Fr. Bedros Shetilian (Springfield, Massachusetts) – OCP Articles – 8/10/2020
“An evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart.” – Jesus Christ.
Whoever saw the 1935 propaganda movie directed by the Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl on Hitler, “Triumph of the Will,” will easily understand why I picked this topic for my article. Although the movie is titled this by the Nazis, it is indeed about the triumph of evil; in 1935, just two years after gaining power, Hitler triumphed and was praised by big crowds. It is shocking to know that Hitler fooled not only his own people but many others around the world. He had big numbers of sympathizers. Not only were ignorant and misguided masses fooled, but some international figures were as well, such as the former king of the United Kingdom Eduard VIII, the WWI former prime minister of the UK Lloyd George, and others who thought that Hitler was the right man to restore Germany’s dignity after its humiliation in WW1. That’s how cynical and tragic history can be. And this continues on different scales and in different places. When I think of the hell I think of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, where someone could be executed just because someone else said something about him without any evidence, or where people were deported to Siberia just because a page from a newspaper with Stalin’s picture on it was found on the ground in the front of their house. North Korea today is in a similar situation, even worse than what the Soviet Union was in the 1930s. If you want to know what hell is, become a citizen of that country and move there permanently. One of the things that you must do every morning is praising the leaders of the country, whose pictures must be hanging in your house – leaders who leave you poor and hungry, living in constant fear of being punished for no reason at all. Anyone who does not comply with perishes.
In this article, I will share some ideas of evil, just ideas, because the problem of evil cannot be resolved. I may dare to say that even God cannot “resolve” it (keep reading to see what I mean by this). It is impossible not only to resolve this issue but also to explain it. If we could resolve the issue of evil, the world that we know wouldn’t exist and we’d be living in heaven. We can only share some of these ideas, talk about facts, and share some observations and reflections.
Why evil? Or, to be more precise, why do large numbers of people choose to become evil? What pleasure do people get from being greedy, thinking exclusively of power, fame, and wealth, and most importantly not stop at anything to achieve their goals? “Aim justifies the means” was said by Machiavelli. Lenin liked these words, who else could. That is why the means is more important than the aim itself because the methods used are what show who someone truly is, what their true intentions are. No one, absolutely no one, will openly admit that he has an evil agenda. There will always be beautiful words and explanations. Communism promised equality, yet it ended up only ensuring poverty and misery. The Bolshevik revolution happened under the slogans of peace with Germany, bread for people, and land to peasants. After the revolution, there was a bloody civil war where between 1917 and 1923, seven to twelve million people died due to famine and destruction. Although the land was given to peasants initially, it was taken back from them later by Stalin under communism’s rejection of personal property. This goes to show that we have to learn lessons from history; in order to know the true intention of a new ideology and to understand whether it is good or evil, it is more important to pay attention to the means and the methods used by the followers of that movement than to look at the goals. The methods will show who someone truly is. For example, unlike Islam, Christianity became legal and then a state religion only by peaceful methods and by the power of faith. Historians agree that one of the main reasons Christianity spread was the example set by the countless martyrs who were persecuted when Christianity was illegal, which convinced many people to be converted to the new faith. It was said by the early Church’s thinker Tertullian, who witnessed the Christian martyrdom, that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
So why and how do people become evil? That is what I was trying to emphasize in the beginning – that there cannot be an explanation. The choice between good and evil is the result of having free will. That is why God cannot “resolve” this issue – because if He intervenes in the process of someone’s choosing between good and evil, then that means He is taking the freedom of choice away. This freedom is by definition at the core of the creation of man, since man is the only being in the whole universe who has a soul, free will, and an awareness of good and evil. Unlike other creatures, man is not programmed, and it is the primary task of all humans to make choices, to pick between being an angel or being a beast. Since it is a free choice, then the man himself is responsible for his own choices. God will never decide for us. What God does is show us, educate us, enlighten us, reveal Himself in order to show us what is good and to warn us about evil. It is our decision where to go from there. There are two doors: one that God knocks on, and another where the devil knocks. We are the ones who decide which one to open and whom to let in.
