Sunday, May 22, 2011

Does Evil Exist?

    Does evil exist?
   Ensconced in a luxurious Southern California cocoon, sipping wine from Waterford crystal, my community of family and friends might indulge such a question. In Rwanda such a question would evoke an incredulous silent stare, perhaps followed by a sudden “back to reality” shake of the head, and an “Excuse me,… I must have misunderstood you.” To those who have been besieged by evil, steeped in evil, and who stared directly into the grotesque face of evil, the question seems as absurd as “Does gravity exist?” To be more graphic, the question is a personal offense to the Rwandan who watched his father and all of his siblings hacked to pieces, and his mother gang raped before being literally “skinned alive” and then impaled on a pole. He cannot respond with “What an interesting, fascinating question! Let us explore that and see if our philosophical inquiry might lead to new insights or perhaps even consensus.” But google the question and see the time, thought, and resources devoted to it. (When I googled "Does evil exist" some days ago, there were 80 Google index pages concerning the question.)
   During the 19th century we saw the further development of the Humanism birthed during the Renaissance. I am NOT using “Humanism” in any pejorative, loaded, reactionary way, but simply wanting to note its confidence in humankind’s character, ethics and powers of reason to direct humankind on a progressive path to better life for ourselves and our children. Humanism and such worldview undeniably gained full-steam throughout the 20th century. Ironically, however (and there must be something to be discovered in this), the 20th century was the most ruthless, murderous, inhumane century of all history. A most cursory review reminds us of the horrific Armenian genocide (still "denied" by many, including the US Government),… and the Holocaust (6 million marched into ovens),… which pales in numbers to Stalin’s slaughter of 20 million people in the Ukraine,…  which pales in comparison to perhaps 50 million who died under Mao. Let us not forget the indiscriminate, efficient killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia, or the frenzied, murderous orgy in Rwanda during which nearly 1,000,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days. That's 10,000 people each day, for 100 days, in a tiny country. But we must not think in terms of A genocide, or A mass killing. A real person, made in the image of God, with hopes and dreams and fears, who was loved by some,... was murdered. Somebody’s child. Somebody’s mother or brother or sister or dearest friend was viciously slaughtered,… and then it happened again, and again, and again, and again,… until it happened a million times. Or 20 million times in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, who noted that “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” To appreciate the gravity of Stalin’s “achievement,” you must take that lurid story in today’s newspaper about a murder in your community, and multiply it by 20 million. But as taught by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, here is what is most scary: In order for evil men to do such great evil, they must first convince themselves and others that they are doing good. How is that possible?!? Perhaps it begins with the depreciation of evil, even to the point of doubting or denying its existence. And then magnify the error by an imagined, delusional self-righteousness, which serves as the thin mask for the evil itself. And then to multiply supporters and followers, foment fear and bigotry and hate and "it's us vs. them." 
   Although we might wish otherwise, the evidence is undeniable: Evil most certainly exists, and if it is to be resisted, it must first be acknowledged. Those who may doubt the existence of evil pose a great risk to us all, until they suddenly become "believers" when they or someone they love suffers senseless harm or great injustice. We should each prepare ourselves by carefully considering in advance: "How shall I respond,... will I respond,... in the face of evil?"