In the Face of Staggering Evil

After Paris this past weekend, after 9/11, after all the innocent blood shed in between – maybe Isaiah has the best answer for what we can do in the face of staggering evil. On this past Saturday morning, my furnace guy was over servicing the equipment – he’s come for years, nice friendly guy … good guy, really. I had been reading the paper and listening to the news about the horrors in Paris the night before – given the time difference. And he looked at me and said, “I have a solution … but you’re not going to like it.” I asked him what. He said, “We have a lot of nuclear bombs gathering dust. I know about all the collateral damage and so on, but that’s the solution.”

There are a lot of folks out there that think like him. Trust me.

That evening I built a fire in the fireplace and switched on the TV to find a movie to watch. The only title I recognized was “The Hunger Games.” I knew it had been wildly popular, but honestly, I didn’t know what it was about. Didn’t know that there was a series of novels and more than one movie around that fictional, fantastic reality.

Now I don’t like fantasy movies – don’t like sci-fi films for instance. I like to explore the depths of reality as it is lived. (I know we can talk about that, but another time.) Anyway, as you undoubtedly know, that original Hunger Games was fantasy, but also I’m afraid it said a lot about the reality of the human condition – about competitiveness, about willing to kill to win, about pandering to the crowd, about betrayal, about the banality of evil.

But it also had its good moments, its moments of virtue shining through – the little kid helping the heroin survive (albeit at the expense of others’ lives), and in the end, the two protagonists preferring suicide to the choice of one killing one another. And then the rescue by the authorities – not out of mercy, but out of pandering to the pleasure of the crowd, keeping the citizens happy with a spectacle.

The next day I was discussing the film with one of my dearest friends, and said that of course such savagery unfortunately is embedded deep within our genes, inherited from our ancestors who lived in tribes and survived because they were able to kill their enemies beyond their borders. The movie also reminded me of the spectators within the Roman Colosseum who cheered as Christians were torn apart by lions; of the families who would picnic and frolic as they watched a public hanging.

The difference now is that the world is entirely connected by the Internet, and those inclined to the violence within themselves are inspired to repeat and even outdo what they see on the screen – blowing up, slaughtering innocents in the process. The very point being the slaughter of innocents and spreading terror in their wake.

So what is the answer? I have none. I have only the hope within me that in the end, the Good will triumph. Because along with the savagery within us is also unbelievable kindness and hospitality and caring for others – even strangers on a Friday night in Paris who come banging on neighborhood doors for refuge.

Charles Peguy — the early twentieth-century French poet who died charging out of a trench into a barrage of bullets during World War I — developed a beautiful metaphor for human hope as a bud out of which faith and life itself could grow. He writes, “Now I tell you, says God, that without that late April budding, without those thousands of buds, without that one little budding of hope, which obviously anyone can break off, without that tender, cotton-like bud, which the first man who comes along can snap off with his nail, the whole of my creation would be nothing but dead wood … my hope is the bloom, and the fruit, and the leaf, and the limb, and the twig, and the shoot, and the seed, and the bud. Hope is the shoot, and the bud of the bloom of eternity itself.” (From God Speaks, translated by Julian Green, New York: Pantheon Books, 1945, pp. 93 & 108)

I’ll end here with a quote from the prophet Isaiah, written to his people in exile, offering hope that one day their suffering would end and they would go home. Isaiah says:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40: 28-31)
At this point, after Paris this past weekend, after 9/11, after all the innocent blood shed in between, maybe walking and not fainting is the very best we can do in the face of staggering evil.