Before their jewelry and gold and silver was stolen, before they were commanded to wear yellow stars, before they were moved into ghettos, before they were shoved into cattle cars, before they were taken to Auschwitz, before they were starved and frozen, before Elie saw his father beaten, before an old man’s bread was stolen by his grandson, they were warned to leave. That’s the heartbreaking truth that Elie Wiesel tells in his book Night.
A first hand witness came back from the dead to warn them. Moishe the Beadle, was taken in the round up of foreign Jews. He escaped. Moishe believed he was spared by God to warn his neighbors of the camps and the trenches. His neighbors could not believe that such evil existed. That such evil could happen to them. It wasn’t just evil that did them in. It was being blind to it.
We are capable of great evil. All of us.
The baptismal liturgy of my church asks the initiate to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of their sin.” It sounds so anachronistic. Aren’t we are too sophisticated to talk about spiritual wickedness? It’s in fashion to talk about love and acceptance and mercy.
The world is good. But evil is real.
We avoid the trap of accusing whole populations of being evil because of the actions of a few just to fall into the pit of denying evil exists.
Volkswagen executives commit fraud and convince themselves it’s good business. They poison the air. Government officials in Michigan do not follow federal regulations to save money in a struggling city. They poison the water.
Air pollution caused by Volkswagen executives. Lead poisoning caused by officials in Michigan. All perpetrated by people who are probably good to their families, keep their lawns mowed and their sidewalks shoveled, and return their library books on time. They are “good” people.
Did Cain kill Abel because he didn’t see the evil that lurked at the gate of his own heart?