13 April 2023

Resisting the mystique of evil once again (partly a repost)

(Related posts: Evil. Declaring war. It's hard to believe in Jesus.)

Once again blatant evil is in the news. Photos and a video of apparent beheadings of Ukrainian soldiers are in circulation, leading to understandable outrage and demands for firm response.

What differentiates these awful examples of human capacity for deliberate cruelty from the many other instances of premeditated violence and terrorism that are happening constantly? Most obviously, they're right before our eyes; we cannot avoid them! Can they also serve to provoke us to go deeper than naming and demonizing the most obvious villains in any specific case?

History is a butcher's bench, as Emmanuel Charles McCarthy has said. Most of us on this planet have been taught, wrongly, that when we cannot prevail by other means, violence is the obvious and most effective option. Not everyone who believes this becomes cruel, but those who are predisposed to cruelty can feel justified. (Not everyone who likes alcohol becomes an alcoholic, but in an alcohol-saturated culture, addicts are statistically bound to arise.) So we can thunder against cruel crimes, and no doubt we should, but we also need to challenge our own systemic addiction to violence.

This should be second nature to Christians, who are always seeking to liberate God's children from every bondage. (We are, aren't we?) It's the reason for the natural partnership between the evangelist and the activist that I mentioned last week. But it's impossible to deny that we too have been beguiled too often by the myth of redemptive violence.

Here's my original post on resisting the mystique of evil, posted in October 2014 after an earlier cluster of cruel beheadings....

Signe Wilkinson; source.  

I'm not sure what is more disheartening—the beheadings videotaped and published by Islamic State, or the utterly predictable responses from world leaders. Yes, there is palpable evil in the premeditated cruelty of those shocking videos, but here's my question: is the effect magnified by the demonstrative shaking of fists by public figures? What might be a more adequate response from believers?

I watched one of the videos from beginning to end, and haven't yet recovered. After a few moments of stunned silence, I flashed back to a piece of film footage from Viet Nam, a few seconds captured by an NBC cameraman when the national police chief of South Viet Nam summarily executed a Viet Cong prisoner during the Tet offensive. The clip was included in the documentary film Hearts and Minds, which I saw as a college student in Canada—and brand-new Christian—in 1975. Those images, too, still remain with me.

Unlike the Islamic State beheadings, the Saigon execution may not have been staged for video. Part of its raw horror was the way the shooting seemed so unexpected, so casual. On the other hand, its inclusion in Hearts and Minds was a deliberate choice. This moment of total ruthlessness drives home the clash of values implied by the film's ironic title. It shocks for a purpose.

Islamic State's video propagandists are also trying to shock us for a purpose. In fact, these crimes really should shock us if we are to hold on to our humanity, our capacity for empathy. In other words, we are absolutely right to recoil with horror—but not with fear. We ought to go on to pray for the victims, their families, and all those who are in IS's captivity. Our prayers also need to extend to the murderers and their commanders. Having unleashed the demons of cruelty so far and wide, they're all in grave danger of becoming spiritual zombies themselves.

But please deny them the pleasure of casting a spell of evil over us. Their victims die only once, the same as all the rest of us, including all innocent victims of all wars, and including the tragic "collateral damage" of political and military miscalculations. Above all, let's not permit the righteous rhetoric of our politicians keep us from seeing how their own actions, financed by our taxes and abetted by our passivity, can incubate such hatred. The cycles of grievance and revenge that feed terrorist groups such as Islamic State could never ever excuse such cruelty, but those cycles are nevertheless a powerful spiritual reality demanding to be confronted with prayer and discernment and bold truth-telling.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:11-18a; context.)

Frederick Schmidt on navigating denominational decline; Jana Riess and Stephen Bullivant on why Americans are leaving their churches

"It's really really difficult to argue people into the Kingdom of God." Josh Daffern on how evangelicals, of all people, have been getting evangelism all wrong.

William Shetter's review of Clarence Jordan's The Inconvenient Gospel. Caution: I had barely finished reading the review when I ordered the book.

To those who wonder whether they are doing "enough" good in the world, Alyson Rockhold has some wisdom from Mother Teresa and Thomas Merton.

Open Culture gives you access to a U.S. military guide from 1955 on how to detect communists, now available on YouTube. In another couple of generations, will we get a similar retrospective look at an archival guide to detecting critical race theory?

On the eve of the coronation of Charles III, we might ask: Should the Anglican church in the United Kingdom romanticize such coronations? Some thoughts from Jonathan Chaplin:

Surely we must question whether presiding over the sacral coronation of a political ruler has ever been theologically defensible for a church called to model the example of Jesus Christ, ‘who though he was rich, yet for your sakes he become poor’ (2 Cor. 8: 9 NRSV)

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats sending out a song "to all the senior citizens, to all my AARP people out here...."

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

# ◉ Challenge cruel crimes and systemic addiction to violence through the Reflective Nature?

"So we can thunder against cruel crimes, and no doubt we should, but we also need to challenge our own systemic addiction to violence."

"This should be second nature to Christians, who are always seeking to liberate God's children from every bondage. (We are, aren't we?)"

It is the act of relfecting or mirroring that is the foundation of crime, addiction, and violence. The living and continous awareness of the presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ in the conscience and consciousness frees people from bondage to the reflective nature and the conceptual entities promoted through the agency of political (and all social sciences), religious, educational, and economic institutions and the agents of those institutions. The engagement in and dependency upon the reflective nature to guide and inform human relations promotes and nurtures conflict and strife. The more people thunder against and challenge (reflect or mirror) evil and good the more they promote and nuture the dialectic. Christ's living and continuous presence in the conscience and consciousness draws people out and frees human being from the dialectical cycle of the conceptual conjuration of thought-entities which bewitch the mind spellbond by the intellectual constructs of those who entreat for engagement in the relfective nature and its dialectical process instead of admonishing the direct and continous (moment by moment) presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ in the mind and heart, outside the reflective nature. The more the agents of the reflective nature promote the reflecting or mirroring and the conjuration of thought entities to "liberate God's children from every bondage" the more they will render God's children spellbound to the source of their bondage which is the dialectical process. God's children are become free in the continous presence of Jesus Christ not in engagement with and in the reflective `nature and thinking about good, evil, or God etc. The reflective nature keeps the direct experience of Christ in the conscience at a distance and binds human being types and shadows (thought-entities) conjured forth by the agents of the reflective nature.