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Talk-back – a personal response to Chalke Talk

21st December 2018
How do we take evil seriously when we can’t see the wood for the trees?

In Chalke Talk 54, Steve poses the question: ‘how do we take evil seriously’ and he refers to St Paul’s words ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…’

Is that right?  Should we be looking for evil in the supermarket, the petrol station or the Department of Work and Pensions?

When I think of evil, it tends to be the things about me that lead me to fall-short of what I know God wants of and for me.  Can I really consider ‘the powers of this dark world’ to be forces of evil? 

Now, like most of us, I like nothing better than putting-the-world-to-rights over a pint.  But, for some reason, as much as I rail against injustice, I don’t think of worldly-bad-things as ‘evil’.  Just… err… bad… unfair… unjust… inhumane even… but evil?

This is what is so revolutionary about what Paul said and to what Steve is guiding us.  If we want to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth; or even just get a little bit closer to it; it’s not just the evil in ourselves we must fight but the day-to-day evil that is created in this world.

I say ‘created’ reservedly.  As Steve points out, “It’s strange, but beyond the will of their leaders and members there’s often a systematic, oppressive spirituality, which is somehow bigger and more powerful than any of the individuals involved.”

This is the key point for me.  Firstly, I don’t believe that all our scions of industry or our politicians are evil.  I’ve met quite a few.  I’d use the word ‘ordinary’ long before I demonised them. 

Secondly, clearly there is evil out there.  We are the sixth largest economy on the planet yet 20 per cent of the UK lives below the poverty line.  One in every 200 people are homeless.  Our environment is running headlong off the cliff.  Horrific youth violence is on the increase.

We may not consciously create it, it is not our aim, but somehow humans create systems and - be they companies or government bodies - those, systems sometimes, end up doing evil. 

Evil can be socio-political and it is created through inaction as much as it is created through action.

Put bluntly we need to take off our blinkers.  Yet another disposable coffee cup can’t be described as evil - but should our enormous land-fill sites be?  

An extra helping of pudding isn’t the devil - but a child going hungry over Christmas because there are no school meals? 

Cheap ice-cream is not demonic - but deforestation to provide palm-oil?

Somewhere there is a line; and though it may be hard to see where exactly it is; I think we can all agree that, as a society, we cross it far too often.

We may not be able to see the wood for the trees but let’s face it:

  • if it’s not good;
  • if it’s not working toward the Kingdom of God on earth;
  • if it can be labelled as unjust or unfair or inhuman;
  • then it is evil. 

It is a systemic and corporate evil that Paul calls us to fight just as passionately as any other type of evil.  An evil that stems as much from allowing things to happen as it does from making things happen.

The concept of the ‘personal as political’ came out of the feminist movement to explain the systematic nature of women's oppression and the role that individuals can play in challenging such oppression.

I feel that Steve is calling to us to a similar understanding.  To see our own role, our own responsibility for, the evils of the wider world.  What, in my tortured phraseology, I’d call ‘personal as crusade’.

If we want God’s will to be ‘done on earth as it is in heaven’ then we have to step up:

  • if we want to fight injustice;
  • if we want to end poverty, homelessness and deprivation;
  • if we see our dying environment and our collapsing public services as an affront to God;
  • then we must see them as the evil that they are.

Steve quotes William Booth’s rallying cry ‘While women weep’ but I’d like to suggest a more mundane and less poetic analogy.

I imagine that Jesus arrives and, like a family member who lives out of town, asks me to show him round.  When he sees the homeless person and the hungry-child contrasting with our relative wealth, our waste and our indifference am I going to tell him ‘it’s not my responsibility’?

We must fight ‘the powers of this dark world’ because otherwise we become them.

 

Ben works for Oasis as press and campaigns manager.  He was brought up by atheists so pleads ignorance on anything theological

If you'd like to write a Talk-back in response to one of Steve's videos please email Ben: ben.payne@oasisuk.org.

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