The Banality of Evil and the End of a Nation

July 8, 2016

      The banality of evil is a phrase used by Hannah Arendt. It is the subtitle for one of her books, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She uses the life of Eichmann and his trial to display the banality of evil in an unremarkable man. The inept, thoughtless Eichmann exemplified the power of systemic structures of evil that normalize intolerable genocidal murder without resistance from the concept of ‘good people’. We like to think that good people are numerous in every society and will resist intolerable evil, we have learned through the holocaust that this is not so.

      We cannot depend upon this concept of good people to halt the runaway powers of systemic evil in society, evil rooted deeply in history, funneling up through culture like a volcanic eruption that leaves the ashes of human beings spread across the earth. Our ancient ancestors mythologized this reality as gods and demons, they made peace with the reality of evil by deifying the state apparatus. We still do the same.

       In the gospels the defeat of these powers took place through the overcoming life of Jesus whose resurrection affirmed all of his teaching. It is apparent we have not learned the lessons of the gospel. Paul the apostle was less prone to using the mythological view for his instruction on reality than Jesus did in the gospels. Paul identifies the principalities and powers of the air as systemic injustice, as evil in both the political sphere and the religious. The participating powers in the death of Jesus include empire, the military, the state, the crowd, the political, the religious, and the betrayal of friends who flee from fear when these powers speak with acts of evil.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

(Colossians 2:15)

       Briefly, Jesus disarmed the systemic structures of evil through his teaching, through his innocence, through his resurrection, through nonviolent resistance and through the Spirit. In the crucifixion of Jesus, all forms of human governance are exposed as lacking the awareness and power to resist evil, unless they grasp the message of the cross. The Christian message has been swallowed up in clerical religion and lost to the idols of the state; militarism, materialism and nationalism.

      This being said it is my purpose in this piece to expose the underlying structures of evil in both soul and society. Evil creeps into the soul through social structures that bring order in a hostile world where both nature and humanity pose threats to humanity. Yet humanity’s efforts to bring order fail and the grandest enterprise for governing or producing moral human beings continually fall and evil erupts on multiple fronts like Leviathan from the water to devour life.

      Yes, the personification of evil is a tempting choice but it only serves ignorance and exonerates humanity’s culpability for the reality of evil. Lest some think that we have progressed I will state clearly; progressive human development is a myth that ignores the permeating presence of evil that continues to bind us like a chained demoniac.

And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.

(1John 5:19)

          A powerful sensitivity to evil resonated in the prophets. The insensitivity to evil resident in American society is at the root of the eruptions of evil present in the U.S. and across the globe. I will be more precise and dig deeper into the seething monster that lives beneath the surface of our niceties. First I will address the concept of sacrifice as applied to those who lose their lives to the machinations of war.

     I will begin with the erring populous Christian view of sacrifice (PSA Theory) that has missed the irrational display of love and its startling exposure of human evil revealed in the death of Jesus. God joined humanity (kenosis) and met our need for God to speak to us as one of us, met our need for God to respect our struggles for existence, and loved us to death. Jesus died because humanity murdered God. We silence God’s voice everyday and refuse to give ourselves to the kind of love displayed in God on a cross.

      Sacrifice is murder; this is why Levitical religion used animals, to challenge the constant refrain of Israel’s death penalty. The view of Jesus’ death as a religious sacrifice ends the sacrificing of animals because it exposes the failings of religious sacrifice; they are unable to change the practitioner. Because Jesus death is followed by resurrection, followed by the giving of God’s Spirit, humanity can be set on a course free from the temporary release of evil’s machinations that religious sacrifice appeased. Sin is never personal it is always relational.

…but visiting the iniquity of the parents

upon the children…

(Exodus 34:7d)

Sin is never merely an individual matter; it is always relational with repercussions that reach into the generations.

The celebration of sin renders the unrecognized power that reduces evil to banality.

     The individualizing of sin, the individualizing of salvation, without recognition of its role in all of humanity is an intolerable reduction of theological truth. It is a subtle evil that has affected the success of the gospel to produce a people with a Spirit inspired understanding of, and sensitivity to, evil.

