The Rev. Gary Hall, rector of Christ Church, Cranbrook recently taught a course on the problem of evil at Cranbrook School, Mitt Romney’s old stomping grounds. Here is what he concluded:
When we present ourselves for Baptism, we’re asked to renounce evil in three forms: first cosmic (Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness), next social (the evil powers of this world), and finally personal (sinful desires). In America, we tend to think of Evil and Sin as personal attributes or shortcomings. But long before Hannah Arendt looked at Eichmann and saw “not a monster but a clown” our tradition has understood that before evil is personal it is cosmic and social.
I draw two implications from all this. First: because we are enmeshed in systems, we often do not perceive the many hidden ways in which our actions–innocent in and of themselves–can contribute to the pain or suffering of others. So we’re guiltier than we think we are. Second: as guilty as we may be, we are often caught up in systems that control and govern us. In other words, we’re more innocent than we think we are.
Teaching this course has helped me see that the problem of evil is finally not an invitation to affix blame. The problem of evil is instead an opportunity to explore my enmeshment in systems bigger than myself, to investigate the ways I am complicit in others’ pain and suffering even when I think I’m innocent, and to lament with God the pain that causes God, them, and me. Evil is cosmic, social, and personal in that order. Let us dedicate ourselves to working with God to heal it in all its forms.
His full reflection is here. What do you think about the order of evils he has created. How would thinking of evil in these terms change the way you think and act? Would you shuffle the order? If so, how would that affect the way you think and act?