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Evil and Wholeness-- Resolving an Apparent Contradiction

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I've said, on more than one occasion, that Wholeness is profoundly connected with the Good. But then, at the same time, it was the matter of Evil that led me to the notion that vast patterns operate in the human system: evil, I suggested in "The Concept of Evil," is not best understood in terms of individual human agents but rather in terms of how certain patterns operate in cultural systems through the generations, providing the very kinds of interconnection and overarching forms and structures that constitute Wholeness.

Is there not a contradiction here. How can it be that Wholeness is at the heart of the Good while at the same time the essential nature of Evil lies in a kind of Wholeness represented by vast and enduring patterns?

The resolution of this apparent contradiction lies in distinguishing different levels of operation. It is true that Evil represents a form of Wholeness, but not at the Ultimate Level.

The interconnectedness involved in the workings of evil are indeed deep and vast. Here, for example, is how I concluded, in that essay on evil, my discussion of the patterns of evil in both the Jim Crow American South and in Nazi Germany:

In each case, the pattern of brokenness gets spread from the culture to the individual and then back again. The harsh culture, making war against the natural needs and will of the growing human, spreads its pattern of division by preventing the human creature from reconciling –or even acknowledging—the elements within it.

The vastness of these forces makes the force of evil a kind of "spiritual" force in human affairs; and this deep spiritual operation of patterns warrants the sense, embedded in our religious traditions, that the realm of Evil is a form of "the sacred."

Yet at the same time, that same passage quoted above supplies the clue that show the resolution of the apparent contradiction.

While evil has at its heart a vast and deep set of interconnectedness, the essence of the patterns of evil is that THEY DESTROY INTERCONNECTEDNESS. It is the nature of evil that it creates, and thrives upon, brokenness-- at all the various levels: brokenness of the human spirit, conflict in the larger human system. That passage, which appears in the section entitled "Brokenness Begets Brokenness," culminates with this:

It has been said, “by their fruits shall ye know them.” Thus the nature of a ruling spirit shows itself by the pattern it imprints upon its domain. This is why that systematic fomenting of division and conflict –within America and between America and the world—is so clear an indication of the nature of the spirit that has lately been ruling this country. That spirit that tears things apart is an evil spirit.

At one level, the spirit that foments war and self-deception and hatred does indeed work through the network of interconnections (between psyche and culture, between generation and generation, between one society and the surrounding world).

But at the more fundamental level, what defines these patterns as evil is that they foster not interconnection but brokenness-- through the lie, which divides thought from truth; through animosities, which divide person from person and group from group; through warfare, which destroys and damages all that it touches; through insatiable greed, which plunders and degrades the living systems of the earth.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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