Explanation. I think most people will agree that parents, in general, have a big impact on the choices that their children make. In particular, it’s what the parents do, not what they say, that makes the biggest impact. A child will be impacted directly and indirectly by the attitude and behaviour of his or her parents. Having said this, I have seen siblings in the same family take opposite sides and grow up to be fundamentally different people. That is the mystery of it. The history of Cain and Abel shows that this problem was there from the very beginning. We cannot know why people choose evil because once we know the reason, we will be able to resolve the issue. That is “The Impossible”. In the end, regardless of background and circumstance, it is the individual’s decision what to choose. Jesus’ quote in the beginning of the article clearly shows that the choice is a result of a person’s inner being. In other words, the choice of evil (or good) is the result of what is going on in someone’s heart and not a result of what is happening around him.
To explain further, I am not talking about appearance. In one of my previous articles, I talked about some criminals who are good in their essence, who still have a conscience. When Jesus sat down with prostitutes and tax collectors (the most hated people at that time in Judea), He knew that in spite of their appearance, many of these people were not evil. He was trying to bring them back to purity by knowing that some of these people were good in their hearts. Although not all of them were able to get rid of their sins, we know that some did, like Matthew who was a tax collector, or the sinful women who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, (Anna Magdalena being a former prostitute is not confirmed historically). Hedwig Porschütz was a prostitute, but she also was active in the German resistance to Nazism. She is known for putting her life under enormous risk by hiding Jews in her apartment in Berlin during WWII. Now, was she good or evil? I will leave the answer to you and of course the judgment to God.
The neutrals, the majority: In my previous articles, I emphasized the idea that the most evil ones who are the source of evil, will end up in the dark, and the ones who are the source of goodness and light will go to heaven. I brought up the example of Hitler in hell and Saint Mother Teresa in heaven. I think Jesus talked about such people, the initiators of evil, by saying,”Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”
People, good or evil, who make others follow are in the minority, so what about those who are in between, the vast majority? I also indicated that I have no answer whether these people will go to hell or heaven. To continue on the subject, it is important to know what role such people, the people in between, have in history. This is important in order to understand what is going on today. It was said by Armenian poet Barooyr Sevag, “I am scared of the weak people because they are the ones who commit the meanest actions.” This is a powerful statement, and what makes it true is that many other great people have discussed this issue. I will quote just a few; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it;” Nelson Mandela: “Fools multiply when wise men are silent;” Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”All these great people have high moral authority, and all of them faced the issue of being betrayed by the majority in times of crisis when there was a fatal struggle between good and evil. That is why Rev. King also said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The Italian poet Dante in his mind-blowing poem The Divine Comedy is much harsher on the subject: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
The issue of what side the majority takes is key to understanding history. There will always be the evilest ones, but they can do little by themselves. It’s all decided by what side the majority takes. That’s why this issue is so crucial. This issue is the reason behind tragedies and wars. Why is there so much injustice and war? Because people allow for such things to happen by letting evil ones be in charge. People do it for three reasons: ignorance, fear, or benefits. Ignorance is a lesser sin when people are misguided and misinformed and they don’t know the truth. St. Paul is a good example of this. He was persecuting Christians because he thought they were the enemy of God’s people and Christ was a fake prophet. God saw that his intention was good, and once Saul got to know the truth, he became Paul, the thirteenth disciple. Another example of ignorance is when Jesus on the cross asked His Father to forgive the crowd in front of him by saying, “They don’t know what they are doing.” Like St. Paul, the crowd thought of Jesus as a fake prophet and a charlatan.
Today when there is an enormous amount of information on nearly everything, it is very important, especially when it comes to media, to know what to accept and what to ignore, to try to find the truth in the mess. Different groups try to control people, and they show things from their perspective and often lie. It is very important to be able to listen to reliable but different sources and to be able to analyze this information in order to know the truth. Otherwise, if the information is handled in the wrong way, it can lead to cհaos. I don’t want to say much about the Internet and social media where many things that are published are not authentic and genuine, and I hope there is no need to warn people about it.
It is different when people become silent because of cowardice, or worse when they think that they may benefit from a certain situation. In the Soviet Union, people were raised and lived under immense pressure and humiliation, which caused many of them to lose their dignity and ability to know the truth. That was what the government actually wanted. For example, this is not in the 1930s but the 1980s, when control of the government was relatively weakened, parents were cautious talking about certain things in front of their young children since they were worried that their little ones could repeat what they heard in front of other people. That’s how fear penetrated society.
