Action and Contemplation: Part Two
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
A contemplative lens is the only frame through which we can recognize and address the three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we remain in egoic consciousness, evil (especially in its first hidden forms that look so much like goodness), will take over unchallenged. This is exactly what Brazilian archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (1909–1999) said many years ago when he talked about the “spiral of violence”: institutional violence provokes a violent response, which in turn is met with “necessary” repression,  and then the same pattern repeats, each level growing more and more violent without really resolving the underlying problem (or evil).
The spiral feeds upon itself. The individual zealot tries to rise above “the rotten, decadent system,”  as Dorothy Day called it, by attempting solutions that usually attack the symptoms. That attempt may make the individual and the state feel moral, but it rarely touches the underlying causes. Think of the policies that led the United States to build a wall at the border instead of honestly asking why people want to come to begin with. Why was a wall terrible in Berlin but salvific in Juarez, San Diego, and the present state of Israel? We criminalize the actions of desperate individuals, but rarely question the global economic systems and untouchable corporations that keep such unequal circumstances in place for their own gain.
Frankly, addressing root causes and taking appropriate action require a lot more work and spiritual intelligence. Our egos will always be on the lookout for a quick fix and immediate satisfaction, which too often leads to a deeply flawed solution. But the gift of contemplative practice is the ability to remain humble and hold the tension between the rightness and wrongness on each side of the issue until the Spirit moves in and offers us a wiser course of action.
Câmara saw how many righteous cures were worse than the disease itself (for example, communism as a response to poverty, fascism as a desire for social order, prohibition as a solution to alcohol abuse, or our current inability to tackle the issue of immigration in an intelligent way). Non-contemplative “cures,” which lack love and holistic wisdom, never address the underlying violence which most people have already agreed not to see. We support the evil of the system and then pretend to hate this same evil in individuals.
This lack of recognition of the root causes of evil is the source of much of the moral powerlessness of most Christian nations, institutions, and individuals. Because we thought we had God on our side, we believed all the things we did were good or even God-blessed! But many people now recognize that isn’t true and never has been, which leads me to believe we are more than ready for authentic and effective contemplative action.
 Hélder Câmara, Spiral of Violence, trans. Della Couling (Dimension Books: 1971), 30-31, 34.
 Dorothy Day, “On Pilgrimage,” The Catholic Worker (September 1956), https://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/710.html.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? (CAC Publishing: December 2019), 65-66,67, 69.