By Chris Leavenworth
I have a bad habit of downloading Facebook on my phone whenever I need to look something up and then not uninstalling it when I’m finished. I know I should just exercise better self-control, but I really don’t like having it on me wherever I go.
On New Year’s Eve, I was lying in bed scrolling my feed, and I came across a sermon posted in a local publication by a pastor of a rather large church in our area. I’m not thrilled that the newspaper has become a platform for evangelical proselytizing, but I understand that they’re a private business and that they can do that.
If I’m being honest, I really wanted to know what kind of sermon gets printed in a local newspaper. My curiosity of that, and my masochistic tendencies that emerge when consuming media on my phone, were all it took for me to click through to the article and find out.
The pastor’s message connects good and evil to light and darkness using biblical context and citing scripture. Although these terms are clumsy metaphors to assign to morality, they can be useful in art and theater when people aren’t confusing fantasy for reality. What really got my attention was the fact that the writer wasn’t speaking metaphorically.
He makes the claim that physical darkness serves the purpose to not only “cover evil but also oppress people.” It’s not too hard to imagine how quickly someone already accustomed to thinking loosely about these terms might embrace this train of thought.
I’m careful to not be vituperative about anyone’s personal faith. I’m happy for anyone who’s inspired to be a more moral, considerate or empathetic person through doctrine, faith, personal relationship, or whatever they prefer to call it. I am, however, very concerned about doctrine that simplifies morality in such a way that’s easy to swallow, yet doesn’t offer an accurate representation of reality.
The same misconception was made about Africans in medieval European society, and then later in America, institutionalizing slavery and prevailing racism. Judeo-Christian art from the Middle Ages almost always depicted demons as dark-skinned humans with hooves and horns. This is no coincidence, either—the Roman Catholic Church viewed the darker skin of those from Africa to be a direct curse from God.
Take it from Montesquieu, who wrote, “We cannot imagine the idea that God, who is a very wise being, has put a soul, especially a good soul, in an all-black body.”
To be crystal clear, I’m not suggesting the pastor’s message had any intentional racist or hateful connotations, but his reasoning is shared historically by people who applied it to primitive racist worldviews in an intellectually dark time.
Adults really should know that physical darkness and light have absolutely nothing to do with good or evil.
Corruption asserts itself in broad daylight, and most folks don’t blink an eye. Evil hides best in plain sight and thrives in the light. Genuine charity and goodwill often occur in places where there are no witnesses—in the dark.
However, as I have stated repeatedly, good and evil cannot be confined to such arbitrary terms. We live in a time when the value of truth is being drowned out by cognitive distortion, and it’s crucial that people view the moral landscape through a lens that’s not just black and white.