A Chapter of a Rule of Life On evils
The problem with evils is that they are often so lovely. Why would we reach for them if they were not. And they are insidious, they attach to us and they grow by feeding off of our goodness.
There is no such thing as Evil. There are only evils. Remember what Augustine said, that God has crushed the serpent’s head under the resurrection but that its tail still trashes around wreaking destruction. The evils you see are these post-resurrection skirmishes. That is what you see. Jesus has vanquished but God seems willing to allow evils to run rampant.
Remember also what you tell children, because it helps you to calm about the evils you see: an apple pie would be bland without its spices of clove, cinnamon and allspice – and yet, a spoonful of them (though it will knock out diarrhea in a flash!) will taste bitter. The evils we see and experience are like the clove in a teaspoon. It is a concentrate of an ingredient to life which keeps us from being hopelessly silly.
Most of the evils in my life come because of a lack of mindfulness. I am simply not paying attention. I am not noticing. This happens to me when I am tired or over-committed. So this chapter of my rule must join other chapters about health and sabbath and work in coaching me to be mindful so that I am less likely to promote my evils. I may not be able to stop the evils of others – in commission or omission. But I can do something about the evils of which I am capable. So that is where I must begin.
If I can spend the time needed in the morning with mindfulness meditation and in the evening with recollection – then and only then will I see the seeds of evil forming and perhaps find the strength to pick them out and discard them.
What does Holy Week mean, but the chance to see evils unfold even for God. And in standing there, attending those services, watching that story unfold moment by moment, year after year, I will be reminded that evils exist, that they are not hard to see coming and that sometimes we must simply stand firm and let people who perpetrate evils, do so, even on us. But then we bandage, we heal and we get back to the work of mindfulness so that we are not one day the perpetrator.
In the end. Fighting evils can only be done by our own awareness. Starting there, we can fight evils very well indeed. And must. For there are many innocents out there. And you are one too.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us… It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”
― Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
“Evil isn’t the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it’s a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference.”
― Jim Butcher, Vignette
“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
― T.S. Eliot
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées
“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Son, the greatest trick the Devil pulled was convincing the world there was only one of him.”
― David Wong, John Dies at the End
“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
― Simone Weil
“Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats at our own table ….”
― W.H. Auden, Collected Poems
“Evil is committed without effort, naturally, fatally; goodness is always the product of some art.”
― Charles Baudelaire
“Merely to resist evil with evil by hating those who hate us and seeking to destroy them, is actually no resistance at all. It is active and purposeful collaboration in evil that brings the Christian into direct and intimate contact with the same source of evil and hatred which inspires the acts of his enemy. It leads in practice to a denial of Christ and to the service of hatred rather than love.”
― Thomas Merton, Passion for Peace; Reflections on War and Nonviolence
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.
• Seeds of Contemplation (1949).
Yesterday I came across Thomas Merton’s prologue to his book Raids on the Unspeakable, and it struck me as an excellent reflection for Good Friday. I immediately thought of a variety of ways in which his words from 1965 fit today, and was tempted to write about that. But then I thought: No. These words stand by themselves, and today, in the shadow–or is it light?–of the cross, they accuse and comfort. Take them in, and see what they do to you:
The Unspeakable. What is this? Surely, an eschatological image. It is the void that we encounter, you and I, underlying the announced programs, the good intentions, the unexampled and universal aspirations for the best of all possible worlds. It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience, the void which drawls in the zany violence of Flannery O’Connor’s Southerners, or hypnotizes the tempted conscience in Julien Green.
It is the emptiness of “the end.” Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity, which can be broken open again to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. Yet nowhere do you despair of this miracle. You seem to say that, for you, this is precisely what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of The Unspeakable. I am glad you say this, but you will not find too many agreeing with you, even among Christians.
….The goodness of the world, stricken or not, is incontestable and definitive. If it is stricken, it is also healed in Christ. But nevertheless one of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that it is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable.
Those who are at present so eager to be reconciled with the world at any price must take care not to be reconciled with it under this particular aspect: as the nest of The Unspeakable. This is what too few are willing to see….
You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. You agree? Good. Then go with my blessing. But I warn you, do not expect to make many friends. As for the Unspeakable—his implacable presence will not be disturbed by a little fellow like you!