Sunday, May 22, 2011

Schadenfreude and Evil

Is it possible that there is not enough evil in my life? How can that be? I read the news. I work in a criminal defense attorney's office and a bail bondsman's office. I am a minister. And I worked in food service for years. If anyone - I know the evil people can do to each other, themselves, and their entrees.

But this whole rapture scare makes me think I do not have a full appreciation of evil.

I feel for those who missed their chance at the destruction of this evil world as they know it. That has to be a major bummer for a true believer. I sincerely hope there are support groups for these people because if it were me and my judgment day passed right on by (spectacularly beautiful here in Virginia), I would be despondent.
It seems to me that the heralds of the apocalypse base their worldview on evil. The worse the evil gets the calmer they become because their cosmic narrative is that evil must win the battle for our planet so that good may win the war for eternity.

Have you noticed how calm the Jehovah's Witnesses are lately? They are grinning from ear to ear when they come to see me. And why shouldn't they be? They interpret global chaos and really, really bad weather as an affirmation of their theology. In case you are interested, the latest issue of The Watchtower is devoted to this very subject. As my Witness explained to me with breathless satisfaction when she gave it to me, "These are the end times!"

Rapture jokes were easy to make weren't they? I made a few: 1) If we end in fire the sunset should be nice tonight; 2) To prepare for the rapture go out in the street naked and wait - when you see the flashing blue lights you are saved; and 3) Pass me another cupcake - I need my energy for the rapture.

But I still felt sad. I get disappointed by my faith all the time... but my faith has not gone into the prognostication business so I believe the disappointments have been light by comparison.

Think about your day yesterday - what was the worst thing that happened? Now how does that compare to being denied the end of time. That petty marital squabble or bad seafood ingested look pretty small now, don't they?

So some people are obsessed with evil while others think they can outrun it. Oh, Arnold. Arnold. Arnold. Arnold.

I've done Mr. Schwarzenegger a terrible disservice. I taught an ethics class the day after the story of his fathering of a child thirteen years ago with a member of his staff. I used him. Yes, I did, Arnold. I used you as my case study. The only flimsy thing I can say in my defense is that I did not use it as you might expect.

I was interested in the role of competing concerns in his decision making process. I talked about how the danger of professional ethical impropriety is that a single, private act involving two people can become an avalanche with millions of witnesses who have only the end result by which to judge you. And because I was teaching a room full of businessmen I reminded them that sex with your staff is never a good idea.

But I feel scuzzy about it. Which is more evil? The power dynamic inherent in the relationship of a boss and a worker twisted into a sexual encounter? The possibility that they are or were in love over thirteen years ago and that they parted ways because of fear? That a husband could have a secret life? That a child's life may be ruined because of this revelation? Or that with every new nugget of information millions of people watch with hearts full of Schadenfreude?

In teaching his life as a case study I meant to highlight all that we do not know about the circumstances, and how with this sort of scandal the public does not care about your good intentions. But instead I slipped into the easy position of armchair ethicist. If I had not blinked out all the ways in which this situation could be evil or will beget it, I would not have used it as an example.

I'm sorry Arnold. As far as I am concerned I do not know the specifics and will not judge you on anything other than poor use of birth control. You are welcome in my home any time for Southern cooking, some homebrew or whiskey, and a good "settin'"on the front porch.

Why does this make me think I need more evil in my life? Well, it doesn't but I need to keep my antennae up to recognize the boundless possibilities to ignore evil out of fear, complacency, or denial.

I have had several weeks of people telling me their stories. It is a nice return to my favorite aspect of ministry. But when we tell the whole story there is often something lurking in there. A few reminders of the ghosts we all carry gleaned from talking to everyone I meet...

* If you believe the statistics that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime then it doesn't take many conversations for one of those stories to come out. In my experience of listening to and being a woman - I think the percentage is higher.

* A single crime perpetrated upon or commited within can affect a family for generations.

* One suicide touches and changes hundreds of lives.

* Sometimes you never stop carrying lost relationships with you. No wonder my older friends don't want to date. When two 55 year olds go out on a date they bring the memories of every other relationship to the table with them. That can get crowded fast.

* When you have no one who "knew you when" you can drift off course and lose your place in the world.

Which leads me to my last big think of the day. As we become less rooted and less intergenerational as a society, the wisdom learned from knowing the same people for decades is being lost.

There were certain things my mother was scolded for doing to me by my grandmother. And, because she was good at scolding, there were certain expectations of me as a granddaughter, a daughter, a wife and a parent that she laid out in no uncertain terms. I became my own woman but avoided some dangerous pitfalls thanks to my grandmother's advice. I am able to walk the right path sometimes solely because her voice is still in my head.

By living in the city of my birth I frequently see former teachers, mentors, parents of former boyfriends, "kids" I babysat, former bosses, former employees. They keep me sane.

They say things like, "Thank God you don't do that any more."

Or, "That's not new. You have been like that all your life!"

And even, "Maybe you should go back to doing that. You were really happy when you did that."

And most recently as I took an easy road on Arnold someone took me aside and courageously confided, "That story is my story. It never is what you think it is going to be."

Times like these I'm pretty sure honky tonk lyrics qualify as scripture.


Joe said...

I have a friend that believes that "evil" or the "devil" is a real force in this world, and it is trying to subvert us. Trying to get us to do bad things. I believe that we consciously must NOT decide to be or do evil things.

The Jotter said...

Thanks, Joe! You got me thinking on it some more so I put another post out there that is just a wordy, rambling version of your astute and succinct comment.