Better to discuss evil than to live with it
At the weekly BREAK DOWN/CONTROVERSY DISCUSSED/TRUTH EXPOSED (all caps on the billboard) discussion at Sac State on a recent sunny Wednesday, the topic was: “Why Is There Evil?” Oooooh.
I was on campus for the lower-library book sale and could not help but eavesdrop. The group meets outside the library in the shade by Javalicious. I had to ask to learn this is a Christian group. I am not Christian. They did not seem to mind. All comers welcome, even an old, shaky agnostic whose official ties to campus were severed when I quit teaching there in 2003.
We talked evil politely. The group’s leader, a charismatic young man with a Valentino stare, started the discussion off just how he ended it: with a quiet prayer. No biggie. Nobody made me pray and did not seem to mind when I did not. The group reflected CSUS, and for 45 minutes, a dozen of us, including two passersby, discussed … evil.
While there was a “what would Jesus do” flavor to the talk, it did not dominate. I liked it, and I don’t like much. I liked young people having an intelligent discussion as the world around them swirled with coeds mindlessly barking “it was like” into their cells or walk-and-texting while awaiting the next little big thing.
I liked it because it was a group of young people discussing world affairs in a civil way. As someone who has participated in a few secular discussion groups (Socrates Café, etc.) that imploded on the launching pad, this is no small thing: civility. In person. Dig it.
I liked it that they welcomed agnostic, older me, who could not resist evil-baiting when I asked if the death penalty or abortion were evil. Or if forgiveness (see Jesus 1.0, not the remixed Jesus who gets mashed in with the eye-for-an-eye stuff) was a solution to evil.
But most of all, I liked that these college kids were not self-absorbed at an age when they should be. It wasn’t a class; it was not an overt prayer group. It was Christian, but methinks that is better than sponsorship by a soda maker or a big pharmaceutical company.
One girl brought up that godless philosopher Nietzsche. Charismatic Leader, by contrast, quoted Mark 7:20, which he balanced by citing the American Heritage Dictionary definition of evil. The parameters of evil were explored as much as they could be on a sunny day in the shade with the world swirling by.
“Will I be denied heaven for cheating on a midterm?” wondered one. “Without killing, etc., would we lower the bar, defining evil as cutting someone off on the freeway?” asked a thoughtful kid with a haircut that suggested otherwise. “Will lusting after thy neighbor’s wife in your heart do you in?” wondered a fast-thinking coed whom I, well, lusted after. (I also felt evil for borrowing my note-taking pen from a librarian with no intention of returning it.)
Not long ago, I started getting calls from young people urging me to vote for Obama. At the time I was all-Hillary; now that I see his ability to excite young people, while also being the candidate the world wants and deserves after eight years of Alfred W. Neuman foolery, I am an Obama guy.
In these pages four years ago, I bashed young people for lack of involvement and apathy that likely made for four more years of Dubya (see “iPod people,” SN&R Essay, November 25, 2004). I’m seeing a change. Young people seem more engaged, whether it is working the phones or giving up their lunch hours to discuss evil.
And I’m more than happy to eat my 2004 words.