Friday, May 9, 2014


Every culture contains good and bad elements. Every language has different concepts about what is right and wrong. 


Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal. ~~ Elizabeth Elliot

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes nor between parties either - but right through the human heart. ~~ Alexandr Solzhenitzyn

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. ~~ Martin Luther King Jr

There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it. ~~J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing ~~ Edmund Burke


è       Three of the best, most serene human beings I've ever known were married - until death parted them - to very angry men. How did those women get to be like that?

è       During the last quarter-century Nelson Mandela was the world’s most admired human being.  How did he get to be like that?  (Clue: 'Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies').  

One Monday morning a distressed and battered woman in her 30s came to see me. She'd just been released - again - from hospital. 

'I guess I can cope with being treated like this - even the broken bones,' she said, 'but it's not fair for my two kids. They're becoming more and more frightened...'  

'So what do you want to do?' I asked.

'I'm leaving, but I have nowhere to go.'

'Do you want me to find a safe place?'

One phone call and it was arranged, to begin that night. The following week I heard that her psychotic husband planned to come after me with a gun. Sometimes it's not even safe being a pastor!


Born or made?

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, pedophile priests… : were they born or made like that? (Stalin: ‘One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic’).

What drives the sniper/s in Syria to shoot women in the pelvic area one day, and the left breast the next and the right breast the day after, according to a British medical volunteer? (Today I read of Egyptian snipers who aim at strangers’ eyes).

I grew up during the Second World War, when our world was mostly divided into ‘Allies’ and ‘Others’. We boys played ‘Aussies and Japs’, ‘goodies and baddies’, ‘cops and robbers’… At our primary school there were bullies and ‘sissies’, and once a year Santa Claus sorted out who was naughty and nice. In our little church we were ‘good’ (= ‘saved’); others might be good too but because they were not ‘of us’ their eternal destiny was decidedly suspect. But then, I wondered, why were there sometimes very heated arguments in our little Christian ‘Assembly’ over some issues? Two of our elders had a stand-up row in everyone’s hearing about whether we should play a radio ‘in church’ (one of them argued that as Satan was ‘the prince of the power of the air’ radio-waves were contaminated with evil)…

à Which – if any – of these boxes would you tick? :

All are born good (Confucius)  [   ]  

We are all contaminated with ‘original sin’; so sin corrupts the entire human nature (Augustine) [   ] 
['Augustine taught that Adam's guilt as transmitted to his descendants much enfeebles, though does not destroy, the freedom of their will, Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed that Original Sin completely destroyed liberty’ (see Wikipedia total depravity). ]

People are able to choose not to sin (Pelagius) [  ]

Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone (Jesus, John 8:7). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Paul, Romans 3:23)   [   ]

‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart’ (Anne Frank, German-born diarist and Holocaust victim)  [   ]

‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil’ (Hannah Arendt, German-Jewish political philosopher)  [   ]

‘The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces’ (Philip Zimbardo). [   ]

World War II criminal Adolph Eichmann said he was simply following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram asked himself how common that attitude might be? He devised a classic experiment where 40 participants were asked/ordered to progressively increase electric shocks from 15 to 450 volts to an unseen (but vocal) victim. How many went all the way? A sample of students guessed '3%.' The actual number? 26 of the 40! Only 14 stopped earlier. Other research on obedience has corroborated these results. Scary! [ ]

And God…?
à Are you happy with any of these?
’God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’ (Albert Einstein)  [   ]
The forces of light and darkness are pitted against each other in a permanent stand-off, with humanity as the battlefield (Manicheanism)  [   ]
‘Zoroastrianism is about the opposition of good and evil. For the triumph of good, we have to make a choice. We can enlist on the side of good by prospering, making money and using our wealth to help others’ (Rohinton Mistry)  [   ]
‘When asked why, God being good, there was evil in the world, Sri Ramakrishna said, "To thicken the plot.”’ (Unknown)  [   ]

What is good? What is evil?
Here's a Buddhist contribution: 'Goodness... moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature...
Remaining silent in the face of injustice is the same as supporting it.
[Buddhist Inspiration for daily living ( )]
And a Jewish insight: 'A thimbleful of light will therefore banish a roomful of darkness... Evil is not a thing or force, but merely the absence or concealment of good. One need not "defeat" the evil in the world; one need only bring to light its inherent goodness. []
That may not always be easy. C S Lewis in The Problem of Pain warns us: ’If God is wiser… his judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil’.
And history teaches us that evil lurks both in humanity’s dark corners and also its high places. (Wasn’t it Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear who said ‘The devil is a quite a gentleman’?).
From theory to practice: what can I do?
Altruism – a selfless concern for the well-being of others - may be both culturally specific and a learned approach to life. Charles Darwin suggested that we're all born with basic needs and instincts to survive, but as social beings, we learn that by aiding others we benefit ourselves. 
Random acts of kindness…
If someone needs your help, why not? If something needs cleaning up, why not you? And re our words, remember the famous Sai Baba quote:  ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary’? And does it improve the silence?' 
A caveat: not every person or situation needs my intervention to fix things. Thoreau warned, ‘If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good, run for your life!’ (Elsewhere, cheekily: ‘As for Doing-good...I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution’). As one of the wisest pastors I knew used to say: ‘The best thing you can do for some people is leave them alone.’ 
Here are four principles I’ve found helpful:
1. You can do something (rather than nothing).
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything. ~~ Albert Einstein
​‘We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people but for the appalling silence of the good people…’ ’Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.’ ~~M L King.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing.
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. ~~ Martin Niemoeller

2. The Power of One:  You, yes you, can make a difference.  (Faith)

History – and legend – is replete with stories about sometimes ordinary individuals who were overwhelmed with a desire to rectify a wrong, and, against all odds, defeated evil. (Sangster – did all England wake up? Wilberforce etc. See articles Power of One).

3. I’m not on my own: ‘I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me’.
All things? Yes, even fail. There are two things you can say about all the biblical leaders: they all seemed to be failures, and they spent a lot of time alone in deserts.  
Jesus struggled with good and evil for forty days in the desert; he confronted the sometimes subtle evils of religious legalism as well as the more overt evils of ‘the powers’.
‘Meditation – morning and evening – is the best antidote known to humanity to keep us awake, clear-minded about the illusions that lure us and the fears that control us. And to keep us attuned to the beauty and freshness of reality as each day invites us to be more awake, more real.’ (Laurence Freeman OSB’s weekly reading which arrived in my email inbox today. )
4. So ‘Do Good’: It’s a Good Choice…

By doing good we become good  ~~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good… We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. ~~ St. Paul
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can. 

~~John Wesley

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. 

~~ Unknown
And Never Forget…
‘In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.’ ~~ Robert Louis Stevenson

​You’ve heard this widely-quoted wisdom by a Native American elder: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’

Finally, a daily prayer to help you conquer evil and be committed to goodness:

John Stott's Morning Trinitarian Prayer

Good morning heavenly Father,
Good morning Lord Jesus,
Good morning Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Saviour and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.

- John Stott. There are variations of this prayer in books by and about John Stott. This version is from Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott.


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