Sunday, December 16, 2012

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Three elderly Mennonite women, all between 84 and 90 years old, were tied up and attacked with a stun gun in a small eastern Pennsylvania town Friday—the same day a gunman killed 20 children, six teachers, his mother and himself in an affluent Connecticut town.  Dereck Taylor Holt, 22, attacked the women apparently for no reason other than their religion.  The irony is that Mennonites, like their spiritual cousins, the Amish, are a peace loving people who for centuries have consecrated themselves to non-violence.  Meanwhile members of the Westboro Baptist Church—the notorious Kansas sect that pickets military funerals with signs declaring that “God Hates Gays” have announced that they are going to picket funerals of the victims of the Newtown shooting.  One has to wonder how evil such as the assault on these elderly women, the murder of children and teachers, and the hate that fills the hearts of this Topeka Kansas synagogue of Satan  can be reconciled with our belief in God.  How can a good God tolerate the harm done by evil people? 
I have been listening to Catholicism –the made for Public Television series by Father Robert Barron of Chicago as I do my treadmill routine—practicing to wow my cardiologist at my stress-test.  I am really impressed by the series.  As you know, I am a bit jaundiced by most official Catholic propaganda and there are things that Father Barron says that I find a little more “inside the box” than I might choose to say.  But overall, I am finding the series to be very thought provoking and faith-inspiring.  But he asks that very question: How can a good God tolerate evil in our world?  I think he comes up with some credible answers why God doesn’t just burn down Westboro or strike dead bullies and sociopaths.  But the real issue is—why do we tolerate evil?
I spent a weekend last year as the guest of some friends at their seaside vacation home.  There was another family there with their college age sons.  A priest friend was also there and said Mass for the group the Sunday morning.  We were all there except for the younger son of the guest-couple.  I was a bit surprised as this family are practicing Catholics and the sons are graduates of Catholic grade and high schools. The young man not only wasn’t there, he made his absence conspicuous by walking past the group several times during the liturgy and then taking out his hand gun and doing some target practice where we could all hear him. 
Afterward I asked the host “what was that all about?”  “Joe is angry with God.” My host said.  “He was bullied in school and he blames God for not doing something about it?”  To be honest, I am frightened for this young man.  This sort of unresolved anger combined with his fascination for guns are two components of what could be a toxic psychiatric cocktail.   But his question is simply a variation of why doesn’t God burn down Westboro or strike dead those who are doing harm to elderly women or defenseless children. 
The Catholic answer, rooted in Augustine and Thomas as well as Ratzinger and Rahner is that we need to take responsibility for evil in our world and we need to do something about it.  It isn’t God’s problem.  God did not create evil.  We have shattered the inherent goodness of creation by our greed, our anger, our lust, our jealousy, our need for control or power.  We have caused the problem and we must—with God’s grace—find ways of healing it.  Notice, I said “heal.”  In most cases punishment is only the petri dish that grows the evil.  But the culture of violence in which we wallow is the seedbed of the murders and assaults and the bullying and the hatred we find in Newtown and Pennsylvania and Topeka and your town and mine.  Christ alone has the answer.  Christ is the answer.   

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