These ideas have been inspired by my life-long human struggle and contemplation of goodness and evil, human suffering and triumph, appreciation of both beauty and ugliness. Growing up as a child in the village in Zambia, Africa, I remember my parents and grand parents pointing out to me what was cruelty and kindness, goodness and evil. Their teachings were mixed with personal example sprinkled with generous doses of laughter and a sense of appreciation of all that is good; the gift of life, good harvest and meals, dance and song, wearing good clothes to go to church on Sunday, the goodness that comes from living a righteous and dignified life of hard work. All of these created in me and my community a deep sense of appreciation of life and the power and magnificence that God created.
Then I went to college at the young and only University of Zambia at the time. This was in the country’s Capital City of Lusaka. I was the type of student who read the text books to pass tests but often spent a great deal of time reading material that was outside class reading. This material challenged me at a tender age to think more deeply about life. When I first read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” as a freshman English course assigned reading, I had to stop half way in between and put the book down. It was eleven at night. I walked out of my dorm room and walked for two miles along the Great East Road near campus up to the Zambian parliament building. I was very angry, confused, and eighteen years old. How could there be so much evil and pain intentionally inflicted by some human beings on others in the world? Why was racism created in America? How could some human beings (whites) enjoy the evil that they were doing and inflicting on other human beings (Blacks)? There was a haze in my eyes as the street and car lights glistened through my tears. This was confusing for me as most of the African people I grew up with in my family were kind and dignified. When my parents received many guests including Europeans, they treated them with cheer, respect and hospitality. At about the time I went to college, I met a young White American couple that were to be my dear and life long great friends. Most whites I met were descent human beings. How could many Europeans and Americans claim to be Christians and yet practice or believe in colonialism, racism, and own slaves or approve of slavery? Is Christianity synonymous with evil? These questions could not be answered at that time because people often use cliches as answers to such deeply troubling questions. I have struggled continually with these questions and I am not certain they will be answered during my life time.
When God created Adam and Eve, the two were endowed with spiritual passion and surrounded with physical beauty. One can see this beauty when you see the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, the Muchinga Escarpment, the gorgeous Blue lagoons and magnificent blue waters and sand beaches of the world, and the breath taking green river valleys. The ability to engage in evil of varying degrees is present in all humans. Parents and the community are the first line of defense against evil. God helps as they raise and nurture children be these their own or those of others in the community. A bad, cruel, poor or a lack of proper parental or extended family upbringing with little or no spiritual nurturing tremendously increases the chances that the child will not distinguish between good and evil.
Christianity and believing in God and Christ is the most powerful spiritual force when individuals open themselves and their hearts to the force. God works through parents and the community to teach children about kindness, sharing, treating all human beings with fairness and respect, and to revere life itself. When we are born then we have a tremendous gift for doing good through our families and communities. When does evil begin to grow in humans? When human beings acquire power, material possessions and wealth for greedy ends, their powerful, true, compassionate and genuine Christian beliefs are threatened or begin to decline. Lack of or weak parental extended family upbringing and the desire to acquire material possessions and power beyond our immediate needs is the beginnings, if not the foundation of evil and sin and sometimes misery. What does all this mean in everyday life and especially for a Christian during this end of the second millennium?
It means as humans, we all live the way God intended us to live until we begin to engage in limitless hedonism, or exercise the desire for more power and material possessions for greedy ends for both individuals and nations. The foundation for all egregious evil is the desire for more power, and material possessions, which is reflected in human greed of different degrees. The root and beginning of the evil and atrocities humans commit on both a small and grand scale is always the desire for more power, and material possessions than God intended for our happy, compassionate, righteous, happy fulfilled lives.
One scholar, Inge Bell asserted: “Slaves were better human beings than their masters”. A variation of this statement is the simple question: “Can a slave owner also be a good person?” Many years ago, I posed this question to my sociology class. I was astounded at the convoluted answer. “Many slave owners treated their slaves with kindness; fed, clothed, and housed them.” Since then I have asked a variation of this simple question? “Can a slave owner be a true or genuine Christian?” The answers to these simple questions vary: “Slaves were being civilized as Africans were primitive”. “Many Whites were poor and did not own slaves”. I have never understood this obfuscation and the difficulty in answering this question when this society believes it has the most educated, informed, compassionate, and sophisticated people. A slave owner, however kindly he may have treated the slaves, could NOT have been a good human being, let alone a true Christian. I hope this says “the Emperor has no clothes”. The practice of slavery especially in the US, greatly damaged the powerful good influence of Christianity. European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere and the practice of apartheid in South Africa also tremendously destroyed the image of God, Christ, and Christianity. Fortunately in every society in the world, there are thousands and sometimes hundreds of courageous people always fighting to eliminate evil and needless suffering and spread kindness and compassion.
What are you going to do in this new millennium to eliminate evil and needless suffering? Are you going to be kind and compassionate to all humanity?
About the Author
Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Sociology, Bridgewater College, Bridgewater College, Box 74 Bridgewater, VIRGINIA 22812, Office # (540) – 828- 5351 Fax # (540) – 828 – 5716e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org January 27, 2000