Monday, November 29, 2021

The Great Masquerade of Evil

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Letters and Papers from Prison, begins with a prologue entitled “A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943.” It was written a few months before Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazi regime.  He writes:

"The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil." 

A few paragraphs earlier he wrote, “One may ask whether there have ever before in human history been people with so little ground under their feet….”

Perhaps every generation feels that way. I certainly feel that way. The Christianity I have known all my life has shifted beneath my feet in the last few years. The Bride of Christ – at least the white evangelical branch of it - is looking more and more like the Harlot of Babylon. Recently the editor-in-chief of World magazine and three other top editorial staffers announced their resignation. They are the latest victims of Christian fascism’s takeover of evangelical Christianity.

As we begin Advent I am pondering evil masquerading as good in American Christianity. American physicist and Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg famously said, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion." There is something about religion that takes evil to the next level. The transformation of American Evangelicalism in my lifetime from a pietistic faith to a political movement causes me to reflect on the origin and nature of evil.

Reality is one. Nondual. “Hear O Israel, the Lord they God, the Lord is One.” The universe emerged from the One who is God and returns to One. It remains One now for those with eyes to see. In the beginning there was no good or evil. These concepts are products of the human psyche. There is no good and evil for animals or rocks or trees. Before humans emerged from the evolutionary tree there was no good and evil.

The mythology of a primordial Satan and his minions is simply an effort to shift the blame from humans to elsewhere, just like Adam and Eve did in the Eden story. “She made me do it! The devil made me do it!” Evil is a product of the human heart. It is the division of one into two, which are then understood to be at war with each other. It is eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It is dualism in the human heart.

Some say that evil is the absence of good. I disagree. Without good there is no evil. They create each other. We make one into two and then forget what we have done. We create an “other” so that we can have a scapegoat to bear our sins and so we can pretend we are righteous. Evil is the psyche seeking to escape from Reality.

It does not work. The dark side of the human psyche returns as the monster under the bed, demons in the spiritual realm, lawless hoards massing at the border, and QAnon myths of pedophile Democrats drinking the blood of children. Evil is the shadow of our psyche projected onto others. The problem is that when we project evil onto others, it is harder to acknowledge it in ourselves. Evil people seldom see themselves as evil.  

Political movements like Nazism do not consider themselves to be evil. Just the opposite. The architects of the Holocaust thought themselves to be the good guys, the epitome of patriotism, family, faith and goodness.  They were restoring the nation to its former greatness after its humiliation in the First World War. They were making Germany great again.

They saw their enemies – Socialists, Jews, Blacks, Unions – as evil. In their eyes these groups were the problem. They saw them as so harmful to society that the nation had to be cleansed of these people by any means necessary. The same is happening today in America. The names of the actors and movements have changed, yet many of fascism’s enemies remain the same.

I see evil masquerading as good in Christian nationalism. Yet I have to wonder if I am doing the same thing that I accuse them of doing. It is tempting to label them as evil and myself as righteous, just as they see themselves as good and their enemies as evil. It is important to consider the possibility that we may be as self-deceived as our opponents.

Yet we cannot let moral introspection lapse into moral relativism or apathy. Though evil may be the creation of the human mind, it is still very dangerous to human life and society. It must be addressed in human history. While aware of the possibility that we may be wrong, we must not surrender to inaction. The appropriate response to evil is to oppose it with faith and courage, while keeping an eye on our propensity for self-deception.  

After watching the German Evangelical Church collaborate with Nazism, Bonhoeffer took a stand that cost him his life. He became part of the Confessing Church that opposed the marriage of nationalism and Christianity. When he was banned from teaching the “critical race theory” of his day, he taught at the illegal underground seminary of Finkenwalde. In his writings he gave us the tools to see the dangers of Christian fascism in all ages. I see them in our age and in our country.

1 comment:

happi said...

My heart goes out to the many Christians who follow Christ's urging on how we should treat each other. "Your neighbor as yourself, Love one another, Feed the hungry, Do unto others". The ones you speak of in your blog, fortunately, are exceptions. I'm an Agnostic but respect and treasure those many Christians putting Jesus words into practice. Rabbi! Teacher! He had much to teach us, even we Agnostics.But it is easy for all to see who His followers really are. Just simply ignore their words and look at their actions. By their fruits ye shall know them. We Are One. Happi