I have found that one of the ways evil manifests itself is in the denial of “what is.” That is, in the denial of our concrete reality. Such often comes in the form of gaslighting or outright lying about a particular circumstance, situation, or person. What makes the denial of “what is” even more pernicious is when efforts are made to get other human beings to buy into a specific “take” even though it may have no basis in the concrete world. Such is particularly evil because it seeks to create a false reality. In many ways, it is a deep betrayal of the 8th commandment as it bears false witness to what “is.” We see this play out often before our very eyes through the machinations of the mass media and Big Tech, but we can often identify such dynamics in our everyday lives “if we have eyes to see.”
One place that is particularly susceptible to this very dynamic is the church. In part, I contend that this is the case because the invocation of God into any situation can provide particular cover and specific denial to what actually “is.” God is used in a rather childish and magical way to deny reality or even to deny the evil that is taking place in that moment and its attendant consequences. There is an apparent disconnect between faith and works, as if how one lives doesn’t really matter, just that they believe Jesus is their Lord and Savior. All that matters is the messaging, not what the messenger is doing or how they live. After all, God provides the out because he loves us, died for us, wants what is best for us, despite how we might treat others. In a sense, it is to miss the forest for the trees. It is to be beholden to the gospel of cheap grace, which isn’t biblical at all.
In many ways, what is going on is a battle between what we want others to believe about us or a particular situation versus who we actually are and what really happened. That is, what we want reality “to be” versus what it actually “is.” In Jungian terms, we might say it is the battle between perpetuating the false self versus the true self. I believe the church is incredibly susceptible to such perpetuation. We can gloss things over with God language, visioning exercises, and using the 8th commandment to silence questioning or any fraction of dissent. The presumption that God is on our side can, ironically, lead us to do some very evil things. It is no accident that psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote many years ago that “Since the primary motive of evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church.”
Certainly, we should work towards changing the concrete world for the better; that is part of the calling to be human. But to do so, we must first honestly appraise what “is.” If we can’t do that, we will continue to perpetuate falsehood and work against life and the dynamism of being.
We may recall this past Sunday’s gospel reading from Luke 4:16-30. It speaks to this very issue. Luke tells us that Nazareth rejected Jesus and flew into a murderous rage, trying to throw him off a cliff. This murderous rage was because Jesus had likened the Nazarenes to the Israelites of Elijah and Elisha’s day. Those Israelites then were apostate, corrupt, and faithless. Such was a pretty harsh condemnation of the people of his hometown. They believed that they were faithful; that was their image of themselves. That was what they decided to believe about themselves and what they wanted others to believe about them. In actuality, though, Jesus was right. They were faithless. Their concrete actions betrayed their claims to faithfulness. That “is” who they were rather than what they purported to “be.” Ironically, this was proven by their murder attempt of Jesus. Thus, “by their fruits, you shall know them.”