After a reading last night by Mark Tardi and Stefania Heim a bunch of us went out and one of the myriad of discussions was about evil- and can it exist? Simone Muench asserted that to have evil you need a God creation and you need to have the kind of world-view that allows for mysticism and the spiritual as active forces.
I may be very Medieval but I think that evil and good are tied together in the same way that flesh is filled with cells. It may sound very Gnostic but
without the Ascetic imperative all of life becomes weakness. While I myself am a very bad ascetic- in fact I can be a glutton-it is the imperative of the ascetic that stands in the face of evil and makes things clean.
I have always been moved by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries in Egypt. Antony of the Desert who was one of the first Monks talks about going to one's Cell an wrestling with evil and that in that silence we face God and are purified. The kind of asceticism that Antony felt was important is not valued in American culture. We are good at 'playing' buddhist or listening to the lauds in our homes but we are not very good and denying the flesh
to purge ourselves and see what could be gained from a lack of softness. We are in fact a soft people. Our religion, the Evangelical variety or banal Catholic is a religion of the soft and the accomodated.
It is out of the Ascetic Imperative before evil that greatness arises. In the 2-3rd Centuries the Monks of the Desert stood silently against Rome and persecution with this asceticism. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Kabbalists, the Sufis and the Franciscans all with the same motives but different expressions stood against evil and created out of a hard time glories. These ascetic
responses are remembered but who today remembers the exploits of Crusaders or Saracens? But everyone knows who Isaac Luria, St Francis or Rumi are. In the 19th century in America the Shakers, the Abolitionists, the Knights of Labor and more stood in ascetic witness against evil and made a change. And in our times Martin King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Charles De Foucould, Mother Teresa, did the same. Asceticism before evil.
It was argued that Evil may be the result of brain dysfunction.
I am not so sure that we can let those who allow systemic evil and who take advantage of their lack of empathy off that easily. Can we dismiss the Genocide in Darfur as the result of brain problems or trauma done to the perpetrators? I think in the end without Evil there is no place for Metanoia.
That is the key is it not?
Metanoia, a profound change of heart, is essential for any prophetic voice before evil. All too often banality and vapidity are accepted. We do not challenge people to have a Metanoia. Gandhi was the biggest proponent of this he said that if one faces evil and creates a tension with evil and forces evil to look at itself good has won. What Gandhi wanted was to create in his oppressors a change of heart without evil Gandhi's project was a fools errand but it worked how do we explain that?