Through Every Human Heart


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Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtle and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. Thus gaps were left open for evil, and its drafts blow freely today. Mere freedom per se does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and even adds a number of new ones.

That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years.

Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.

State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse.

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I am not examining the case of a disaster brought on by a world war and the changes which it would produce in society. But as long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we must lead an everyday life. Yet there is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness. It has made man the measure of all things on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects.

We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. This is the essence of the crisis: the split in the world is less terrifying than the similarity of the disease afflicting its main sections. It is imperative to reappraise the scale of the usual human values; its present incorrectness is astounding.

Today it would be retrogressive to hold on to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Such social dogmatism leaves us helpless before the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own.

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We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life? If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era. The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.

Honestly, I regard this address as one of them most prophetic events of the 20th century. But such are prophets. No, it was more like, Jeremiah addresses the Western world! You can read the entire address HERE. Let me share of portion of it with you. Solzhenitsyn is reflecting upon how his suffering in prison has transformed him.

His suffering was part of his journey to salvation. But then Solzhenitsyn ponders the cruelty of the guards and their seeming prosperity and what it means. Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy.

Now an understanding mildness has become the basis of your uncategorical judgments. You have come to realize your own weakness — and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And what would one then have to say about our so evident torturers: Why does not fate punish them? Why do they prosper? And the only solution to this would be that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.

This is a truly profound and spiritual view on what it means to be human and the redemptive possibilities found in suffering. It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how a human being becomes good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.


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It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties — but right through every human heart and through all human hearts.

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This line shifts. Whenever we forget who we are, whose we are, and what our relationship to one another is—there lies the breeding ground for evil. It is that loss of essential memory which leads to individual actions and collective structures that reflect and even reinforce that terrible disconnect. Evil has its origins in the abandonment of hope and meaning among those who have lost—or never known—their core identity: children of the Holy, siblings to all people on the earth. Though I do not believe in a demonic influence, I do believe in the existence of evil.

I have seen it myself, unfortunately. Evil can be simply described as one of the opposites of love, alongside apathy and hatred, but it is much more complex a concept than that. We humans are all essentially good and have an understanding of ethical decision making, but all of us choose to ignore our consciences and behave poorly from time to time. Regardless of the source of evil, it represents the loss of the ability or desire to discern between good and hurtful behavior, combined with large-scale patterns of hurting others for the mere pleasure of doing so—the absence of conscience.

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Through Every Human Heart (Notre Dame Conference, 2017)

Main Content You are here. Home Ideas Coiled in every human heart. Coiled in every human heart Unitarian Universalist ministers reflect on the nature of evil.

Through Every Human Heart
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Through Every Human Heart
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Through Every Human Heart

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