During lent this year I am sharing brief reflections on the 5 questions that conclude our Baptismal Covenant.
“Will you persevere in resisting evil?”
“Evil” is a tricky thing to speak of because it is a word often used in the service of fear-mongering and self-gratification, particularly when offered in the public sphere. Evil is the go-to word when describing enemies who are perceived to encircle us from around and turncoats who corrupt us from within.
Resistance to evil defined as such demands call to arms rather than a call to repentance. If the evil that exists is external only to us, then we can justify (to ourselves, at least) all measures of harmful actions and acts of violence.
If we ignore a call to repentance, we cannot hope to be anything more than being a nation of “Good Guys with Guns,” or, for that matter, a nation of Good Guys with Drones. In both these ideas, “evil” is an external thing and can only be resisted through violence or the threat of it.
Suddenly, “resisting evil” looks more like superheroes fighting crime than faithful disciples doing the work of reconciliation. No wonder “Evil” is such a powerful word.
Thomas Merton writes that “Perfect spiritual freedom is the total inability to make any evil choice,” (New Seeds of Contemplation, “What is Liberty?” p. 199). This gives a different perspective on resisting evil, and if we widen the lens a bit we see that word “perseverance” coming back into the picture. What must we do, or what must we give up, in order to live with such spiritual freedom? Is it possible to arrange our lives and our communities so as to diminish the very “evil” choices that destroy freedom?
Perseverance and perspective must come before labeling and fear. Repentance has to be a living part of it. A community that has no stomach, indeed no vocabulary, for repentance can do little more than arm itself better.