Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Glove

I’d rather not write about evil, but it’s on my mind tonight. Being a pacifist means coming to terms with evil. Again and again and again.

The one that totally bites is religious evil. Evil in the name of God. Hurting people for Jesus. You don’t have to go far to find it.

Now cold, plain vanilla evil, that’s not so hard to figure out. Put it down to a lousy childhood, some greed and gluttony for power, and that about covers it. But religious evil takes more thinking, because it believes itself to be good. And therein lies the power of its evil – because vanilla evil can do only so much harm. It takes religious evil to do massive harm on a massive scale.

Religious evil comes from what was golden, what was the best. Like the myth of the angel Lucifer, the holiest falls to become its antithesis. Osama bin Laden is a deeply religious man in the sense of soulfully following his religion’s rules and praying regularly. He was for a long time the champion of his people against oppression, speaking out where others were afraid, helping those who needed help. But then he was offered arms to fight the Russians. And slowly, his religiosity twisted. He was still a champion of his people against oppression – but now he is doing so by using oppression. Now he kills for God. The light angel before, the dark angel after.

It's the same glove, only now it’s inside out. So now it fits on the other hand.

This is what became of Christianity during the Dark Ages—the Crusades and the Inquisition. The is what explains the hate-filled words of preachers when they talk about pacifists, “leftists,” nonheterosexuals, nonbornagains, and even women. This is how the religious right has come to serve the neocons. Vanilla evil just harnesses a body and mind in service of evil; religious evil harnesses a soul.

They tell us war is about good vs evil, and I know pacifists are supposed to argue against that. But I happen to agree with this idea. Evil is the war itself. Good is the human forces that try to undo the war. You can’t shoot evil: you can only shoot people. The evil is still there after the dying is over.

In effect, as soon as we pick up a weapon, we have joined evil’s side.

And as soon as we decide we get to hate those who carry those weapons, alas, we too have joined that side, perhaps less harmfully, but we know where this road leads.

Religion gets hijacked when we’re looking the wrong way.

I believe the reason is the dark connection between fundamentalism and evil. And fundamentalists come in many stripes: I know fundamentalist quakers, fundamentalist feminists, fundamentalist greens—those who become obsessed with the rightness of the dogma.

The German Lutheran theologian Dorothee Solle says a religion is dead when it can’t distinguish between its God and its Devil. Fundamentalism’s rigidity is like a spiritual rigor mortis.

I don’t believe in a Devil, but I admire the Solle’s metaphor. When a religion becomes preoccupied with rules and dogmas, it lets the rules become the religion. It edits the religion to erase the teachings that don’t fit with the rules. Soon the religion is emptied, quietly and surreptitiously, so that unless you were watching carefully, you wouldn’t have noticed it happening.

They then learn to equate the Spirit with the rules and dogmas, and they watch those rules and dogmas, believing their souls depend on it. So now they are looking the other way. They may have started out on a spiritual journey with God at their side, but they aren’t looking now. Ah, but who are you walking with now? Look away from those rules! See who you are walking with!

How easily the glove slips to the other hand.

3 Comments:

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Zach A said...

They tell us war is about good vs evil, and I know pacifists are supposed to argue against that. But I happen to agree with this idea. Evil is the war itself. Good is the human forces that try to undo the war. You can’t shoot evil: you can only shoot people. The evil is still there after the dying is over.

This was thought provoking... what of the people inbetween? People who support the war in ways short of weapons, or who oppose it in ways short of direct peacemaking (or who do both at once)?

 
At 9:46 AM, Anonymous rex said...

What about our responsibility to protect life? Does anyone know any good ways to stop people from killing without killing the killers? I believe we desparately need a technology that can stop the killing without killing the killers. Of course, it would be best if we could establish a 'norm' that encourages us (by example) to dialogue our serious differences into a common consensus, but that would take a whole heap of humility! Can we manage that? Personally, I welcome disagreements as an opportunity to enlarge my understandings!

 
At 1:50 PM, Blogger Larry said...

The evil of our religious tradition received its primary impetus in 325 A.D. when church and state together became the establishment. Unfortunately that's still true: the established church almost unanimously voted for our wartime president.

Walter Wink has written several volumes about the 'principalities' or 'powers' that embody so much of the evil of our 'Christian' nation. He reiterates that the powers are not to be beaten, but redeemed.

The wind and the waters obey his will, "Peace, be still."

 

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