Passive Evil

As far as I can tell, two categories of evil are manifesting in my situation.

First and most obvious is the active-aggressive evil that I spoke about in the last few posts. This kind of evil is fairly easy to identify, both in ourselves and in others. It's the kind that makes headlines - the kind that makes for a better-than-average movie of the week.

But the second is a less obvious form - the passive-aggressive evil. This kind of evil is harder to identify because it's couched in calm words, it's exercised with a smile and the victim often feels quite comfortable as the deed is being done.

To me, movies about passive evil are bland. If I had it my way, they'd never appear in theaters - they'd go straight to the Lifetime channel, bypassing even DVD.

Oldtime preachers, by the way, distinguished between these two forms of evil as "sins of commission" and "sins of omission".

So I've been piecing together data on the filthy river and those floating downstream in it - linking comments and actions to complete a jigsaw puzzle of human behavior. The script might actually make a decent B-grade movie.

I see plenty of active-aggressive activity. It's the kind that's been so obviously hurtful. And in fact, this is the kind of evil I'm most tempted by - like the retribution I spoke of earlier. It's the main reason for the prayer in my last post.

But I've found that passive evil is even more well represented. One example is the nasty little accusation posed as a "question" or a "concern".

I think the antagonists have learned by experience that an initial direct assault on another person's character often fails. It's much easier to sell an aggressive lie later if you pave the way first with a few passive accusations. For maximum effect, pose them as questions.

Or even better yet, why not humbly suggest praying about a "concern for someone's welfare". It's a sure-fire way to paint yourself as benign and benevolent. It puts the antagonist, regardless of their proven history of bad behavior, in a position to be trusted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer did serious theology work in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. He is famous for wrestling with the issue of the German church committing passive evil by neglecting to address the torrent of aggressive evil rushing across Europe from the bowels of Hitler's regime.

Bonhoeffer was ultimately killed by Hitler just a week or so before the German demoniac took his own life.

Ethics, yet unfinished at the time of his death, is perhaps the most challenging thing I've ever read on dealing with evil.

And now that I've written this far, I realize there's no way I can adequately summarize Ethics in a blog post. So I'll deal quickly with just one point.

It appears the German church justified its lack of confrontation with evil by holding to the belief that spiritual things were spiritual things and earthly things were earthly things.

So when Hitler skinned a Jew and sewed the resulting birthday suit into a lampshade - that gruesome evil was, for the church, an "earthly" thing that the church shouldn't involve itself in.

Bonhoeffer spent alot of ink convincing the German church that the universe exists not in two realms, but in just one. He said that when God became flesh in Jesus Christ - God engulfed the carnal and the spiritual in Jesus. God thus made it clear that His concerns are with the profane, the holy, and everything in between.

As a result, Bonhoeffer argued that the Church must actively engage in exposing and defeating evil, because defeating evil is the passion of God Himself. If we don't expose the evil, Bonhoeffer argues strongly that we become part of it ourselves. In my metaphor, we jump in the river by default.

Let's note Paul's words in Ephesians 5:

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as
children of light
(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,
righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have
nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose
them.
"
Exactly how to expose evil in particular situations is a topic for another day.

Father, "search me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me". Give me strength to face and reject my own evil, and the courage to lovingly expose it in those around me - so that your glory may be evident to all.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If we are predisposed to evil, what is the hope? That the spirtual within us will win? Passive is a method of not actively doing anything to identify or stop evil.
On another subject.
I have often wondered how not only the German Church but the world allowed the extermination and torture of the jews. How did the jews themselves passively involve themselves from homes, to projects, to death camps to death showers. Why did God not intervene, these are his people. God seems to only be interested in certain things.

Mike said...

The only real hope is in the kingdom of God. That is, God's life-changing authority and power being manifested in human beings. The kingdom exists in two states.

The kingdom is "now". Christians have the Spirit of God, and thus the authority/power of God, in them. Practically, that means we can overcome sin (jumping in the filthy river) where those without the Spirit are hopelessly engulfed in it.

The kingdom is "not yet". Even though I have personal victory over sin through the Spirit, God has not yet taken complete control of the earth. Revelation 19-22 promises that God indeed will do so - the kingdom will fully come to Earth. Jesus will rule on earth as king of kings and lord of lords.

Thus, the prayer Jesus taught us to pray - "Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..." - will be finally fulfilled. "God's will" will be completely implemented on earth, his kingdom will fully come.

On that day, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

So God is indeed interested in everything, and is bringing about a complete and total solution to the problem of evil in his coming kingdom.

And at this point, I'm really looking forward to it!

Theodore said...

