The Good, the Bad but not the Ugly
Recently, I’ve come across several people who hold clear views about the identity of the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ in our world.
The out-and-out Conspiracy Theorists spend their time identifying the various malign forces are at work in the world. They identify powerful and power-hungry individuals intent on taking control and reducing us all to ciphers. Most of the theorists(who sound a lot more certain than the word ‘theorist’ suggests!) imply that they are clever enough or perceptive enough to belong to that small elite who know what’s really going on.
But you don’t have to be an out and out conspiracy theorist to be certain that you know who the good guys and the bad guys. At a medical appointment this week, I heard a spontaneous justification of the cutting of the UK aid budget from a white British man who described the pervasive corruption in African politics. David Cameron and Greensill somehow got forgotten in his narrative of the dishonest grasping African.
So I ask myself – What about the church? There's a lot of talk there about who’s bad and who’s good and advice on how to move people from the first category to the second?’
In more recent years, many Christians have become more and more convinced that our evangelical Christian heritage has delineated good and bad categories with its ‘inner’ eye closed! We have been so busy believing that a good God is ‘with us’ that we have neglected to seek God and ‘the good’ not only‘ in here’ but ‘out there’. And the corollary of that is probably even more serious - we have failed catastrophically to recognise the evil or what Jung would have called ‘the shadow’ within our community. The most challenging perspective of all is to recognise the complexity of our own motives. We religious types – and many other well-meaning people who seek to make good things happen in the world - have failed to recognise our own ‘shadow-sides’ and see how closely good and evil are entwined within ourselves and within the variety of systems we are all part of.
If we were able to recognise the complexity within ourselves both personally and institutionally, and if we learnt better to admit the entanglement of good and evil within ourselves and our own motives, maybe we would recognise that in the wider world, good and evil are equally entwined in other people.
Certainly some of us could learn something from Gwen Adshead, who, until recently, worked as a forensic psychiatrist at Broadmoor, a leading psychiatric hospital, where she has worked with some of the country’s most monstrous criminals. Quoted in an article in last week’s Sunday Times, Adshead describes the development of the quality of ‘radical empathy – a kind of detachment that allows you to see the offender’s point of view without losing sight of the crime and its impact on the victims.’
Happily, most of us don’t live alongside murderers - but we still face the challenge of looking for alternative points of view – whether it is that of a difficult colleague or relative or neighbour. Maybe the least we can hope for is what Martin Luther King described when he reworded the old saying, “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”