The darkness within the human heart, and the hope in foolishness

November 21, 2014
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By Lea Z. Singh |

Cain standing over his brother Abel
Canada's left-leaning "creative class" is in shock after unbelievable allegations have shattered the public image of one of Canada's coolest feminist men, CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Until recently, Ghomeshi was a national icon, the darling of liberal progressives. He was so everywhere

And then the bomb: 10 women recently came forward alleging that they were beaten up, punched, choked and otherwise assaulted by the king of the sensitive left. Turns out he has probably been faking his way through for years, speaking up for women-power while actually beating up women in his spare time. That is more than enough deception to make one sick.

The whole pathetic story has made me sad too. Not because I ever liked Jian Ghomeshi, but because his double life is just more evidence that much of humanity is deeply disappointing.

We are all children of Cain, to be sure. And we have the hearts of darkness to prove it. The evil that lies dormant within the ordinary person is not just frightening but downright sickening. We get glimpses of it popping up now and then like a groundhog. If only we could smash it to pieces with a mallet once and for all.

Darkness within the ordinary heart

It's not just ISIS beheading little children in Iraq, or the orchestrated daily rape of the women and girls who are held as hostages in that region.  Yes, such terrors are impossible to comprehend. But it is far more than that.

It is tempting to paint people who do evil deeds as a whole other breed of human being. This might make us feel immune to perpetrating their barbarism. But time and again, throughout history and in our own time, the reality which keeps emerging is that the greatest injustices and crimes are often carried out by ordinary people. It seems to me now that nearly every person is corruptible and can be turned into an animal, often with mind-boggling ease.

True, most people in our society are not leading double lives like Jian Ghomeshi. But keep in mind that Ghomeshi likely felt so famous as to be invincible. He had gotten away with his bad behaviour for so many years that he probably believed his lucky streak would stretch on forever.

So here is my question: if the ordinary person comes to believe that they can truly and completely get away with doing bad things, would most people still stay good?

The evidence is not encouraging. Take Kenya, one of the most stable countries in Africa and the land of Lion King's "Hakuna Matata". Apparently this country is plagued by an epidemic of rape, with victims who are often very young girls. Why do men rape girls all over Kenya? Surely this must be part of widespread ethnic or religious conflict?

Nope. There is no shred of any reasonable explanation. Even the police admit that the rape is widespread mainly due to a lack of effective legal enforcement against the perpetrators. In other words, a culture of quiet acceptance and inaction allows men to get away with it, so men of all ages have been taking advantage, including family members such as grandfathers, fathers and other family members of the victims. It is hard to escape the conclusion that people actually require fear of punishment in order to remain civil and avoid hurting one another.

Another example: a few days ago, a Christian couple was beaten and burned alive by a village mob in Pakistan. The couple had three children and the wife was pregnant. The pretext for this murder was that the wife had apparently burned a copy of the Quran, though the frenzied mob didn't bother to verify the rumour. They went on a rampage and torched a few dozen Christian homes in the area for good measure.

Was this a mob of people or a pack of rabid hounds? Hard to distinguish, isn't it. One thing is clear: these were not ISIS jihadists in black assassin clothing. The majority of these people were just villagers, ordinary people who on most days do very regular things.

History is overflowing with examples like that. Think of the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, or the civil war in Yugoslavia. In both of these places, villagers tortured and slaughtered one another mercilessly, despite many of them having lived next to each other for generations.

The war in Yugoslavia was a wake-up call for me personally. Sarajevo is a 9 hour drive from the town where I was born in the Czech Republic. It is the same distance as driving from Toronto to Boston. With its beautiful winding river and red brick housetops, in some photos Sarajevo looks just like Prague. The people in Yugoslavia were just like us. I know that because we travelled there. This was not some backward country that is easy to label as The Other. Yugoslavia was the most Westernized of the Eastern Block countries. And yet, the unimaginable nightmare of hatred and murder was unleashed there for nearly a decade, complete with concentration camps.

Are we really different?

Here in prosperous and peaceful North America, we continue to feel almost like a new species of human being, as if we are safely evolved beyond the barbarism of the rest of the world (never mind that we are made up of immigrants, often from places where barbarism is freely reigning). We consider ourselves superior. Such things could not possibly happen here (gulp).

Those in the pro-life circuit would beg to differ. Our own savagery has gone underground, but it continues to be far too real and deadly every single day. Our neighbours, our friends, even our family members have done it: many of them have killed babies or paid for the killing of babies. According to the statistics, 33% of American women will end up having an abortion by age 45.

Our victims are invisible (to our own eyes), and so we maintain the illusion of refinement and culture even as our undergarments are covered in blood. How are we really different from those who behead children?

So today is I contemplate that Thomas Hobbes was right and Jean-Jacques Rousseau was wrong about human nature. Far from being ethical and "noble" at birth, human beings are truly bestial at heart, selfish, thoughtless, and far too easily capable of worse brutality than a pack of wolves.

Christianity as the antidote

There is only one ray of hope for us, it seems to me. Christianity really does make people better. Not perfect, mind you. There is still plenty wrong with most of us, few people are walking saints. The true joke continues to be: "You think I'm a bad Christian, but you should see me without Christianity!"

Overall though, religious faith (and Christianity in particular, because of its strong emphasis on compassion, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice) is better than laws and regulations at making people more like Abel and less like Cain. Religious faith works from the inside, while the law can only work from the outside. The law lays down a minimum threshold of civility, while religious faith can inspire the maximum of selfless love.

People like St. Maximilian Kolbe, who freely gave his life for another, raise human beings out of the realm of beasts and give us hope. They may be considered insane or gullible by most of the world, because most of the world is selfish, calculating and greedy, and unwilling to give up an inch of advantage. But it is only people like Kolbe who are truly human and truly free. His action was so heroic and singular that like Christ, Kolbe just doesn't seem to be of this world. And that is precisely why it is only such "foolish" Saints who give us a reason to hope, and to not give up on mankind.

Photo: tango.mceffrie via photopin cc

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