TagGood and Evil

Black Hats, White Hats, Red Hats, Grey Hats

Simplistic thinking and knee-jerk reaction is a problem these days.  There used to be more a little more nuance in people’s thinking, some acknowledgment of grey areas.  Not anymore, it seems.  We live in a world of black and white.

I was watching Twitter this week when the #CovingtonBoys met Nathan Phillips.  People looked at that now famous image and jumped to all sorts of conclusions about what happened.  Pretty much every conclusion to which anyone jumped was wrong because they jumped from simplistic assumptions.  A week has passed and some people are still looking at the incident through stereotypes.

With this binary thinking, there are clear good guys and clear bad buys.  Heroes in white hats and villains in black hats.  But this isn’t reality; there were no black and white hats at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday–just grey (and red).

The Sainthood and The #Covingtonboys

There were a lot of people who saw the students from Covington High school as saints.  Others see them and want to respond with violence.  The reasons for both reactions are the same.

  1. They are Christian.
  2. They are obviously conservative
  3. They are wearing MAGA hats.

The Sainthood of Nathan Phillips

There’s a whole other batch of people that instantly saw Phillips as the saint.  Their evidence?

  1. He is a U.S. Marine Veteran.
  2. He is an Omaha Tribal elder.
  3. He must be liberal.

TheCovingtonBoys are not Saints

I work with High School students.   They are all capable of much good and we celebrate this when we see it, but they are all capable of many forms of vice or folly.  They are like every other human being on the planet except they are young.  Consequently, both their good and their evil are a little more exuberant.

I am going to disagree with Rienzo, who seems to equate the boys to Christian martyrs facing lions in the Colleseum.

In this group of students, as in most groups, you will see a mix of good, bad and foolish.

They are Christian: Not all Christians are good.  I would go so far as to say, “No Christians are good.”  I wouldn’t be so bold, except the Bible says it.  For it puts Christians in the larger category of being human.  I will concede that there is a lot more hostility directed toward Christians in the media these days.  But, it is not at all helpful for Christians to automatically come to the defense of other Christians, just because they are Christian.  We can expect evil within our midst.  And the best course of action is to deal with it.

It’s equally ridiculous to demonize all Christians.  For one thing, the standard by which Christians are being demonized is a Christian standard.  Secondly, many of the offenses for which Christians are accused are not Christian or at least not exclusively Christian, but human nature expressed through religion and politics.

Every Christian is also human.   That means they will sometimes do good things, but it also guarantees that they will also do evil.  Consequently, we will have to condone or condemn their words and deeds, one at a time.  This is not convenient, but it is moral.

They are conservative:  This doesn’t automatically make them good people, but it doesn’t automatically make them bad people either.   There are good reasons behind social and economic conservatism.  And there are problems with it as well.  Let’s admit this fact, instead of automatically and thoughtlessly condoning or condemning.  Meaningful dialogue is the only way to tease out the truth and the falsehood from these positions.  Meaningful dialogue and name-calling are mutually exclusive.

I don’t understand Christians who are completely comfortable under the conservative label when a good chunk of conservative thought runs contrary to the Bible.  But even so, they are half right, and it might take some responsible dialogue to determine when, where and why.

They are wearing MAGA hats:  This is a hard one.  Some people see this as a token of sainthood.  It certainly isn’t that.  But I try not to think of it as signifying pure, unadulterated evil.  It is inseparable from Donald Trump.  This means that Christians should be very hesitant to wear them for he represents so much that is contrary to Biblical Christianity.

Of course, the students don’t understand that it’s inappropriate to politicize the March for Life with a Trump hat, but where are the adults?   And then I realize that there are probably a lot of adults are wearing them too.

Of course, the students don't understand that it's inappropriate to politicize the March for Life with a Trump hat, but where are the adults? And then I realize that there are probably a lot of adults are wearing them too.Click To Tweet

Nathan Phillips is No Saint Either

Nathan Phillips is no saint, nor is he likely a villain, but this week, binary thinking reduced him to one or the other.  From some perspectives, the evidence for his essential goodness comes from his service in the US military.

