By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference
In politics today, people have fallen into the habit of condemning the evil in other persons, groups, structures, or oppressor classes, while they themselves embrace the role of victim.
But the true enemy, from a Christian perspective, is never just something “out there.” Rather, as the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reminds us in “Placuit Deo”, “the evil that is most damaging to the human person is that which comes from his or her heart.”
Who would know better about having ideological enemies than the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008); he spent seven years in Soviet labor camps and three years in exile before being exonerated.
Though Solzhenitsyn was steadfast in denouncing the destructive ideology of the Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn knew he could not succumb to personal hatred of individuals. He wrote: “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” Solzhenitsyn reminds us that the struggle for justice in our world is won or lost in the soul of each person.
Despite the evil inflicted upon him by others, he knew that the battle against evil for which he was most responsible was the one within his own heart. The same is true for each one of us.
THE EVIL ‘OUT THERE’
Our culture views social relations increasingly through a victim/oppressor ideology, and we all have been conditioned to see ourselves as victims of some enemy class that seeks to impose its evil worldview upon us.
This trend can be seen on both sides of the political spectrum. One side blames an assortment of alleged bigots and status quo seekers – corporations, Christian nationalists, members of the patriarchy, and white people – for the oppression of pretty much everyone else.
Meanwhile, the other side demonizes those branded as subversive elites and infiltrators: Marxists, Wall Street, multiculturalists, Hollywood, Muslims, immigrants, and the media.
Each group’s hatred for its supposed enemies is palpable; even worse, one is guilty by association – all Republicans are misogynist white supremacists and all Democrats are anti-American communist enemies of the people.
There is, of course, a certain comfort in this approach, as it is certainly far easier to condemn the wicked “out there” than to recognize both our own sinfulness as a cause of social disorder and concurrent need for transformation.
But this growing hatred cannot end well. Coupled with the lack of civil debate and discourse, it will likely end in more bloodshed – some of which we’ve already begun to see in the Charlottesville violence; the mass shootings in Charleston and Pittsburgh; separate shootings that targeted congressional Republicans and the conservative Family Research Council; and in the clashes caused by the “Antifa” (anti-fascist) groups.
Plenty of ink has been spilled about how President Trump’s demagoguery has contributed to the growing divide in our country, which is undoubtedly true. But his 2016 election opponent is no better:
“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” Hilary Clinton said in a CNN interview. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
Note the implications of Mrs. Clinton’s comment: our political opponent is evil and out to destroy all good things; we, on the other hand, have chosen the path of righteousness, and are oppressed by the powers-that-be because of it.
This kind of rhetoric is a continued recipe for more divisiveness, hatred, and violence.
THE LINE THROUGH THE HEART
This does not mean we need to accept harmful, violent, and racist ideologies; in fact, we have the responsibility as Christians to confront them. But we must always see things through the lens of a broken, sinful, and hurting world, recognizing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), especially and including ourselves.
There is no true justice where God is not worshipped. There is no order in the state or in society when there is no order in the soul.
To let the prophet Solzhenitsyn have the final word:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”