    The grandest evil that goes unrecognized or unacknowledged is humanity’s war against the voice of God in creation, against the moral conscience, against the message of the cross, against the Spirit of God calling all of us to a banquet of life. This war is played out on the field of human history where endless displays of self-destruction become normalized activities accomplished blasphemously in the name of God.  When we are at war with our brother (Abel) we are at war with God. When we do not understand that God is not at war with us but lay his multi-colored bow in the sky exposing its string to the ground, God is saying ‘I will not allow Leviathan to overcome humanity but let them live in spite of their violence’.[1]

       In order to stop humanity’s collective violence God would need to kill, to use force to stop us, he refuses. The death of the Egyptian firstborn and the firstborn animals is a controlled and never to be repeated lesson of God’s power to stop those who would kill the innocent. Yet, the Pharaoh chose to pursue the slaves into the sea and be swallowed up in the waters of Leviathan. The rulers of the world are at war with God, they will not let go of their power to rule over humanity, they prefer the evil machinations of war. War is madness.

      Hope is present in the communal ecclesia, the people of God who understand the systemic powers of evil and expose it in its most subtle manifestations. The first lie is that ‘war is inevitable’. Then there is the idea of honorable sacrifice that covers over the reason wars are fought; the powerful profit and the populace is deceived, always deceived. The consuming idol of militarism is present in the evil that fills the world with war memorials where the worship of the dead as a sacrifice to the national religion reigns in the place of God.

     War memorials always lie (unless they remember the victims). Auschwitz is a fitting memorial for it requires we remember the banality of evil alive in the state apparatus and its servants.

God wants a people, not a nation state.

      Personal wealth acquired or kept at the expense of others is evil. The underlying structure of evil present in capitalism is an intolerable compromise of Christian faith. The systemic structures of evil have placed multitudes of Lazarus’ children at the gate of the U.S. economy. Humanity requires social structures free of evil that contribute to the flourishing of life for every person on the entire earth. These structures cannot be a global government; centralizing power is inconsistent with God’s multi-cultural design for human life.

Love is to remove those structures that birth the need for anyone to sacrifice their life; this is the instructive revelation of the cross.

    The failure of any governing entity to educate its citizens in the finer attributes of humanity and enable their citizens to flourish is an evil. The presence of ignorance in any population is the sin of failing structures in the state, in the institutions that deprive some of learning. Education that is geared towards producing ‘good citizens’ who do not question or challenge the governing powers is not education. Education that leaves young people indebted to the powers of state, banks and universities is a systemic evil.

      Surely hopelessness is the end product of trusting in humanity to cure this illness of sin that permeates our history, our reality, and our lives. Advanced technology and science has not in any way begun to root out the reality of structural evil, it has only hidden it beneath the pale of comfort. Self-destruction defines all our activities. Humanity consumes un-renewable resources from the earth (we sacrifice the earth). Humanity devises weapons that threaten our existence. Hope is found only with the people of God. The need for Christian faith to rise above the impotency exhibited in surrender to the consuming idols of militarism, materialism, and nationalism (ethnocentrism) is urgent.

Christianity is not impotent.

      I care enough about life and the generations to stand and believe that Jesus’s faith and teaching can change the world. The loss of Christian faith to perennial idols and the systemic structure of evil in all its banality plagues the present. We are at the precipice of hopelessness like Jeremiah. America’s culture is unsustainable. The U.S. as a global power is unsustainable. Institutional Christianity is capsized by idols and the lie of the metaphysical myth that makes God responsible for ‘creating’ persons to be homosexual. We need Christianity.

[1] I refuse to lose the distinctly communicative symbol of the rainbow to the metaphysical myth of sexuality that supports the normalization of homosexuality. Homosexuality is the end of life. It is death served up in animal instincts without spirit. The failure to identify the evil in homosexual living is on a course designed to exalt a ‘hybrid human’ (suffering gender confusion) as the doing of God. The rainbow is a symbol of mercy not accommodation. Further, the treatment of homosexual persons must always be accomplished with love and respect for them as persons, as human beings.