He is a Veteran:  Partly out of guilt for our treatment of Vietnam War veterans, and partly because of our worship of Freedom, we’ve recast the idea of a soldier as Defender of Freedom.  We liturgically show appreciation for the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform at civic celebrations and sporting events.  Further, the military is, as always, linked to nationalism.  Consequently, our cultural narratives now celebrate our soldiers.  Veterans are the good guys.  Phillips is a veteran.

Our veneration of Freedom and Nation can lead us to unthinkingly considering all veterans as white-hat heroes, but Nathan Phillips cannot live up to this image.  He is only human.

He is an Omaha Tribal elder:  This has lately become a powerful signifier or goodness.  I recently overheard a woman bashing Christians for being bigots and anti-science.  But it was obvious that she held firmly to the now fashionable reverence for Indigenous culture and spirituality that our federal and provincial governments are promoting.  I support this promotion, by the way.  But with qualifications.

Indigenous Spirituality in a Box

We do well to understand the culture and spirituality of our Indigenous neighbours.  There is much to admire and even emulate. But I worry that we are sanitizing and homogenizing this culture.  Both Indigenous spirituality and Christianity are inconsistent with the modern liberalism that dominates the political and social scene in Canada often for the same reasons.  In the case of Christianity, the differences are emphasized and condemned.  In the case of Indigenous culture, the differences are emphasized and patronized and sanitized and then celebrated.

Both Indigenous spirituality and that of Christianity are inconsistent with the modern liberalism that dominates Canadian politics and education, often for the same reasons. But we condemn the differences in the former and praise them in the latter.Click To Tweet

We are not taking Indigenous culture and spirituality as it is.  We pick and choose the bits that fit our particular political and social narrative.  I fear we are we sentimentalizing.  And so we fail to understand our neighbours but walk away feeling as if we’ve somehow done right.

I wanted to tell the woman who was bashing Christians and venerating Indigenous spirituality, that 70 percent of Indigenous people are Christian.  I suspect this would have been problematic because I don’t think it fits her simplistic narrative.

When I was a kid, the media–movies and television–usually presented Indigenous Americans as aggressive and savage.  We’ve come to repent of this racism, but we are in danger of replacing this misrepresentation with another.  Disney does this when it presents the Sioux as passive victims in Hidalgo.

We often reduce indigenous culture down to its connection to the land or its respect for elders and ancestors or the dialogic approach to problem-solving or as a complement to secular modernism.  These are wonderful aspects of these cultures that we might benefit from, but aren’t we just cherry picking?   Aren’t we really assuming a patronizing openness to these particular ideas and in doing so, disrespecting the whole?

Very rarely do people or things fit neatly into categories of Good and Evil. One of the things we can learn from Indigenous culture is the efficacy of a restorative justice model to teach us that this is so.Click To Tweet

He must be a liberal: There are two problems here.  One is that it’s a simplistic assumption–liberals cannot usually be identified by how they look.  The second problem is to assume that if he’s a liberal, he’s a saint or an embodiment of evil.  There are good reasons behind social and economic liberalism, but it’s not all good.  Meaningful dialogue is the only way to tease out the truth and the falsehood from these positions.

I don’t understand Christians who are completely comfortable under the liberal label when a good chunk of liberal thought runs contrary to the Bible.  But even so, they are half right, and it might take some responsible dialogue to determine when, where and why.

Very rarely do people or things fit neatly into categories of Good and Evil.  One of the things we can learn from Indigenous culture is the efficacy of a restorative justice model to teach us that this is so.  I’m not sure if Phillips is so keen on restorative practices, but we’ll see if he consents to meet with the boys.  America needs some Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom in these curcumstances.  Ironically, these ways are also Christian.  Let’s use, and celebrate both.

If you’d like a nice parable that also bears on this discussion, read “The White Knight” by Eric Nicol.

 

“The White Knight”

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Where does evil come from?

We’ve got two choices: It comes either from within or from without.

How one answer this question can hinge on how one understands the relationship between Good and Evil.  If we think they are completely separate, then we will tend to divide the world up into the things that are good and the things that are evil.  We will likely work very hard to align ourselves with the good and avoid, or even do battle with, evil.  We will distance ourselves from people who do things that we deem to be evil, for their words or deeds or views that are contrary to ours–the “good”–will show their alignment with evil.  If, in fact, good and evil are absolutely distinct, living this way is essential because we will be thinking and acting in accordance with reality.

