Apparently mankind struggles with Evil. Randy and I certainly are struggling with it. When you’ve co-existed with Evil — as Randy did he lived in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe’s reign of terror — your perspective on “evil” or “Evil” is different than someone in America accusing Donald Trump of being Evil. Or a Trump supporter calling a Democrat “evil”.
It’s not that anyone’s wrong in their accusation. It’s a gut check we’re making as the temperatures rise all around us. Is the word “evil” conjuring things in our heads that are less than evil — still bad — but not on the level of, say, a Robert Mugabe?
Words are incredibly powerful. As we rear back to throw the word “evil” in our current discourse, are we sure it’s really what we’re talking about? Who’s the final arbiter of “evil”? Is anyone?
Or is everyone?
Most importantly, what can we do to heal a fractured world where the two sides see each other as “evil”?
Notes & Sources
If Christian doctrine says humans are evil because of Eve (and the doctrines want us to believe this literally) then the idea of evil is already twisted.
Every human (whether Christian or not), walks in the door (from a Christian perspective) already sinful, compromised to their core by something (a literary creation no less) that had nothing whatsoever to do with them. And, if you’re female? The shaming goes double.
That’s like hating on women because you don’t like the Hermione character from the Harry Potter books.
As someone who personally has been accused of committing a crime neither I nor my people committed — conspiracy to commit murder — and whose tribe has been subjected to genocide — you’ll have to understand if I tend toward being a canary in the coal mine here.
I heard — with my own ears — white supremacists (and unabashed Trump supporters) chanting “Jews will not replace us”.
Donald Trump called those people “fine people, too”.
History says to me, ignore this moment at your peril.
I would rather guess wrong that this IS a pivot point of history then wish I had guessed right from inside a concentration camp.
Let’s go away from the word “EVIL”.
Instead, let’s break it down into degrees — starting from naughty and going all the way up to “flat out unacceptable” — avoiding “evil” in any way.
When do we get to the “unacceptable to anyone with a conscience” level of bad behavior?
Is anything to the other side of that “evil”?
Who gets to give evil a name? Does the person committing evil get to say “no, they’re not evil”?
The question is often more important than the answer; at least if we are really trying to create good in the world. This is because the question is directed by assumptions about the problem we are trying to solve. We have to test the assumptions beneath the question. Otherwise we may be asking the wrong question. A question narrowed by incorrect assumptions makes it much more difficult to bring about real change.
Take Alan‘s question at the end of the last podcast. “Can we compromise with evil?“
There are a whole set of assumptions behind this question. For the purposes of this podcast, two are most critical. First, that we have an objective view of evil. The question is posed in such a way that we are uncompromised with the evil we are discussing. It is wholly other and we are looking down upon it needing to determine it’s fate. This surfaces the second assumption; that we are at a tipping point in history which, if things go the wrong way, it will be catastrophic. These two assumptions give urgency to our response and narrow it down to two answers. Either we eradicate this evil or do we get our hands dirty by not bringing down the hammer of justice as the situation, and our future, demands?
Both of these assumptions are problematic from a general human point of view and more specifically from a Christian point of view. We are not objective when it comes to evil and this election is not a tipping point in history (unless we make it one).
First, Christians believe the human race is already compromised by evil. The story of human compromise begins with Adam and Eve. The point of the story is clear whether you take it literally or not. In Genesis 3 the first humans made a choice to compromise with evil. Over the next 8 chapters that decision impacted all aspects of human life and brought us to where we are today. Genesis 3 was developed theologically by St. Augustine (4th century) and given a creative, literary shape in Milton’s Paradise Lost about 1,000 years later. Throughout this development it was clear that evil is something that has compromised all of humanity (and had a significant effect on nature). We can’t take an objective view of evil.
Second, we simply are not in a situation, as a nation, in which this election will decide our fate. I was ordained as a pastor in Mozambique, in Southern Africa. My wife and I arrived in the country after 40 years of brutal civil war. The rebels had eagerly destroyed all of the infrastructure in the country as part of their “strategy”. Over 1 million people had died from the fighting or from starvation in a country whose population was about 14 million people. 5.7 million of the surviving were displaced internally and another 1.7 were refugees in other countries. Now that is a tipping point. Yet life continues in Mozambique. We are nowhere near this kind of a tipping point in the United States. Further, I lived in Zimbabwe under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. A Zimbabwean human rights lawyer “disappeared” while I was there. Yet, as in Mozambique, life goes on. It isn’t easy. But it continues.
Let me suggest a better question. It isn’t riddled with panic or assuming an objective point of view. It has its own assumptions. But I believe it will be a much more helpful question so that we might bring real change. Here it is: How did we get to this point as a nation, that our two presidential candidates are white, male, septuagenarians? And, a corollary question: How will we move from here to create good in our country?