I spend about as much time as any other well-informed person being concerned about the problems America is facing and, like everyone else, not having a clue about what I can do to help ameliorate the situation. I feel that I should be doing whatever I can. I certainly agree with Edmund Burke’s observation that evil can triumph only if good people do nothing. But evil has no objective, ontological existence. It consists entirely of the absence of the good, as darkness is merely the absence of light, not a black fog that can overwhelm the light. Only adult human beings can intend evil, and evil is always intentional. It is simply gratuitous malevolence, the intent to harm another human being (or perhaps any living being) when doing so is unnecessary. As Scott Peck argued, evil is a mental illness. It could conceivably be cured and eradicated. And that should be a goal of any and all genuine religions.
It is a politically incorrect and inconvenient statistical fact that half our population has, by definition, an IQ below 100. The range from 90 to 100 constitutes “normal intelligence” and includes roughly half the population. Hence about a quarter of the population has, by definition, an IQ that is below normal. Keep in mind that IQ measures only how fast kids learn in school; it cannot be measured with any scientific validity in adults. Given that, it is still obvious that people differ from one another in their abilities throughout their lives. To deny that people differ in abilities—this is where political correctness comes in—is to deny that one is morally obligated to help those who need help.
The current situation, even in advanced countries (and the US is now much less advanced than most of Europe), is that those who need help are instead lied to, abused, and exploited. Often they do not and cannot understand that they are being lied to. Sometimes they do not understand how and how much they are being abused and exploited. But they do know their lives are not happy.
In addition to those whose disability is genetic in origin, people who suffer from the scourge of unteachability become equally disabled. A person who becomes unwilling and unable to learn anything new becomes more and more out of touch with reality, which is a useful rule of thumb for diagnosing mental illness. Such people also often do not know, or may even deny, that they are being lied to and thereby exploited.
What kind of lies am I talking about? Let me tell you a parable, here reusing some of a blog from about four years ago. Given my essentially Jewish Gnostic theology, I intepret the story of the Three Temptations in the Wilderness (in Matthew) as a haggadah, a teaching story, like many throughout the Bible and the Talmud. In the story, Satan (here still the Prosecuting Attorney in the Court of Heaven, as in Job) offers Jesus the three temptations of wealth, fame, and power, which Jesus rejects. These three temptations, “Let us not be overwhelmed by temptation,” did and still do lead to most of the evil in our world.Instead of great wealth, a spiritually mature person will want only enough to ensure the security of his or her family and, better yet, of the network of people his or her life depends on–but how many Americans have even that much?
Instead of fame, a spiritually mature person will want to love and be loved, and to be appreciated and valued by people whose appreciation is worth having,
Instead of power, a spiritually mature person will want to be useful, to be able to contribute to making society better for all people.
Persons who pursue wealth, fame, and power are, at the very least, accessories to evil. As Scott Peck argued, any supposed religious leader who pursues them is a fraud and a criminal. Any such leader who does not denounce pursuit of these temptations is also a fraud, lacks even a basic understanding of what religion needs to be about.
The problem for people of faith, of any sort of faith at all, who are the huge majority in all human societies, is not the people of other faith communities, but the people who simply don’t care about any sort of religious values or about other human beings, who pursue a life of pure selfishness. I’m pretty sure that is a severe type of mental illness as well.
At least half the population of America has no understanding at all of how our socioeconomic system actually works, because the people who should have explained it to them—teachers, pastors, politicians—have instead lied to them and exploited them. Some of these people are deluded themselves, but far too many are lying consciously and purposely. If you, from your own privileged position of education and occupation, look down upon the people who unfortunately believe the lies, if you do not get that you are personally obligated to help them, then, as Grayson Capps sang about George W. Bush, you are a lying hypocrite.
The wealthy have always been able to maintain long-term strategies to preserve and enlarge their wealth and power. They have never given anything to the common people unless they were forced to, as every union organizer knows. The American people are at a huge disadvantage now relative to the rich, who have corrupted our entire system for their own benefit, not caring how many people they harm by doing so—and that, of course, is evil.
What can you do? What can I do? At the very least, tell the truth. Whenever you have the chance, call the liars what they are. Tell people that Biblical inerrancy, unregulated capitalism, and Puritanism are the tools that the criminally wealthy and their dupes use to exploit them. Remember the wisdom of the great Hillel:
If you are not for yourself, who will be?
If you are only for yourself, what are you?
And if not now, when?