Recently I watched the 2012 film ‘ Hannah Arendt’. It was a film about the political theorist covering the 1962 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichman, and one of the phrases she uses as she watches the trial is ‘ the banality of evil’. She is asking questions about who is responsible when things go wrong, and bureaucrats argue that they were just following orders.
It reminded me of a deeply troubling book I read many years ago ‘ people of the lie’ by Scott Peck. He spoke of case studies he had been involved in, where all the family members seemed ‘ nice’ on the outside, but at times had deeply damaged others by verbal manipulations and a basic denial of their humanity. It could be subtle, but people often lied, consciously or unconsciously, and this could cause devastating harm to others
It made me think about how trauma and harm can be not just big dramatic events, but a hundred small things. Things that can seem petty, but have a cumulative effect. When I listened to Colin talking about his days in the military, the damage was not just from the horrendous acts of violence, but also from small seemingly insignificant details, that became deeply symbolic of the emotional cost of what took place.
For Eve in the garden of Eden, we are told that she had complete freedom to do anything, except eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the serpent knew how to tempt her, to distort what God said, and she saw the apple looked delicious. What could be the harm? Just a complete breakdown of trust.
We are all rebellious, we all make mistakes, and the logical consequence of this, is that we all contribute to the darkness in the land. Everytime we verbally put some one down, we don’t challenge injustice, we collude with untruths, we are part of the problem.
Sometimes when we look at conflict and war in the world, we think it doesn’t affect us, as it is geographically far away. Yet the interconnectedness of international relations, means that there is usually an element of responsibility somewhere, in terms of our history, influence, selling of weapons and financial interests. We often turn away from any responsibility to get involved, and that has consequences.
I don’t want to make you feel down, but maybe we all need to reflect on our own contribution to misunderstanding, conflict and institutional evil. We need to discern when to speak out, to challenge the corporate giant, the corrupt government, to be willing to pray, to lobby, to speak. We have a responsibility to do so. Even if one situation was influenced to do something better, that would be so worthwhile.
Let us pray, and choose to act.
Dear God, You are Good and Holy, and we are so rebellious and selfish, often choosing to protect ourselves, at the cost of others, choosing to be blind to the consequences. Lord Jesus, forgive our pride and lies and self interest, in our relationships, whether intimate or international. Open our eyes to your truth, and give us courage to act. Holy spirit, keep us from temptation, help us not to compromise with the ways of the world,and help us speak out for Your kingdom values. May we not collude with evil, but choose to always walk in the light, for Your glory’s sake, Amen.