Saturday, June 27, 2015

Recent Evil, Considered

Good and evil reside on a spectrum, and sometimes it's not easy to say definitively which is which. During the last couple weeks, however, the news featured three cases where common sense definitions of evil apply. Some thoughts.

1. Close to home, we had the remarkable development of the Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, apologizing at his sentencing hearing for the damage and pain he caused. When I first saw a news brief on this, I was impressed, and hoped that those who had invested so much into his development, including his teachers, might feel some small relief that a human being still lived within the monster he had become. And when I heard commentators remarking that it was problemmatic that he never identified what he did as wrong I thought they were being unduly harsh. Then I read the full statement. In it he spends more time talking about Allah and Islam than anything else, with the effect being that even as he apologized, he was not quite taking responsibiltiy for his actions -- since only Allah knows how things will play out in the end. This is deeply unsatisfying. Religion has many purposes and bestows many benefits, many of them noble and grand. But one thing that religion never should be used for is the abdication of responsibility, especially in the public square, where most others will not share your theology.

2. How incredible that the Confederate flags started coming down after the horrific, evil massacre at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston! Incredible because before Governor Haley announced her belief that the flag should be removed from state property, one might have gathered from listening to apologists that it's just baffling that the flag could have anything to do with racism, historical or present; as if the average flag supporter made regular donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, spent hours surfing around at HuffPo, and set the DVR to never miss a Rachel Maddow show. The speed with which the rhetoric changed revealed that much of the heritage talk was a smokescreen concealing the undeniable connections of the flag with the American evil of slavery and various modes of white supremacy. The heritage talk made it possible for politicians to avoid doing the courageous thing, lest they offend core constituencies. Many seem relieved that they can do the right thing now.

3. On a minor note, some of Hitler's youthful paintings were sold at auction last week. Often referred to as a failed artist, Hitler actually wasn't a horrible painter. He just wasn't as good as he thought he was, nor skilled or inspired enough to be great. This got me wondering: If someone were to hang one in their home, would it it be wrong to enjoy it? It would be deeply weird, but wrong? His paintings didn't symbolize Nazism in any way; they're not swastikas. In fact, might it be positive or beneficial somehow to appreciate the good or human part of the worst, most evil man of the 20th century? I think it might, but there is no way in the world I would do it. Again, deeply weird, and maybe just a bit beyond where I'm able to extend my compassion. Or maybe that's not even what compassion calls for.

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