An example of intentionally helping evil for certain benefits is the support given by the industrial community of Germany to Hitler; they were looking to boost their businesses because Hitler was talking of the militarization of Germany. There is more: we should not forget that Hitler came to power legally. He was put as a chancellor by conservatives who thought that they could control him and gain some benefits. We know how this calculation panned out. Some groups in the West supported Hitler, thinking that he would attack the Soviet Union. This ended up that before getting to the Soviet Union, he occupied most of Western Europe. Unfortunately, history is full of similar examples where people allowed evil to prevail because of indifference, fear, or benefits. Usually, this ends up having a negative impact on those very people who helped evil.
Here, I would like to talk about one aspect related to this issue –what role politics should have in people’s lives. I think some people don’t understand politics when they say they hate the topic and want to have nothing to do with it. There is a saying, “If you don’t deal with politics, then politics will deal with you.” If we want to improve our democracy and see less evil in society, there is no way other than to be active in following and actively being involved with politics. I am not suggesting that everyone become a politician, but I am talking about the importance of everyone being active in our democracy and getting involved. Jesus’ words “Give to Ceasar what is Cesar’s” could also be interpreted as not being indifferent to what is going on in society and in politics. Four hundred years before Jesus, Plato recognized that by saying, “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”A clear example of the Church’s role in politics is the decisive role that the Catholic Church in Poland played in that country’s resilience to the Soviet Union and, in the end, in getting rid of Soviet control. Another example is the active interference of the Catholic Church in the Italian elections of 1948 in order to prevent the Communist Party from winning, which was a real threat at that time. In Armenian history, Church leaders played a decisive role in turning the mood of people from hopelessness to heroic when in 1918, Turkish forces were approaching to occupy Eastern Armenia after committing Genocide against Armenians in Western Armenia. This change in people resulted in a historic victory for the Armenian forces and, most importantly, in stopping Turkey from occupying Eastern Armenia. We can see that history is repeating itself these days. If we want to see less evil, there is no other way. Unfortunately, not always church organizations were following the truth. There have been some cases where churches were silent and even cooperated with evil forces.
The Devil: One of the topics of most controversy connected to the issue of evil is what or who the source of evil is. In other words, the question is whether there is a devil or not. Just like people discussing if there is God or not, there are also people who discuss if the devil exists. My argument here is not with atheists who don’t believe in God, and accordingly don’t believe in the existence of the devil. My argument is with people who believe in God but reject the existence of the devil. There is an opinion that says evil is simply the absence of God. This means that there is no devil, and accordingly, there is no entity that causes and pushes people to be evil. Evil is simply when there is no consciousness of God, so that emptiness creates evil.
I would like to put aside what the Bible says about the devil and his origin: the serpent who fooled Eve, the story of the fallen angel Lucifer, and the temptation of Jesus by the devil. I think these are enough to know what the Bible says about the devil. Thinking further on the subject, my argument is this: if there was no devil if there was no active entity much more powerful than man as a source of evil, and evil is just the absence of God, how is it that evil is so active, so aggressive, so dangerous, and so creative? Could merely the absence of God, this emptiness, be the reason for the Armenian Genocide, for the horrors of two World Wars, for the horrors caused by communism, for the aggressive policies of Turkey today, for the horrible killings that happen in big numbers on a daily basis, for the existence of gangs and other criminals? Could simply the absence of God be the reason for the horrible crimes and brutal “creative “ways of torture done by the Church’s inquisition in the Middle Ages? Could the absence of God be the reason for the Turks enjoying tearing the bellies of Armenian pregnant women and taking out the babies from their wombs during the Armenian Genocide? Could the absence of God be the reason to calmly kill millions in gas chambers, or to enjoy killing thousands of innocent people for no reason during communism? Could the absence of God be the reason behind hijacking planes and blowing up buildings in order to kill thousands of innocent people? Could the absence of God be the reason for Harold Shipman, the British doctor who killed around 250 of his patients, most of them women over 40, by injecting them with lethal doses of pain killers? My logic tells me that all these evil acts cannot be done simply as a result of emptiness. It is hard to imagine evil being so active, energetic, just because of emptiness. There should be a much more powerful entity that pushes man to commit such destruction and horror. Just like we say that a human who is united with God is capable of doing extraordinary positive things, in the same way, we can say that a person united with the devil is capable of committing extraordinarily horrible and evil things. This happens when someone allows to be controlled by the devil. Having said that, there is no reason to fear the devil, as long as someone is filled with goodness and God. Christianity is not a dualist religion. In Christianly, God and goodness are much more powerful than the devil and evil. If someone is filled with goodness and God, there is no way that the devil can take control over such a person. Such evil things happen when someone empties himself of goodness and God and lets the devil take control of him.
