Thursday, March 11, 2010

Desperately Seeking Satan

Why must we hate? To answer that question I want to look at the nature of evil itself. Evil has been called many things; the devil, temptation, hatred, even the absence of good. I can remember in my first church in South Bend, IN we had a problem with cars being broken into during Sunday worship. While discussing what to do about this problem the board ran the range of explanations and solutions. “Maybe they are doing this because they hate Unitarians” or “This is the result of our capitalistic society, what we need is a revolution”, or "why are we even driving cars to church". Beyond calling the police, one member of the board, completely serious, offered to wait outside until he caught someone in the act and then explain to them how that was hurting other people. Being a native New Yorker, I declined his offer on the grounds that he might get shot. We ended up posting guards with cell phones to call the police.

Most of us don’t like to name evil as a force unto itself. After all we know what happens when you demonize another, we were once burned at the stake for our liberal views. Calling the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” or North Korea and Iraq “the Axis of Evil” is only the tip of the ice berg. And yet, I don’t think any of us would deny that we are capable of doing some pretty horrendous things. In fact, innocence seems to invite evil into our lives. Is it any wonder that we feel the need to caution our children about being hurt. I believe evil exists but it is born from fear and ignorance more than demonic possession.

Last week the local mosque was denied a building permit by the city council on grounds that the traffic would be too much. As I wrote to the editor, “What is sadder still is the not so thinly veiled fear (the building of the new mosque) engendered in people but that so many are unaware that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and loving people. After following the (paper's) blog on this issue, I am convinced that it is ignorance and fear that are more in play than parking. Invoking thanks to Jesus for the council's decision is particularly painful. Hate is not the doctrine of any religion.”

As Jonah Blank wrote in his book Arrow of the Blue Skinned God: “Most often evil lies not in the ends but in the means..Humanity’s finest aspirations produce its most hideous crimes – as soon as the goals come to dominate the methods (evil springs forth). Mao dreamed of a perfect human society and instituted the Cultural Revolution killing as many as 40 million. Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler all had visions beyond personal aggrandizement and that is what made them so dangerous. Dreams twisted but dreams nonetheless.” (Arrow of the Blue Skinned God, Double Day: 1993)

Evil exists in the shadow of us all. And evil seems to exist as a means to an end. It’s not that we want to do evil towards Muslims or women or the Afghans or the Earth, it’s that we are afraid and want to stop the fear, by any means. But just as evil exists in our souls so does love. The part we have to play is to shine more light into the darkness of fear and hate. We must name fear and hate where we see it although, I tend now to shy away from calling people and institutions evil, for in the name calling we fall prey to that same shadow. So then we must work to alleviate suffering and engender understanding. Simply standing witness, on the side of love, can loosen our need for Satan. We have the opportunity every day. Rather than blaming another, perhaps we would do better to create understanding. Rather than anger, why not a non-anxious presence? Be courageous in the face of bigotry. Tell people their racist or sexist or homophobic jokes aren’t funny.

Let's stop desperately seeking a satan to feed our fear.

With grace and grit, John