The Problem with Evil

The Problem with Evil June 21, 2012

It is a strong word, evil… and one those of us of Liberal Faith have not always engaged well.  I mean the word… people of Liberal Faith have often come into contact with evil, we just have trouble calling it that.

This week, I am in Phoenix, attending the Justice General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  Two years ago, when other denominations and institutions were being encouraged to boycott Arizona over the passage of the anti-immigration law known as SB-1070, our denomination was invited by both our Phoenix congregations and by our Arizona Allies for immigration reform to come to Arizona.  We were invited to forgo much of our normal General Assembly business, and to come and allow their stories of facing the evils of our nation’s and this state’s current immigration policy to transform us.  We were invited to stand in solidarity with them.  We were invited to learn, grow, and transform with them.

And yet, in our desire to be present and to “make a difference” in this time of deportations and family separations and the dehumanization of being forced to prove your citizenship status because of your skin color, we of liberal faith who have come to Arizona this week also have the potential to cause harm, and to commit acts that would be viewed by some as evil… perhaps not in their intent, but certainly in their effect.

I believe in the ultimate unity of all things.  That all of us are part of the greatest reality which I define with the name God.  For me, God is all and is in all, the rocks and the trees, the birds and the bees, the smallest atom and the largest galaxy.  All interconnected and interdependent, we are all a part of God.  All of the divisions that we humans see or hope to see around us are coping mechanisms that we limited creatures have created to deal with an unlimited divine reality.

One of those coping mechanisms is the imagined division of good and evil.  I am not saying that good and evil are imaginary, but rather that the division between them is.  At their core, good and evil are human valuations of acts, intents, and events that happen within the wholeness that I call God.  More than perception, naming something as “good” or as “evil” has a lot more to do with the values of the person doing the naming than it does being an inherent aspect of the thing being so judged.

Let me take immigration as an example.  I believe that current federal and many state policies regarding immigration to be evil.  I believe that the enforcement of immigration policies here in Maricopa County, Arizona, and in many parts of this state, is evil.  And, that belief says a lot more about me than it does about the events here in Arizona themselves… or at least it says a lot more about the values that I hold at the center of my life.

I find immigration policy and enforcement, as it is currently being practiced in Arizona and beyond, to be contrary to by belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  I believe that the arbitrary border of the United States forgets that this land was unjustly taken from indigenous peoples, some of which are my ancestors.  I believe that this nation depends upon the labor of many who are undocumented, and not recognizing them and regularizing their immigration status is a new defacto form of slavery.  I believe that human rights are being violated every day in the name of border enforcement.  I believe that people are not being given the democratic rights to representation and self-determination.

And so, I believe that the current form of immigration policy and enforcement is evil.  I believe that because my principles, values, and religious faith call me to that belief… and as such I am responsible to do whatever I can, in good conscience, to bring an end to that evil.

You see, neither good nor evil have a metaphysical reality.  I do not accept that there is some metaphysical being who embodies evil and brings it into the world.  I believe that naming a metaphysical nature to evil (like the devil) is a way for humans to name something as evil without having to take personal responsibility for working to end that evil.  A metaphysical center for either good or evil has the effect of disempowering humanity for their responsibility for what is good, and for what is evil in the world.

Because each and every one of us has tremendous capacity for good, and for evil.  And, because not all human beings agree on our foundational values, principles, and religious faith, many of the things I view as supporting good are viewed by someone else as supporting evil.  There are those here in Arizona who believe that all of these religious liberals coming to stand with and bear witness with our local allies is a form of evil.  We each also have the capacity to commit acts that might be evil in our own eyes, were we to see them clearly.

An example of such would be if we religious liberals came to Arizona like “saviors” and attempted to paternalistically take leadership in this long running struggle, instead of coming to learn from those who have been in this struggle for so long.  We are here at their invitation, to learn from them and to stand with them.  If we were to try and engage this struggle in any other way, we would be in danger of committing another evil, in our own eyes as well as theirs.

Evil exists, and it is in us.  We human beings create it, even when we sometimes don’t intend to… and what we define as evil is one of the clearest expressions of what we value ourselves.

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David


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