Daily, we are inundated by a numbing and dizzying array of outrageous horrors and painful tragedies.
There are reports of families torn apart by war, domestic strife, or callous authorities; innocent lives taken by cruel acts of terror or brutally insensitive governmental action; and the freedoms of individuals and groups denied by repressive regimes or discriminatory policies.
With so much accumulated pain and suffering, it often becomes difficult to sustain the confidence that good will triumph over evil and the hope of a better tomorrow.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by what appears to be the mountains of evil that confront our humanity, I turn to a simple insight I gleaned from my favourite theologian/philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin.
Teilhard would suggest it’s not that there’s more evil in today’s world, it’s that we are more aware of the evil that exists. And it is precisely because we are more conscious, that we are more capable of responding to the suffering and acting to ameliorate the conditions that have produced it.
A century ago, unspeakable horrors took place on every continent that were known only to the victims and the perpetrators. Not so today. As a result of advances in communications – from the telegraph and radio to satellite television and the internet – the pain and loss of global tragedies are brought home to us in real time.
Because of this expanding consciousness, the post-Second World War era has witnessed the rise of visionary leaders and the birth of countless organisations dedicated to alleviating suffering and elevating the causes of peace, human rights and tolerance among peoples.
Individually and collectively, they have championed the rights of peoples in far-flung corners of the world, some of which had been previously unknown to those who became their advocates.
These same leaders and groups have also fought for civil rights and for economic, social, political and environmental justice in their own countries.
Seeing our ever-expanding response to evil gives us hope and inspires us to do more.
The bottom line is that despite all that is wrong in today’s world, humanity is, in fact, in a better place today than ever before in history.
We read commentaries suggesting that the instability, terror and wars raging across the Arab world are unprecedented, with Western analysts suggesting that it’s all the result of the endemic brutality or dysfunctionality of Arab culture or society.
In response, I ask these “scholars” to recall that in a short 30-year period of European history, nations on that continent fought two wars that produced the horrific slaughter of more than 50 million souls.
Added to this were the tens of millions of Arabs, Africans and Asians who, during that same time, were victims of Europe’s oppressive and violent colonial rule.
Most of those tens of millions died without provoking any questioning – then or now – of what was wrong with European society or Christian culture.
While innocent Armenians, Ukrainians, Indians and Algerians cruelly lost their lives, their tragedies were not recognised until decades later.
Today, on the other hand, we organise protests in defence of the Rohingya Muslims, the people of Darfur or East Timor or Gaza, or the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq.
We have international NGOs waging campaigns for justice for oppressed peoples on the other side of the world, mobilising protests on behalf of victims of torture, or raising billions of dollars to house those displaced by war or to rescue victims of natural disasters or famine.
The lessons are clear. The world has changed – for the better.
Evil still exists, but awareness of evil and the will and capacity to resist it now enables us to a difference.