Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Evil (page 1 of 2)

Are people evil?

Recently I watched the movie, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not a movie with a happy ending. That’s the whole point of it; it left me just staring into space, shaking my head at the horror of our inhumanity towards each other.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the sickness of humanity and what it means for us. I was reading in Jeremiah just this morning where it says that the human heart is deceitful above all things.

What does it mean to be sinful? Are there people who are actually evil? Or are we all just broken people who have forgotten what we all really want? Was even Hitler, with all his deplorable actions which can only be described as evil, was he actually evil? Or was there something even in a madman like him that wanted redemption? Was there something forgotten somewhere in his heart of hearts that had the capacity to respond to love?

Millions would of course say that, no, there was nothing redeemable in the heart of such a monster. And if you are of Jewish descent, to even raise the question of whether Hitler could have been redeemed would probably be insulting.

But then I look at my own depravity. I have done some terribly hurtful and selfish things in my life, but I believe that even I am not beyond redemption. So where do we draw the line? Where do we say that one person’s depravity is redeemable but another’s isn’t? If I was living in Germany in the 1930s, would I, like millions of my countrymen, have blindly followed a despot into justifying the attempted extermination of an entire race of people? Would I, a Christian, have aligned myself with the German Christians movement and turned a blind eye to the satanic policies of German nationalism and openly supported them?

The human heart is indeed deceitful above all things, and when I want to make a judgment, I must always point the finger at myself before I point it at others.

I certainly believe there is evil in the world. There is a level of evil that exists that political policy can never remedy. Whatever social programs are instituted for the benefit of the poor in society, the human heart still needs changing.

This was brought to the fore during the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago. The banks were bailed out in some countries, and checks could have been put in place to regulate the unfettered market capitalism that caused the crisis. But the same thing will happen again one day unless the hearts of people are changed. The human heart is too sick to change on its own. It needs outside help.

I see evil as a sickness that pervades every one of us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, the line dividing good and evil doesn’t run through nation-states; it runs through every human heart.

The recent furore over comments made by our Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, exemplifies this. Dutton’s comments cannot be explained in any other way than that they were racist. But is Dutton an evil individual? I would say no. His words were insensitive and insulting and undiplomatic, and putting what he said in place would be evil, but they would not define Dutton as an evil person.

Humanity has the capacity for both the most despicable evil and the most selfless altruism. The problem with evil is that it not only dehumanises those we commit evil against; it also dehumanises the perpetrator. As I watched ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, that thought struck me. A brilliantly acted movie, the hatred and stiffness in the faces of the Nazis as they brutalised Jews just because they were Jews, was a contrast to the loving innocence of a little German boy who just wanted to be friends with a little Jewish boy. Inhumanity in intelligent adults contrasted with humanity in little children.

Hatred is rooted in fear, and it hardens the human heart. Hatred makes us less human. Love, on the other hand, softens us and makes us more human, more able to feel, to respond with passion and energy to life. Love makes us happier.

In a few weeks the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of Martin Luther King. Like many preachers of love, King was cut down by the forces of hate, but the message he preached will never be cut down, because it is a message that comes from a higher place, from a place that hate can never penetrate. Though it wins victories now, hate’s war on love is lost. This was the message that King preached throughout his short life.

Though we all possess evil within us, and we too often succumb to it and hurt each other, love has already won the war. It won the war when Jesus defeated evil once and for all on the cross and in his defeat of death through rising from it.

Evil is real, but it doesn’t have the final say. While evil is in the world, we grieve and mourn and cry, but we don’t lose hope, because evil’s days are numbered. No one is beyond redemption; no one is so evil that they can’t be changed. If that was the case, then evil would be stronger than love. But it isn’t.

When I shake my head at the horror of the Holocaust, or the racism of our Home Affairs Minister, I am forced to look first at myself. There is evil in my heart, and it needs changing and renewal just as much as Peter Dutton’s. God help us all to be more human, just like you.

How NCIS restored my hope

I was watching an old episode of the TV show, NCIS, tonight. At the end of course, Gibbs and his team once again solved the crime, put the bad guys away, and right won out.

It reminded me that, as we enter a new year, I am convinced that the Christian story is still needed for our society. We need to be constantly reminded of the story that good wins in the end, where evil is never worth it and where we know it in our bones, just like we know that we need air to stay alive.

I don’t think our society has hope in ultimate goodness; we haven’t had it for a long time. Deep down we know we want it, and we teach our children about it. But we are so bombarded with the incessant messaging that money, sex and fame will give us what we want that it is no wonder that we chase these fleeting seductions to our deaths. The glitz, lights and glamour blind us to the reality that we are careering towards a powerful waterfall, getting ever closer to the edge.

When we see immature people get elected to positions of world-influencing power, and other powerful leaders line the pockets of their rich mates while the battlers continue to struggle and get sold lie after lie about how they just need to suck it up and wait, it is easy to forget the ultimate story of goodness triumphing in the end.

