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GLIMPSING TRUE EVIL MAKES US REALIGN PETTY PRIORITIES

I DON'T KNOW what fallout will come from the Oklahoma City tragedy. But I do know this. The disaster will make us rethink our views of the world. Things in life that seemed so certain in March will look shaky and unsure come May.

President Clinton called the bombing "evil." And more than anything else, the events in Oklahoma challenge my notions of good and evil.Back in 1984 when the BYU football team was driving toward the national championship, I watched one of the final games with a friend. If BYU lost, Oklahoma would be crowned national champs. And my friend was pulling against BYU like a wild horse.

"Why?" I finally asked.

"Because they're so pious and smug," he said. "They think they're better than everyone else. I can't deal with self-righteousness."

I thought of Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners that year, the team that would inherit the crown. Switzer's team featured two accused rapists and a felon in the starting lineup. The starting quarterback was a suspected drug dealer (later convicted).

In the mind of my friend, drug dealing was atrocious, but it couldn't hold a candle to first-degree "smugness."

I mention this because I've fallen into the same trap myself. More than once I've been slighted by a basically decent individual - a person who loves his kids, works hard and calls his mother - though in my mind the man is soon wearing the face of Beelzebub. Thirty days on bread and water would be too good for him.

And then something diabolical happens that puts such petty ideas of good and evil into perspective.

My first encounter with a true heart of darkness came about 15 years ago. My wife, my young son and I had posed for a Thanksgiving photo for the paper. The next day my wife began getting phone calls. They were cheeky, sleazeball calls at first, but they soon evolved into physical threats against her. The police began an investigation. My wife was terrified. And I was stunned into complete numbness - as if I'd been hit by lightning.

I went home to talk with my father.

"This is your first run-in with a real skunk," he told me. "Try to learn from it. There are other skunks out there - some much worse."

He was right.

Just when you think you've met the supreme monster - a human being with snakes for brains who threatens your wife - along comes something like the bombing in Oklahoma City. Even my telephone scum-bag lacks credentials to run with those devil's disciples.

In fact, I don't think evil on that scale can ever be processed by the human mind. We will never get a handle on it, never understand it.

All we can do is try to get a better handle on what we consider good.

We can realize there aren't enough good-hearted people in the world to spare. We can't write any of them off for silly reasons.

We can no longer afford to avoid a solid neighbor, for instance, because the guy dropped a piece of gossip about us. We can't afford to shun a family member who has a good soul because she imposed on us in some way.

Harold Kushner - the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" - once told me: "It's no longer Catholic against Protestant, Jew against Muslim. Now it's good people against the forces of evil. We have to link hands."

I, for one, plan to make that effort.

This afternoon, for instance, I plan to go shake the hand of a dutiful man who's been on my "evil list" for months.

I've been treating him like a spiritual outcast.

He had the audacity to shave two shots off his golf score.