Wednesday, December 12, 2007

EVIL (Part 2)


In my post (and sermon) on evil, I said that evil is shallow. It’s banal. It is the failure to see the interconnectedness of all humanity. A lot of my reading material comes from Richard Beck’s "Experimental Theology” blog. He did a series called “Everyday Evil,” where he argues that all of us are capable of evil. Like with the Eichmann example, most of the evil in the world has been and still is committed by people just like us. Evil isn't a malevolent force with horns and a pitchfork, that randomly attacks people.

Excuse the psychobabble, but he talks about “fundamental attribution error” (FAE). This means that we tend to see the things going on inside of a person (personality, motives, desires) as more important in regulating behavior than the forces outside of the person (context, situation, social pressures). We downplay the power of context and situation, while seeing ourselves and other people in altruistic terms. We think that people have an inner core that dictates and determines their actions (their “true self”). So we classify people in terms of “kinds” of people - good people, bad people, strong people, weak people. But all these labels are examples of this error. There aren't different “kinds” of people. There are simply people in different situations. Configure the situation a certain way and we can make some people look weak and others strong. This doesn’t mean that situations alone determine our behavior. But we tend to dramatically underestimate the power of context and situation. How many times have you heard someone say, “I would never do that.” This is precisely what sets us up for evil. We tend to overestimate the strength of our character. We see ourselves as a “kind” of person – a good father, a good husband. To see ourselves in this way is a mistake – a potentially costly one. We can mismanage situations.

This principle applies to all moral issues - addiction, sexuality, spending, violence, time management and on and on. Situations have way more power than we think. Consequently, “good” people wander into situations that cause them to falter. Treat your virtue with suspicion. Your strength can easily become your weakness. Don't believe your character alone is sufficient to carry you through. Lots of “good” people who love their spouses have cheated on them. The history of evil is full of the ruined lives of those who said, “I don't know why or how I could have done . . . (fill in the blank). I’m not like that!”

4 comments:

Mark said...

This is some deep stuff.

At the very end of the movie, "The Devil's Advocate" (bad movie, don't watch it) the Al Pacino's charachter says, "Vanity, definitely my favorite sin."

When we begin to think, "I'm all that," Satan swoops in and takes full advantage. God calls us to humility. We have to understand that we ALL fail.

To your point about FAE, let me know if I am off base with the following:

I am certified as an aircraft mishap investigator. One of the key things to investigating is something called the "reasonable person" concept. The gist is, what would a reasonable person (the average joe) do in that situation. This takes into account the "context, situation, and social pressures."

For example, let's say that a maintenance technician fails to safety wire a bolt and the item ends up being ingested into an engine causing thousands of dollars of damage.

On the surface, there was technical orders that gave step by step instructions and the technician was was qualifies (i.e. trained) to do the task. Seems pretty easy to say it's the technician's fault, right.

Well, when you look at the fact that the technician was on hour 13 of an 8 hour shift, that it was 20 degrees outside and the aircraft was already late for takeoff ( context and situation.) And, that his supervisors were standing over his shoulders, asking him every 5 minutes if he was done (social pressures) you can easily see how the step, however critical, was missed.

Now, this does not excuse the failure, but it does explain the failure and indicates that most people, put in the situation, would make the same mistake.

My job, with these accidents, is to suggest safeguards to prevent this accident from happening again. I think this a place where we can grow as Christians to better defend ourselves (only with God's help) from being "EVIL".

Charles,

If we look at the story of David and Bathsheba through the eyes of context, situation, and social pressures, what can we learn?

Kerrie said...

I'm going to come at this from a personal perspective as usual because that is what I have to offer. I may be off base too but if I'm understanding this post correctly it can be said that ..."but for the grace of God there go I..." Someone very close to me and I have discussed this very issue, minus all the fancy words, many times over the last several years. At the risk of making myself very vulnerable here I'm going to step out and give an opinion about this post.

I believe growing up I was respected in the youth group and at school, the "good little girl" and care taker in our family. I was the one expected to succeed and had caused virtually no trouble growing up. I married the finest young man in Kaufman County, finished college with honors and on and on. I was the girl that wasn't tempted by alcohol or drugs, and for the most part people knew what to expect of me. I definitely had the label of being a strong, Godly, head on straight kind of good girl.

However, after several years of dealing with the horrible memories from my childhood and given the context that I had lost all hope of ever getting better anger took over no, rage is more like it. Rage like I never knew I could experience towards almost every person in my life. My behavior and my thoughts in no way refected the person I had always been as I took on a very un-Christ like "I don't care, the world owes me, attitude". Except for my marriage, most everything else in my life crumbled around me. The reasons for this were more complicated than what I'm going to discuss but the effect was the same. I went somewhat ballistic for awhile as I felt like Job in the Bible. I however didn't act as graciously as Job.

The ironic thing that I realized through all of the counseling is this...I went into counseling to deal with all the injustices done to me. But what I had to equally deal with was all of my own sin. Not only did I have to face the sins of others committed against me but my own mistakes, attitudes, behaviors that I'd not wanted to admit or face up to previously. So as I finished my counseling one huge healing point for me was in recognizing that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and we are all at risk of falling into Satan's traps...even good little girls.

It was a humbling thing to have to see own sins exposed right along beside the abusers in my life. But in realizing this crucial thing, I could accept God's forgiveness, more readily extend that benefit of the doubt and forgiveness to others, and hopefully be of better use to God in the end. I don't ever want to be a "finger pointer" again or think that I'm too good to fall into Satan's scheme(...but for the grace of God there go I...). I recognize sin and call it what it is but I also now see that there are people/souls hiding behind that sin, just waiting for God's grace to be shown.

Charles North said...

Mark and Kerrie
What you both said here is precisely the point I was making. The example of the mishap with the plane is exactly how situation/context overrides character/training. We are used to asking, "why do bad things happen to good people?" I think I'm more interested in asking, "why do good people do bad things?" It is a fascinating religious, moral, and psychological question! Like David. We discussed this in class last night. How could a "man after God's own heart" lie, steal, commit adultery, covet and murder? Because the context was bigger than his character. 2 Sam 11 starts this way: "In the spring, when kings go off to war . . . but David remained in Jerusalem." We also shared some personal examples of "good people" doing terrible things in the context of war!

I understand what you are saying Kerrie. This is why I try not to judge people too harshly.

Mark said...

How much of "EVIL" has to do with our deep desire for social acceptance? Think back (way back for some of us) to Jr. High and High School. If you look at some of the clicks that were formed, you could probably say that the individuals were "good kids" but these "good kids" did some pretty mean things to kids that weren't in thier click. All of these mean acts were done in the name of staying in good favor with the click.

Just a thought...