Wednesday, May 11, 2011

THE FLOWERS OF EVIL

CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
1810-1867
FRENCH POET AND LAUDANUM ADDICT
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist.”
I'm at the notiviate house of Mt. St. John in Dayton, Ohio, for a week.

And a good thing, too, because I have found bin Laden's assassination and the ensuing exultation extremely unsettling. The thing about violence is that it triggers my own violence and that is frightening and so I want to fight back with an even louder voice, even more violence, and then I am in it instead of simply standing still with love. To be measured and calm and to come from a place of goodwill, compassion and the conviction that deep down we all long for the same things is difficult.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on evil lately: partly because of what’s been happening in the outside world, partly because of the battle between lightness and darkness that is always taking place in my own soul.

In my blindness and pride, I assume that I can commit evil and direct the results toward a limited, self-styled goal. I assume I can character assassinate my friend and not assassinate myself. I assume I can spend the day scheming to win a useless argument and sleep well that night. I assume I can curse out fellow drivers from the “privacy” of my car and publicly call myself a lover of peace. Here’s my theory: Evil instead festers in some invisible realm and then breaks out with even more virulent force, often in the midst of the very person or people who perpetrated it.

We execute mentally retarded prisoners and then we are shocked -- shocked! -- at Abu Ghraib. We operates drones with names like Predator and Reaper that zero-in on and kill people in their homes or cafés, sometimes taking out innocent bystanders as well.

Here’s my theory: these anonymous attacks don’t prevent further violence; they create ever-more-horrifying violence within our own borders.  Guantánamo doesn’t dissuade Islamic fundamentalists from further attacks on Americans; Guantanamo results in the psychotic killer who lined up those Amish schoolgirls.

Nagasaki didn’t prevent another Pearl Harbor; Nagasaki spawned 9/11.

Love reconciles, unifies, leads us to act and think consistently; evil devises ever bigger lies. “Cunning, baffling, powerful,” we alcoholics often describe the hold that alcohol came to have over our psyches. “Insanity,” we say: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

To be for violence in one situation, and against it in another, leads to spiritual schizophrenia. Like many of us, I am deeply troubled by abortion – not least of all because, before I converted, I’d had abortions myself.

I’ve published several essays about my change of heart, but I’d always shied away from, say, picketing abortion clinics. I know what it feels like to walk into one of those clinics, terrified, broke, alone. I know that if I’d had the capacity to respond to anything in that situation, it would have been not to be told that I was wrong – I knew that already -- but to be reassured that I was loved.

Recently, however, I started thinking that maybe I had something to learn from the abortion picketers. Maybe my obligation was to put myself, at least once, in a place I would way rather not go. So I started looking for upcoming actions in L.A. and right away I came upon an organization that purports to be against abortion and spreads its message -- vociferously defends the “right” to spread its message -- by featuring bloody, blown-up photos of aborted fetuses. This M.O. is not based on any claim that it converts hearts. The organization doesn’t say “We take this approach because after careful thought we’ve decided this is how we can best show our love for mothers, for children, for life.” It says, in essence, “We show violent photos because other people show violent photos and we won't stop until they stop.”

And then, to prove its point, it features the violent photos that other people take on its website: an Afghan woman whose nose was sliced off by the Taliban, the corpse of an unarmed Iranian protestor, his face covered in blood. If that isn’t spiritual schizophrenia, I don’t know what is.  If that isn’t violence turning back on itself, I can’t imagine what would be.

Like the drinker awaking from a long narcotic sleep to the fact that he or she is never going to be able to drink like a normal person, we all need to wake up to the fact that violence is not making things better. Violence has never made things better. Violence never will make things better. In fact violence inevitably makes things worse: as St. Thomas Aquinas observed: “Good may stay at a certain level but evil never does.”   

Someone has to believe: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” [Matthew 6: 33].

Someone has to go first.


BARN OWL
 BERGAMO MARIANIST RETREAT CENTER
DAYTON, OHIO
PHOTO: BR. BRANDON PALUCH

4 comments:

  1. It's been a busy week and I realized I didn't see Heather on FB.
    Finally got to to the blog tonight-well it is 12:13 am. Very glad to see the blog is up and running. Congratulations on your 24
    years! Wow! The peacefulness of the retreat
    is heavenly.

    We have different political beliefs/views as do
    many of my friends. That's okay. Always up for
    a good debate:)

    I went to hear the author Mary Karr on
    Wedneday night. You both approach your faith
    with differences and yet, it works well for
    both of you. Too much to go into here, but
    if you will allow a little advertisement the
    interivew is on bustedhalo.com. Love that title.
    We are all works in progress in the eyes and heart of God.

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  2. Owl is NOT a Snowy Owl, it's a Barn Owl

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Corrected post-haste. I'm graced to have a few bird, plant and tree people who set me straight when I'm wrong and identify when I can't. There's another post several months back about a hawk I wasn't sure whether was Cooper's or Red-Shouldered...Happy New Year!

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    2. Heather - sounds like you are a busy woman. I was doing a google image search on Snowy Owls and your photo showed up. That's how I found the photo. I wasn't trying to be anal about it. So I am glad you didn't take my comment the wrong way. I could more than likely help with your other photos as well but I am not sure where to look. Just browsed briefly and found a photo of a shrike. Being that you live in CA and I did not see any barring on the bird's chest, it is more than likely a Loggerhead Shrike and not the Northern Shrike.
      Hope this helps. I find your blog interesting.

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