding spirit, and that God realized that this was incomplete. Thus, light was created and called good. I think many religious leaders then and even now then make an assumption that because light is good then dark must be bad. I disagree. I don’t find that in the text.

      I look at the creation of animals as good, too, as seemingly does God, but that does not mean the subsequent creation of humans means they are bad. To me, this is like God painting a picture and adding elements as they seem needed to make a more complete picture.
      Another way I see it is that not only is it a better picture but in actual reality both light and dark are needed. There would be no life on earth without both, and both are equally necessary. Neither can replace the other.

      So, I believe darkness is very much of God. I might even say that without darkness I am not sure God could survive either. Or at least would want to survive.

      Jesus for me is both the light and the dark of the world, because he is a whole being, fully human, meaning his insides were dark of necessity for his body to function, and even now he is with us in the dark and the light, knowing both are times/places of holiness.
      It seems to me that calling the world’s evil darkness denies that evil happens in the daylight as much as in the dark night.

      Finally, I think it has been, and still is, the belief dark is bad that sustains the ongoing repression of people of darker skin, not just Black people but all–Brown, Indigenous, Asian–whom the dominant powers divide from those they consider white. None of that has any foundation in science, biology, genetics, etc. It is strictly a human creation to create caste systems to keep some people on top and the rest at lower levels. This is the practical impact of the view of dark as bad. I will continue my resistance to it.

  3. Robin I found your views very interesting. It shows that these terrible things have been going on for a long time. Hopefully we can do better in the future.

  4. Robin, a powerful perspective. Fyi, the local Sierra Club is having a book discussion on Sweetgrass. Please email me if you want more info.

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