I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me. But I find I am drawn to questions around the darker side of humankind more than to those that highlight the better side of the human condition. In seminary, I wrote a dissertation on the nature and operation of falsity—how it interacts with good, with evil, and with truth, when it matters and when it doesn’t, and what, exactly, defines it. It turned out to be a rather-too-broad topic, but I’m glad I did the study I did.
I was initially drawn to it after reading the following:
Truths which are not genuine, and also falsities, may be consociated with genuine truths; but falsities which contain good, and not falsities in which is evil. Falsities which contain good are received by the Lord as truths. The good which has its quality from falsity is accepted by the Lord, if there is ignorance, and therein is innocence and a good end. (The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, n. 171)
What an amazing idea! And let me say that it was one I personally needed to wrestle with on many levels, and in fact had wrestled with most of my life. You see, I love to be right. I mean I really love it. Being right was very important to me as a child. I was blessed with a brain that is good at fast processing, and a certain kind of recall, and so early on I found myself to be quite talented at finding the small logical and factual flaws in other peoples’ statements. I’m surprised none of my siblings killed me before I reached adulthood.
But what if being right wasn’t the most important thing? What if being flat-out wrong, even about important, deep theological matters, was no big deal to God? Well, why would it be? Is the Lord so limited that he can’t work with our intellectual flaws? I mean, if he can work with our sin, why can’t he work with what really amounts to not much more than our mental errors?
So when I read that, I knew that was a topic I wanted to dig into. Also, in that same book, I came across a sort of taxonomy of types of falsities, and that really appealed to my particular style of categorical thinking.
But there was another motivation for asking how, what and why, with regard to spiritual falsehood: the question of evil. In part, understanding how falsity works in human minds unlocks part of the answer to the question, “Why is there evil?” I have often said, by way of example, that Adolf Hitler didn’t just get out of bed one day and say to himself, “I think I’ll be evil now.” Everyone, no matter how sane or crazy, no matter how big or small, has a (to them) perfectly reasonable justification for everything they do. Whatever anyone chooses to do, by definition, on one level, is to them the very definition of “good”. Even when at the same time the same person also labels it as “evil”, there must be some level on which it is good to the person, or they (we) wouldn’t do it.
And for me, the question, “Why do seemingly good people sometimes do seemingly evil things?” is one I can’t stop poking at. It’s one of my three persistant “why”s. (The other two are variants on the standard “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)
So anyway, the question of evil has been one that has been on my mind for many years. But the more life I experience, and the more pain I witness through my pastoral care for others who are experiencing some amazingly hard things, the more important this question becomes to me on a personal level.
I’ve been meaning for years to write a book–a popular book, not just an academic treatment–on the subject of evil. Just that word, “evil”, is filled with all sorts of complicated baggage accumulated over the ages, and to a certain degree I think we have turned it into something other than what it really is. If the word is too covered in cultural barnacles for it to work for you, instead consider the question, “Why do seemingly good people hurt one another?” And it’s more personal variant: “Why do I hurt people?”
There. That’s the big one. Not everyone’s ready to go there, I know. But for those who are, I want to provide something that offers hope, insight, and healing.
And I’d like to enlist your help. This project is going to take a long time, and will require more knowledge, experience and wisdom than I can currently lay claim to. So if you’d like to help, I’m looking for three things: (1) your own insights and experiences related to this topic, (2) an occasional gentle reminder to keep working on the book, and (3) support and motivation when I hit dead ends, discouragement, and setbacks.
I’ll be posting more (and more specifically) on this topic in the future. Watch this space.