Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7)

This came to mind as I was washing up in the kitchen this afternoon. Reminded by a bill for which the school district is using a transparent lie to refuse to pay for work they ordered on their own evaluation, I was reminded of the extraordinary wickedness that has characterized all their behavior toward my son for over a year now. Last week, for instance, knowing that his placement at Keystone isn't working, and even confessing their knowledge of that by reminding us that they want a functional behavior analysis to determine why not, they sent us a piece of paper saying he's truant and threatening to have him arrested.

They're not afraid to try to terrify him like this in the full knowledge of the harm they are doing to him. For educational professionals - knowing perfectly well what they're doing - to try to hurt a kid like that is truly evil.

But these people are not especially evil people. They're perfectly average educational professionals, probably no worse than the ones populating your district office. How does that make you feel about your kids being in their hands? :)

This wide gap between the banality and mediocrity of Stephen's tormentors and the shocking wickedness of their behavior has arrested me from the beginning of this affair. Clearly God wants me to learn about it. Accordingly I read Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil" some time back hoping to learn something, and indeed I did learn something important, which I addressed in an earlier post.

Arendt described the problem like this:

Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it - the quality of temptation. Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbors go off to their doom (for that the Jews were transported to their doom they knew, of course, even though many of them may not have known the gruesome details), and not to become accomplices in these crimes by benefiting from them. But, God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.

It's not just the Third Reich. Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn addressed the same issue. Huck knows it's his duty to betray his friend, the runaway slave Jim, and he knows he will go to hell if he doesn't. So finally, as he recalls their friendship, he says, "All right then, I'll go to hell," and tears up the paper. Huck Finn had failed to resist the temptation to be a decent human being - but not many do.

Getting back to where I was at the beginning of this post, I realized in this meditation that the only way in my learning that I ever come to the knowledge of the truth is when I come to the knowledge of the truth about myself. How am I walking in the banality of evil myself? How do I resist the temptation to be a decent human being so as to do some evil act that I think is my duty? Then, not when I feel tempted to do what I know is wrong, is when there is no limit to the evil I might do. Whatever I am learning, except when I learn the truth about myself, I am not coming to the knowledge of the truth.


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