Posts Tagged ‘evil’

I just re-watched the haunting movie, The Pianist, and came away with questions that won’t leave me alone.

The story is set in Poland of the second world war with the ghettoizing of all Jews and a corresponding attempt to exterminate them. No matter how many times and different ways that I engage this history the impact is always the same. I am led to reflect on the several thousands of years that our species has roamed the planet, dominated it, and contended with one another for the sake of power or possession. The review is not good. And here is the question, in one form or another: Can you think of any species that has done more harm than our own? And the second is liken unto it: Can we really continue to believe that human nature is “basically good,” that we are getting better every day in every day, that in the long trajectory of civilizations there is really such a thing as progress?

Let’s see, address this over a cup of coffee. Right.

I do think we are the most harmful, destructive species known to earth. Like no other we systematically destroy entire groups for a variety of reasons. We exploit whole planetary systems, wage intercontinental wars, and direct huge sums of resources doing so. Among all the species we know what we are doing as we do it. Animals kill for food or to protect themselves. Instinct takes over. But we are able to carefully plan our malice with deliberate forethought. We’re a menace.

And the history of our species in the world also includes compassion, creativity, gestures of love, sacrificial giving, selfless acts of bravery and kindness, and solidarity with the suffering of the other. Go figure.

Saints and sinners are we.

It is not as simple as attributing vice to primitives from the past or savages in the present. Very often their virtue far exceeds our own. There are monsters in the present day and saints in the past, and vice versa. Heinous acts take place close at hand and far away.

Some would say that the brain is evolving, and we are growing into enlarged and increasing consciousness. Well, in The Pianist, I was reminded that some of the most exceedingly intelligent and  “cultured” people of the time embodied the greatest evil. I have personally witnessed, on a smaller scale, people who were characterized as educated and civilized acting in ways much worse than any simple beast in the wilderness. So intelligence, as a measure alone, does not insure anything approaching moral life, wisdom or love. Sometimes rational intelligence enables exactly the opposite. Nuclear power can light cities or demolish them.

Is there a growing spiritual consciousness? Well, for some. But I think people of deep spirit are in a clear minority, certainly not confined to this particular historical moment. And they are not located in some places and not others. There is a scattering of these centers of spirit. And that’s why, I think, so many religions have ended up doing more harm than good; they were, in the end, not guided by some advanced spiritual awareness but rather by the same human nature that brought about all the suffering in the first place.

We are all these things, of course. And the future is not automatically insured by the development of technology. That may or may not insure progress. Without a clear moral compass, humble connection to the spiritual dimensions of life and some sense of life that transcends the self, the technology we create, in the end, may become our end. Unless guided by a moral hand it becomes an exceptionally efficient and effective tool of destruction. As Alfred said to Bruce Wayne in The Dark Night, “Some men just want to see it all burn.”

The difference will not be found in being either smart or dumb. Evil comes out of both. The difference will not be found in some cultures and not others – virtue and vice are found everywhere. Scratch the surface of respectable people and we are driven by a raw combination of instinctual drives, grasping after survival and a deep longing for something more than all that, what the apostle Paul referred to as our lower and higher natures.

Once upon a time, at the broad intersection of earth and sky, a cross was raised to destroy what God had sent to unite. It is there that we gaze upon an unmasked description of the dark underbelly of our humanity and the self-emptying nature of God’s love. In that vast contrast between the best of what God does and the worst of what we do there exists a latent, potential possibility. The inescapable questions haunt us: Which shall it be? Will higher spiritual consciousness overcome the reptile in each of us? In the end, can something as simple as faith triumph over evil and all its attendants?

These are the questions of the world. They have not gone away. We must answer them, individually or collectively, or else the reign of the worst will eclipse another kind of reign, the reign of love, peace and joy. Such a way may actually be foreign to our human nature, unnatural when compared to the track record of our species. In other ways not. However it turns I’m betting on resurrection. I’m believing that, in the end, a different kind of reign will overcome, even when the darkness seems impenetrable.


that truth endures, even when covered, even when twisted

that integrity is hard, and staying the course in the face of opposition is even harder

that you must not sigh about the evil intention in yourself, but face it, as you would a person

that you must stare evil in the eye, and not turn away, even when you suffer for it

that all the regret in the world is useless without learning the lessons shown only by failures

that the world is kept sane by the courage of a few people who dare tell the truth to a mistaken majority

that hatred consumes the hater, not the hated

that revenge creates more of the same

that remaining true to one’s vision of life does not always lead to prosperity, but it does lead to peace

that the seed of every human collapse, failure, and tragedy is the lack of love

that attachment to things brings suffering, and that suffering is willing to harm the neighbor

that the easy way is often not the best way

that our view of God is always, every time, less than the reality of God

that the past is not really past, nor the future out of reach, but all really present

that everything is one, and we are one with it

that the world unfolds one atom at a time, in a trillion ways

that kindness is the form of love that transforms the fever of despair

that we are limited most by the limits of our minds and imagination

that compassion cares without harming the other by offering the wrong thing

that there is always more unseen than seen, unknown than known, and undone than done

that every breath is a gift, every step a mystery, and every moment a sacrament

that we have it wrong more than we have it right

that our journey is short, though it seems long

that we can’t control the universe

that today’s worry is sufficient unto the day

that every stranger has a mother

and we are all born of the same womb