Monday, May 31, 2010

More thoughts on evil

So - writing that last post certainly didn't help me to STOP thinking about the problem of evil! Here are some bits and pieces that may or may not come across as being coherent.

Evil is a perennial problem. It messes everything up. It lies and cheats and steals and mocks and gloats. It manipulates and tempts. It cannot be trusted - ever. It is pervasive and persistent. It is always near - always lurking in the shadows and dancing in the light. And every person and every generation decides how they are going to deal with evil.

The three monkeys who say, "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" embody one attitude toward our relationship with evil (See for some background). It may keep you out of trouble, but honestly it's not a very inspiring posture.

I confess that I find it tempting to just stay out of evil's way and sometimes I'm not proud of it. Sometimes I want to have more courage to take evil on. For sure I want to see myself as being on the side of good. I don't want to be naive. I don't want to put my head in the sand and just fill my eyes and ears and mouth with pleasant and uplifting sounds and sights. But I'm noticing a disturbing trend, especially as I watch popular culture and how it appeals to the generation of young people - the teens and twenty-somethings. Always a rebellious age, but it seems to me that as a generation, they have adopted a reckless attitude toward evil. It's like they think they can mock it - toy with it - call its bluff - flirt with it. But still be able to walk away. Still be able to resist entrapment. Still be in control.

The post-modern aversion to absolute truth may have opened this generation up to a dangerous lack of respect for the power of absolute evil.

The truth is, I think, that there is a very fine line between good and evil. But it IS a line and we can't straddle it. We are always on one side of it or the other. We might for a time be able to cross back and forth - but that's a very dangerous game and one that most of us won't win.

There's a term in social sciences these days to describe people who defy the negative circumstances that they're in and manage to survive and even thrive against all odds. The term is positive deviance (see for one explanation of this concept). It's a neat thing. It's a woman who, in spite of all kinds of economic, emotional and physical hardships and oppression, has not only survived but also manages to provide for her children. Where others are crushed by life's circumstances, she finds a way. And here's the thing. When it's POSITIVE deviance, she does it without giving into the temptation of evil. She does it without cheating or lying or stealing. She does it by abiding by the rules, not by ignoring them or spitting on them.

In this generation I see an interesting combination of things at work: there is a longing for justice and goodness but it's mixed with a loathing for all pretense and then there is the arrogance of youth that presumes immortality in the face of danger. Danger? Bring it on! They ignore our words of caution and warning as feeble and cowardly and impotent babblings of a pathetic generation which spends most of its time pretending that things are not what they appear. Where I might try to tip toe around evil, they march right up to it and think that they might even beat evil at its own game. They might run with evil - laughing at our cautions - but in the end, they think that they can turn it in. Of course many youth will even laugh at our insistence to differentiate between good and evil. They may think it's all an illusion and that all that matters is the thrill of the ride - seeking out and squeezing every opportunity for pleasure. For a season they may be content with this philosophy of life but there may be moments when disenchantment casts a shadow on the good times. Drugs or alcohol or a good shopping spree might banish the disenchantment for a time, but at odd times you'll find it nibbling at the edges of your carefree contentment.

Evil is real. Hiding from it isn't the solution, but neither is it wise to make it your friend.

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