Killing Evil?

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White Supremacy Rally

White supremacy, America’s original sin, is demonic. Always has been. Always will be.

Rarely does evil show up as visibly as it did last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and in the days that have followed.

What does one do in the face of evil?

Banishing evil

In the fight of good with evil the first impulse is to kill it. Get rid of it. Banish it from from existence itself.

The snake’s aside in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden whispers anew its eternal invitation to self-deception: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You cannot kill a demon. If you try to kill it, you end up killing your brother, your sister, your neighbor as your enemy.

Killing the Memory

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Dismantling of Saddam Hussein statue, Baghdad, 2003

Statues like the one of Robert E. Lee on the public squares of the former Confederacy bear witness to the unfinished business of America’s Civil War, or, as it is known in the South, The War Between the States.

Should they all come down? Does right-mindedness — a new public consciousness beyond the evil of white supremacy — demand we do the same with them the people of Iraq and our troops did with the statue of Saddam Hussein to celebrate the end of the reign of terror: take them down?

Knowing how near the serpent of deception is, Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B, invites a more ambiguous response in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of  we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Preserving Memory

Pulling down the statues from their pedestals feels like a catharsis to many of us. To others it feels like an assault. But we do ourselves no favor by framing the issue as one of anti-racist versus racist, pitting the righteous against the sinners.

Historians, spiritual guides, and social psychologists know that societies and individuals that bury their pasts are doomed to repeat them in one form or another. The demons never disappear.  You cannot kill a demon. It always come back to haunt you — all the mores when you think you’ve killed it.

Channel Markers: not becoming what we hate

The statues serve as channel markers that keep us on the way to a consciousness beyond the America’s original sin of white supremacy instead of symbols of our reverence for what we have come to despise.

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Rev. Dr. Andrew Young and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is in this spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colleague Andrew Young takes the unexpected view that the statues should remain.

“I grew up in New Orleans, La., 50 yards from the headquarters of the Nazi party. Before I went to kindergarten, I was having to look in the window on Saturdays, and watch all these folks [shout] “Heil, Hitler!”

“In 1936.

“And my daddy said, those are sick people. They’re white supremacists, and white supremacy is a sickness. You don’t get mad, you get smart. You never get angry with sick people, because you’ll catch their sickness. That’s what I worry about with our young people. Anger and this emotional militancy will give you ulcers, give you heart attacks.

“Don’t get mad, get smart. Your brain is the most important thing you have.”

You cannot kill a demon. It’s always whispering in the shadows of our flight from the evil that lies so close. Don’t get mad, get smart.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 18, 2017.

 

4 thoughts on “Killing Evil?

  1. There have been some times since Charlottesville when my thoughts have been close to those of Andrew Young’s father. There is the famous quote: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
    But then I remember what has been accomplished in Germany since WW II. They have removed all Nazi statues, flags, etc., every token from all places of honor, *but* they have courses in every school on the evils that happened in that war, *and* it is against the law to use Nazi salutes or other reminders of Naziism in public. So students are taken to the locations of concentration camps, and shown the horrible consequences of allowing free rein to the evils of racism and xenophobia. In that way the markers of the evil of the past are kept in remembrance without displaying them in places of honor in public. Of course this runs afoul of the first Amendment, but it seems to me that marches such as that in Charlottesville are the moral equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater — whether the legal equivalent…?
    Hope I’m not pontificating too much here.

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    • Hi, Carolyn, I also am conflicted by the dilemma. The lessons of Nazi Germany are the ones to which our generation turns to keep our moral compass working and for good reason. Here as well as there, the core conviction was racial superiority — Aryan exceptionalism and White exceptionalism, both artificial constructs that provide a false sense of security by fencing the elect in while scapegoating everyone not in the circle.

      The question I’m wrestling with is how a society, a culture, moves forward. The question is spiritual before it’s moral. The horrors of German fascism and American slavery have the same root in spiritual madness. We are never far from it.

      Perhaps the statues should be moved to museums that preserve the memory. One huge difference is that the Civil War in the U.S. is very much like the Korean War. It’s not really over in the hearts and minds of the nation the way it was in post-war Germany. Taking down a statue is like raving a red flag at a bull. “Don’t get mad; get smart” was a rallying cry of the civil rights movement in which we marched. The genius of Andrew Young and MLK is that they called us to take the high road and, to change the metaphor (really badly!!!), to let sleeping dogs lie. It’s best not to rouse a Doberman unless you’re ready to lose.

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