Friday, June 3, 2011

Is evil necessary?

The Guy Fawkes conspiracy to blow up the
British Parliament in 1605 

Do you have questions about the human condition?
...What can we do about evil?
...Try to defeat it?
...Ignore it?
...Explain it?
...Celebrate it

Here is a segment from my novel The Condo, or...Life, A Sequel.
The scene is a party in the New York apartment of Jasper Wergild and his wife, Marguerite, some forty years in the future. The guests are from many different backgrounds and persuasions. Pete is a young man who has just come home from the latest US war in Iran. Nancy and Pete were high school friends and Nancy wants to find out what Pete has been doing since graduation. The usual small talk turns to shock as the guests witness Pete's attack of post traumatic stress syndrome. They are forced to face the unanswered question: Why is there evil in the world?

"I wanted to do something for my country." Pete said. "I joined the National Guard. I was expecting to spend a few years delivering food and bottled water to US flood victims, but as it turned out, I was deployed to Iran.”
“You thought our leaders had learned something after we finally abandoned Iraq. How long did you spend in Iran?” Nancy said.
“Two years.”
“So, instead of battling the effects of global warming, you were sent to fight Abdul’s kinfolk.”
“You’re wrong. We did not go to fight. We went to help, and we did. We helped to build schools—”
Nancy smiled. “After our bombs had destroyed them.”
“We brought in equipment and built bridges and roads—”
“Which we had first blown up,” Nancy chimed in.
Pete’s voice rose. “We restocked their hospitals.”
“—and their morgues.” Nancy added sweetly.
His voice was climbing from a polite mumble to desperate wrath. People around them began to listen. “We do not murder people. The insurgents murder people. They also murder us. Don’t you watch the news?”
Joe walked up to his brother. “Pete, it’s time for us to go.” He added in a furious whisper, “Get a hold of yourself. You’re losing it.”
“I don’t want to go. I want to explain. People just don’t understand. This is a war. It’s kill or be killed. There’s no room for love, even for love of your family. You just have to make yourself numb to everyone around you and do what you’ve been trained to do.”
Jim joined the group. “Which is to kill. Same as the insurgents. The urge to destroy is part of human nature.”
“No it isn’t,” Nancy said. “You and I and Pete are not natural killers, are we, Pete?”
The anger suddenly drained out of Pete. He was like a man defeated. He looked totally blank and indifferent to the guests around him, as if he had nothing in common with people who lived by feelings and natural attachments. Joe grabbed him by the arm to lead him away. The sudden jolt roused Pete to defend himself as he had been taught in boot camp—by punching his brother in the stomach, pinning his arms behind his back, and making him lie face down on the floor.
The silence in the room shocked him awake. He stared at his own knee, which was pressing on the small of Joe’s back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right, Joe. We’d better go.” He did not look sorry, just embarrassed. “I’ll get my coat,” he said and staggered into the hallway.
Joe got up and looked at the stunned faces around him. “I’m sorry you had to see this. Pete’s going into treatment next week.”
After Joe and Pete left, it was hard to pretend it was a party any more. But people did not want to leave. Each person felt compelled to stay and prove something.
“You were saying we are not natural killers? You could have fooled me,” Jim challenged Nancy.
“We are not,” she shot back. “You saw how he was. He worked like a robot. That poor sucker has been trained to kill. And who trained him? The army. And who trained the army? The leaders of our country, that’s who. I tell you, we’d all get along fine without the politicians.”
“Yes, but who trains the politicians?” Jasper said.
“We do,” Jim said. “We train them every November. Let’s face it. Human beings are all flawed.”
“For once I agree with you,” Bob Smith said. “We are all in need of salvation before we can be welcomed in heaven.”
Jim turned to Sr. Estrella. “Sister, you’ve just come from the experts in Rome. What’s the view of the Vatican? What’s wrong with human beings?”
Sr. Estrella was perfectly poised in her faith. “What’s wrong? Nothing that a few hundred years in purgatory can’t fix. Of course, some of us will need more work than others.”
“I bet.” Jim said. “How long would you say our president will need to make him fit for heaven?”
“How long in our years, or in God’s years?” Sr. Estrella asked.
“I didn’t know there was a difference. This puts a whole new light on the Bible versus evolution controversy.” Jasper remarked.
Jim refused to be sidetracked. He found Sr. Estrella to be a competent sparring partner. “But what exactly is supposed to happen in purgatory?”
“Your sins are purged away, of course,” Frances said, delighted to be of assistance. “You become like angels.”
“My wife is a disciple of Swedenborg.”
“Who’s Swedenborg?” Frances said.
Jim pursued his quarry. “What I would like to know is how the concept of purgatory would change the individual. Some of my sins make me what I am. If God takes away my sins, will he make me into a uniformly flawless creature, a member of the heavenly choir, singing his praises? In other words, to get into heaven, would I have to give up my individuality?”
Sr. Estrella listened carefully, and then stayed quiet for a while. “Let me ask you this. Is there only one way to be good?”
“Of course not, but I still can’t help feeling that life in heaven would be rather bland for most of us. Take me, for instance. I get things done by losing my temper. When I am working on an important project, I slam doors and yell at people who hinder me. The conflict makes victory sweet for me. If I had to give up anger and fighting, I would no longer be the same person. I don’t think I would be very happy in your heaven. I don’t think I would sign up for purgatory either.”
“Not everyone belongs in purgatory—or in heaven either, for that matter,” Sr. Estrella said as she poured herself some orange juice.
“That leaves you but one choice, my friend,” Bob Smith boomed. “I hope you’ll be happy in the third place.”
Jim grabbed a fistful of nuts. “Thank you, but I don’t think I have to worry about my future. Once I’m finished here, I don’t plan to be anywhere.”
“I think I’ll keep you company,” Jasper said.
“I don’t see why we need evil in the first place,” Marguerite said. “We are supposed to be rational creatures, so why are we bent on destroying each other, ourselves, and our environment? If God is a rational creator, it makes no sense.”
“Maybe God, when he created the world, used evil as we use salt and pepper to flavor a soup.” Nancy mused. “A pinch will make a satisfying meal, but a fistful of the stuff will turn our taste buds into torture instruments.”
“An ingenious thought, but it still does not answer my question, why do people insist on destroying the soup?” Marguerite said.
Jim turned to Abdul. “I’m afraid we Christians and agnostics don’t seem to come up with answers that satisfy everyone. Are Muslims any better?”
Abdul smiled. “The Qur’an has some very simple answers that satisfy all the people who call themselves Muslims.”
“Which is more than you can say about all the people who call themselves Christians,” Jasper said.
            The guests soon tired of metaphysics and departed, taking their personal problems with them along with their coats and hats.

If you want to join the conversation, you might like to tell us which guest reflects best your own view of the human condition. I'm an avid listener.


  1. This is a topic that keeps me thinking. I hope to hear from lots of people.

  2. Congratulations on opening your blog. What a great topic and forum for discussion of it.

    One of my favorite discussions of evil, after THE CONDO, is offered by a character named Brother Galileo on pp. 202-204 of a nonfiction book titled THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE, by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi.

    Looking forward to following your blog!

  3. Thanks for your comment. I'll check out Brother Galileo.