Hi Mike,
“So God is indeed interested in everything, and is bringing about a complete and total solution to the problem of evil in his coming kingdom.”
Problem of evil? What makes you think “evil” is a problem with God?
There is nothing that exists which was not made, or is not a part of God. If God wanted to eradicate “evil” He could do it instantly. Yet He doesn’t. Why?
Why did God “let” all the Jews die in Germany during WW2? Why did God let all the Cambodians die when Pol Pot went on a homicidal rampage? Why does anyone need to suffer or die? Why?? Because God wants it that way! God made it that way and it is going to stay that way. If Jesus was going to fix it, it would have been done a long time ago.
What you often think of as evil could better be described as ignorance. The absence of a connection to God’s love is the root of all ignorance.
Hitler didn’t think of himself as evil. He felt justified in everything he did. He thought he was doing right by his country and his race. Yet we label him as “evil” because he violated our code of morals.
I would say Hitler was so mentally unbalanced that he had no idea of the horrors he was inflicting. His ignorance of God’s moral laws allowed him to do whatever he felt expedient to achieve his goals. Jews were no more than cattle to him. He had no sense of empathy for his fellow human being.
When my mother passed away I went through the whole greedy children scenario. Things were taken without permission, lies were told and feelings were hurt. You might see this as evil, but I see it as nothing more than error based on ignorance.
Human nature is NOT inherently evil. Human nature is derived from the image of God. How can that be evil?
Human nature is naturally drawn to what we are familiar with. We are familiar with this physical reality so we react to it with varying degrees of wisdom. Through spiritual evolution we become less material and more spiritual. We work to overcome our base impulses, and instead act from a perspective of wisdom. This doesn’t happen overnight.
Even very spiritual people react with their “basic instincts” at times. This doesn’t define what they have done as evil.
The wretched swill river that we all like to take a dip in from time to time isn’t evil either. It is part of this world that God is ever creating to allow us to evolve and experience who we are. Without the illusion of duality and contrast we would never be able to see anything other than the perfection of God. How can we know wisdom if we don’t experience folly?
Your world view allows you to personalize error and ignorance as something vile you can generalize as “evil”. You can then judge those you consider “evil” just by labeling them. And they can label you as evil for their own reasons. You can sit smugly in the belief that you are somehow “saved” and in the end will be guaranteed a spot on the bus to heaven, while you pity those poor less fortunate “evil” people who will be left behind.
I don’t know that I would be so quick to point my finger at anyone else in condemnation. We are all Gods children and consequently intimately and irrevocably connected to each other. When Jesus said “What you do for the least of men, you do for me”, he was telling us just that. We are all part of the whole and anything that happens to one of us, ultimately happens to all of us.
Evil only has the power and reality we give it. It lives in our minds.
Forgiveness is the antidote.

Theodore

Mike said...

"Problem of evil? What makes you think “evil” is a problem with God?"

**********
Ummm, I never said anything about evil being a problem with God. It is certainly a problem with us.
**********

"There is nothing that exists which was not made, or is not a part of God. If God wanted to eradicate “evil” He could do it instantly. Yet He doesn’t. Why?
Why did God “let” all the Jews die in Germany during WW2? Why did God let all the Cambodians die when Pol Pot went on a homicidal rampage? Why does anyone need to suffer or die? Why?? Because God wants it that way! God made it that way and it is going to stay that way. If Jesus was going to fix it, it would have been done a long time ago."

********
Theodore, as we've discussed before, you and I have completely different worldviews.

Mine is Judeo-Christian, originated in the near-Eastern land of Israel, fully-explained in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Yours, as near as I've been able to determine from multiple postings you've authored, is fundamentally Hindu, originating in the far east, explained by ancient Hindu texts and more recent reinterpretations of those beliefs.

When you say "...and it is going to stay that way. If Jesus was going to fix it, it would have been done a long time ago.", you are either ignoring, or misunderstanding, fundamental Jewish and Christian belief.

And that's OK - I've always granted you and everyone else the right to believe whatever in the world you want to believe. But of course, I hold to the orthodox Christian worldview as expressed in those 66 books from Genesis to Revelation.

So hopefully you'll understand when I posit the orthodox Christian viewpoint as I process my mother's death and the nasty circumstances surrounding it.

********

"What you often think of as evil could better be described as ignorance. The absence of a connection to God’s love is the root of all ignorance.
Hitler didn’t think of himself as evil. He felt justified in everything he did. He thought he was doing right by his country and his race. Yet we label him as “evil” because he violated our code of morals."

***********

I'm sure you're right about Hitler feeling justified about what he did.

Now if you have any doubt about whether mutilating, torturing and exterminating millions of people with malevolent, racist rage is objectively evil or not, then I'm also sure you need to re-examine your position.

If Yogananda (in your estimation a Christ-ascended Master) wouldn't see Hitler's actions as inherently evil - then I can assure you that he has precious little in common with the Jewish Messiah.

***********

"I would say Hitler was so mentally unbalanced that he had no idea of the horrors he was inflicting. His ignorance of God’s moral laws allowed him to do whatever he felt expedient to achieve his goals. Jews were no more than cattle to him. He had no sense of empathy for his fellow human being.
When my mother passed away I went through the whole greedy children scenario. Things were taken without permission, lies were told and feelings were hurt. You might see this as evil, but I see it as nothing more than error based on ignorance."

***********

The Germans as a whole were highly educated. Not only in a pragmatic sense either - during the rise of the Third Reich they had some of the greatest theologians ever known working in very visible positions.

Ignorance? No. Hitler and his many accomplices knew exactly what they were doing.

