Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Evil That Men Do

I came across a quote from Canon Andrew White - the 'vicar of Baghdad' - recently. He had been asked why IS hates Christians and other minorities so much, and he replied:
They hate because they hate. They hate because they are evil. It is not an issue of 'these are Muslims and they're radicals and that's what they're like'. They're like this because they're evil ... They don't know God at all.
Every now and again it seems people get an excuse and an opportunity to cast off the restraints of 'civilized behaviour' and some of them do things which can only be described as incredibly evil. We saw it in Ruanda, we saw it in Bosnia, now we see it in Iraq: people who had lived together comfortably enough as neighbours suddenly descend into anarchy and chaos. It is tied to dehumanising others - the Ruandan Hutus famously described the Tutsis as 'cockroaches' before going on the rampage - rather than religion (Orthodox Christians in Bosnia, Sunni Muslims in Iraq, and no real religious element in Ruanda) or race/geographic region (Africa, Europe and Middle East in these three examples).

That is 'chaotic' evil - where people seemingly just lose the plot and wildly act out the darkness within them. There is also a cold systematic evil, such as the Israelis deliberately killing civilians in neighbouring countries every few years. They dehumanise with terms like 'terrorist', yet their aim is to cause terror and to destroy - in the latest attacks on Gaza, hospitals and those who managed hospitals were targetted, to teach them a lesson.

I've also been reading (again) Steig Larsson's wonderful book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The four parts to the book are each introduced by a statistic about violence to women in Sweden:
"18% of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man."
"48% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man." 
"13% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship." 
"92% of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police."
Currently in Britain various child sexual abuse scandals roll on. Last night Channel 4 news quoted a child support worker as saying:
"Rotherham is not the exception, it is more likely to be the norm."
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. According to NSPCC research the vast majority of child abuse happens in the home: their figures suggest that one in twelve children (around 8%) is sexually abused during their childhood, the vast majority by either family members or family friends.

It's about power and accountability. Where people have power but do not have to answer for it then some abuse it. Where they can shield their activity in darkness, anonymity and secrecy then some give way to the evil within. And some don't.

Maybe that is a working definition of that horribly degraded term 'sin': when we have a choice between what is evil and what is good, which do we choose?

Most religions, I think, follow most people in condemning those who choose such evil, who sin in this way. A distinctive about Christianity is that it also offers a way back.

When you have made the wrong choices, when you have sold your soul to evil, Jesus offers hope - light in the terrible darkness. Churches still struggle with what on earth that means in practice, and lots of churchgoers are really not keen on this idea at all, but following Jesus means little without it.

For someone who has sold their soul, Jesus has paid the price to redeem it. The Bible calls this 'Grace'. We all need grace ... maybe some more than others.

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