Evil is Right There With Me
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on “something” needing to be done about all the hate in the world. It is of course impossible to talk about hate in 2018 without talking about the Internet and social media culture. This morning, I encountered no fewer than three pieces of media expressing incredulity that the Internet seems not to have transformed humanity into an oasis of harmony and mutual understanding but has instead degenerated into a cesspool of anger and ignorance.
The headlines this morning are a mixture of bewilderment, frustration, and resignation: The Internet Will Be the Death of Us; I Thought the Web Would Stop Hate, Not Spread It; The Business of Internet Outrage. The creators of these pieces seem to be genuinely struggling with or surprised by or outraged (!) to discover that the Internet has laid bare some of the worst human tendencies, and that there are vast sums of money to be made by creating content that will stoke the flames of righteous anger.
I think I may actually have scratched my head and furrowed my brow after reading these headlines this morning. I am as puzzled by their puzzlement as they seem to be that the Internet hasn’t “stopped hate.” Really? You’re surprised that dark things lurk beneath the surface of human hearts and minds? You’re surprised that the market will reliably generate content that is profitable? You’re surprised that people like a fight (even “enlightened” people) and that even more people like to watch a fight? You’re surprised that tribalism is alive and well? You’re surprised that hatred seems to be rather stubborn feature of the human experience? Really?! What planet do you live on? Because I’d like to join you there!
I remain convinced that one of the things that we are in desperate need of at the present moment is a more honest anthropology.
I remember being bewildered by a great many things in the bible when I was growing up. All the weird miracles, all the apparently divinely-sanctioned slaughter, all the tedious genealogies and hard-to-pronounce names, all the bizarre symbolism and excruciatingly detailed ancient legal codes… Not to mention, there was entirely too much talk of foreskins for my liking. Yes, there is plenty in the bible’s pages to give cause for the scratching of foreheads and the furrowing of brows.
But the one biblical theme that I remember completely resonating with as I was growing up was that of the conflicted nature of all human thinking and acting in the world.
Passages like Jeremiah 17:9, for example:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
Or Isaiah 64:6:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Or 1 John 1:8:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Or, one of the most psychologically astute passages in the NT, in my opinion. Romans 7:15, 21-23:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…
Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
These words (and others) told the truth of my lived experience. They described me to myself by holding up an unflattering but devastatingly accurate mirror. They seemed to express the deep conflict at the heart of what it means to be a human being. We want to do good, but we aren’t always able or willing to do it. We are a mystery to ourselves, a bundle of contradictions. We are inherently prone to self-deception, particularly when it comes to justifying our own behaviours and assumptions. We are not nearly as pure or virtuous as we imagine ourselves to be. We are, each one of us, capable of beautiful and terrible things. We are human beings.
I think it’s really important to acknowledge this. You don’t have to use the words of the bible—I realize that many people find the bible to be a problematic text. You don’t have to use doctrines like original sin or universal depravity or whatever else. But somehow, if we are to make any headway whatsoever in addressing all this hate, we have to recover language to express some of these irreducibly human tendencies and experiences. We have to at least try.
If we don’t—if we just continue to neatly partition the world (online or otherwise) into good people like me and bad people who say and do wicked things that I don’t—then we will just keep feeding the hate machine, lining the pockets of those who parasitically feed on our outrage, widening the divides that frustrate us, and avoiding the truth. This doesn’t mean that we don’t name evil honestly, or resolutely resist injustice, or add our voices to those protesting the degradation of our collective discourse. It just means that we do it from a more honest, and ultimately more hopeful starting point.