***********

Human nature is NOT inherently evil. Human nature is derived from the image of God. How can that be evil?

***********

OK, if you say so. Human nature is inherently good.

Hmmm... No - 6000 years of recorded human history, all the strivings of philosophers, kings and poets as well as a casual reading of any history book will tell even a young child otherwise.

***********

"Human nature is naturally drawn to what we are familiar with. We are familiar with this physical reality so we react to it with varying degrees of wisdom. Through spiritual evolution we become less material and more spiritual. We work to overcome our base impulses, and instead act from a perspective of wisdom. This doesn’t happen overnight.
Even very spiritual people react with their “basic instincts” at times. This doesn’t define what they have done as evil."

*************

Karmic debt, reincarnation, elevating oneself to "christ consciousness". Yes, I know where you're coming from.

Again, the Christian teleological worldview as expressed in the Jewish/Christian scriptures is fundamentally opposed to the Hindu ateleological worldview.

I respect your right to believe it - in fact, I applaud your steadfast, tenacious grasp of those beliefs.

But in my opinion - for my life and for the futures of my students - I will hold to and teach Christianity because it makes the most sense to me.

*************

"The wretched swill river that we all like to take a dip in from time to time isn’t evil either. It is part of this world that God is ever creating to allow us to evolve and experience who we are. Without the illusion of duality and contrast we would never be able to see anything other than the perfection of God. How can we know wisdom if we don’t experience folly?"

*********

Again, fundamental opposition of worldviews here.

*********

"Your world view allows you to personalize error and ignorance as something vile you can generalize as “evil”. You can then judge those you consider “evil” just by labeling them. And they can label you as evil for their own reasons. You can sit smugly in the belief that you are somehow “saved” and in the end will be guaranteed a spot on the bus to heaven, while you pity those poor less fortunate “evil” people who will be left behind.
I don’t know that I would be so quick to point my finger at anyone else in condemnation."

***********

Now here's where you've got me completely wrong. Please read my post entitled "Evil and the Justice of God".

If you think about what I'm saying in there - it's exactly opposite of how you've characterized me.

There is absolutely no room for "smugness", as you've applied to me, in my way of viewing evil.

Again, I feel a deep sigh of sadness for those who are maligning me. Not out of arrogant self-righteousness, but out of the knowledge that when I resist sin, I do so only by the power of the Holy Spirit (a particularly Christian thing, BTW).

It is my submission to the Spirit of God that grants me the ability to step away from the river, not any intrinsic righteous ability of my own.

Do I always submit to the leading of God's spirit regarding temptation to sin? Nope. Sometimes I sin.

And that's the reason I can't be "smug" about anyone else's sin.

It runs through me as well.

*************

"We are all Gods children and consequently intimately and irrevocably connected to each other. When Jesus said “What you do for the least of men, you do for me”, he was telling us just that."

**********

Not exactly, but rather than argue fine points, I'll say OK.

**********

"We are all part of the whole and anything that happens to one of us, ultimately happens to all of us.
Evil only has the power and reality we give it. It lives in our minds."

**********

It certainly does.

**********

"Forgiveness is the antidote."

**********

Yes - I agree! We almost certainly have different reasons for believing this statement, but forgiveness surely is central to Christianity.

Again, my understanding of the shared problem of evil in humanity - the fact that I too am part of the problem - allows me in my more elevated moments to forgive my neighbors for their sins against me.

**********

Thanks for the comments, Theodore. I appreciate your willingness to dialog with those from far different perspectives than yours.

Theodore said...

Hi Mike,
Much of my world view derives from studying Yogananda. This is because I have tested and compared what he says with the world around me.
My world view is made up as much from pragmatism and common sense as it is from any teaching. I try and see the world and life for what they are, without prejudice or conditioned preconceptions. I then compare that to what any particular theology tells me.
When I examine history, I see no fundamental changes in the mechanics of the world. I see nothing change in the world except what the occupants change through their actions. Nobody materializing out of the aether to make things better, no God coming to clean up the mess His children have made, nobody to prevent, misery, mass murder and genocide.
I can only therefore conclude that the world is this way for a reason. If God has made this world where our bodies are subject to countless causes of pain and death, how important can our bodies be? When we are dying of cancer and think our world is coming to a painful and horrible end, why is God apparently indifferent? When Hitler brutally murdered and tortured the Jews, God was either indifferent or impotent because He did nothing.
It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think that God is impotent. So that leaves indifference.
How does the Bible explain this indifference? How does the Bible explain the utter lack of intervention during these horrific events?
My world view allows for these atrocities and the non-intervention of God. I understand what is happening from a logical and metaphysical perspective. It all makes perfect sense to me as there are no missing pieces. Nowhere do I have to throw up my hands and say: “I don’t know, it is one of the mysteries of life”, or “It’s just Gods will”. I certainly don’t condone or support people like Hitler, but I do understand what’s going on.
When the bible talks about the second coming, or the end times or whatever final reality people want to believe in, I can’t buy it in anything other than a spiritual analogy. God alone is the only final reality because the physical universe is transitory.

Thanks for listening Mike and I truly hope things smooth out with your family.

Theodore