Evil

Living the Word: Goodness in the Face of Evil

DarZel / Shutterstock 

The gospel messes with your tenses and moods (among other things)

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Catholic Bishops: 'Racism Is an Evil' in Society and the Church

Photo via Lisa Johnston / St. Louis Review / Catholic News Service / RNS
Mass on June 10 at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Photo via Lisa Johnston / St. Louis Review / Catholic News Service / RNS

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off a gathering in St. Louis of approximately 250 of the nation’s bishops by referring to Ferguson.

“We mourn those tragic events in which African-Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement,” said a statement prepared by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., which was read by Bishop Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 10.

“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our church.”

And God Said, 'Let There Be Darkness'

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

I’ve always had a curious sort of sympathy for the bad guys. I cried when King Kong died. I wept at Darth Vader’s demise. And I felt like the whole melting thing was a little bit harsh for the Wicked Witch of the West.

Maybe they didn’t really want to be bad. Maybe they were just written that way. Could be that they had a rough childhood, or people made fun of them for being green, or big and hairy, or breathing through a big, black mask. I mean, imagine that on the playground …

Ever since my childhood I’ve felt more comfortable in darkness than most kids seemed to as well. My 10-year-old son won’t even go into any unlit room in our house without being accompanied by our dog, Maggie. But I actually enjoyed being in the dark. It seemed like the one place where I could let the otherwise literal, concrete parts of my brain take a rest, and allow my imagination to run wild.

Theologically, we’re taught to hate, or at least fear, the darkness. We are children of light, God called light into being, and it was from this light that all things were formed. So what use do we have for darkness?

Easter with Czeslaw Milosz: Cento

From white villages Easter bells resound.
Rejoice! Give thanks! I raise my voice
Evil disappears from the world.
And that means somewhere God must be.
So that for a short moment there is no death.
If only everything kept happening in such a way
And a garden of forgiveness gathered all of us
Who doubted the goodness of Creation.

Kathleen Gunton is a poet, fiction writer, and photographer in Orange, Calif. This cento is composed of lines from Czeslaw Milosz’ New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001.

Image: Church bells, Alan Bailey / Shutterstock.com 

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Brothers in Faith and Defiance

NO ORDINARY MEN: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State is a tightly woven story framed by the sophisticated historical analysis of its two authors, former senior Farrar, Straus, and Giroux editor Elisabeth Sifton (daughter of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr) and Columbia University professor emeritus Fritz Stern, a famed German scholar. The book profiles two brave young men—Bonhoeffer, a theologian and minister deeply involved in fighting the Nazis’ efforts to control the German Protestant churches, and Dohnanyi, a brilliant lawyer (son of Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnanyi) working in the German Ministry of Justice, who used his key position to methodically collect evidence against the Nazi regime.

Sifton and Stern portray Dohnanyi in detail as a leader in the small but high-powered German resistance movement. Brig. Gen. Hans Oster, a resistance member, hired Dohnanyi away from the Ministry of Justice ostensibly to help run the Abwehr, a German military intelligence organization that was also the center of the anti-Hitler resistance, in 1939. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was then recruited by Dohnanyi to be part of this team. Dohnanyi’s wife, Christine (Bonhoeffer’s sister), is also revealed as a significant influence on and aide to her husband.

The slim, 157-page volume is an important new historical work in the growing field of research on the German resistance movement during World War II. It is a penetrating look at Dohnanyi’s dangerous operations against the Nazis with historical perspective that other books on him and Bonhoeffer lack. Earlier biographies, written mainly by church people, more or less emphasized Bonheoffer as a singular hero fighting Hitler. Bonhoeffer was indeed very brave and traveled thousands of miles abroad while working as an agent for the Abwehr, but he was just one of a circle of resisters.

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One Church, One Body

From "12 Years a Slave"

IN OCTOBER, Sojourners hosted a Washington, D.C. premiere for the faith community of the extraordinary film 12 Years a Slave. The compelling story about Solomon Northup—a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery—is an accurate and well-produced drama, worth seeing for its cinematic merits, but primarily as a start to a conversation about race in America that is long overdue.

In her New York Times review titled “The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias,” Manohla Dargis wrote that 12 Years a Slave “isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States—but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” The film reveals how morally outrageous the slave system was, and it is very hard to watch.

The enslavement of millions of people of African descent by white Americans was always violent, and too intense for most white people to really accept the truth. Most white people, white Christians, and white churches tolerated slavery for 246 years. This historically horrendous evil existed because we tolerated it. That’s why evil always continues to exist: because we tolerate it.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness: A Call to Change Course

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com
Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com

Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.

Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial Formula

In a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.

Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:

Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.

Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.

Overcoming Violent Fundamentalism

TODAY THE Middle East—where about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25—is a region dominated by humiliation and anger. Failure plus rage plus the folly of youth equals an incendiary mix.

The roots of anti-American hostilities in the Middle East run deep. We can start with the fact that what we consider our oil lies beneath their sands. Couple that with U.S. support of repressive regimes, the presence of foreign troops on their land and in their holy places, and the endless wars waged there, ultimately fueled by the geopolitics of energy. Add to that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to drive the deepest emotions of mutual frustration, fear, and retaliation throughout the Middle East and around the world.

Injustices and violence caused by the oil economy have sparked a reaction from dangerous religious fundamentalists in the Muslim world. Fundamentalism—in all our faith traditions—is volatile and hard to contain once it has been unleashed, and it is hard to reverse its essentially reactive and predictably downward cycle.

Three principles may help us navigate a path out of this mess. First, religious extremism will not be defeated by a primarily military response. Ample evidence proves that such a strategy often makes things worse. Religious and political zealots prefer military responses to the threats created by Islamic extremism. Ironically, this holds true on both sides of the conflict; the fundamentalist zealots also prefer the simplistic military approach because they are often able to use it effectively. Fundamentalists actually flourish and win the most new recruits amid overly aggressive military campaigns against them.

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Sermon on Baptism and the Devil

Baptistm, Jose AS Reyes / Shutterstock.com
Baptistm, Jose AS Reyes / Shutterstock.com

In the church of my childhood it was taught that the “age of accountability” was somewhere around 12. To hit the age of accountability was to, like,  spiritually go off of your parents’ insurance. At age 12 the clock starts ticking, spiritually speaking; you know right from wrong now and because of this you are accountable for every time you screw up. And if you sin knowing right from wrong and then die before you chose to be baptized, you might burn in Hell for eternity. So age 12, as you can imagine, is when kids start choosing to get baptized. The lag time between entering the age of accountability and having your slate wiped clean through baptism can be terrifying. Many of us kids would pray not to die in a car crash before we were baptized, like other people pray to not get sick before their employee benefits kick in. So basically, 12-year-old Church of Christ kids experience a wave of devotion like a Great Awakening comprised only of sixth graders. And this is partly because we were all terrified of the devil and temptation and sin. Since, as we were told, all the bad things we’d done may have been washed clean in baptism, but the devil was waiting right outside the baptistery to try and get us to be bad again.

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