05 December 2011

Christianity and the Banality of Evil.

Before you read the below post, I highly recommend checking out Virginia Matt's blog that he's writing while traveling in Africa.  The reference to the door at the conclusion of the post won't make sense if you haven't checked out this particular post.

I recently sent something similar to this email to Virginia Matt -- there are a few additions for clarity:

I just ordered Hannah Arendt's The Banality of Evil from the Boston Public Library.

I think I should start there.  The banality of evil.  The ho-hum, cover  your mouth when you yawn indifference to evil.  And not because the yawner is a bad person; no, I think it's something more insidious than that.  How can one group of people look at another group of people who live in terror and suffering and not be moved by it?  How can one look upon the face of another who is suffering for no other reason than losing the genetic game of geography, being born here and not there, and not want to do something?  And then you do nothing, not because you're a bad person or because you don't care, but because you don't know how to care.  And again, that's not your fault either: because who ever taught you to really care?  

I wonder about this a lot.  I think, for starters, that this is the Franciscan insight to human life: you can't stand still, you can't watch when others go wantonly past you to their demise.  Or, maybe that is a generally religious insight.  Maybe it's better phrased like this: the Franciscan insight is that you can stand still, but if you do, you lose something a whole lot important than just your time or your ability to sleep well at night.  You lose your life, your humanness, your ability to suffer with, to scream at, to rage, rage against the night of suffering being experience by someone who is just like you but looks nothing like you.  Nothing like you, except his organs, of course.

And when you do something -- whatever it is -- the insight that I've gained is that you must do it fearlessly*.  That's what I think, at the end of the day, is most important: to live without fear.  I've been on this fear/salvation/Christianity kick lately and I'm sort of proud of it.  In a lot of ways, it's the insight that I think I started to gain in Honduras and am only now attempting to figure out what to do with it.  

*And fear: fear of what?  A lot of things: death, failure, sanction, censure, abandonment, the list could continue.

So, that's the reaction your writing about the door brought out in me.  It was one of the best reflections on evil that could be written.  Why?  Because, simply put, it doesn't truly matter how many slaves passed through that door.  1, 10, 1,000, or over a million.  They were human beings, wrong time, wrong place and this has happened throughout history and even today.  And still we yawn.  


PJA said...

Matt, I just read this (and Matt Virginia's post to preface) and this is a heavy topic and you're exploring it interestingly...

As someone who has to face others (a specific other, who has a mental disability, comes to mind) in suffering, I would ask: why? Or how do we reconcile it? I certainly get--and appreciate--the point that what matters is not how many people walked through that door, rather that people walked through it at all is what stands to be taken away from it. But why? Why did people walk through it? Why did they have to? Why did God allow them to be forced through it? How do we reconcile acting fearlessly in the face of the door, striving to respond properly to what the door stands for, with the fact that the door is there at all--and that God permits it?!

I don't mean to unload on you, but it's hard being a theology student and being bombarded with the "tough" questions--people don't like to talk about the easy stuff, that's for sure. They want answers to the tough questions... and who can blame them.

mtjofmcap said...

This is the problem of theodicy. I have some thoughts about it, but I need to put them together.