Why Do We Torture Each Other?

The Inquisition, which began in the 1100s in Europe, was made up of organizations within the Catholic Church. The Inquisition had as its aim the repression and elimination of beliefs and religions that did not agree with Catholic beliefs and the Catholic religion. Eventually, the Inquisition tortured people to get them to change their minds about their beliefs, and if they did not say their old beliefs were wrong, and accept Catholic beliefs, they were sometimes killed.

The people who held beliefs that were different from Catholic beliefs were called heretics, and their “wrong” beliefs were called heresy. The Catholic Church claimed that those who did not follow the Catholic Church and its beliefs were not acceptable to God and would burn in hell forever. Therefore, some of the Catholic leaders justified their torture of heretics by claiming that they were trying to save people’s souls and keep them from hell.

A Course in Miracles uses the idea of the Inquisition to explain how we often treat each other:

The analysis of the ego’s “real” motivations is the modern equivalent of the Inquisition, for in both, a brother’s errors are “uncovered,” and he is attacked for his own good. What can this be but projection? For his errors lie in the minds of his interpreters, for which they punish him.
A Course in Miracles: Complete & Annotated Edition, T-12.I.6:1-3

Let’s look at the words in this quotation and try to understand what they mean. The “ego” is the part of us that wants to be separate, and which denies the spiritual union that we are all a part of. When we analyze or interpret someone else’s motivations, we are trying to discover the reasons why he acted the way he did. For example, if someone hit me, I might try to discover why he hit me. I might decide that his reason for hitting me was because he was an evil person, and thus he hit me because he was evil and his motivations were evil. However, how do I know that his motivations were evil? I can only see evil and sin in another person if I see it first in myself. If I see evil in myself, I will also place that evil on other people, and this transmission of bad motivations from myself to another person is called “projection.”

I do not really know that the other person is evil. I just want to call him evil so that I can be justified in attacking him after he seemed to attack me. However, if I forgive myself for all of the things that seem like my sins, if I don’t think of myself as evil, then I won’t project my own “evil” motivation onto another person, and I won’t feel the need to attack him. A Course in Miracles says that there are only two types of actions: acts of love, and acts that ask for help and healing. If I project my own feelings of being evil onto another person, then I won’t be able to offer him the help and healing that he requests and needs. Both loving and unloving acts call for a loving response on my part.

If I project my evil motivations onto another person, and punish him for being “bad,” this just shows that I have not forgiven or accepted myself. If the other person accepts my evaluation of his “bad” motives, then he might either give up hope of being saved from his “bad” self, or project his “bad” motives back onto me and feel that I am treating him unfairly and cruelly. In order for him to get rid of feeling like the worst person in the world, he might analyze and interpret my motives and project his guilt feelings onto me and call me inhuman or cruel for my unloving response.

The way to get out of this cycle of projection and attack is to practice forgiveness. As long as we have not completely forgiven ourselves, we will value projection and attack. If we cannot attack physically, because we are afraid of what society will do to us, then we attack verbally. And if we cannot attack verbally, then we attack by ignoring the person and denying him our love.

Our ego, the part of us that values separation and attack, is something that we made to replace the self that God created. The holy self that God created shares God’s nature and character, but at one point, we believed that our wish to contradict God, our wish to sin, had real effects, and we believed that we deserved to be punished by God for our imagined sin.

However, nothing that God creates can really sin or be corrupted, and it is only our belief in sin that keeps us apart from love and alienated from God. Our false self, the ego, simply needs to be released, and not cherished, so we can know who we really are, know our real self. It took thousands of years for us to make this ego-oriented world of attack, but each time we overlook, or forgive, a “bad” action in ourselves or another, we get closer to the real world of love and forgiveness, and this “real world” on earth is simply a stepping stone to our home in heaven.