“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?” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
I first heard this quote, from The Gulag Archipelago, paraphrased by Dr. Andy Bannister in a lecture titled “Does Religion Poison Everything?” (borrowing from Christopher Hitchen’s line, “Religion poisons everything”). Bannister said that ‘religion,’ in the quote, could just as well be replaced by ‘money,’ since money causes crime, poverty and resentment. Or ‘politics’, since politics causes bloodshed, strife and war. He said that whatever humans ‘lay ahold of,’ they poison–sort of a reverse Midas touch. That applies to politics, money, government, science–and religion.
But all of those things can–and are–used for good as well. The dividing line runs through our hearts.
I recently repeated Solzhenitsyn’s words to someone who was bemoaning the prevelence of technology–smartphones in particular. I think she was thinking of the ubiquitous iPhone, and the ‘smartphone slouch’ that goes with it, and how people use their phones as an excuse to not talk to each other. It’s a valid complaint, if misdirected. My iPhone (on which I am writing this blog post) is the single most powerful business tool I own, but it is one of my greatest time-wasters, and a gateway to all kinds of destruction. It all depends how I use it.
Another example. I grew up around guns. My family is a hunting, fishing and trapping family. All my life, I’ve been comfortable with guns because I’ve seen them since I was little, was taught how to shoot and how to handle guns safely. My Dad and his gun were what put meat on our table, and they continue to do so. But other people have used guns to kill and cause all manner of human suffering. It depends on the use. The line of good and evil runs through each of our hearts.
We would like to say that it is religion, or politics, or money, or sex, or guns, or just ‘those people’ that wreak havoc in our lives and in this world. If we could only eliminate the gun, the smartphone, the religion, the poison would go as well.
If only it were that easy. Solzhenitsyn, who as a survivor of the Soviet Gulag knew true evil, realized that the horrors he had known could not be eradicated by destroying a certain group of people because evil was in every heart.
The poison isn’t the object, the poison isn’t ‘those people’. The poison is in us, and everywhere we go, there we are.
Malcolm Muggeridge said: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
But perhaps it is easier to blame it on the smartphone, or the religion.