Monday, October 17, 2005

experiencing evil

Annie has a very thoughtful post on the presence of evil (and what is evil and what is not) over at her place.

Her essay reminded me of some experiences I have had over the years.

I read so many mystical novels as a child (LeGuin, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Howatch), that the struggle between good and evil was very present to me, but in an intellectual sort of way. I understood that there was a struggle. I assumed that I was on the side of light and good, although I didn't understand what that meant.

After college, some friends and I took a trip around Europe, cheap hotel rooms and Eurailpasses. Near the end we stopped in Austria, my father's family's origin country. We took a day trip out of Vienna to visit the Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen. It's not one of the big ones, like Auschwitz, but it was used as an extermination camp.

The outside part, now, is peaceful. Barracks houses, a quarry, which was the scene of forced labor--hard to imagine the atrocities taking place in this forest setting. But as one went deeper into the camp, one went deeper into the darkness. A museum, a film, in the basement of the main building. Separated from my friends, I started following the line painted on the floor that led from room to room. Eventually I was in a room with shower heads. No signage, but I knew. This was a gas chamber. And the next room--a crematorium.

I didn't stay very long in those rooms because I was overwhelmed by a feeling of oppression and darkness. Not a vision, but a heaviness, a pressing down. I was grateful to get outside and find my college roommate sitting on the steps, taking in the clean air.

Before we left, we stopped at a little chapel that had been set up in the camp, and recently blessed or consecrated by John Paul II. It had a totally different quality, almost sweet.

I do believe in objective evil. I just don't think it has horns and a tail. I think it looks smooth and banal. I think it becomes louder and darker as we work to get strong, healthy and honest in the light of Christ. But I wouldn't have noticed that chapel if I hadn't had the experience of the basement. It would have been just another historic building we wandered through on our trip.

I've got more thoughts but this post is long enough. Thanks, Annie, for the provocative reflection.


At 7:52 PM, Blogger Annie said...

Wow! I'm not sure that I could have gone into one of the gas chambers--even disconnected, decrepit, all these years later. I've been places where I sensed good or evil. There was a valley once that I knew that was so good and peaceful that I could sit and look out over it all afternoon. I'm glad I gave you food for thought. It isn't my favorite subject, but necessary, I think.


At 9:45 PM, Blogger Susie/Nueva Cantora said...

thanks for the post. this subject came up at our Baptism preparation classes last weekend... this is great language for some of what was trying to be expressed.


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