Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Opposing Evil Outside and Inside

There's battle lines being drawn

Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind


It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound

Everybody look what's going down


What a field-day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly say, hooray for our side


—Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth


Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a troubling trend. The anger over the George Floyd killing and the anger over the riots were pitted against each other, so that any expression of sympathy or concern was seen as an endorsement of the opposing evil. So, being angry at the killing was seen as an endorsement of the riots, while being angry over the rioting was seen as an endorsement of police racism. Any expression of opposing the extremes on both evils tends to be treated as a “both sides” moral equivalence.

The problem is, there are evils on both sides and each side must oppose the extremists on their own side if we are to see any real reforms. Those who are angered by the killing of Mr. Floyd need to make clear that rioting is not an appropriate response. Those who are angered by the rioting need to make clear that support for the police in general does not mean giving the police carte blanche when an officer does wrong or if a particular police department has an inherent injustice. 

The teaching of the Catholic Church applies to all factions here: “One may never do evil so that good may result from it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1789). That includes turning a blind eye to an evil because we believe in or otherwise benefit from the good. Prudence may dictate how we respond in opposing evil, but we can never ignore the valid concerns of others, even if we cannot accept their response.

The Catholic Church has openly condemned the killing and the racism it forces us to confront—that condemnation even coming from the Pope, who called opposing racism a pro-life issue. But I have seen some Catholics say that the Church should focus on “real” issues instead, while others say that the Church has not “done enough.” I think both of these subgroups are using the murder of Mr. Floyd as a proxy for their battle over ideology, wanting the Church to behave as they think. We should reject both of them as we seek to solve the evils in our country because both are (even if sincere and blind to their errors) focused on partisanship.

I’m not saying that the two evils cancel each other out here, or that the existence of an evil in one group negates the valid concerns that group has. I’m saying this: When we oppose an evil, we need to make sure we do not embrace or tolerate evils in our own group out of expedience or thinking “that’s not as important.” In opposing racism, we must make it clear we also reject evil means of opposing it. In opposing rioting, we must make it clear we also reject the evils that sparked the rioting.

If we won’t do that, we’re not working for justice, but partisanship. And nothing will change as long as we do that.



(†) For my non-American readers, America doesn’t have a national police force outside of the limited nature of the FBI and the US Marshals. Some of our states don’t even have state police, having only local city or county jurisdictions. So, any reform of “the system” actually means reforming many systems, some better than others, some worse. Problems with police brutality have come from both “Blue” and “Red” states, regardless of which party is in political power at the national level. (As usual, I put the terms in alphabetical order to avoid appearance of bias), so reforming this issue is not going to be simply a matter of “regime change.”

(‡) Please be aware that, by referring to these two subgroups, I am not saying that all people opposed to a certain evil are guilty. Please review THIS if you think that by saying “some,” that I mean all.

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