A Book of Sparks
The Flowers of Evil
I've done a lot of reflecting on evil lately. In our arrogance, we very much underestimate the power of evil. We assume that we can commit evil and direct the results toward a specific, limited, self-styled goal. We assume that we can character assassinate our friend and not assassinate ourselves. We train 18-year-olds to kill enemy soldiers but arrest them if they kill their wives. We execute the mentally retarded and then we're shocked—shocked!—at Abu Ghraib. Here's my theory: Evil instead festers in some invisible realm and then breaks out with even more virulent force, often in the midst of the very person or people who perpetrated it.
On the global level, take the unmanned drones (with such names as Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk) operated by the U.S. military that zero in and kill people in their homes or cafés, often taking out innocent bystanders as well. These anonymous attacks don't prevent further violence; they create ever more horrifying violence within our own borders. Guantanamo doesn't dissuade Islamic fundamentalists from further attacks on Americans; Guantanamo results in the psychotic killer who lined up those Amish schoolgirls. Nagasaki didn't prevent another Pearl Harbor; Nagasaki spawned 9/11.
Love reconciles, unifies, leads us to act and think consistently; evil devises ever bigger lies. "Cunning, baffling, powerful," we alcoholics often describe the hold alcohol comes to have over our psyches. "Insanity," we say, is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
To be for violence in one situation and against it in another leads to spiritual schizophrenia. Recently, for example, I learned of an organization called The Genocide Awareness Project that purports to be against abortion and spreads its message—vociferously defends the "right" to spread its message—by featuring bloody, blown-up photos of aborted fetuses. This M.O. is not based on any claim that it converts hearts. The organization doesn't say, "We take this approach because after careful thought we've decided this is how we can best show our love for mothers, for children, for life." It seems to say instead, We show violent photos because other people show violent photos and we won't stop until they stop.
And then, to prove its point, it features on its website the violent photos that other people take: an Afghan woman whose nose was sliced off by the Taliban, the corpse of an unarmed Iranian protestor, his face covered in blood. Not in order to foster compassion for the victims, not to decry violence, but to say Time magazine and FoxNews do it so we should get to do it, too. If that is not spiritual schizophrenia, I don't know what is. If that is not the mindset of an 8-year-old sociopath-in-formation, I don't know what is.
Bloody pictures of aborted fetuses don't result in fewer abortions, or more joy, or the healing of the terrible wound between men and women; they inflame the same twisted blood lust that led to the recent posting of Osama bin Laden's bruised, bloated, presumably dead face (the photos later turned out to have been fakes) all over the internet. Blood lust might convert someone, to something, but you can be sure it will not in any way, shape, or form be a conversion to the message of Christ.
Like the drinker awaking from a long narcotic sleep to the fact that he or she is never going to be able to drink like a normal person, the whole world needs to wake up to the fact that violence is not making things better. Violence has never made things better. Violence never will make things better. In fact violence inevitably makes things worse. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed: "Good may stay at a certain level but evil never does."
The reason we subconsciously don't want to wake from a narcotic sleep is that we know we are going to have to change our lives. We are going to have to find an organizing principle, a basis for our economy, and a way to respond to all that baffles and frightens and threatens us other than violence. We are going to have to admit that to believe we can commit violence and remain untouched, uncorrupted, ourselves is insane.
For two thousand years, individuals, nations, even the Church, if nothing else by Her silence, have been saying: You go first. You stop waging war and we'll stop waging war. You stop promoting hatred and violence and we'll stop promoting hatred and violence. You start acting as if you really believe Christ meant what he said when he told Peter to put away his sword, and we'll start acting like we really believe Christ meant what he said when he told Peter to put away his sword.
Someone has to go first. Someone has to believe: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt. 6:33). Someone has to say that if Christ—Christ!—refused to exercise violence toward his enemies, then we have to refuse, too. Someone has to say, as the child did to the emperor with no clothes, There is no such thing as a just war. The thing about enemies is that your own enemy always seems to pose an exception. Here's what Christ established once and for all: There are no exceptions.
I quake for those who jubilate over a photo, doctored or not, of the face of a fellow murdered human being. That is not to celebrate the death of violence. That is to teach others to hope that one day that face is yours.
Heather King is an ex-lawyer, ex-drunk Catholic convert with three memoirs: Parched (the dark years); Redeemed (crawling toward the light); and Shirt of Flame (forthcoming - her year of wandering around Koreatown, L.A. "with" St. Thérèse of Lisieux). You can find Heather on Facebook. She blogs at shirtofflame.blogspot.com.