For some set of reasons I cannot fathom, I feel myself to revisit pretty much everything I thought I knew and believed about the entire concept of evil. My caption in the picture is more than a little coy. While in seminary, I intellectually wrestled with all sorts of evil: the Holocaust, racism, and theodicy itself as human beings sought in a variety of ways to account for the reality of evil even as we affirm ours is a good God whose love for us is beyond our ability to comprehend.
I actually came to all sorts of conclusions that I now suspect are all wrong. Taking a look at something as huge, monstrous, and horrifying as evil is not something anyone, ever, should do lightly. While an undergraduate, I thought it would a be a good idea to research Naziism. This was my first real, in-depth, research in this whole reality. Nothing prepared me for the psychic toll it took on me. Looking back, I suppose I was both too young and too glib to comprehend anything as awful as that. There comes a point, however, when anyone encountering any kind of evil suddenly ceases to believe in goodness; this is what Nietzsche meant when he said the abyss stares in to us. When seized by that relentless black stare, it can undermine all we think we know.
And yet, for whatever reason, I’m forced to the conclusion that my far-too-tidy, far-too-self-satisfying and self-satisfied conclusions regarding this rather broad and wide subject matter are, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. Which leaves me in the unenviable place of having, yet again, to place myself on the edge and look again. This time, however, I do so without anything other than the understanding that I will not – no one can, really – grasp the nothingness that will, regardless of all my efforts, slide in to me. One way or another, this will happen.move to the light with
Which means, of course, I need to do this in stages. For my own psychic health if nothing else. Practicing any spiritual discipline is difficult; the discipline of discerning the truth about that darkness, how it is always both outside and within me, and all the guises it wears to insinuate itself in to our lives, our families, our communities, and our world: these are frightening thoughts even as I type them. Of course, some folks always say, “Well, leave well-enough alone.” Except, I can’t. Because this is something I feel I must do. One cannot move to the light unless one is willing to go through all sorts of darkness.
I find it interesting that, wanting to find something – anything! – with which to begin a deeper exploration of the topic, I ended up starting where I’d left off: With philosophical and political explanations that, while certainly necessary, are precisely those I feel the need to set to one side. While I recognize the need to account for the previous century’s many adventures in mass dehumanization and death, I no longer believe even the best efforts in that regard address the variety of realities that wound up producing the same result – millions dead for the simple fact of their existence.
More important, for me, is the inadequacy of any discussion or understanding of evil that restricts itself to social forces and political realities. Which is not to say they cannot be evil. It is when we only see evil here, rather than both in individual lives as well as across political ideologies and societies, that we need to take care we don’t reduce evil – no matter how horrifying – to the political grotesqueries of the 20th century.
Finally, and most important, I am convinced that I have to rethink my approach to matters of spiritual evil. Which is not to say I buy the whole thing about humans being pawns in a war between God and Satan; that’s kindergarten theology. Still, the reality of evil and the near infinity of faces it offers the world through which to insinuate itself in to our lives, compels me to consider that the terror individuals face in their lives might well stem as much from spiritual forces as it does chemical imbalances.
As I said: this is an enormous topic; it poses dangers to one’s sense of psychic health; it seems I might be not so much discarding what I previously believed as I am reaching the point where those previous answers (or whatever they might have been) no longer satisfy. I know this isn’t something to do quickly. I do know that, rather than answers, I think I might be looking more for a description of the many disguises evil uses to destroy us, our lives, our families, and our world.