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Evil. And Good.

June 15, 2011

There’s a story I heard years ago. It’s about Joseph Stalin, the brutal leader of the Soviet Union from 1941-53. Few know that more people died under Stalin’s control than those innocents slaughtered by the Nazis. We are not taught this in school.

What happened in the story I once heard took place during the latter part of Stalin’s reign. I don’t know if the story is true, this is just what I heard.

Stalin was speaking with a journalist or foreign dignitary. Stalin was asked a question. “How do you starve the masses of people, bringing so many of them to their deaths, and yet they follow you?”

There was a chicken in the room. The room was cold, which is not surprising, since the interview took place somewhere in Russia.

Stalin picked up the chicken, and plucked off the poor bird’s feathers while it was still alive. The denuded chicken was dropped on the floor, and huddled against Stalin’s leg for warmth.

Stalin said, “That is how I do it.”

For many years, I thought Stalin was a metaphor for God.

Many people in the industrialized West find it easy to believe in a good, personal God. When the lives of people are going well, when they have good jobs they like, or at least can tolerate; when they have a happy marriage and healthy children, and live in safe neighborhoods, it is often quite easy to believe in a good and personal God.

But, if you are living in the industrialized West, and are poor, abused, homeless, mentally ill, it may be more difficult to believe in such a God. And yet many people in this condition still do.

You might live in a third world might be a woman, and gang-raped by men with guns who are fighting against one dictator, so they can bring to power another dictator, or you might be the husband of this woman, and see her repeatedly raped in front of you. You might be a witness to genocide, or be in the process of starving to death..

It is a strange thing, but even people living with the most horrible conditions still believe in a good and loving God. I have heard that believing in such a deity gives them hope, and the strength to keep on living and face adversity, and survive.

I have never understood this.

I have thought of God as being like Stalin, he abuses his people so terribly, or neglects them and allows the most unspeakable cruelties to be visited upon them, and yet they cling to their worship of this deity, because they need to believe in something.. someone..

I have not been a Christian in over 15 years. Sometimes though, I do believe there is something good out there. A spirit on the wind perhaps. This spirit not the Holy Spirit, part of a triune God.. but something good out there.

Not a monotheistic God, with roots in the Middle East, whether such place be Israel or the Arabian peninsula. Whether this god be called Jehovah or Jesus or Allah. Makes no difference to me. When Ive thought about this god, I have at times thought of Stalin and that story.

But today, upon waking, I thought of that story again, and wondered if there was, and is a devil, and wondered why people could turn to evil so easily.. whether or not it be evil that focuses on the devil, or is any form of evil – greed, the intense desire for money, sex, power.. or sadism.. the feeling of pleasure some people get by abusing and killing others.

This evil could take place in the hearts of middle class people like myself, who focus on material things. We go into debt to buy a few more instruments than what we need to play our music, or a car stereo, or a new widescreen TV, or season tickets to professional sporting events.. perhaps a new boat or car, a closet full of designer clothes and shoes, or the latest in exercise equipment.

And that is all we see and think about, and complain when we do not have the money for such things.

When we hear about despicable evil, whether it be taking place in our own country – such as the abuse of children, the mass incarceration of non-violent offenders who just have drug habits, or happen to not be able to afford the right lawyers. We hear about these things, and just accept them. Easily. These things are not happening to us.

We might hear about genocide and starvation in Africa, or see a short segment on TV which shows children dying of lack of food, children and their parents with bloated bellies and flies in their eyes.

We just turn the channel, it is so easy to do. We return to our increasingly violent or overly sexual TV shows, or switch to another news channel, and resume watching more acts of atrocity that happen to others.. usually people who have a different skin color than us, people who live in an inner-city ghetto, or in another country far away.

We see or hear about these commonplace evils daily, and just accept.

Some people find themselves attracted specifically to the devil, to evil imagery, satanic music, or devil worship.

I can relate to this. It’s how I’ve been feeling lately, and what I have these past few weeks been a little more drawn to.

Listening to music that I decided long ago I would not listen to, returning to horribly violent bestselling books by certain authors, attracted to rather disturbing artwork.. Even feeling the compulsion to wear a t-shirt with the main symbol of satanism – the inverted pentagram with the goat’s head inside it.

And these past few days, I’ve felt rather tempted to buy and wear an necklace that is an upside down cross. I don’t know why I’ve felt this way.

