“Evil”

Worship Script 2


 

Our Responsibility for Good and Evil

Worship Script (2 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Fetters, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer, by Orlanda Brugnola

 

We are both wise and foolish,

both fettered and free.

We are fettered by our ignorance

Or by our old assumptions

Or by our self centeredness,

and at the same time we deeply no

that these things deny

the possibility of a real and full response to a real present.

May we acknowledge our fetters,

 may we begin to cast them off

And be taught by our children,

by our friends,

by parents,

by lovers,

 by those we know

And those who are still strangers.

And may we be willing to share

Not just facts and conclusions

But the openness 

that encourages others

To choose for themselves.

 

HYMN #300 With Heart and Mind

FIRST READING

Genesis 3:1-13

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”


SECOND READING
By Alice Walker


 Love is not concerned

With whom you pray

Or where you slept

The night you ran away

From home.

Love is concerned

That the beating of your heart

Should kill no one.

 

HYMN #207 Earth was Given as a Garden

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Excerpts from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling

 

Suddenly, something that was nagging at Harry came tumbling out of his mouth.

“Professor Dumbledore... Riddle said I'm like him. Strange likenesses, he said…”

“Did he, now?” said Dumbledore. looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. “And what do you think, Harry?”

“I don't think I'm like him!” said Harry more loudly than he’d intend. “I mean, I'm - I'm in Gryffindor, I’m …”

But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind.

“Professor,” he started again after a moment. “The Sorting Hat told me I'd I'd have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while because I can speak Parseltongue. . . ”

“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin can speak Parseltongue. Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure . . .”

“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.

“It certainly seems so.”

“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherins power in me and it -”

“Put you in Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Listen to me Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift Parseltongue -- resourcefulness --  determination -- a certain disregard for the rules,” he added, his mustache quivering again. “Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”

“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, :because I asked not to go in Slytherin…”

Exactly”, said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

 

MEDITATION
Prayer from India, #523 Singing the Living Traditon


Thou art the path
and the goal that paths never reach.
Thou feedest and sustainest
All that one sees, or seems.
Thou art the trembling grass
and the tiger that creeps under it.
Thou art the light in sun and moon,
 the sounds fading Into silence,
 and the sanctity of sacred books.
Thou art the good that destroys evil.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

On the Origin and Nature of Good and Evil

by David Pyle

It is amazing to me, the power of stories. We human beings are shaped and molded by the stories we tell one another and our children. Some of those stories have been so foundational to our society that we sometimes do not see how deeply we are affected by them.

Take the story of a tree in the middle of a garden called Eden, with an order from God, a talking snake, and two rather normal, curious people. It is one of the most over-interpreted narratives in human history. Into this story has been read the belief that human nature is inherently evil, not inherently good; the belief that woman is inherently more sinful than man, something my own experience denies.

Into this story has been read the belief that God is a being who can walk in a garden, and hold conversations with humans. Into this story has been read a belief that sexuality is evil and sinful; that humankind is a failed experiment, and needs to be fixed. Into this story has been read the belief that Good and Evil existed before humanity, that they are contending forces in the world, with us as the battlefield.

All of this, and more, from one short story over 3000 years ago. But in this story there is a question that is not answered—or even asked. From where did Good and Evil come? Who created them? In the creation stories that precede this one, at no point does the author say, “And on the third day, God created both Good and Evil.” Both Good and Evil simply exist, an understood part of the universe.

In the preceding chapters of the book of Genesis, God creates something, and then recognizes it as Good—but Good already existed. In Eden, eating the apple did not create Good and Evil, it simply gave humans the ability to see, to understand, to recognize Good and Evil.

It amazes me that in this foundational story, which has doubtlessly been rewritten time and again from its first telling, there is no mention of the origin and nature of Good and Evil. From that absence comes, I believe, the most profound implication of the story: Good, and Evil simply are. There is nothing we can do about them but notice them. Within this story I believe lies a call for a kind of social apathy, a resignation that Good and Evil are forces beyond us that we have no control over, that actually control us. It is one of the most damaging ideas I have ever come across, and yet it is foundational within our culture.

Our society has built into it the idea that Good and Evil have existed since the dawn of time, that they came into existence with the universe, and that we are trapped between them. Good and Evil each have their own champion: God and the Devil, who each have their own geographical location: heaven and hell. Like the ideologies of two opposing armies, they meet in the middle to do battle. In the middle is where we are.

Is it any wonder that the world created by this view stands in constant chaos? Is it a wonder that there has never been a time in which war is not being fought somewhere by someone (usually many somewheres by many someones)?

Now, intellectually I can say that I believe these are just stories, told not by God but by a pre-modern tribal people attempting to describe the reality they lived in. But even if I don’t believe in the stories I am still a product of the cultural understandings produced by this world view.

Our worldview was created by this understanding, one that is also found in many other cultural traditions besides Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. If we are going to change this understanding of our world as a battlefield between Good and Evil, it will not be through science or rational argument, but through different stories, for it is through stories that we humans make meaning of our world.

My former Zen teacher, Joshin Roshi, tells a story of how he came to find the origin of Good and Evil. Let me first tell a little about Joshin, and why he was my teacher. In the late 1960s and 1970s he was deeply involved in protesting the war in Vietnam. I can just imagine him, a young Buddhist monk, a westerner, sitting lotus style at a protest, with the police wondering just exactly what to do with him. Smiling and sitting, offering no aggression, he practiced his pacifism not only in his opposition to the war, but in how he encountered police.

