Our nation has seen its fair share of violence in recent years, and the blame goes all around. It’s the guns, some folks say. Others pin it on a lack of mental health resources. Still others find a bogeyman in some group or politician who is, in their mind, mostly responsible for stirring the violence.
Let’s be honest, can we? None of these are solely to blame for the violent acts that rock our nation – whether they be violent outbreaks like the one we saw last week in Odessa – or politically-motivated terrorist attacks by radical groups.
Some are too young, or too ignorant of history, to recall that politically-motivated terrorist acts were quite common in the 20th century in the United States. Not as much anymore, thank God, but they still happen.
George W. Bush took a lot of heat years ago for using the term “Axis of Evil.” Remember that? What always surprised me wasn’t that people disagreed that the rogue nations he pointed out were indeed bad actors – those being Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
No, it was that dissenters took issue with the term “evil.” Remember? If you don’t, here’s a quote from The Economist’s January 31, 2002 issue, comparing it with Reagan’s use of the term “evil empire”:
It is also, like that previous slogan, meant to galvanise support by turning a long and tricky foreign-policy challenge into a simple, moral issue. That very simplicity may lead many people, especially outside America, to dismiss it as empty or to condemn it as foolish.
Now, I am not the greatest fan of George W. Bush’s policy in many respects – this includes his foreign policy. In my mind, the Iraq War was riddled with miscalculations and mistakes, especially once the invasion was over. President Trump also believes this.
However, you can’t deny that Bush was onto something. It was, and is, a brave thing to use the term “evil” in America. But why?
I mean, isn’t evil a reality in our world?
For orthodox Christians, the answer is a clear “yes.” Those who believe that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners, who died and was raised again in a glorious resurrection – in general, these folks tend to believe that evil is that thing opposite of the truth that was revealed to us.
I mean Truth, as in, God made incarnate, God who condescended to take on flesh of our flesh. This, Jesus Christ, is Truth. There are still a few folks who believe this – isn’t that something? And of course, we are called “foolish” for believing such a thing – as Paul the Apostle said we would be.
So if you believe this, evil isn’t something far-fetched. We see it, we know it exists, and we battle against it every day in our own lives. Sometimes we win these little battles, and sometimes – when we sin – well, we don’t. But in the end, Christ who was victorious over death ensures that we can win. How cool is that?
But what if you don’t believe all that? What if you think that faith in Christ is some hokey thing that was made up by a bunch of guys wearing togas a couple thousands years ago, or perhaps some yelling pastor you saw on television, in a bid to just earn more money for themselves?
What if you distrust all institutions so much that the Church, which Jesus Christ established in the world to carry forth the Gospel message, seems totally untrustworthy and fake?
What if you are so hateful of religion and religious people that the very thought of turning to God in your darkest hour is beyond you, and you spurn the very thought?
If these things are in your mind, then evil doesn’t really exist, either. If evil doesn’t exist…
Well, if evil doesn’t exist, we are in a world totally adrift. If faith in something of universal importance is worthless, if there is no objective morality in the world, if there is nothing higher to be known, then the opposite – the rejection of all of that – is also worthless, isn’t it. And fearing it? Why would you fear something you don’t even believe in?
As I look at all of the things that we fear in our world today, all of the shootings and all of the violence, and even the more common tragedies – people who discard their families, hate their neighbors, and use and manipulate people for their own benefit – it seems that much of it simply stems from the very fear of calling balls and strikes as they are.
Which is to say: evil exists, it’s real, and it’s all around us.
Now, if you are reading this and thinking “come on, I’m one of those people and this is ridiculous” – hey, that’s okay. You are entitled to your opinion.
But do me a favor, will you?
If you think that faith in anything is rubbish, much less the Christian (!) faith, and that the consequent lumping of things into “good” and “evil” categories makes you squeamish, I challenge you.
Consider, for a moment, what the world would look like if every person felt this way about what we see around us. I mean to say, what if everyone clearly saw things like “good” and “evil” and weren’t afraid to say so?
When we saw a shooting, when we saw a person taking advantage of another, when we saw someone defrauded, when we saw a child going hungry – what if we just started at “evil” and then built from there?
If, instead of trying to rationalize every bad thing – why, this action must be caused by this or that socialization, this or that environmental factor – what if we were willing to just say “you know, that’s evil.”
Of course, environmental factors, and other considerations, often do play roles in the evil things we see around us. Of course!
But that doesn’t make evil… not evil. In fact, if anything, it is proof that the enemy we face is much greater than any of us can handle by ourselves.
When we start to recognize that this is, in fact, the way the world works – and not some abstract construct wherein morality is a cloud of vapor – we can come together on so many issues, breaking through the barriers that separate us.
For whatever may divide us, differentiate us, or separate us, the struggle for good always unites us. We can overcome evil, thank God, because a couple of thousand years ago, something incredible happened.
When these events come on the news, perhaps we can keep that in mind.