Stupidity and Evil
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil is.” What a profound statement made abundantly clear in our politically charged society today. And I am not simply talking about the negative political ads that are flooding our televisions. The danger is far more serious than unflattering personal photographs, half-truths, misrepresentations and denials of clearly substantiated facts. The real danger in stupidity is that truth itself is sacrificed to the point where it is no longer recognizable by many. Bonhoeffer continues…
Against evil, one can protest; it can be exposed and, if necessary, stopped with
force. Evil always carries the seed of its own self-destruction, because it at
least leaves people with a feeling of uneasiness. But against stupidity, we are
defenseless. Neither with protest nor with force can we do anything here;
reasons have no effect. Facts that contradict one’s own prejudice only need to
be disbelieved – in such cases stupid people even become critical, and when
facts are unavoidable, they can simply be swept aside as meaningless isolated
cases. Stupid people, in contrast to evil ones, are satisfied with themselves.
Indeed, they become dangerous in that they may easily be stimulated to go on
the attack. Therefore, more care must be taken in regard to stupidity than
We have another egregious example of this in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The details and investigation of this have yet to be made public but certainly something went wrong here. And yes, “Black lives matter!” There is an appropriate and responsible need to voice this in the streets. A silent witness is no witness. And again the peaceful protests have been followed by looting and burning and senseless destruction of public and private property. The result seems only to harden the respective positions into a kind of self-justification of already existing beliefs. The consequential although perhaps unintended effect is to place the concerned and empathetic ones into a no-man’s-land of suspicion and incrimination as we push forward into a world of slogans instead of meaningful exchanges that seek both truth and justice.
The same thing is happening in the “SaveTheChildren” effort. The organization started to protect this world’s most vulnerable especially from sex trafficking and abuse but it has now had its message hijacked by QAnon into a conspiracy theory about Satan worshiping, cannibalistic Democratic leadership. These tactics are not new even if their form and specifics change. They have been used for some time to combat and discredit the “Pro-life movement.” People were pressured into siding either with the protection of unborn human life or the equality and rights of women. Make a choice, we were told, for you can’t support both.
And yet in all of these instances Christians should be the ones to trumpet the loudest that Black lives matter, that children need protection and that this even extends to unborn human life. Until people of color are valued as much as “ones without color” then it should be clear to all Christians that our culture is racist. Until the sexual trafficking of children is recognized and addressed in our country then there can be no legitimate Christian discussion of sex education or alternative lifestyles. And as long as we continue to disregard the life of the unborn as if it were not a moral violation then our trumpeting of women’s rights must have an asterisk attached to it. All of these issues are ripe for discussion and change but are we allowing ourselves to ignore or excuse them away? If so then we are participating in the stupid.
Bonhoeffer ended this stupidity/evil discussion by directing us back to the Bible. “The biblical saying, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov. 1:7), says that the internal liberation of people for responsible life before God is the only real way to overcome stupidity.” As Christians we must bring all our beliefs, our prejudices, our preconceived ideas, and our public words, actions and votes into harmony with the teaching of the Word of God. We have a standard to uphold and although we didn’t write it we are responsible for wisely interpreting and applying it to address both the evil and the stupid in ourselves and in others. May God help us.
See you in Worship.
*All the quotes from Bonhoeffer are from the Prologue to his Letters and Papers from Prison. It is entitled “After Ten Years” and the specific section is “Of Folly” (Macmillian, New York, 1971).