More recently, when I brought him to meet and discuss meditation with some of my then fellow seminary students at Meadville Lombard Theological School, he told us the story of finding the origin of Good and Evil, although those are my words, not his. He was part of a Buddhist meditation retreat held in the camps in Auschwitz, Germany, where millions had been executed in Hitler’s gas chambers. The majority of those were Jews, but many on the religious margins also perished there, including a few Unitarians. For several days, these Buddhist monks and teachers sat in the former death camp in silent Buddhist meditation.

Through those days of meditation, Joshin said that he had a realization, one that profoundly shook his soul. He realized that, if the circumstances of his life had been different, if he had been born in a different time and place, with different experiences, ideals, and values, he could have become one of the guards at that camp, rather than a pacifist Buddhist teacher sitting meditation in it. He realized that he carried within him the ability to commit such evil—as well as the good he had chosen throughout his life. In that meditation, he had encountered the origin of both Good and Evil, within his own heart.

I fought with myself for many years about what the difference between Good and Evil might be, and in the end it has come down to perception. I will admit that it frightens me that the inherent difference between what is Good and what is Evil is not some solid dividing line, or a set of commandments from God, but rather that most murky of diagnostic tools: human perception. What values we hold and what judgments we make determine what is Good and what is Evil, so it really does matter what we believe. It matters deeply.

The origin of Good and Evil is the human heart. The nature of Good and Evil is human perception.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the board of the church I was serving in Galveston Island, Texas, “loaned” me to the American Red Cross for a few weeks to serve as the night manager for one of the shelters we set up on the island.

For many, the perception of the storm itself was evil, for all the grief, destruction, and suffering that had come with it. For many, the storm also brought forth such a tide of goodness, compassion, and charity that it was a blessing to our community in Galveston, because it brought us together and let us learn to care for others. That storm broke our apathy, even if just for a little while. It meant a lot when, just a few weeks later, we were the evacuees, in the face of Hurricane Rita.

One night, perhaps three days after the levies broke, the volunteers and many of our evacuees were sitting in the lobby watching broadcasted footage of waters in the 9th Ward, chaos at the Convention Center, and people everywhere trapped on rooftops. We were in two distinct viewing groups, with the evacuees watching in numbed horror, gathered close around the television, and the volunteers about twenty feet back, sitting at the registration table, not knowing what to say or do.

Into that silence among the volunteers, one woman who came from a rather conservative church on the island said, “Well, it’s horrible, but what did New Orleans expect? I mean, eventually God had to destroy it, didn’t he? New Orleans was evil.”

What I thought had been silence before was nothing compared to the climate after that comment. I could see several of the evacuees turn towards us, with hurt, anger, and anguish in their eyes. This woman had just said that they deserved what they had gotten, like Sodom and Gomorrah, another bible story.

As I was trying to think of how to deal with this without yelling and screaming, an older African American woman from one of the island’s full gospel churches said, “Well Lordy, I’m sure glad I don’t have to believe in your kind of God. The Jesus I know would love all of those people, and would never punish anyone like this. God is good, and a storm is a storm.”

It was like a wash of peace, love, and goodness swept through the room. As I pulled the first woman aside and told her it might be best if she went home, people began to smile. Several of the evacuees came over and sat with the volunteers, thanked the older woman for what she had said, and began to tell stories about the New Orleans they knew—a place of close-knit but poor communities, of families, and of love.

Several of the volunteers got up and stood with the evacuees. From that moment on, there was no longer the previous kind of separation. We were now just human beings, comforting one another. All of that good, sparked by one of the most evil things I have ever heard anyone say.

Why do I call that comment evil? Because my perception, based upon my values, says it is. I realize that it is my perception that makes what she said evil to me. I’m sure her perception of me sending her home might have been equally evil—in fact, she said as much to me as she slammed the door. I take responsibility for defining what she said as evil. And that is the major difference between the view of Good and Evil presented in the Garden of Eden story and what I am calling a human-centered understanding of Good and Evil: responsibility.

I believe that the commitment to work for justice in the world is a part of our faith because we Unitarian Universalists hold to this kind of a human-centered understanding of the origin and nature of Good and Evil. We understand that, if each of us carries within us the capacity to do both Good and Evil, then that has certain implications for our lives. It means, as our first principle affirming inherent worth and dignity implies, that the possibility of transformation exists for us all, that even someone who has done evil can learn to do good. And even someone who has done good has the capacity for evil.

It also means that the responsibility for what good and what evil exists in this world lies with us. There is not a devil we can blame evil upon, and there is not a God who takes care of making sure good occurs. When our values, principles and ideals tell us that something evil is occurring, it is up to us to speak out about it. And it is up to us to work for its resolution. When someone does something good in this world, it is up to us to praise them, to hold up their example.

It also means that it matters what people believe, because those beliefs and values determine what they perceive to be good, and what they perceive to be evil. It matters what people believe. The fate of the world depends upon it.

And, as important as I believe it is that we address the outward manifestations of Good and Evil that exist in this world, each of us must also continually look inward, and see the complex nature of our own hearts and perceptions—the true origin and nature of both Good and Evil. If we are ever to banish warfare from humankind, it must begin with banishing the conflict that exists within our own hearts. It will require us to forgive ourselves for the parts of ourselves we might not like, and learn to live in balance between our best and worst selves.

For it is from this idea of a continuing war between these parts of ourselves, between the Good and Evil within each of us, that comes the motive for all war—war in the heart, war in the home, war in the community, war between nations.

If we cannot depend upon a victory of a Good God over an Evil Devil, then we must find the balance of peace within ourselves.

 

HYMN #288 All Are Architects of Fate

 

BENEDICTION

Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds