By Jim Towey
America finds itself recoiling once again from scenes of evil, this time the horror of a fourth-grade classroom massacre in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday.
Whenever human life is expendable, whenever it is cheapened to the point where it can be extinguished in broad daylight as is now happening in Ukraine and other war-torn parts of the world, we instinctively shudder. We ask ourselves: How could anyone do such evil things?
The answer can be found in the nature of evil and good themselves. Evil opposes the good, the divine. We humans are wired to realize what is good, sacred, and holy, because each individual is the work of a loving Creator. Our faith traditions teach that every man, woman and child is a gift of God and a gift of love. When this truth is forgotten, evil advances and human life becomes dispensable.
Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov that “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” That is how a classroom of children in Uvalde was executed. That is how elderly New Yorkers in a Buffalo, New York grocery store were slaughtered, or the “Dancing Grannies” were mowed down by a deranged motorist in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Thus spins the cycle of violence and indifference to the sanctity of life. God, have mercy on us for this!
The Judeo-Christian tradition which has undergirded societal values for generations is now routinely ignored. The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” is irrelevant to many who, like Putin in Ukraine, like Ramos in Texas, like Gendron in Buffalo, like Brooks in Waukesha, ignore the immanence of God and cast their lot with evil. They kill indiscriminately. They play God and decide who lives. Everything is permitted to them.
Living at the mercy of the strong
The elderly and disabled have a stake in what happens in places like Uvalde, Ukraine, Buffalo, Waukesha and elsewhere. Wherever life is cheapened, their lives become more vulnerable as they basically live at the mercy of the strong. Consider what is happening in Asia, a land known for reverencing its elders. A recent poll found that three out of four South Koreans supported the legalization of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, with the primary reason “because living out one’s life would be meaningless.” “Plan 75,” a Japanese film premiering now at the Cannes Film Festival, portrays a government-incentive program that offers aging citizens money if they agree to be euthanized after turning 75. Dystopian? Yes. Far from reality? Not anymore. Even the producer of the film admitted that his countrymen might support such an initiative. If there is no God, euthanasia is permitted, and suicide becomes just another private choice. Am I my brother’s keeper or killer?
America has already started down the slippery slope of assisted suicide, with nine states having laws on their books legalizing it. Abuses of these schemes in Western Europe continue to be documented, to little effect. After all, proponents argue, why can’t man decide who lives and dies?
Many looking to these current tragedies will pose solutions including stricter gun control laws and enhanced enforcement of hate crime statutes. Whether such measures might work will be debated. But without an underlying spiritual renewal, they will have little lasting effect. That is because they don’t go to the root of the problem, which is spiritual.
Each of us has a duty to choose good and avoid evil. Without a societal commitment to this core covenant, acts of evil will proliferate. Everything will be permitted, as we are witnessing.
I will write in a future blog what I think the elements of a spiritual renewal might involve. It necessarily must enlist believers and non-believers alike – people of all faiths and none at all. A spiritual renewal is the only way to turn back the tide of hate and senseless killing that continue to ravage our world and break our hearts.