Evil.. Granted, the definition of evil is somewhat relative. There are things I do that I do not consider evil that others would. I’ve never been married, but I have had sex. I occasionally drink, or use tobacco, go into debt, and on especially rare occasions, I tell lies. I don’t find any of this behavior to be particularly evil, if evil at all. For some reason, it is lying that bothers me and so I almost never lie, unless it be necessary. Sometimes a lie is necessary.

There are things I do that I consider evil. I find simple ways to abuse myself, such as watch violent programs, repeatedly eat foods that are bad for me, refuse to take care of myself, and so forth. I do not often think of these self-inflicted injuries as being evil, but .. they are.

And lately, I have been drawn to more obvious evil. It can be easy to turn the other way.. to look into darkness. To desire to wear an upside-down cross or inverted pentagram, to read a Satanic Bible – they not hard to find if you want them.. you can even locate and purchase copies at some mainstream bookstores.

I tell myself that I can do these things, and listen to evil music, and remain basically a good person.. that I won’t change much.

But upon waking today, I don’t feel this way quite as much as I have been. Maybe there is a force of or for evil, and maybe there is its opposite.

Maybe wherever there is good.. where there is beauty, and love, and people being kind to each other, and wonderful music being played – whether it be Bach or a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen.. wherever there is good.. there is God.. not specifically male or female, not some ancient, jealous, psychotic deity created by nomadic people from some harsh desert climate. But God as whatever is good.. that spirit on wind, as I call it..

There is a song by a band called The Police. It is called “Invisible Sun.” The chorus goes like this:

“There has to be an invisible sun.
It gives heat to everyone.
There has to be an invisible sun.
That gives us hope when the whole day’s done.”

Maybe there is an invisible sun, that good in the world, and it is God.

If there is God, that force of good, that invisible sun, that spirit on the wind..

It makes sense that there be evil, and a force for evil in the world. Not some red being with horns and pointed tail and pitchfork. Not the being who dwells in the 9th circle of hell, as written about in Dante’s Inferno. Not Satan specifically, or his demons..

And yet, a force of evil.

Something that plays upon the selfishness and desire to inflict pain that is part of the human condition. That part of our nature that all of us have in varying amounts. That part which can be influenced greatly not only by our genetics, but by our environmental conditions as well..the kind of neighborhood we live in, what our parents are like, how we have been treated.

There is evil within us, and environmental conditions that can lead us to more evil.

Just maybe, there is force of evil as well.. something as blatant as the point of a bayonet, or something far more sneaky and gradual, such as the slowly increasing taste for gambling, alcohol or pornography. It could be more desire to watch violent programs, play more violent video games, or be a little more mean to those around us.. We keep feeding these desires a little at a time… and the evil outside us whispers to us, encourages us to keep on this journey into greater evil.

I do not believe what Yoda said to Luke Skywalker in one of the Star Wars films. Many of the things Yoda said were lifted from various Eastern philosophies, and were indeed very wise. But one thing Yoda said was, “Once you start on the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

I don’t believe this. I believe in what Robert Plant sang in the most famous of Led Zeppelin songs, “Stairway to Heaven.” Plant sang, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

I believe this is true. That people doing evil can change, and they don’t need religious conversion – they don’t need to “find Jesus” to do it.

But it is true that changing one’s road, choosing a different path can be more difficult, if one has been traveling that road or walking that path for a long time.

If that person has been listening to the wrong still, small voice.

Maybe there is a force for evil outside of us, whether or not you call it “the devil.”

Maybe it is this force that takes everything from us.. causes us so much suffering, and in our own personal darkness and pain, we turn to that force of evil for inspiration and direction. Perhaps it is that force of evil which is personified by Joseph Stalin in that story I told you about at the beginning of this post.

And we are that poor bird stripped of everything, who turn to that force which has stripped us, and try to find warmth.

I don’t know.

For the monotheistic person, the “truth” is obvious.

For me, it is a subject of speculation. And a caution. There are things I should not expose my mind to.. certain music I should not listen to, programs or movies I should not watch, books I should not read, items of clothing or jewelry I should not wear, and anger and self-destruction I should not give into.

That story of Stalin, that is what I thought of when I got out of bed today.. and for the first time, I thought of Stalin as being a metaphor for evil, for the devil, and not for God.

I felt the need to write about this.

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