Sunday, July 20, 2014

THE DOWNING OF MH17: EVIL WALKS AMONG US




           ‘We will bury you.’ -- Nikita Khrushchev.




From time to time certain things happen in our world, as well as in our individual lives, that remind us that … evil walks among us.

Now, I have always said---and I still believe it to be so---that we are neither totally depraved, as many Christians would have you believe, nor good beyond belief as some ‘chipper believers in a happiness cult’ (to borrow a phrase from Harry Emerson Fosdick) assert is true. Judaism teaches that there is an evil inclination (yetzer ha’ra) as well as a good inclination (yetzer ha’tov) in each of us, and that makes a lot of sense to me.

The recent downing---or should I say shooting-down---of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (‘MH17’) was a wicked and evil act. Those who committed this dreadful act have allowed a peculiarly twisted ideology to warp their thoughts, judgment and actions. Worse still, there are some who try to convince us that good is evil, that what we see and know to be true is not true at all. Evil, that is, those who are guilty, says to good, that is, those who are innocent, 'No, you did it, not us.' 

We see this phenomenon all about us. It is something akin to what the New Testament refers to as ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,’ the so-called unforgivable sin. Yes, there are human beings who perpetrate wicked acts and then try to convince us that what we know in our hearts, and see and adjudge with our eyes, to be evil is really good. Worse still, they seek to accuse the innocent of being the wrongdoers. They act clandestinely, without openness, without transparency. They are into blame-shifting and hand-washing. Russia, still the evil empire in so many ways, has sought to do just that with the recent downing of MH17, and I see the very same phenomenon at work in the Middle East. It is a very human phenomenon. Evil masquerades as good, and seeks to blame good for the occurrence of evil. So, we were told by Russia that Ukraine was responsible for the blasting from the sky of MH17, because the dreadful incident occurred in the airspace above, and on the land of, Ukraine. They blame Ukraine for the incident but the pro-Russian separatists, backed and trained by Russia, should have absolutely nothing to hide if Ukraine were to blame, then continue to restrict access to the site and refuse to cooperate with international observers, representatives and investigators. Wicked, perverse, and twisted thinking, that. Very Russian. I make no apologies for saying that. I am bitterly disappointed and angry.


The truly terrible thing about calling evil good, and good evil, is that it is, yes, unforgivable. Why? Because there is no possibility of forgiveness and redemption whilst a person, a group of persons, or a nation is in the grip of such a perverted mindset. Once you place yourself outside the moral paradigm that sees wickedness for what it truly is, you cannot see the wickedness of your ways, and so there can be no forgiveness until you come to see the error of your ways. Only then can you say to yourself, ‘This is wrong, I am wrong.’ The so-called unforgivable sin is both unforgivable and forgivable. It is unforgivable for so long as you refuse to recognize the reality of human wickedness (sin, in theological language). It is forgivable if and when you come to see things as they really are---good as good, and evil as evil.

I have absolutely no time for moral relativism and its ‘first cousin,’ cultural relativism. I also have no time for those who believe in moral absolutes. My view of what is right and wrong is an objective one. What is right or wrong doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong. Yes, no action is absolutely right or wrong, but there are at least some things that are objectively right and others that are objectively wrong. Now, there is a big difference between moral objectivism and moral absolutism. For starters, moral objectivism does not depend upon any appeal to authority, that is, to some supposed holy book or holy person. As I see it, good is simply that which works for unity, oneness, wholeness, and integration. Evil is that which works for disunity, separateness, division, and disintegration. Good gives of itself to others, so as to create more good. Sadly, evil gives of itself, too. 

At any given point in time, in our world as well as in our individual lives, there are forces at work for unity, oneness, wholeness, and integration, and there are forces at work for disunity, separateness, selfishness, and disintegration. Each of us needs to choose carefully, with our every thought, word, and deed. Now, having said all that, ethical decision-making is never an easy task, and I certainly do not believe that there is ever only one right ‘answer’ to any particular moral or ethical dilemma, but we do have in our possession the ability to discern certain ethical values that, in and of themselves, are objectively right. This is a huge and complex topic area, and I will simply leave it at that for the time being, in the full knowledge that what I’ve just said will be unsatisfactory for a great number of people. So be it.


