Forgive us our trespasses, etc.

The Christian discovers in his relation to others that he can’t find any evil in them worse than the evils he has in himself. This is simply the Christian contribution to our self-knowledge. The consequence of this is that we cannot condemn others without condemning ourselves. Christ stressed this repeatedly, so much so that it is clearly at the heart of his teaching about the human condition.

The obvious objection to this is that we can discover all sorts of evils in others that are worse than any we have committed. I’ve never committed a genocide or even a murder. All this is true, but it is a distraction from the main point, since it sees human evil only on its most superficial level. Evil is like a giant retail corporation, and the “big events” of evil – the murders and petty acts of lust and fights and wars and drunkenness – are like the cashiers and the store managers: they are the most visible face of the organization, and they run it on the ground level, but they aren’t the main ones in charge. Driving out the cashiers and store managers is rewarding, but on another level it simply opens up our awareness of the evil that has been in control all along, and in the face of which we can find no evil in another that is not already in us. This is why even the saints have the (otherwise confusing) habit of insisting that they are sinners. It is not kowtowing or Eastern-style self-abasement, or even the Socratic recognition of one’s own ignorance and littleness in comparison to God; it is an expression of a bona-fide anthropology. It is precisely by becoming more holy and more good that the saint recognizes that he has all the evils of the whole world, and so far as he does he is responsible for all the evils of the whole world.

Again, driving out the “big event” evils is not easy or of little value- it is the necessary first step. But driving them out only shows us the deeper and more inveterate level of evil as a disposition of the will. That is, even after we drive out the visible face of evil in us – the “big events” of evil – there still remains that iron disposition of the will that looks at goodness and just says no.  The spirit wishes but it does not will.

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