Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deliver us from evil

RiotWhat makes violence and lawlessness suddenly erupt across a nation?

In pondering this question, and thinking about the recent riots in cities across the UK, I drew a comment on Twitter from a church pastor in Liverpool. 'What we are seeing is EVIL,' he said.

And who can disagree, when people turn feral, and smash, loot and burn indiscriminately?

Yet, it prompted me to delve a little deeper into the nature of the evil we are seeing.

Firstly, there's a well of social evil here. As a London-based youth worker commented to Christian thinktank Ekklesia yesterday:
'Of course there is a huge amount of criminality and copycat looting involved in all this. But to pretend it has nothing whatsoever to do with the erosion of our social fabric, the closing of youth centres, and the sense among a mass of people - not least the young - that they have no real future in a country where the poorest are being made to sacrifice most while bankers get away with murder... that's pure fantasy.'
I believe a truly Christly response has to include the recognition that society's rottenness has, close to its source, injustice, the divide between power-brokers and the broken. And the Church of Jesus should speak for those without voices. We cannot just shout 'thuggery' and call for tougher measures. We must ask 'why?' We must work for justice and stand alongside and among the disadvantaged.

But to leave it there risks excusing the execrable. Because there is another level of evil at work here: moral evil. 'I'm not really bothered' said a Manchester rioter. 'I'll keep doing it every day until I get caught.' 'We can do what we want' crowed a female London rioter.

Even psychologists, analysing group behaviour, admit the presence of basic selfishness in the mix: 'For most people looting is opportunistic' says Jason Nier, associate professor of psychology at Connecticut College. And greed is certainly a factor.'

At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, as a cliché I once heard has it. Like so many clichés, it's true. At heart, people are selfish. (My friend Andy had some thoughts about this which you can read here.)

It's not just the gangs, of course. Bankers gambled with economic stability - for greed. Politicians helped themselves to public money - for greed. Media moguls turned a blind eye when journalists were immoral - for greed... Gangs smash and loot shops - for greed.

But we must go deeper still. Under social evil, under moral evil, there is spiritual evil. As Paul the apostle describes it:
'We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.'
Spiritual powers, by their very nature, hide. They masquerade behind human evil - be it greed expressed in violent looting or greed expressed in high-level corruption.

How do we oppose them? How do we engage in a spiritual 'clean up' campaign?

We pray - 'at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication' as Paul writes later in the same passage quoted above. We share the gospel and see its transforming power at work in lives changing selfish hearts into new hearts. We speak out for justice and against what is unfair because apart from anything else, giving the voiceless a voice may prevent them from finding a voice through wielding a baseball bat.

'The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh' writes Paul, 'but have divine power to destroy strongholds.'

Pray, love, evangelise, love the poor, speak for justice.

In fact - let's be the church.


n0rma1 said...

As a postscript to this, I must share what one very esteemed matriarch in our church said about the riots: "It's August. People always riot in August. It's hot and they're bored... and Christmas is too far away!" She was heard to add "Silly Billies"...

Yarko said...

I sense, my friend, you have nailed what is at the core. Yet, may there be room for something other than Christians in your analysis. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in the last chapter of his book "Finding Flow" talks about what you speak about here - something very basic. His definition of "good" and "evil" is supportive of what you say. His analogy is that good and evil in the psychic world (i.e. of the psyche) is like order and entropy in the physical world, so evil is rooted in self-interest (and akin to entropy), and good is rooted in reaching out, acting beyond yourself, for it builds for life (and, he says - rather nicely I think) and creates the possibility for _real_ immortality, albeit likely anonymous - that one which changes the warp and woof of life, merely by your participating in life beyond your own interest, for the greater good.

I think you have nailed the essence: evil is at play, but more specifically, the effects of social entropy as it erupts (and I think that analysis for this context would include "bored in August", but I think it is probably much more than that).

Good takes investment of energy (beyond one's self interest), and so I join with you, perhaps not so much to be the "church" (thinking of Forrest Church's essay "The Cathedral of the World"), but to always be ministering - that is, looking for ways to participate in positive ways, in life. Not just in response to crisis or craziness, but always.

Love is a verb - act with goodwill. Stand daily, not only for justice, but more generally for good.

Cheers, and peace.

Fiona said...

Sensible and very rational response to wht is going on - wish everyone had such balanced views!Fiona.

Fiona said...

A very sensible and balanced piece - wish everyone had such a rational well reasoned response to what is going on in Britain this week.