Bourbeau/My Turn: Yes, evil has a face
Rolling Stone magazine may have unwittingly done us all a favor by providing a perspective on the true nature of evil.
With its front cover portrayal of the Jim Morrisonesque, rock star image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged terrorist in the April 15, Boston Marathon bombing, that left several dead and hundreds maimed, Rolling Stone made a successful business decision. They sell magazines and they are selling them by the bushel. Many are upset that publishers decided upon this move in light of the terror and misery this young man has caused. Should they be? Many are surprised that young women are displaying an infatuation with him, commonly reserved for rock stars and matinee idols. I am not.
The suffering caused by this man has its roots in a small, yet vastly misunderstood world called evil. But what does evil really look like? Do we recognize it when we see it? Does it bear an image or is it an abstract concept, elusive in that it is identified only through an endless array of situational circumstances or from the individual’s perspective? After all, if beauty is found in the eye of the beholder, couldn’t evil?
It would make us a little less uncomfortable if evil was more tangible, if it was clearly written in the features and image of its source — if it had a face. The problem is, evil isn’t only in the detached gaze of a school or movie theater shooter. It isn’t necessarily confined to the snarling, unblinking, emotionless rapist we imagine when we hear of a brutal violation of innocence that has taken place in a park or dark alley. Evil isn’t reserved for the fanged ghoul, the hockey-masked, butcher-knife wielder or leather-faced chainsaw killer in the movies.
Wickedness often wears the faced of the cultured, high-ranking member of the Nazi party, who oversees the gassing and burning of thousands of innocents during the day, then in the evening takes his wife out to dinner and Wagner and later returns home to tuck his children into bed. It is the privileged Long Islanders, Lyle and Eric Mendendez, who shoot their parents with a shotgun, and while their blood-soaked mother is pleading for her life and an explanation, calmly leave the room, reload and return to finish her off. It is the handsome face of the articulate Jeffery Dahmer, relating how he knew his desire for murder and cannibalism was wicked, but the reason for his actions eluded even him. His best explanation was simply that he loved it. I guess The Beatles’ declarative hit song, “All You Need Is Love” was misinterpreted by Dahmer.
Up to the latter part of the 20th century, there were attempts to understand, if not excuse such acts by blaming psychological preconditioning. We became semi-lobotomized by the psychoanalytical theories of the Jungs and Freuds, reiterated by an army of other behaviorists.
For a while it looked as though they would be able to help us solve the mystery in these and other detestable human behavior, by explaining their source as being rooted in forces and conditions beyond the will of the individuals’ actions.
No longer are we able to buy into those exonerating explanations for evil. The mystery of an impersonal evil begins to unravel when we see pretty-boy Tsarnaev’s face on the magazine racks, for there we see wickedness not as the monster of childhood nightmares or as a concept as difficult to nail down as Jell-O onto a wall, but in the darkness of the human heart, veiled though it may be in beauty.
God, of the Judeo-Christian doctrine, never ascribes evil as a nameless, faceless apparition, impossible to define or identify. Evil is always personal. History confirms what we all should be aware of by now — the fact of evil. It has been said that the fact of evil is the most intellectually denied concept, while at the same time the most historically verifiable.
Hopefully, we are beginning to identify the feeling of evil, that its source is the human heart, even though we often hear “people are basically good” when someone helps with a flat or returns a stolen lawn ornament. Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn rightly believed that the battle line of good and evil was not confined to times and cultures and nations, but ran through the heart of every man.
Now, thanks in part to Rolling Stone — in addition to the fact of accumulated historical evidence and feelings in the human experience being the driving force — evil has a face, confirming to us the disquieting fact that God has always known. It’s a human face; quite often an attractive face. Even when we accept the fact of the reality of evil, we have managed to deceive ourselves into believing evil is out there somewhere in the world, and not within the heat of each of us.
Within a society that hesitates to escape the post-modern ideas and associated with moral relativism, one that continues to lose its capacity to grasp the concept of objective standards, evil will remain a mystery.
Gary Bourbeau is a Gill resident and pastor of The First Congregational Church of Gill.