This morning I am sad. I am sad for the families and friends of those who were killed in Boston this week; I am sad for the families and friends and for those who were wounded and maimed. I am sad for the two young men who perpetrated the killing and wounding. I am sad for their families and friends. What is ‘man’ that we can move from the light to the darkness? What is man that we can move from choosing good to choosing evil?
Taken in the abstract, ‘man’ is a being possessed of self-aware reason and the power to act from love and duty, a being ordained to be steward of the earth, a free and conscious servant of the Source [God, Allah, The Great Spirit, etc] of all things. Taken as such, our human existence can be understood not only as part of the all-encompassing greatness of Creation, but as its crown jewel. Ah, but ‘man’ in the concrete — man as he actually is, how we actually are; this ‘man’ at times [for me, times like this] passes beyond all possible comprehension. Human evil cannot be contained in the same mind that contemplates the beauty and order of the universe. The contradiction seems too extreme. Yet it does exist as potential and, as we are learning about two young men, as a reality.
I cannot begin to count how many times during these past 49 years I have thought about and spoke about the ‘paradox of evil’ [good and evil, light and darkness, virtue and vice, or the sacred and the profane]. I don’t see evil as a problem to be solved. I do, at times, see it as a dilemma (that is, we have to choose between ‘good and evil’) and I do see it as part of a paradox (the paradox that as healthy human beings we are potentially both good and evil). Periodically, evil runs amok among us. At these times I think of the collective ‘mankind’ and our ability for collective cruelty.
My thinking is triggered by glimpses or fragments or events like Boston. I move from the particular to the general; I remember the intentional destruction of millions of human lives in the service of the insane ideas or ‘noble’ purposes. Ideas and purposes that conceal the greed for power, massive resentment, the false honoring of the ‘self,’ the false collective identity for the illusion that ‘we are right and you, if you are not with us, are evil. I recall film footage of walking human skeletons being herded into camps and into gas chambers. I recall a statistic dropping from a book into my mind and down into my heart and down further into my bones — a report of numbers, of many, many numbers a report of thousands and hundreds of thousands, of millions and of tens of millions: Armenians, Rwandans, Slavs, Jews, American Indians, Chinese, Japanese, and Slaves. I can hear them choke and cry; I can hear them beg and pray. I
can feel their pain and disbelief. Today I hear their ghosts calling to me across the ages and I cry and I am in pain and I am in disbelief.
I pause. What, then, of the greatness and the good? What of the sunlit heights of human love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, beauty and intelligence? What of the millions upon millions of small acts and small sacrifices that have occurred and continue to occur everywhere? What of the greater acts of love and compassion and caring that emerge at the same time that evil is being perpetrated [as these smaller and greater acts manifested themselves in Boston and Texas this week]? All of these acts remind me of the hope of ‘man.’ All of these acts remind me of the sacredness of ‘man.’ All of these acts remind me of the Divine within each of us. All of us no matter our faith-tradition or humanistic-tradition and all of us no matter our ethnicity, nationality, race or culture demonstrate in so many ways each and every day that ‘man’ is also capable of being the ‘good.’
How can we help one another choose to be good so that what happened to the two young men in Boston will not happen to two other young people who might be struggling with their own potential for good and for evil? The potential for evil in the world and in ourselves makes a specific demand upon us — a demand not only to do whatever we can, but to be able to do, to be what we are meant to be.