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It’s kind of refreshing to read in the Bible about wicked people who know they’re wicked. The Book of Wisdom describes them in this Sunday’s first reading
(Wis 2:12, 17-20):
The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings … Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.
By naming the Just One as their enemy, they clearly identify with the Evil One. Of course, in today’s world nobody sees themselves as evil—and wisdom seems like a rare commodity. Since Solomon, credited with much of the Book of Wisdom’s content, self-justification has been the root of humanity’s wickedness. Even King Solomon himself was tainted by it by the end of his life. With self-justification, his own wickedness became fuzzier and fuzzier to him.
Solomon’s example teaches that our own evils can seem virtuous to us. Lance Morrow told Wall Street Journal readers about this phenomenon in a recent column. He’s senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He described what happened in an upscale New York City exercise class when the instructor inspired a surge of energy among his lethargic students by encouraging them to imagine kicking a certain politician on the opposite side of their worldview.
“If you think of your domestic adversary as a monster like Hitler, it’s a small step to entertain violent fantasies about him, and even the real thing becomes conceivable,” Morrow concluded.
Few would argue Hitler was anything but evil personified. In fact he’s become the standard of evil by which succeeding generations of humans in every nation have judged their enemies. Millions of lives depended on the eradication of Hitler’s evil. But as enemies multiply and years pass, so do humanity’s brands of evil. Evil is fed by the fact it’s so hard to recognize in ourselves but so easy to recognize in everybody else. Eventually, ALL enemies can look like Hitler!
But as with photocopies, the further away you get from the original, the fuzzier your imagery. Is that person who disagrees with you REALLY a Hitler clone? Do they REALLY deserve to be kicked, beaten, or even eradicated? In fact, can our own self-righteous passions cross the line into the realm of evil we say we detest? At that point, bringing a gun to a fist-fight might sound like a good idea to us. That’s how wars begin.
The Gospel of James put the wars humanity wages in perspective many centuries before Hitler (Jas 3:16—4:3).
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain.
Our passions can blind us without our knowing it. When we look in the mirror we may see a standard of virtue we’ve yet to reach and then judge others for failing to measure up. Sunday’s gospel shows that started happening among Christ’s disciples—until he nipped it in the bud (Mk 9:30-37).
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” … They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. … [Jesus said] “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” … Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
The Just One. The standard of perfection that makes our own evils so easy to see. The standard we are called to set for our own children so the justice they see will deliver them and future generations from evil.