Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Emersonians and the Problem of Evil

I ran across a quote of Emerson’s the other day where he wrote that he never could give much reality to evil and pain.  My first thought was, Yowzer: if you can’t face the indisputable reality of evil and pain, then why in the world did I ever read your books. And how was it that I missed this sentiment when I did? O. Right. I was in high school.  

If we juxtapose this quote by Emerson with that of the following words of Solzhenitsyn’s, then I think we can get a clear picture of one of the deepest issues dividing American society today.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

On the one hand, we have Emersonians of various degrees who, if they even acknowledge the problem of evil, see it as primarily an institutional one. That is to say that societal progress depends upon reforming or overthrowing institutions. For others, however, evil “cuts through the heart of every human being,” which creates an entirely different mindset when seeking to deal with societal maladies.

If you believe that “evil” primarily exists in our nation’s institutions, then you will go about seeking to shape society accordingly. (You will also see society as living in a constant state of victimhood, but that’s a topic for another day.) For example, your solutions for societal cancers will be largely political in nature. If, however, you believe that these cancers are due to the evil that lies within each of us, your main focus will be upon how to deal with human nature.

And herein lies the divide: because we differ on the nature of the problem, our paradigms for remedying the situation are at odds.

Societal Progress Through Institutional Reform v. Individual Spiritual Transformation That Leads (to various degrees) to Societal Transformation

Political Problems v Spiritual Sickness

Tellingly, the former place little or no value on Religion, Church, and Faith – at least when it comes to dealing with the myriads of social problems that we are facing. On the contrary, these people often seek to marginalize churches, religion, and faith, if not negate them altogether. You can especially see this in action when people of faith begin speaking about the reality of evil, the necessity of the conversion of hearts and minds, and the application of The Faith to specific issues. This, of course, is when they do believe in human evil – it’s within the troublemakers who are publicly asserting such things.

Institutions do evil things because all of us, including those working in the institutions, have evil cutting through our hearts. We humans are the problem with society and any cure we wish to apply must begin with the spiritual curing of individual hearts. Anything else is only the application of Band-Aids covering over a cancer.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017

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