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“Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.” — W. H. Auden
When horrible things happen in the world, those acts are often identified as evil acts. The Russian creation of mass graves in Ukraine? Evil. The killing of citizens in the streets of Ukraine? Evil. The mass shooting of parishioners at church on a Sunday morning? Evil. The killing of young children while they are at school. Evil.
These actions are so horrendous that I think most of us would not debate our describing them as evil.
But the quotation by Auden added a level of complexity to the word “evil” that I’ve struggled with over the years. The most extreme actions that defy our humanity and morality, that ignore empathy and compassion are obviously evil, in my opinion. But what happens when we are faced with immoral, cruel, hurtful, and destructive actions that are not seen as horrific? The questions that come up for me are these:
- What qualifies an action as evil or not?
- Is it important to identify an action as evil?
- If we know that an evil act is being perpetrated, are we complicit if we don’t act against it, through our words or deeds?
- Are there levels of evil that call us to action, and others that we can justify ignoring?
There are many more questions we could also ask, but I wonder if, with all the horror in the world, all over the world, have we become inured to evil? Do images in photographs, on TV, in the newspapers and film allow us to be witnesses to evil and not recognize that we are engaging with it? When we turn away from a parent spanking a child in a grocery store, or a man grabbing and shaking his wife in the park, or we realize that a financier is stealing millions from his clients, are all of these evil and how should we respond to them?
At what point do we have an obligation to speak up or speak out? When is it important for us to physically act in response to what we see?
What happens when we see someone steal? Or when he or she tells a bold lie?
Are we all too ready to allow evil to share our bed and eat at our table?
[photo by Andy Li on unsplash.com]Published in