By lex, on August 6th, 2006
A propos of nothing in particular, just one of those occasional public service announcements…
Your scribe, over the course of the few years and many days that he’s been blogging, sharing his opinions, expressing his concerns, weaving the occasional tale of nautical derring-do, has had the opportunity to disagree from time to time with some of those whose opinions grace his comments boxes. Sometimes that disagreement will be explicitly – even vigorously – enunciated, as in the case of rectifying an obvious error, expounding upon a cherished opinion, or upon the opportunity of extending a productive philosophical debate. It is hoped that such events will be experienced as they are intended – a healthy and open exchange of ideas among people generally pleased with each other’s company.
At other times, fortified by the courage of his uncertainties, your correspondent will decline to openly disagree, willing to suffer heterodoxy of experience and earnestly held belief, but generally unwilling through open action to participate in what he is inclined to view as the kind of moral certainty which borders on extremism. Such silence should not be taken as assent: Willing to disagree, but for the most part unwilling to be disagreeable, the familiar reader may recognize that these non-responses to absolutist sentiments might forgivably be interpreted as tacit disagreement. Even, perhaps, disapproval.
We live in a world of grays, gentle reader. Generally speaking, I find that anyone who speaks in terms of absolutes can only be sure that s/he is absolutely wrong. Not everyone of any faith, or sect, or political belief is inherently evil, unable to make moral distinctions and worthy of blanket condemnation, far less threats of imminent personal or racial destruction. I pray that I do not say this out of wooly-headed hopefulness, but rather out of personal experience: I count among my friends and acquaintances several flavors of Christians, at least two sorts of Jew, two varieties of Muslim, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, not to mention Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and even – gasp! – true libertarians, the vanishing breed that they are. I have dined at their tables, broken bread with them, shared adult libations – yes, with every kind of man – and called them friend.
I have at times disagreed with all of them, but inside each of them I have seen that common spark of our shared humanity: The hope for meaning, the quest for a good life, the search for love and friendship, the desire for a better world for our children, their dreams of peace and the benefits of peace. Self-interest too have I seen there, as well as pride and calculation. We are born into the world as perfect beasts, and out of such raw material must our parents fashion imperfect citizens.
There is evil in the world and without good people to fight against it, evil will flourish. But while that is inescapably true, so is it true that there are varying degrees of evil, and in any case it is neither so deep nor so widespread as we would often like to think. If we label someone evil, or some class of people evil, we have allowed ourselves to shortcut that complexity of experience that we grant ourselves reflexively. It is lazy to issue blanket condemnations, and worse than that, it is very likely counterproductive.
It is useful to remember that we are all of us sinners, and that we all have much to atone for. It is useful to remember our lessons about motes and beams, and the dangers inherent in casting the first stones.