Martin Luther King’s famous line that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice, is the hope the world needs today. We doubt this story, both in our own lives and through the avalanche of daily news we are confronted with. We become addicted to behaviours, substances and ways of thinking, desperate to regain that lost hope we once had. We are told that life is about economic growth because we no longer have hope in ultimate goodness.

I literally need a daily reminder of the story of goodness winning. Otherwise I forget. A line of a song from the brilliant John Mellencamp expresses it best for me:

“Hey Jesus this world is just too troublesome for me. I try to fight off all these devils but I’m just too weak.”

I need to be reminded daily that goodness will win in the end, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, we really will see ultimate justice one day. That’s why the end of the Book of Revelation, that most misunderstood and terribly misinterpreted of books, is so pivotal for me. In the second last chapter of the whole Bible, we are told that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the bold order of things has passed away.” Then we are told that he who is seated on the throne is making everything new.

I need to hear that for my own life, in my brokenness when I am yet again faced with my flaws. And I believe the world needs to hear it and believe it, to let it sink into our bones, that there really is hope, that we really can believe that good wins in the end, that we don’t need to doubt, that we can be freed from our compulsions and live for good because it is ingrained into us.

That is my hope and prayer for 2018.

What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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On being an acrobat (I’m an expert)

I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

U2, Acrobat

I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.

I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.

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Mixed feelings on Anzac Day

I always have mixed feelings on Anzac Day. I get emotional at the enormous courage and sacrifice of people who gave their lives, but they were innocent victims of powerful people who sent them to a slaughter.

Not just the massacre of Gallipoli where the Anzacs fought, but the Battle of Stalingrad where soldiers were given one rifle between them, so when the first soldier was killed the second picked up his rifle and went as far as he could until he was shot.

I also find it largely ironic that at every Anzac memorial we see the words of Jesus: greater love has no one but to lay down their life for their friends. The Anzacs did this, and it was an example of Jesus’ sacrifice, absorbing and exposing the evil of the world, including the evil of war. Within the unspeakable horror of war, the Christlike attributes of courage and suffering love are made all the clearer. Love often stands out more in the middle of evil.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Hope on earth

Joseph and Mary at the wallDriving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.

As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.

We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading

You’re too powerful – part 2

church-state-streetsThis is the second of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

As affluent Western Christians, we are people in power. We haven’t had a choice really; most of us just happened to be born in one of the richest countries in the world. This has affected our view of the world. Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Simply because of where we live, we have power, whether we realise it or not. Our purchasing decisions can literally mean life or death for millions of people in the majority poor world.

Martin Luther King made the point that no matter where we live in the world, we are all linked. Our lifestyles all impact on each other. The clothes I buy either keep people in slavery somewhere in Asia, or they contribute in a small way to the betterment of their lives, depending on my purchasing choices.

I believe it is possible to be a Christian in power. Power gives you access to justice; it allows you to advocate. That’s why the first Christians, including Paul and others of his time, didn’t tackle the evil of slavery. It is a common criticism of Christian faith that Jesus and St Paul didn’t say anything about slavery. It’s because they didn’t have any power. That is one of the perks of having power.

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You’re too powerful – part 1

jesus_ecce_homo

This is the first of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

“When religion is too closely linked with power, the problem is not just that religion underwrites oppression, but that the gospel itself is lost. If Christ is just a baby or a dead body, I can keep on living and not allow Christ’s lordship to shed light on all dimensions of my life.” – Ruth Padilla DeBorst

For most of its existence, Christian faith has been aligned with power. Ever since Christianity became the State religion under Constantine in the 4th century, there has been a watering down of the radical social ethics that the Gospel of Jesus demands of us.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, of the Baptist Union of Victoria, talks about the impact of Christendom on the faith. They include a change in the way the Bible had to be read (more about that below); marginalising of the human Jesus with a focus on his heavenly character; and a sanctioning of warfare by the church. In short, the persecuted became the persecutors.

Recently I’ve been involved in a brief Facebook discussion based on the above quote from Ruth Padilla DeBorst. The question came up about whether or not we can be a Christian in power. A reference was made to Philippians 4:22 in which St Paul sends a greeting from those Christians in the emperor’s household.

One of the problems of being too closely aligned to power is that we lose our prophetic edge. We become numb to the demands of Jesus as we gradually go along with the allegiances of the State.

It takes huge courage to be close to power and still be prophetic. I think of Daniel who worked with the government of the day. He rose through the ranks but when he spoke out and said something that emperor didn’t like, he was thrown to the lion’s den. It was the same with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; when they refused to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar set up, they were thrown into the fiery furnace.

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Chained to scourge of slavery

Don't Trade LivesAnother great article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Slavery in 2012 is a reality. It didn’t end 200 years ago with Wilberforce or with Lincoln. It may have been outlawed then, but it still exists today.

Two weeks ago was Abolitionist Sunday, and as we celebrate Christmas, how much of what we buy has been produced by slave labour?

Campaigns like World Vision’s Don’t Trade Lives, as well as Stop the Traffik, are very worthwhile ones to get involved in if you want to see what you can do to make a difference.

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