"Now, these (evil) things are produced by men. Men, therefore, are the authors of them and the causes of their existing or not existing."- Methodius
The basis upon which evil is able to work in our world is rarely the stark, ugly visage of evil itself, but rather, evil often uses the will to do good as a foundation upon which it builds its edifice and abuses that very will to manifest its plans. Such is the lesson behind the film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”.
In the film we are introduced to the young boy, Bruno, an innocent child growing up in a very unfortunate circumstance- Nazi Germany. Like most boys he looks up to his father and would be hard pressed to believe his father would be capable of evil actions. And to look upon Ralf (Bruno's father) as if he were pure evil is both problematic and unfair, though it is the knee jerk reaction we may initially have. Look at this objectively: Ralf is a man of principle, pride, ethic and duty. He loves his country, serves it proudly and is a model soldier. He explains to his son, “Look, the thing is, Bruno, the thing about being a soldier, is that life is not so much about choice, it's more about duty, so if your country needs you to go somewhere, you go.” Rolf understands the importance of duty, and in that alone there is nothing evil.
In the United States we too have always fostered such nationalism, such zeal for the defense of our nation. Soldiers understand that it is their duty to carry out orders. Duty and patriotism are not evils in and of themselves, but can certainly be distorted and abused by the forces of evil for nefarious ends. Much like Nazi Germany and their persecution of Jews and other “undesirables”, the patriotism of the American government during World War II also led this nation to intern the Japanese and many Germans, most of whom were just as loyal and just as patriotic as the men fighting oversees.
Again, evil is almost always founded upon a perceived good.
When Bruno is curious about the people on what he thinks is a farm (in reality a concentration camp), Ralf tells his son, “All you need to know about my work here, Bruno, is that it's very important to our country and to you. We're working very hard to make this world a better place for you to grow up in.”
Implicit in his reply are two things.
First, he states his firm belief that doing his duty at the camp will make his country a better place for his child. In this particular comment we can easily see the will to do good in his desire to make a better place for his children to grow up and live in. It isn't his goal for a better life that is evil, but his idea of how to achieve that good that is distorted horribly by the twisted thinking of inherited depravity. Evil has twisted Ralf's will to do good by making the murder of millions of Jews and others a condition of the fulfillment of that desire.
This brings me to my second point, which is that, implicit in his first words in response to his son's curiosity is the fact that he realizes there is an evil from which he seeks to protect his child. Ralf is a man of conscience, but at war within himself and trying to hide the the obvious evil of the Nazi holocaust he is participating in. He is a man ensnared by evil in his sincere desire to do good, in that he has given duty to the state superiority to his duty to morality and simple human compassion. Church Father Theophilus had this to say about the fate of man when he turns to the things of evil.
"If, on the other hand, he would turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he would himself be the cause of death to himself."- Theophilus
Duty was the excuse used by the Nazi's. However, duty in the service of evil is no excuse. Christ was clear that we are to "Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21)
Our first and primary duty is to God; his will, his kingdom. Our duty to any government ends when it places demands on us that contravene the expressed will of God found in Sacred Scripture.
"Peter has said that the king indeed must be honored. But he means that the king is honored only when he keeps to his own sphere.."- Tertullian
We face similar situations today, though perhaps not to the same degree. Our world today is increasingly Progressive (Marxist), and we witness an encroaching police state right here in the United States. Since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 our government has enacted a variety of legislation under the auspices of the Patriot Act. At first presented as a desire to protect Americans from further acts of terror (a moral good), it has grown to such proportions that the individual freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution and the rights provided for in the Bill of Rights, are under constant fire and some have been effectively annulled. For example, the government now controls how much money you can transfer from bank account to bank account, we are searched as if we are all criminals at airports, the government is now able to wiretap your phones without warrant, collect personal information and store email and text messages, log in to your computer and watch you on your camera without your knowledge, hold you indefinitely without charges or presenting cause in a court of law, and even assassinate designated "enemies of the state" on the word of the president and his advisers alone, completely ignoring the right to a trial afforded even traitors. It can fairly be said that the will to do good has been turned to evil. Christians today are often vilified by the forces of the Left, have been prosecuted for their religious conscience, and even in government counter-terrorism training manuals have been referred to as “terrorists”.
Like Bruno, we often find ourselves blind to evil at work behind the scenes. And once we awaken to the reality of the situation we can be confused by the apparent dichotomy. Bruno is told of the Jews in the camps, “They're not in there because they're good, silly. They're no good at anything. They're in there because they're evil. They're the enemy.”
Thus, evil dehumanizes other humans, leading to man being his own destruction, as Theophilus said.
The Solution to the Problem of Evil
With such messages being promoted today about Christians, the choices Bruno and Ralf faced have reared their ugly heads again. Confronting evil and recognizing its disguises is never easy. As Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Indeed, for fallen humanity the spiritual war that wages within manifests in the external world of politics, society, and culture. The only way to make sense of this struggle is to embrace the absolute good- God. Only in the truth of the transcendent and Absolute Source of Truth can the ability to discern good from evil be found, not to mention the highest good for humanity as a whole. Only in this Source is objective and nondiscriminatory good understood and given expression. May we each face honestly the Ralf within us all that would fall back on duty or patriotism, and having done so on God's terms, seek out our duty to God's highest good for ourselves and our fellow man.
1. Sohlzhenitsyn, Alexsandr, The Gulag Archipelago, 1973
2.The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film) 2008