Don’t Envy Evil

Okay, it’s gut check time again.

As always, it is important to face the evils of this world with boldness and courage.  We live in a world soaked with sin and only good men and women can, by the grace of God, hold back the deluge.

But as our Catholic faith reminds us, it is not enough to outwardly do the right thing, we must inwardly have our hearts aligned to the good.  In other words, fighting against evil is insufficient.  We must fight evil from a pure motive.

And we must be very careful that as we fight evil, we do not envy it.

Sin is that which is contrary to God.  We must do what we can to eradicate sin from our lives and the world.  We fall into sin when we turn away from God and fall for the lie that we can find happiness apart from God.

But the work of the evangelist is to spread the Good News to those who do not know it: to take them from darkness into the light.  But the horrible sin of pride can overshadow the good that we do if we stand in judgment over those we serve.

And most of us have our pet moral peeves: those vices that antagonize us more than others.  For some, it is an aversion to hearing gossip.  To others, it is a distaste for unchastity.  Still others are disgusted by greed and materialism.

Of course we should develop a healthy distaste for what is bad.  But beware the lurking demon of envy.

There is an old trope that those who are homophobes are people who have latent homosexual desires and are acting out their own self-hatred on those who embrace these feelings.  I am not saying that this particular idea is true regarding homosexuality, but it is based on the psychological idea of projection.

Thought I am not one for much pop psychology, I think there are benefits to a bit of introspection.  It might be helpful to ask myself, “Why do I hate this particular sin so much more than others?”

It is possible that this hatred exists because of a pure motivation of holiness.  Or it is possible that it could be partially because of envy.  Let us explore the latter.

Have you ever seen someone get away with something wrong and find yourself admiring them despite yourself?  I remember watching the movie Catch Me If You Can, which is about a young man who because an exceptionally charming con artist.  Through sheer force of will and sharp wit he is able to lie his way into a lavish lifestyle as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and all other sorts.  You watch the movie and you laugh at how he is able to fool others.  And, if you are like me, there is a twinge of jealousy.  You wish you could be as good as he is at getting away with lying.

This is where the danger strikes.  Sometimes it manifests in imitating the bad behavior in others.  Our children see how their celebrity role models behave and pick up their vices as their own.  But it can also manifest as anger and hatred at the vice.

We secretly wish we could indulge in these sins without regret.  Is there a part of us that admires James Bond because he seduces women around the globe?  Do we get enraged at the Kardashians because we want lives of empty materialism?  (please note, I do not know what goes on in the soul of Kardashian, so I am not making a judgment about the state of their salvation only a possible perception of that family)

In the movie Glengary Glen Ross (based on the play by David Mamet), the character Levine is a hapless, put-upon salesmen.  He is sympathetic primarily because he is constantly verbally abused and put down by others.  He hates the meanness of the co-workers in his office.  But the audience could easily mistake victimhood for virtue.  Levine hates the abusively powerful not because their actions are morally offensive but because he does not wield that power.  Later in the movie when he does have a bit more esteem, he immediately uses it to do to his enemy what was done to him.  He envied the evil of others and gleefully indulged once he got his chance.

The reason this is an important question for the evangelist is that this interior disposition will affect how we approach those to whom we minister.  If, for example, I secretly wish I could freely lose myself in drugs and alcohol, I may come down more harshly on those who abuse such things.  In my rage against that sin I could create a wall between myself and the other person and thus a barrier to grace.  I could become unnecessarily confrontational when I could be reaching out with gentle mercy.

Please do not misunderstand: There are times for tough love and harsh words.  But if we are acting this way because of hidden envy and not because of selfless charity, then we can do damage to the Body of Christ.  We could be isolating those we are called to bring into the community.

Also, I do not write this article to be an exercise in naval-gazing.  Introspection can be good if it helps us uproot our vices and strengthen our virtues.  But we must beware the danger of focusing on the self too much.  Examining our motives should not lead to paralysis of action.  I should not cease acting for the Gospel because I am too much in my own head and fear my own motivations.

Even Paul says in Philippians that if the Gospel is preached from a bad motive, at least people are still hearing the Word of God.

The purpose of the reflection is simply an examination of our own conscience.  Because if we are able to lay aside our own moral baggage, then we have more freedom to let Christ work through us.

Copyright © 2015, W.L.Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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