Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hitler and I: A Painful Look at Evil

Need I say more?
I was born at the end of the 20th century, 1991.  And the 20th century was one hell of a century to be associated with.  When people look back from the distant future, the 20th century will almost certainly jut out  as one of the most memorable centuries in human history, and for all the wrong reasons.  Before the century was even half over, the entire world had erupted into war twice, with a global economic disaster spanning the time inbetween.  The Second World War claimed nearly 70 million lives, 17 million of them were civilians exterminated, including the death of 2/3 of the Jewish population of Europe.  Even more haunting than the devastation that the war left was the devastation that the war made possible.  Atomic warfare, capable of annihilating enormous swaths of land and bringing about global extinction, sprang out of the ruins of the war and loomed over the latter half of the 20th century.  Periodic genocides, civil wars, and mass human rights violations also littered the century.  As far as people getting along with other people goes, the 20th century sucked by any stretch of the imagination.

In the wake of this century, you find my generation, the last generation of that terrifying stretch of time.  My generation is interesting, and it doesn't take a sociologist to figure that one out.  We're affluent, ridiculously well connected, and incredibly influential.  And with all of this affluence and influence, we seem to have turned our eye towards the mistakes of the generations past.  I challenge anyone to find a generation as concerned with social issues as my generation.  We created (and promptly rejected) KONY 2012, we pioneered the ability to grant foreign aid via text message.  We protest for freedom in the streets of the middle-east, we camped outside of Wall Street for months on end.  Didn't actually get much done, but hey, we occupied, right?  Cries for Gay Rights and Women's Rights and minorities' rights echo through our lexicon.  Take a class on foreign cultures, and you'll quickly discover disdain for colonial influences and imperialistic practices, coupled with intense praise for cultural relativism and pluralism.  We are, for better or worse, the generation of being fair.  It makes sense.  It doesn't take a guru to see that the generations before absolutely sucked at treating humans... humanely.  So we've now chosen to roundhouse that system in the face for a system that corrects the mistakes of our elders.  We're out to stop sin... sorta.

If the last hundred years have not convinced you
that sin and evil are real, seek professional help.
The tragedies of the 20th century, as well as the many tragedies before it, were just that:  tragic.  We cannot look back at the massacre of millions of lives and find it inconsequential.  We cannot look at the thermonuclear bomb, the pinnacle of human discovery and the cutting edge of science, and gasp at the fact that we've used our question for knowledge and forged the ability to annihilate humanity.  Genocide, violence, unrest, slavery, poverty, discrimination, oppression, all of these things scar the memory of our not-to-distant past.  They serve as a horrid reminder that sin and evil exist, not as a theory or as a imaginary concept, but as a stark reality that affects us, here and now.  My generation, in its movement to stop sin, is capable of extraordinary things; I really believe this.  But we're missing a few crucial pieces.  We always speak of the big sins, the ones I listed above.  These are the obvious sins, the social sins.  These are the evils that make you shiver, the ones that might keep you up at night.  They're dark, they're cold, and they must be stopped.

My generation's march against injustice, noble as it may be, is lacking.  Yes, we are rejecting evil.  Hooray, this is truly commendable.  But every journey away from something is a journey towards something, and we seem to be lacking just that:  somewhere to go.  We're leaving Egypt in a great exodus and we have absolutely no idea where the deuce it is we're going.  We might fight the big battles, and with great gusto, but we never wonder where they came from?  Where do the world's Hitlers, Stalins, Mussolinis, Maos, and Pol Pots come from?  How the hell did we get Ted Bundy and Jeffry Dahmer in the mix?  What causes horrifying evil to manifest its ugly head?  

