The end of evil

Dear Dissonance,

In my haste to write to you I forgot to give you some context on modern churches that should encourage you in your life’s work.

Mainline churches are going down the tubes. It isn’t even funny to make fun of snooty country club Episcopalians anymore, for example, because the only ones left are in assisted living. And what used to be known as the protestant Vatican, the National Council of Churches, left its beautiful New York City headquarters overlooking the Hudson River for a much smaller space in Washington. Apparently churches with no doctrine do not appeal to many modern Americans.

While at first glance this might seem to be a negative for us since they have been such faithful corrupters for Our Father, it is actually good news because fewer people are going to church than ever before. Even in our favorite pews an occasional soul would attempt to know God, but their demise means fewer people will learn even the basics of Christianity. It is as if the great de-conversion from Christianity that started with the Enlightenment is reaching its final stages.

According to the latest research one in five Americans are “nones” – people with no faith or those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. The statistics are even better for those under 30, where one third of Americans fall into that category – more than at any time that was measured before. Think of the opportunity! Instead of destroying beliefs we can now focus on preventing them from happening, a much easier job.

The best thing about the news is that it means all churches are hurting, not just our friends who are going down the tubes. And it speaks to a transformation of American culture that is permanently in our favor.

Part of the reason is that culture itself is an endangered species in America. People still talk about the “American Dream” but no one knows what it is! Those who use it either falsely conjure it for political reasons or live in a bubble and don’t get out much, like the last Republican to run for President, Mitt Romney. His slogan was laughably “Restore America”! When there is no culture and people don’t believe in having a dominant one, how dumb was it to run as if the one discarded mattered?

But I digress. Getting back to the heart of the matter, look around you. It is not only the yoke of religion that has been thrown off but all establishment yokes. It is as if when the one was found wanting, all were. It is as if all were prisons holding the individual back from the true expression of his soul. That is why there is no high and low culture anymore – just the dominant one, which is won by the people with the best branding and marketing staff. Something called Piss Christ – a depiction of Christ on the cross suspended in urine – was exhibited at major museums around the country. I could not imagine something like that happening even 50 years ago. And those garish Andy Warhol prints of celebrities and prosaic items like soup cans sell for millions. He was way ahead of his time. As one art critic noted, brilliantly, I might add, “Warholism is the dominant ism of our day, grounded as it is in the assumption that popular culture trumps all other culture, and that all culture must become popular culture in order to succeed.”

Our patients also live in a time when evil is almost non-existent to their reality, which I find so satisfying because it shows how well we are doing our job. Americans do not see us when children torture animals or in bankers who felled the financial system or in terrorists who kill them or men like Dr. Kermit Gosnell who made sure hundreds of children could never reach their potential or even breathe. They instead blame poverty, or racism or political parties.

It’s amazing sometimes, but evil still shocks them, as if the concept is unfathomable, as if 19 men didn’t kill thousands of Americans in 2001, and as if tyrants and their abettors throughout history didn’t murder millions of people.

The news reports about the two men accused of the Boston marathon bombings made this obvious to me. So many described the pair as “normal” young men, especially the younger of the two Russian-born Chechen brothers.

One classmate of the younger brother at his college told a newspaper, “He was a pothead, a normal pothead. I couldn’t even imagine him being mad at someone, let alone hurting someone.”

Another told a reporter, “He was really social and hilarious. He was one of those people who would crack one joke and make your night.”

Seeing his dark side would not have taken much effort, but none of his fellow party goers asked him about the things that mattered to him or his deepest desires – or at least none of the quotes that I have seen about him speak to that side of the young man who confessed to planting two bombs with his brother that killed three people and injured more than 200 and assaulting and killing a police officer.

If we devils are to be fair, of course it is shocking to humans when someone they know does something agreeable to Our Father. But it is as if collectively they do not understand that evil exists except for the moment it happens or as an event to cover, not as something present in human nature itself. It’s a little discouraging on some level because it is nice to be recognized for a job well done, but our anonymity serves us well in the long term.

Turn on the news or watch any sitcom and our nonexistence becomes immediately apparent. All lifestyle choices are equal in American culture as are all faiths, which has almost silenced substantive discussions about the largest issues in life for people living in fear of being labeled a racist, homophobe, or hater.

Their language reflects this decision to suspend critical thought. Many news outlets, for example, no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.” Among the reasons for the change is that interest groups find the term dehumanizing and lacking in diversity. The Associated Press (AP) said it is changing its widely used “Stylebook” because “’illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

Likewise, the government does not like to label people or actions with terms that could provoke questions about the non-judgmental dominant worldview. That is why the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood by Maj. Nidal Hasan in 2009 is classified as “workplace violence” instead of a terrorist attack despite his screaming of “Allahu Akbar” during the massacre and despite the numerous emails found between him and the radical American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

This divorce of moral significance from the words they choose likely will not end soon.

As I noted earlier, one in three under 30 claim no religious affiliation and so many of the rest of us view faith as a means to self-fulfillment rather than a worldview with right and wrong.

The problem is that no matter how hard they try to erase judgment from their vocabulary and culture, it cannot eliminate the dark side of human nature. But understanding, anticipating, and ultimately labeling evil will become more difficult for Americans because of their cultural abhorrence of judging people.

That is good for us.  Take heart.

Your affectionate aunt,

Pandemonium


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