"God has left us abandoned in time. God and humanity are like two lovers who have missed their rendezvous. Each is there before the time, but each at a different place, and they wait and wait and wait. He stands motionless, nailed to the spot for the whole of time. She is distraught and impatient. But alas for her if she gets tired and goes away. The crucifixion of Christ is the image of the fixity of God. God is attention without distraction. One must imitate the patience and humility of God." (Simone Weil, "The Fathers Silence" in The Simone Weil Reader, edited by George A Panichas, David McKay Company, 1977, 424-25)

Self-righteousness

Herbert Butterfield

JHerbertButterfieldIt is easy for us to fall into imagining that life and the course of history are spoiled only by the activity of the extraordinarily wicked. The role of these latter tends to be magnified because evil is regarded as a sort of deus ex machina ‑ not really belonging to this world ‑ the culprit not worthy to be reckoned with the rest of human nature...

The key to everything ‑ even perhaps to the emergence of the extraordinary criminal ‑ lies in the mediocre desires, the intellectual confusions and the willful moods of the average man, the man in the street. The real trouble is the moderate cupidity of Everyman ‑ his ordinary longing to advance a little further than his father, or simply to increase his sales ‑ even just his dread of a decline in his standard of living. This, when multiplied by millions, can build up into a tremendous pressure on government. Indeed, in history, what might be felt to have been little sins may have vastly disproportionate consequen­ces. A marginal improvement in human nature throughout Europe (or among a few men) in July 1914 might have prevented the outbreak of the First World War...

Like our forefathers, we may feel that the world was spoiled before ever we were born. We face systems of society not quite the same now as in feudal times, but such as have been defeating the human race for centuries. It is pointless for us to blame our predeces­sors, for they handed down to us a world of patches and compromises because they too, had their desperate moments, wondering sometimes whether they could keep the world on its legs at all. In any case, a few million decent people like us, with the normal amount of ego-tism, would tangle everything up within fifty years even if they had a clean start.

Fundamentally, these systems of society answer to man's ordinary cupidities, and cater for them somewhat ‑ which makes them perhaps unattractive to the young. Yet they are not the worst that men are capable of, and it happens also that they regulate and limit the cupidities. Northern Ireland itself is not the worst that civilized man is capable of; and the destruction of the existing order would not produce the reign of the saints ‑ it would put the weak and poor more than ever at the mercy of the strong. It is wrong to suppose that just the pattern of society is the cause of selfishness in human beings. The social order in fact draws us into behaving better than we really are. There is always more latent evil and more potentiality for aggressiveness than actually emerges in normal societies and in settled times...

The most subtle and unreachable problem of politics, and one of the profoundest seats of evil, is therefore self-righteousness, which sometimes produces more terrible results than realpolitik. It is even a mistake if academic people ‑ or liberals of a second generation who have not really felt the toughness of the world ‑ take to painting their enemies as too vile in their wickedness, or sincerely feel them to be so. Too easily one overlooks the amount that can be achieved by the kind of thought which reconciles. And though the promotion of benevolent causes is an important thing, this does not vindicate the kind of people who hate the capitalists more than they love the poor. The essence of the fight between good and evil is something that happens at a different level altogether inside every one of us.

(Herbert Butterfield, New York Times on January 3 & 4, 1973).