First off, an apology: I am deeply sorry for not using this song sooner for my song of the day. It seems just. so. topical. Plus, it’s by Faith No More, which seems topical as well. And, as a bonus, it mentions the Garbage Pail Kids. The Garbage Pail Kids!

And now, for something more philosophical:I don’t get any religion–including the less Scriptural, more squishy forms of Christianity–or philosophy that denies humanity’s capacity for evil. It seems so self-evident, our ability to act selfishly and without mercy.

My mom and I have periodic discussions about racism. They always bum me out. Our ancestors were southerners. This means that we, as a family, make very tasty food and that our great-great grandparents owned slaves. More recently, they used the n-word liberally and exclusively. I think what these people did and said, although culturally informed, was obviously wrong. I am fond of saying next that each generation or culture has kinds of badness they find more appealing than others, but this doesn’t mitigate the overall badness of the badness.

My mom has a genuine reluctance to acknowledge unpleasantness of any kind. She’s a very nice lady, and she’s sure our black people-hating ancestors meant well but didn’t know better. They were nice people too, like us. I always mention that, although there was a strong pro-slavery culture, there was a visible anti-slavery movement in the 19th century. The best selling book of the century, I always remark with some exasperation, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A book about how evil slavery is! It was possible to say owning another person was bad. They didn’t say that. Maybe it was economic interest or indifference or just pure moral laziness. Maybe they had some really good reasons for owning slaves. But that doesn’t quite make slavery okay, does it.

Yesterday the Choir Director who Hates Me asked me to photocopy something. It wasn’t sheet music. It was an email purporting to be written by a Muslim woman detailing the evilness of Islam. They have sex with babies, the first paragraph claims. It’s in the Koran. I just read the first several lines of the thing.

A lot of this is absolutely not true, I said as sourly as I could.

But it’s written by a Muslim! She’d know. Why would you know better than her?

Because I minored in religion? And took a class specifically on Islam? And because you can pretend to be whomever you’d like on the internet?

But it says right here that she’s from Egypt.

Yeah. I have no reason to believe that’s true.

Why would someone say that they’re a Muslim if they’re not?

In this case, to spread hateful lies.

I wouldn’t photocopy the thing, but, since I’m not exactly the big boss around here, I didn’t say anything when she ran it off herself. Later the man who wanted it photocopied in the first place came to talk to me. I guess she’d reported back that I’d been incredulous of the email’s claims.

So maybe it’s not all accurate…

It’s definitely not all accurate. In fact, I didn’t read one factual thing.

Well, there’s one factual thing right here.

What’s that?

If we don’t watch it, they’ll take over our whole country!

I didn’t know what to say to that. A trend lately, in case you haven’t noticed. The fellow with the email is someone I’m quite fond of, one of our own little saints.

It’s fair to say ignorance is playing a part here. I’d bet that this Very Nice Man has never met anyone he recognized as Muslim. I bet if he did, he’d be very sweet and polite to them. But I also know that this sort of ignorance is an exploitable kind of ignorance, the kind that turns toward evil faster than milk clabbers.

We don’t want Those People to run things. Maybe we should put Those People somewhere they can’t hurt us. Maybe we should get rid of Those People altogether.

We talk about Hitler when we want to talk about evil. Hitler, it seems to me, was nothing more than a garden-variety sociopath with good timing. Had he not been put in charge of Germany, he’d probably’ve beaten his kids and poisoned the neighbor’s dog for barking. Maybe killed a hooker if he thought he could get away with it, or a bum. Somebody nobody would miss much. But he probably would’ve kept a nice lawn and kept to himself.

What interests me is German people who were probably nice enough people with little doilies on their chair arms at home and a taste for pudding who somehow went along with a government that suggested gassing millions of people. Lots of nice people got very, very comfortable with evilness on a large scale. They helped it out a little. They must’ve. Hitler didn’t load the cattle cars. Some boy who grew up four blocks from little Anne Frank and had a wife and baby he loved back home did.

It’s always seemed to me that my grandfather, whom I loved very much and who called African Americans niggers, probably wouldn’t lynch someone. But the word showed a little separation in his way of thinking, between people who were like him and people who were not. Maybe the death of someone who wasn’t like him made a little bit less of a difference to him than the death of someone who was. And maybe that’s all it takes.

I don’t mean to speak judgment on others here or to tell you how much better I think I am than my granddad. There’s some part of my mind that holds tight like a fist to the knowledge that maybe I’d be a pretty good Nazi… or I would, if it weren’t for all the damn paperwork. I think I could pull a trigger in an unjust battle. I think I could tell you where my neighbor’s hidden the Jews or the Tutsi or the Whomever We Don’t Believe is Quite the Same as We Are. You could too, probably. I think we all could, really.

We all want to believe that we’d be in the French Resistance or conductors on the Underground Railroad, that we’d be Oskar Schindler or Paul Rusesabagina if given the chance. Mostly, though, we wouldn’t.

If you want my explanation of Why I Am a Christian, my apologetic that’s what you’ll get. Christianity resounds with me not because it’s the faith of my fathers (and mothers, clearly) or because it’s the faith of the founding fathers (to an extent) or even because I think white bread and Welch’s grapejuice is delicious. Welch’s grapejuice and white bread is very, very delicious, by the way.

Christianity resounds because at its theological best it peers down at the very depths of our capability for evil, at our very worst self and then opens its mouth to proclaim grace, a God who forgives and blesses us beyond reckoning in spite of all that. Christianity dares believe that in the midst of all we are capable of, we are capable of doing the very work of God in the world.

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