Thursday, December 11, 2014

Taking Sides

Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.

The Guardian Angel Protecting a Child
from the Empire of the Demon
Domenico Fetti (1588-1623)
That there are right and wrong, good and evil, of some kind, and that these are opposed to one another, all men are agreed. They agree, too, that, in the end, right and good make for the benefit of the race, wrong and evil for its undoing. Some would go so far as to say that this constitutes their very definition. The man who acts rightly and does good is a blessing to his fellowmen; the man who acts wrongly and does evil is, in so far, a curse. Much more, then, if there is a common source of good and right, is it the source of all blessing to men; if there is a common source of evil and wrong, it is the plague-spot of creation. This accepted principle is at the root of all our criminal code; it is at the root of all our treatment of evil-doing. When we condemn a convict to servitude extending over a length of years, we think of him more as a source of future anger than merely as a man who has done wrong and must be punished. When we hang a murderer, it is more because he is, as we call him, a danger to society, than because of the actual evil he has done. And so in many other ways we act upon the assumed axiom: the doer of evil, be he man or be he devil, is the enemy of the human race.

But though men are commonly agreed as to the principle, they are by no means at one as to its interpretation. Though we acknowledge the doer of evil to be the enemy of the race, it is not always clear what good and evil actually are. In the whole world as we know it, is there anything more desperate than the seemingly universal antagonism on this point? What to one man is an act of virtue, to another is a crime; one will hail as martyrdom what another will call a death of ignominy and shame; a Saint will be persecuted on the holiest of grounds; the noblest of causes will be represented to some as the limit of disgrace. So it seems to have always been, so it is today; so, except for one gleam of hope, one might assume that it will be to the end. Agreed as the whole world is in principle, the seed of discord seems to be sown which will set good against good as long as time shall last, while evil battens on the victims of the fight. A good Mohammedan will massacre good Christians, a good Protestant will hang, draw, and quarter good Catholics, a good Inquisitor will condemn a good Jew to be burnt, and each in doing so will, as our Lord foretold, think he is doing a service to God.

Can it be that this is intended? Can it be that while goodness is always, and in the minds of all, one and the same thing, nevertheless good men, good principles, good aims should always be opposed to and persecutors of each other? Or is there not some explanation which is other than goodness itself? May it not be possible that good is opposed to good not because it is good, but because there is evil mixed with it, on one side or the other or both? May it not be that the crop that is growing is not wholly wheat, that an enemy has sown cockle among it, and that for the sake of the good the Master suffers both to grow together? Certainly, so long as things are human they will not be wholly perfect; and, in our present state of being, this will imply defect of some kind or other. Indeed, is not this the whole problem of a man's life? If things were wholly good or wholly bad, if their goodness or badness were written on their surface, then choice would be an easy matter. Even then a man could please himself; he could still choose good or evil; but if he chose the second it would be without a shadow of excuse. As things are, it is different. Nothing in the world is so wholly bad but it can be given an appearance of good; nothing is so wholly good but it can be shown to be evil.

So, then, I am driven to this conclusion: that if I am to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, I must not be content with appearances, with that which is shown upon the surface; I must go back to the broader principle, and I must go beyond to the ultimate issue. Evil is the enemy of the human race; then, however attractive a thing in itself may be, however at the moment it may plead for acceptance and approval, if it is injurious in its source, if its effects are inevitably injurious, it should have no part with me. Good, on the other hand, is always and invariably the ultimate friend of man; then, however a thing may be maligned, however lowly and despicable it may appear, if it comes from a good source, if it points to a good end, if it has always left good fruit behind it, it should be mine. Upon this basis, not upon that of my immediate circumstances, I must choose if I would choose as a man. The more I judge by that which is immediately around me, the more likely I am to be deceived. No man, says the proverb, is a judge in his own case. But if I will transcend these, if I will look at good and evil as they are, whence they come, whither they tend, and what are their real effects, then I shall see and understand; then I shall be in less danger of deception.

For of the one and the other the effects are not far to seek, and by their effects, more than in any other way, we are told by our Lord we may know them. Evil, first of all, is a deceiver; the devil, says our Lord again, is a liar from the beginning. Evil cannot possibly win the heart of any man except under the garb of good; for the heart of man in itself is good, and is drawn by good, however prone it may be to be seduced. Evil, then, must first of all lie to save its face; it must call itself a saviour when it is a curse, a benefactor when its gifts are only plagues. But once it has found a foothold, then we may know it as it is. Than evil, no tyrant is more tyrannical; it will proclaim the reign of freedom, and impose it upon its subjects at the point of the sword. Than evil, no confusion is more confounded or confounding; it will extol liberty of thought, will call for light and learning, but will tolerate no thought that differs from its own, will extinguish every light that is not to its fancy. It will go abroad as the champion of law and order; yet it will always leave behind it the marks of bondage, victories shouting with it the arrival of a golden age, yet clanking their chains as the accompaniment to their song. There is no slavery like the slavery of evil; it saps the very desire of freedom, it blinds the eyes till they can see no other light, it stalks alongside like a hideous spectre, terrifying its drunken victims till they dare not look to right or to left.

And there is the other side, thank God; the side that, in the end, appeals to the heart of every man. It is the side of Him who is "all things to all men," who has made Himself man's equal and not his master, or his master but that He might serve man the more, who has no lofty throne of majesty upon this earth, who lives in lowliness, whose aspect is fair and winning, whose name, indeed, is so great that every knee must bow before It, and yet when we meet Him, we find He is "only Jesus." His is the other side, the side opposed to that of " the enemy of the human race," and the side which in every generation wins through to victory, even though it seems to be ever on the verge of defeat. And this side, too, cannot help but spread itself abroad. This world can never again be the place it was, once Christ our Lord has walked upon it; for even if He had spoken never a word, even if He had worked no miracle, virtue went out from Him as and wherever He walked. So is it with His followers. Let them but be like their Master, like to Him in meekness, like to Him in lowliness, like to Him in aspect fair and winning, and they will need neither force nor falsehood to help them to conquer the hearts of men. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land."

The two camps are pitched, and in the one or the other every man must be enrolled. Every man's life must add its little quota to the side of good or evil; to the side of Christ, the Sovereign God, or to the side of the enemy of the human race. The camps are pitched, the battle is raging, and mankind is the prize. And what a strange battle it is! For it is one not only of army against army, but of every single man against himself. One looks through the fire and smoke, and sees every man dogged with his own particular devil. One sees that by Nature every man is good, in principle, in ideal, in intention; but at his side crouches a second self - a devil, if we like to call him so - who vitiates his nature, who misapplies his principles, who corrupts his ideals, who lulls his good intentions to sleep. And when he has done this he persuades him that this state is better than the first, that this is the reality and the other but a dream, that now he has found peace, or, at all events, as much as can be hoped for, that those who think otherwise are wrong, and must be suppressed. So he turns his arms against his own. Poor blinded human nature! You were made for better things than this. And they are yours still if you will have them - if, that is, you will stand up and fight on their side.

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