But what if this is not an accurate description of the relationship between good and evil?  Then we will be getting ourselves into a lot of trouble because we are not living in with reality.

When we assume that evil is external, we are likely to do all sorts of evil for failing to deal with the evil that resides in our own hearts. #goodandevilClick To Tweet

The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything and that everything he made was good (Genesis 1:31).  It also tells us that sin affects all people–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and all things–“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  All the things that God declared good, are still good, but they have also been distorted by evil.  This truth makes it impossible to find anyone or anything that is purely good, or purely evil (and determines how one reads Philippians 4:8).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn had it right when he says,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.

In Mark 7:15 Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for isolating themselves for those they deemed morally inferior–“evil”–pointing out that  “it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” not what comes from outside of them.

The allegorical tale of the White Knight beautifully illustrates what happens when we have a too simplistic view of good and evil and, consequently, fail to attend to the evil that resides in our own hearts.

THE WHITE KNIGHT
by Eric Nicol

Once upon a time, there was a knight who lived in a little castle on the edge of the forest of Life. One day this knight looked in the mirror and saw that he was a White Knight.

“Lo!” he cried. “I am the White Knight and therefore represent good. I am the champion of virtue and honour and justice, and I must ride into the forest and slay the Black Knight, who is evil.”

So the White knight mounted his snow-white horse and rode into the forest to find the Black Knight and slay him in single combat.

Many miles he rode the first day, without so much as a glimpse of the Black Knight. The second day he rode even farther, still without sighting the ebony armour of mischief. Day after day he rode, deeper and deeper into the forest of Life, searching thicket and gulley and even the treetops. The black knight was nowhere to be seen.

Yet the White Knight found many signs of the Black Knight’s presence. Again and again, he passed a village in which the Black Knight had struck – a baker’s shop robbed, a horse stolen, an innkeepers daughter ravished. But always he just missed catching the doer of these deeds.

At last, the White Knight had spent all his gold in the cause of his search. He was tired and hungry. Feeling his strength ebbing, he was forced to steal some buns from a bake shop. His horse went lame so that he was forced to replace it, silently and by darkness, with another white horse in somebody’s stable. And when he stumbled, faint and exhausted, into an inn, the innkeeper’s daughter gave him her bed, and because he was the White Knight in shining armour, she gave him her love, and when he was strong enough to leave the inn she cried bitterly because she could not understand why he had to go and find the Black Knight and slay him.

Through many months, under the hot sun, over frosty paths, the White Knight pressed on his search, yet all the knights he met in the forest were, like himself, fairly white. They were knights of varying shades of whiteness, depending on how long they, too, had been hunting the Black Knight. Some were sparkling white. These had just started hunting that day and irritated the White Knight by innocently asking directions to the nearest Black Knight.

Others were tattle-tale grey. And still, others were so grubby, horse and rider, that the mirror in their castle would never recognize them. Yet the White Knight was shocked the day a knight of gleaming whiteness confronted him suddenly in the forest and with a wild whoop thundered towards him with leveled lance. The White Knight barely had time to draw his sword and, ducking under the deadly steel, plunge it into the attacker’s breast.

The White Knight dismounted and kneeled beside his mortally wounded assailant, whose visor had fallen back to reveal blond curls and a youthful face. He heard the words, whispered in anguish: “Is evil then triumphant?” And holding the dead knight in his arms he saw that beside the bright armour of the youth his own, besmirched by the long quest, looked black in the darkness of the forest.

His heart heavy with horror and grief, the White Knight who was white no more buried the boy, then slowly stripped off his own soiled mail, turned his grimy horse free to the forest, and stood naked and alone in the quiet dusk. Before him lay a path which he slowly took, which lead him to his castle on the edge of the forest. He went into the castle and closed the door behind him. He went to the mirror and saw that it no more gave back the White Knight, but only a middle-aged, naked man, a man who had stolen and ravished and killed in pursuit of evil.

Thereafter when he walked abroad from his castle he wore a coat of simple colour, a cheerful motley, and never looked for more than he could see. And his hair grew slowly white, as did his fine, full beard, and the people all around called him the Good White Knight.

© 2019 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