Forgive my Catholic spasm here, but I'm going to say that big evil does not come from the abyss wholesale.  Hitler was not coughed up out of the pits of Hell, mustache and all.  People aren't born with the idea to start a human trafficking ring.  Joseph Kony didn't spend his childhood planning to create an army of child soldiers and sex slaves.  These crimes mature from smaller, unspoken sins.  Sins that, unfortunately, my generation tends to ignore at best, praise at worse.  Catholicism is lampooned and loathed for stances against things like birth control, cohabitation, abortion, and gay marriage.  We're held to be backwards and dangerous, relics of at time long past, the same time, perhaps, that gave the world the evils that we seek to conquer today.  And there in lies the issue.  First off, the Catholic Church belongs to no time.  It has not fit in anywhere or anytime snugly, precisely because it was never meant to.  The Church speaks of Truth Eternal, not truths long past or truths irrelevant, but Truth that endures.  Its not that we don't belong now and did belong then, we've never "belonged" in the first place, and that's beautiful.  Secondly, in her great wisdom, the Church recognizes that great evils start from small sins, and while not every unrequited sin will develop into massacres and slavery and warmongering, each sin pays its toll, each misdoing reinforces a world locked in darkness.

Our culture, the smelly, noisy thing it is, has a very odd, very toxic assumption:  That you and I are unavoidably different.  We preach individualism from the heights and praise those who stand out; our drive is for individual success, for more money, power, pleasure, and honor for ourselves.  Our individual freedom has been crowned king, and thus goodness exists in whatever we want it to exist in.  My friend, you and I are not unavoidably different.  We are children of the same Father, cut from the same cloth, oriented to the same Truth.  We may praise the ability to stand out amongst ourselves, but we mourn it in our hearts, because as we stand there, totally free on our lofty pedestal, we see how lonely we really are.  We stand out alright, but that's because we now each stand alone, having course our own path and crafted our own truths. Only when it is too late do we discover we've been chasing after mirages in the desert.

In a world reeling from generations of petrifying evil, we forget that the most evil thing of all is often the most subtle.  What allowed the monstrosities of our past to happen?  We did.  Hitler and I are both, in part responsible, because we are both sinners.  Evil is not the property and problem of far off places, it is in our homes and burrowing into our hearts.  I say this not to scare you, and I don't mean to be McCartyistic about it, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Sin must not just be fought in the jungles of Uganda and the slums of Port-au-Prince, we must fight in our hearts and in our lives.  Yes, your porn problem (or what have you) might not seem so horrible to the fate of humanity, but only because we're doing a marvelous job of staring at the end of our noses.  You and I, we are not so different, and the lust you may nurture in your heart and the greed I nurture in mine will collide and collude, and someone will suffer.  Sin is synergistic, and when a world full of sinners like you, me, and Hitler find ourselves commingling, the worst in us tends to come out in exponential force.   Remember, everything Hitler did in Germany was legal, he was given his power before he ever seized it.

If you have the noble desire to eradicate evil, which I sincerely hope you do, do yourself, your cause, and your world a favor:  as you seek to eradicate the darkness from the world around you, eradicate it from the world within.  Understand that sin is a complex and cunning beast, and its subtlety in the soul matches its brutality in Auschwitz.  Set aside your own goals, if you seek to be a light to the world, and place Goodness above all things.  Yes, man must be free, but freedom is for something more marvelous than itself.  We are not free for freedom's sake, nor should we be, for such a place is so barren and desolate.  We are free for the sake of Goodness, for the sake of Truth, for the sake of Beauty.  Our freedom allows us to seek these things, not as figments of an imagination, but as realities in themselves.  Goodness is not a measure we create and evaluate, but a measure that we are created and evaluated by.

By all means, if you want a revolution against the broken and trampled world, start a revolution!  But let it be an effective revolution.  If you seek justice and goodness, don't seek them aimlessly, and for God's sake don't just make them up.  Fix your sights on God, the moral axis upon which the world spins.  All things are connected, all things bonded, and in a great and vast universe, we have the consolation that we are not sons and daughters of chaos, we are the Children of God.  We are crafted from something purer than time and space, we're incorporeal spirit.  The vastness of time and space will not satisfy us, the corporeal world is but a shadow for us.  We long for goodness, for truth, for beauty; we seek God.  Want to dispel the darkness in this world?  Let God dispel the darkness within you.


  1. Joe, your writing style is engaging. Have I ever told you that?

    1. Not particularly. Perhaps you alluded to it at times.