Have you seen Evil lately? Do you know where it lives? How big it is? Is it educated or illiterate, rich or poor, gregarious or bashful? Is it Muslin, Christian, or Jew? Is it hideously ugly or stunningly beautiful? What color is Evil? Is evil something we are, or something we do, or something we do not do?
Isolated sources are not the problem
I have been giving a lot of thought lately to this abstract concept called evil. Historians, philosophers, and theologians alike have struggled with descriptions of it throughout the ages. It is startlingly thought provoking to realize that some heralded theorizers find it easier to deny the existence of a loving creator than to deny the existence of evil. However, its existence is overwhelmingly validated, by virtually all the world’s philosophical giants. It is, no doubt, alive and well and roams this earth with unfettered abandon.
All of the world’s great literature is little more than beautiful expositions of the struggles between good and evil. From the Holy Scriptures, Gods inerrant word, through Shakespeare, right up to today’s best wordsmiths, Evil has been cast in a leading role!
American writers have embraced the reoccurring theme of evil splendidly in their well crafted stories. Emerson, Whitman, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and countless others all used Evil and man’s inhumanity to man as critical themes of their works. Faulkner famously described, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the artist’s duty to write of “the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths.” Evil, of course, being among those “universal truths.”
The world is intrinsically sinful
My reformed faith tradition addresses evil in no uncertain terms. We are all at birth, by our own nature, and therefore by our own choice, depraved and corrupt. Of course, we all have Good in us, too. However, whatever Good that is in us has been tainted with Evil, more times than not, without our conscious realization. Evil is real and it touches everything. It is only through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ that our moral failures can be checked and evil resisted.
That’s pure Calvinist theology and I believe it with all my heart. My life experiences confirm its veracity daily!
In my view the sad, disturbing truth is that some Evil acts are done by people who never consciously decided to be either good or evil.
Many acts are done by clueless souls, who are simply tediously obtuse and unaware of the evil, immoral consequences of their actions.
My recent obsession with the topic of evil in the world has me more convinced than ever that we are all intrinsically sinful. Apart from our creator’s Grace, we can do no good. It seems clear to me that everything fell apart way back in the Garden of Eden with the sin of our first ancestors, Adam and Eve. We all inherited their DNA and their sinful nature. Absent Gods intervention, we will all seek our own sinful desires.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church in Rome, summed it up in unambiguous language; “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does well, not even one.”
These sinful and, yes, evil inclinations of humanity are what require the establishment of civil government.
Recognizing Evil’s influence in the world
In a more perfect world, governments and political leaders would all be ordained by God and would rule in accordance with his will. Of course that is not the case! After all, even the best intentioned among us are inherently fallible and subject to our sinful natures.
History is replete with spectacular examples of evil governments and evil public policies. We need look no further than Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s soviet Russia, Milosevic’s Serbia, Pinochet’s Chile or countless other cruel, evil dictatorial regimes to clearly see the ugly face of evil. These are, in my view, examples of evil for which there is no absolution! Evil has many faces, but they are seldom as glaringly obvious as those conspicuous examples. In reality, most evil looks a lot like you! It looks a lot like me! It is the face of humanity!
Have you seen Evil lately? Do you recognize it in today’s politics?
Our world is literally on fire. Climate change is real! Can you imagine that God approves of our destruction of his creation? I cannot! Is it evil to deny the scientific fact that we are killing our planet? I think it is! Are policies designed to gain political advantage rather than protect God’s creation evil? My answer is a resounding yes!
Political power without compassion is the worst kind of evil. Its face is always smiling while it stirs the passions of the masses and seduces them into ignoring the evils that surround them. To live for today and not only ignore, but deny, existential threats is a concept that is not merely wrong, but outright evil!
Recently it was announced that the United States will not be giving flu vaccinations to migrant families being detained in cages. This policy is being implemented in spite of the fact that public health officials are pleading that the inoculations be given. Also, despite the fact that the flu has caused the death of at least three children held in our custody this year. In my view this miserly policy is not only evil, but also stupid! Stupidity is an old growth forest that autocrats, demagogues and self-serving leaders carefully cultivate, and democracies are obligated to clear cut and insure that reforestation is never encouraged! Stupidity and evil are often related; they are at least first cousins, if not siblings!
Even close to home in Mississippi
There is something greedy, petty and mean about a government administration that has argued against providing its captives bare essentials like blankets, toothpaste and soap! Something is terribly wrong with an administration whose leader brazenly declares himself “the chosen one” and cavalierly dismisses an eleven year old little girl crying “my dad is no criminal” as he was swept up in an ICE raid right here in Mississippi. There is something wrong with a government that is unmoved by the sight of a man and his toddler daughter, dead and lying face down in the mud of the Rio Grande River! There is something wrong with a government that argues this kind of get-tough cruelty is the hallmark of policies designed to send signals to a bigoted voter base and freely admits it’s all meant as a deterrent to those who are desperately seeking refuge in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The meanness is no doubt cruel, but is it evil? I think it is! But who is to blame? Is it me? Is it you? Perhaps, it is!
I’m reminded of the cute little iconic monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil! The monkeys’ obvious message is to flee from evil. But, if we see and hear the evil that is all around and don’t speak against it, does that not become evil itself?
We should reflect on Hannah Arendt’s controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” The book details the trial of Adolph Eichmann, who was the chief architect of the Holocaust.
Arendt argues that Eichmann was merely a “desk murderer” who lacked the understanding to conceive of the evil he was committing. He was simply following orders! Doing his job! “The banality of evil,” she called it!
Pretty provocative stuff, wouldn’t you say? I think it’s worthwhile for all of us to bare this in mind as our government of, by, and for the people inflicts needless cruelties upon the vulnerable, the dispossessed, indeed “the least of these.”
Alarm clocks go off in every time zone around the world at different times every day, signaling it’s time to get up. Just like you, just like me, Evil wakes up. It brushes its teeth. It eats its breakfast. It reads about the many evils in the world and simply shakes its head in disgust, but says nothing! It gets the kids off to school. On the radio on the way to work it hears about more atrocities and once again merely grimaces, but says nothing!
And then, Evil goes to work and does its job!
ICE raids in Mississippi: What about charging the companies hiring illegal immigrants?