At this time, when so many innocent people, including infants, have lost their lives, many will be saying, quite understandably, ‘Where is God in all this?” That is a fair question, and it is not an easy one to answer. One's answer depends very much on one's theology. Everyone has a theology of sorts, even the atheist. My theology is very much a 'theology of man,' but there is a strong Catholic flavour to it nevertheless. I simply say this. God---please don’t let the word trouble you, for the word is not the ‘thing’---was in each of those persons who died. Yes, the One that I affirm is God died at the hands of the wicked people who downed that aircraft, and it is that Self-same God that is to be found in all those decent hardworking people who are working their butts off (pardon the expression) to do good at this truly terrible time. That’s right, God takes shape and form in those who rescue, comfort, and heal. God is also in all those people who are grieving at this time, having lost loved ones.

Now, there will be more than a few people who will have lost hope of the possibility of redemption and any good coming out of this terrible, wicked act. I can understand that. But God, who is so very human, having forever aligned Himself with suffering humanity from even before the very beginning of time, is constantly living, and constantly suffering, and constantly dying, and constantly rising again. Such is the eternal nature of life, for everyone and everything is, to use a Biblical turn of phrase, begotten of the Only One (cf Jn 1:3, Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 4:9).

One of the many memorable parables of Jesus is the ‘Parable of the Weeds’ (see Mt 13:24-30). A person sowed good seed in their field, but while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, the weeds also appeared. Now, what was to be done? Well, Jesus said that it would be futile and self-defeating to try to simply pull out the weeds, for then you ran the risk of uprooting the wheat with the weeds. You had to let both grow together until the harvest. Then you could collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, and gather the wheat and bring it into the barn.


The innocent crew and passengers of MH17 are the person who sowed good seed (wheat) in their field. They now find themselves broken, dead, and scattered among the sunflower fields of Eastern Ukraine. Those who downed the aircraft, as well as those who are now acting wrongly in various ways to pick over and loot, and then trash, the victims' belongings scattered among the wreckage, destroy vital evidence, and otherwise conceal the truth, not to mention unceremoniously remove human bodies as if the remains were garden refuse and the pro-Russian separatists and rebel soldiers were simply involved in a garden cleanup, are the enemy (yes, enemy) sowing weeds among the wheat. (You know, isn't interesting how evil always acts clandestinely, furtively, deceptively, and duplicitously?) Now, here's the rub. We can’t simply pull out the weeds, although we’d all very much like to do that if we could. Our only hope is that, in time, we will have the opportunity to gather the wheat and ‘bring it into the barn,’ and then proceed to burn those horrible weeds. In the meantime, we must sublimate our suffering, as well as our anger, into sacrifice for the living as well as for the dead. We must transmute our fears, pain and suffering into tribute to the victims of MH17. We must insist on a proper independent, international forensic investigation, respect and justice for the dead, and compassion and other assistance for the living. You see, sacrifice spells salvation and redemption.

Now, I am very much aware that what I have said in this post will be of little or no comfort to those who grieve, but that is how I see it. God is not some remote, otherworldly, supposedly ‘supernatural’ figure, but a very human figure. We see God being wrongfully crucified all the time at the hands of wicked men and women, but we can also see God in all those decent people who, following their good inclination (yetzer ha’tov), act with kindness, compassion, and mercy. And we can see God in all those broken people who are suffering and grieving at this time and who will continue to suffer for quite a while to come. The real message of the three great monotheistic religions is this---we must be God to each other. There was a time when I never thought I could or would say that, but I can say it now … and it must be said. Yes, we must be God to each other, for we are the arms and legs of God. We are not God, but God, in a very special sense, is us. And when we minister to others we minister to the One who lives and moves and has Its Be-ing in us just as we live and move and have our our being in It.

Evil does indeed walk among us. But so does good. And it is good that will ultimately triumph over evil. Such is the nature of reality … even though appearances can often suggest otherwise.


Postscript. It is now some 12 days since MH17 was blown out of the sky. The Dutch and Australian investigators in charge of finding out what happened have yet to lay eyes on the wreckage or the human remains believed to remain strewn across the enormous debris field which, in the words of one frustrated official, is ‘one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world.’ As expected, Russians and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to obstruct and impede a full and open independent international investigation of this dreadful tragedy. IEJ. July 29, 2014.



Floral tribute outside St Mary's Catholic Cathedral,
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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