Secrecy: One of the most common things attached to evil is secrecy. While good acts are more open and transparent, evil acts are done in the opposite way. We hear a lot about the importance of transparency in every aspect of our lives. This is not a coincidence, because when it comes to acts where evil intention could be exposed, then secrecy will be the way to do such acts. Whenever there is an evil plot, it’s done behind the scenes. This does not mean that goodness may not have some secrets. First, there are fewer secrets when there are good actions, and second, reasons to have secrets, in this case, are completely different. While evil acts are done in the dark, in the case of good acts, secrecy is out of necessity as a protection from evil and to guarantee success.
In history, there are many examples of secret deals between countries. In most cases, these are done for bad reasons. A well-known example is the 1916 Sykes-Picot British–French secret treaty when the two superpowers at that time decided what will happen to the Middle East, which was still under the control of Ottoman Turkey after the end of WWI. It is important to know that when the British were promising independent homelands to Arabs and at the same time to Jews, this treaty was actually about taking control of the Middle East and dividing it between the British and the French. On top of that, the drawing of the borders was done without taking into consideration historical, ethnic, and geographical factors. This irresponsible approach resulted in ongoing tension in the Middle East.
Secrecy is often an issue in our personal lives as well. Everybody has secrets. Balance in societies is likely not possible if everything is revealed. Usually, we live as if there is no death. We are just like the ostrich that hides its head underneath the ground, thinking that no one can see it. One of the things that will happen when we die is that what we have done here on earth will be revealed. Additionally, we will be judged by our motivations more than by our actions. Our thoughts will be revealed. For God, there are no secrets. I wish that everyone, or at least people who have faith, could always remember this. If there was more awareness that for God, there are no secrets, the world would be a much better place.
Evil’s enemy: In another subject, when pessimistic people say that there is more evil in the world than good, they don’t realize that evil, by definition and in contrary to goodness, harms itself. Evil has a natural tendency to be arrogant, and that arrogance leads evil people to lose their sense of reality and make mistakes that in the end harm them.
A good example is the appalling decline of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, which resulted in the appearance of Protestantism, the biggest reason for the weakening of the Catholic Church in Europe. It is interesting to know that Martin Luther’s initial intention was not to start a new division but to reform the Church. Being a Catholic monk in 1517, he posted his 95 Theses to the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany as a backlash of his frustrations with the Church’s mistakes. Then, what caused the establishment of a newly separate division was the Catholic Church’s mishandling of the challenge and incapability of reform. This started with Luther’s excommunication in 1521 and especially with the Edict of Worms, which among other things, banned people from accepting the 95 Theses. Another more recent example is Saddam Hussein’s aggression and occupation of Kuwait in 1991, which galvanized the whole world against him and, to a greater extent, was the reason for his demise in 2003. Today, we can see how much Erdogan harms Turkey by his aggressive policies.
Evil’s main problem is evil itself. While goodness does not clash with goodness, evil, on the contrary, fights evil. I think this factor helps keep the balance of power between good and evil and prevents evil from taking control of everything.
In conclusion, the world is not heaven nor hell. The world is a place where both good and evil exist and clash with one other. Many people have a hard time accepting this reality. People who think that there should be no evil in the world are not actually thinking about the world but are picturing heaven. Whoever among us is saved will live in such a desired reality where there is no evil but only goodness. In order to be saved, it is a requirement for good people to know the truth, to be brave, and to fight evil. This is not easy; it requires a lot of sacrifices and sometimes by paying the ultimate price. Fighting evil is a must. People who fight evil will be rewarded:“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Evil will be there until the end. The question is how much in control it will be. Will life be like it is in North Korea, or like it is in the West? According to history, it all depends on us because: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for a good man to do nothing,” as it was said by the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke.
Fr.Bedros Shetilian – OCP Articles