It’s very difficult to go through life without looking up to somebody, or a few “somebodies.” Mothers. Fathers. Grandparents. Teachers. Older Siblings. Friends. Mother Teresa for some, Albert Einstein for others. Inspiration is one name of the game. Somebody has to evoke that stimulation that “inspires” or drives us to do something, or be somebody that we aren’t yet, but hope to be. Hope is another. Sometimes idols offer us hope that things don’t have to be this bad, that this misery doesn’t have to last forever and that someday things will be different. The Idol gives us hope for a better, a kinder, more courageous and more beautiful world.
But I still think dead idols are better, and long long dead idols even better. I have heard half-spoken warnings amongst theological students that “it is vastly preferable to devote one’s studies to the ancients, rather than the living (or perhaps recently deceased). This is presumably because the secrets that may lie hidden and await the sudden revelation of a witness or two, dragging the poor student’s reputation down with the newly discovered monster.
Some people seem to believe that if people were only educated correctly, or belonged to the right sort of group, they wouldn’t be such a monster. In this way they argue that a particular person’s horrifying evil is easily explicable in light of their community’s beliefs (this is particularly significant when the person had a belief I didn’t like).
Unfortunately there I can’t seem to find a community which escapes the possibility of growing monsters. The pacifistic Mennonites John Howard Yoder (serial abuser). The churches that believe in equality between men and women have Bill Hybels and Gilbert Bilzekian (both accused of sexual abuse).
The good news of course is it’s not just evangelical Protestants! There are many others. Roman Catholic Priests. Baptists. Anglicans. No matter which creed on the church website there seems to be people who are far more than the innocent people that they seem.
Political parties also include their share of monsters, hiding under various poll-boxes and in party backrooms. Atheists and agnostics may not have creeds but if one looks hard enough there is dirt amongst them. As far as I can tell there is no movement or community that does not contain evil, condone failures, and if nothing else that means that whatever my belief about the world may be, its that I can’t believe the people on my side are the “really really good guys.”
“What then? Are we any better? Not at all. For we have already made the charge that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin. As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.'” -Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul’s words are known to apply to every known community grouping in the world.
Thank God for the one exception! My community!
I’m kidding of course.
So what does one do? For me, and this may of course be different for you, I look for communities that admit this is the truth. The utter universality of evil people. This may seem like a strange commitment but I think it is more or less necessary. It seems like one of the first mistakes people make is thinking that my church, my ideological group etc. and so forth is the group that has finally “got it right.”
That’s why I belong to a community that tells the truth about itself and makes no claim to perfection, but it prays this every single day–twice a day (or it should).
“We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep: We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts: We have offended against thy holy laws: We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” BCP 1662 – Modernized
Remembering this truth is half the battle. Forgetting it results in ideological disbelief that “one of our team could have committed that horror.”
We’re not the good guys. He is.