Thursday, March 10, 2005

Physicality of Evil: Shaking Hands with the Devil

Just thinking out loud here. The link above will take you to an interview with Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who was commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda before and during the genocide. I recommend listening to it (can stream if you have a high-speed connection.) Toward the end of the interview, Terry Gross asks him about the title of his book, "Shaking Hands with the Devil". The general feels that there were certain individuals involved in the genocide that were, in a very real sense, "the devil". He seems a little embarassed by the claim, but does not seem to be speaking metaphorically. He does not elaborate.

In my thinking about the ethics of early life, I have had to consider the issue whether we are souls in a body, or simply a unified "nephesh", a simple thing. I have not decided yet which is a better account or way of expressing our understanding about human nature. But if the latter is true, if we are our bodies, then it seems we cannot think of evil as something only "out there", disembodied, but as likewise, at least sometimes, bound to bodies. If we do good only in our bodies, we do evil only in our bodies. I remember being intrigued and somewhat shocked by C. S. Lewis' "Perelandra", in which the embodied Ransom realizes that he cannot defeat the evil Weston by discourse alone, but must actually physically kill him to remove the evil from the new planet. It is only the embodiment of evil that allows this solultion. He must physically wrestle with the enemy, to the death. Only when Weston dies is his voice silenced. This is still a startling idea to me, but an emphasis on the physicality of our existence would seem to require a physical struggle against embodiments of evil, at least at times. The Hebrews certainly identified the enemies of God as physical persons who could and should be removed. I see no "love the idolater, hate the idolatry" in the Old Testament. This separability of the sin and the sinner seems to be a New Testament development. Can it be the case that sometimes a purely physical remedy...kill the one bent upon required? Watch "Hotel Rwanda" and listen to Dallaire and tell me what you think...


  1. Anonymous9:28 AM

    an interesting post Joe. what then of the nature of evil? and what of creation, assuming that God created all things, and all things as 'Good'? there are some good things to talk about here.
    Christians are not strict materialists, obviously. But we are far from being gnostics. we understand that material is good, because God created it, and he even donned this matter himself at the Advent as an important part in his plan for redemption.
    also, existence is such that while we see through a glass darkly at divinity in creation and Church life, the 'forms' we see are connected with what is happening today, to us and these bodies. accordingly, we find a certain dimension of responsibility and moral ethics engrafted into living and getting old. these things were lost on the gnostics, and the platonists before them. the materialism of the enlightenment only paved the way for men like hitler and stalin.
    but there is this problem of evil. and the concept of an embodied evil runs the risk of making evil something that God specifically created. i know you're not going there.
    repeatedly when i was Eastern, i heard Cary, Jenkins, and Hall speak of evil as a 'non-entity', something that is not, and sin as a willing towards nonexistence. Cary would later elaborate this non-entity as something like a hole in a garment: there is no part of the shirt that makes the hole. there is also no part of the hole that you can point to that is not, strictly speaking, 'empty space'. Nevertheless the hole is there and the garment is blemished.
    like you, i'm just thinking outloud. obviously there are people and institutions that need deposed. what is motivating these things? bad loves. a twisted nature. just bouncing some ideas off you.


  2. I'm not so sure about evil as nothingness. I remember studying the theology of MacQuarrie in college, which (as I recall from a long time ago) posited that God is Being, and Evil is non-being or Nothingness.

    While I can agree that evil is a negation of the good, and not a thing in itself, ie, it is wholly derivative and dependent upon good, yet if that leads us to think that "it" cannot act, then somehow we have gone astray. One of the dilemmas for body/soul monists, it seems to me, is demon possession, especially the Gadarene account in which the demons went out into the swine. We don't talk much about it today (as Screwtape notes with approval). Was it a real thing? Is it a real thing still? What does it say about our nature if an alien spirit can possess our bodies and act through them?