"There is no evil here," said a friend of mine who recently came to visit my island. We were sitting above the lake weeding and pruning my garden which is always slightly neglected in favor of the manuscript. It was a sunny evening made pleasantly warm by the fact that we in Scandinavia are on the edge of Lucifer, the weather system that has boiled Europe. She could have said that it was a beautiful evening or that this was a charming place, but the idea that there was no evil here nearly drove me to tears. Could there be a place where this did not exist?
I have long suspected that evil lurks in each of us. Sounds like the medieval church, I know, but, as many of my readers are aware, my suspicion harks from other sources. The idea that our life's duty is to contain that angry gremlin whose existence depends on inflicting pain on others is also one that motivates the law. It's there. Recognize it, and whether through the church or the law, find ways to keep it in quarantine. The problem is that when neither the law (in the form of the legally appointed leader) or the church sees reason to support this quarantine, then the likelihood that evil manifests itself in the streets increases dramatically. Some proponents of free speech say that we must let evil speak, but when, emboldened by this talk, people suddenly start gratuitously threatening and murdering, the question arises as to whether we have deeply misunderstood ourselves.
The prospect that there could be a place free of evil might be dangerous in itself, no matter how lovely the thought. In practice, Utopian visions have always produced hell. Living on the proverbial edge of Lucifer so that one feels the heat without burning up might not be such a bad thing. Acknowledging the presence of evil at all times, even on our beautiful islands of life, keeps us alert and gives hope that those antidotes that we call consciousness and compassion can arise. It's tiresome, though, and hence my tears which I think are shed in exhaustion from being on the watch for that inner gremlin. Yin-Yang, the dialectical, the balance are a struggle. The allure of collapsing into the deceptively soft couch of one or the other is great. The young men with the torches, who march with the swastika have collapsed; likewise, those who believe that they are free of the illness afflicting these young men have also collapsed. Each of us has our prejudices.
Once, years ago, I proclaimed at a small workshop that took place in Auschwitz that I didn't believe in evil. It was a strange, perhaps even vile statement to make in such a place. Yet, it was grounded in the idea that if we just put the label of evil onto places like Auschwitz and onto the people who created them we could evade the disturbing question of how it happened; why did the young men take up their torches in the first place, and how did they end up murdering millions in a death factory? There are some thinkers who believe that to try to make the incomprehensible comprehensible is wrong from all perspectives, including moral. Since my grandparents were in the SS I will never give up asking the question of why, but I have turned the corner on the subject of evil.
Still, I want to believe my friend. My son saved a bumble bee the other day. It crept, dying along the window which it had hurled itself against for a very long time in an effort to get outside. My son laid a spoon of honey in front of it, and it managed to crawl to the sweetness, lap it up and drag itself back from the brink of death. After some time it flew away out the window which he had opened. Here there was no evil. Maybe it is still possible, at least in moments.