I don't believe evil is some universal substance or essence that infects certain people and causes them to do "evil" things. I think it's actually scarier than that -- it's ideas in all of us that most of us successfully suppress. How do some people fail? Evil behavior seems to be an absolute lack of concern for others, an insistence that one be free to act on anything they want, need or imagine. Robert Louis Stevenson said "we all have thoughts that would shame hell." But why do some people, those who do "evil" things, fail to suppress those ideas and instead act on them? It's an immensely complex question, of course, to which I don't have the slightest answer, as no one does. Perhaps that's why it's imagined as some black nebulous energy field that pervades the universe and, from time to time, invades certain people -- it's the best sense we can make of something so astonishingly senseless. We all wonder what we would have done as a German citizen during the Third Reich. It's easy to say in hindsight, but if we were in that time it's not be so straightforward and easy. Almost all Americans witnessed "evil" (in my opinion) in the separation of parents and children at southern border crossings recently, people we wanted to apply for asylum, meaning they weren't illegal immigrants. The situation drew outrage, but most of us (I mean Americans) watched the situation and did nothing. We assumed someone else would act to defeat this pop-up of evil.
But if anything the report on the behavior of some Pennsylvania Catholic priests is so shocking that its seems evil was widely running amuck. The behaviors are absolutely shocking. These excerpts are all from the NY Times:
These evil acts were committed by men supposedly of God, not by wild-eyed psychopaths or suave operators. (Note: we need better psychopath detectors.) If it happened in any other organization than a church, that group would be shamed and disbanded, the perpetrators (and those who covered for them) frog-marched into police stations and given long prison sentences.
Most of these barbarities happened in the 1960s and '70s, in towns around where I was growing up, such as Greensburg and Pittsburgh. My mother was Catholic who won a scholarship to attend an all-girls Catholic school in Pittsburgh (actually, I think she saw this as the best time of her life), and before she was married thought seriously about becoming a nun. We attended a Catholic church in the nearest town -- not Greensburg, but not far away -- up until I was maybe six or seven. I was baptised in the Catholic church, but never confirmed. I was never an alter boy. I didn't know the priest of our church besides briefly meeting him on the way out. Now I wonder. My father was a Methodist and apparently didn't like Catholicism, so we went to a Methodist church for awhile, which my mother didn't like. By the time I was 10 or so we stopped going to church altogether, which was fine with me. I attended a Bible study class once for a week, which mostly involved long bus rides through hill and dale and me thinking alot about boobs. But I still like going into a quiet, beautiful Catholic church, the way the thick doors and walls block out all street noise, creating a new universe inside with the votive candles alight, an organ playing softly, and voices echoing off the high ceiling and walls. I've attended and appreciated a few Catholic masses on Christmas Eve over the years (and some Protestant services too). But I'm completely irreligious now and don't believe in any of that. How could anyone stay a Catholic after all the abuse scandals over recent decades -- I simply cannot understand that. (Some can't.) The Church has been as immoral as anyone, for decades now -- the utter opposite of what it pretends to be. But you know, I'll probably again sit in a Catholic church for a while and absorb its environment, if the situation arises.
I once saw this in a Steven Weinberg book I was reading -- I forget which -- but it never struck me as much as during the last few days: