Went to bed last night with the news that a North Carolina jury has convicted a man on the flimsiest of evidence and woke up to the news that we've assassinated a US citizen. That's just 12 hours worth of bad news, piled onto horror after horror that came before. It feels like unusually horrific times and I am left asking if something in the world has changed? Or is that something has changed in me?
When I wrote my 9/11 post, I thought about that when I was a child I had no thought that someday I might be investigated for my magazine subscriptions and my despair was over the fact that my niece and nephew don't have that same security. But of course people have been investigated for their magazine subscriptions for a long time, just not people like me. Disturbingly unlikeable men and black men have been convicted with no evidence well before my time. And it surely ain't the first assassination of a citizen enacted by the United States government.
For every horror of the current day, there is a past horror that surpasses it. One of the differences is that the horrors are fed through the internet firehose directly into my brain. My iPad makes the world yet more horrible, and yet so amazing that I could never turn it off. I was just reading in Ellul that "every moment of a man's life is not historic but apocalyptic." (The Presence of the Kingdom) The good of Christ draws you through the horrors of the world; the more good, the more horrors. It cannot be avoided.
And in the internet age one is drawn to interact with horror in a way one could have avoided before. Bonhoeffer, not long before his death, took a three hour hike through war torn Europe without seeing another person and without knowing when the ferry he was awaiting would arrive (no app for that). Few were more fully engaged in the horror of his time, and yet he had a space that is hardly imaginable to someone like me, far less engaged but still standing before the firehose. The evils on the internet: are they new, or is it just that every evil voice now has a megaphone? Earlier from the Ellul:
More than ever, every person is involved in the life of the world, and the world is more penetrating, more crushing, more exacting, than it has ever been.
A major fact of our present civilization is that more and more sin becomes collective, and the individual is forced to participate in collective sin. Everyone bears the consequences of the faults of others.
And you have your own megaphone, so are you continually called upon to respond? Shortly after the previous quote ends, Ellul adds distressingly, "Modern man can no longer have confidence in the virtues of the individual..." Most people understand this distress. You've surely seen this comic before:
All these parts of modern life invite comment in a way they didn't before. You don't get to have ignorance of government assassination, you don't read about a strange conviction in a history book, you don't assume weird laws are going to let you off for being white (okay, after 9/11 I actually did assume that and I was actually surprised to have my mail investigated, as naive as that may have been). Everything is in real time, with enough time to write your congressman and expect him to hear you. Does that mean you have to write your congressman? Or can you just put Amnesty International on automatic deduction and call it a day?
Last night I finished reading Metaxas' biography of Bonhoeffer and I was certain the answer allowed respite from a moral imperative for what would turn out to be a daily stack of correspondence, and felt very free that I could feel certain from Bonhoeffer of all people that it was okay not to be so seriously engaged. And if Bonhoeffer was engaged in trying to kill Hitler, I could survive in a world that isn't quite Nazi. Bonhoeffer stated something about how anything so serious actually couldn't be serious at all. It certainly couldn't be Christian, both Bonhoeffer and Ellul are clear on that.
On the other hand I am told that Metaxas' book molds Bonhoeffer into a modern evangelical ideal, and surely that ideal would be to be idealistically unengaged (contrary to Bonhoeffer's meaning and contrary to Ellul's teaching above), and that I should have read one of the other biographies instead. (Though Metaxas is surely the most readable, so unless you are very academically minded, I would go for Metaxas and just be aware that it means to idealize in a certain way... he is a children's Christian writer after all.)
And I would suggest reading Bonhoeffer (or Ellul, but Ellul is a little more lost... if one needs direction go for Bonhoeffer). The biography contained long quotes, and Ethics is available electronically and I've picked that up. After a little Bonhoeffer I am left feeling that despite everything I have been exposed to about what a good idea it is to be a Christian, no one before has ever given me an actual good idea for it. Bonhoeffer makes the theology of Christianity meaningful in a way I haven't before had the opportunity to feel and believe simultaneously. So I shall resolve to engage a little more carefully and be a little less down.
After writing this, found this article claiming that human violence is on a long-term (thousands of years) decline.