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Letters from an Ancient Mind

My dear young friend,

It does not matter how learned is your doctor of the mind. He is wrong. Worse, he has no concept of the terrible damage he delivers to the soul. I see that I did not make this clear; please, for your own sake, read carefully.

Is it not obvious to you that a sense of shame is a prerequisite to true repentance? Let me give you an example.

Suppose, on the first part, that you enter an unfamiliar city. Further suppose that the city has a law which requires all who enter to wear a turban. You are unaware of that law until the magistrates stop you. What is your reaction? You apologize; you promise to wear a turban from then on; you purchase one immediately. But in no sense can you claim that you have repented. You have simply remedied a mistake and assured the keepers of the law that you intended no harm. Your fault was ignorance. As long as it is not willful ignorance, there is no shame in it – though there may be penalties.

For the second part, consider that your anger rises and you strike an elderly man in your wrath. Your fault is then well known to you; your apology deep and humble. Indeed, repentance is the right reaction to such a deed.

Now, you must see that shame is that which gives rise to hypocrisy. If a man is ashamed of his deeds, he can either repent – or pretend that he is innocent. In that sense, hypocrisy pays tribute to virtue.

Your doctor of the mind is quite correct in disapproving of hypocrisy. But to insist that the real issue is that one should not have a sense of shame is indeed a horror. He concludes that shame is a disease of the mind. It is not. It is the right reaction to sin. If you have done something wrong you should be ashamed of yourself. You should not trot down to this leech and obtain his herbs to relieve that sense of shame.

Do you not see where this leads? If shame be a malady of the mind, then you have eliminated hypocrisy by eliminating the righteousness it pretends to. To eliminate the fraud you have destroyed the truth. You call this a great advance in science. In so doing you exalt the barbarian as if he were a hero. The destruction of your civilization cannot be far off.

I put it to you: if this be your thought, then is it not true that your heroes are not noble men, but men of violence and anger? Men of no self control, but only of physical strength? Barbarians! It is bad enough to have the barbarian at the gate. It is far worse to become one inside.

Greatly grieved at your thought, I remain

Isaac the alchemist

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