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May Nothing Evil

The first hymn in our Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, is “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door." It is a hymn that easily brings tears to the eyes of those who have found in our sanctuaries a place and a people and a faith we can count on to salve our wounds and salvage the wreck we become, and even save our lives. In that hymn we sing of security, faith, warmth, peace, sacrament and laughter. We ask that these walls, thin as they are, “be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.” 

Would you recognize evil if it “crossed the door” of your church or synagogue or masjid? A man with a gun hidden inside a guitar case and the intent to kill hidden in his heart? That happened in a UU congregation I know. A charismatic member of the congregation with a special gift for welcoming newcomers and connecting lonely people who is arrested and convicted of child pornography? That’s happened in a UU congregation I know. Might a man who beat up his wife last night or this morning walk through those doors? Yes. Might a woman step across that threshold whose life and relationships are being destroyed by alcoholism? Yes, of course. Might some representative of a corrupt government come, with warrants and strongmen with guns, to arrest a portion of us who no longer qualify as Americans, but only as vermin, or perverts, or imbeciles, or dark-skinned, or commies, or as Unitarian Universalists? Could that happen? Of course, and it has, many times, in many places. But it is not the people who pass through the door themselves who are evil.

People make mistakes, deceive themselves and others, operate out of erroneous information or reasoning, have sociopathic tendencies, are influenced by the delusions or paranoia that mental illness can bring, were raised in a home environment that distorted their sense of right and wrong. We are all perfectly capable of making terrible, appalling, horrendous, inexplicable decisions that propagate pain and suffering through the web of our connections to other people and the earth. 

UU theologian Paul Rasor suggests that the word “idolatry” may be a more useful theological concept than “evil.” He defines idolatry as the practice of drawing power from a source that “prevents or inhibits life from flourishing.” Evil is a collective pursuit of an end unworthy of human desire, a pursuit which entails an insidious and unacknowledged process of disconnection from everything that makes a humane and meaningful life possible. Evil works like cancerous tissue in the human body. A cancer has our DNA, but it is indifferent to anything but its own prosperity. It dominates a previously shared environment and coopts any useful systems in order to sustain its own growth. It sees no boundaries, grieves no losses, has no shame. It is so blind to consequences that it actively consumes the very structures that are essential to its own existence. It eats through blood vessels, fills cavities, strangles vital organs, gradually weakening its host and diminishing its own returns until both host and cancer die.

Evil is made of us, but is not us. In the process of becoming, it draws us in, disables our moral/ethical compass, and uses us for its own ends. It lives, in potential, in the everyday, here among us in our congregations, in our families, in our government. Among us it is either already growing and spreading, or it is waiting for the conditions to be right so that it can. It is incumbent upon the faithful, in particular, to nurture health in our own communities, to connect to people beyond our own neighborhoods, to guard the integrity of our political system, and to be ever watchful.

To the seeds of evil, may we say “I see you.” 
To a cancer that is growing among us, may we say: “Let us uncover the wound and treat it.” 
To powers greater than we who question the worth of our neighbors, may we say:“I stand with these.”
To those who align with such powers, may we say: “I see suffering because of this; tell me what you see.” 
“To our neighbors whom we do not know well, may we say: “Come in, share this meal, tell me your story, and I will tell you mine. 
To a future world in which we love our neighbors as ourselves, may we say: “I give my life over to creating you.”

Rev. Margie Allen, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook


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