Making Excuses for Evil only Hurts our Kids

Published in the Michigan Catholic
January, 2013
Paul Stuligross

As a high school Theology teacher, I am often challenged with different questions from my students. One of the questions often asked is about the existence of Hell. Does it exist? I always feel compelled to answer the question as delicately - albeit truthfully - as possible.

I am reminded of a movie I saw reportedly “inspired” by true events, entitled the Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins. The film is poignant in it’s depiction of evil – in fact, the devil. So taken was I by some of the theological themes in the film, I showed it to some of my students. The film opens with a quote from Pope John Paul II that I find quite telling of our times: “The battle against the Devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today, because the Devil is still alive and active in the world.”

I thought about this quote in light of my students’ questions; and in light of my twenty-four years as a police officer. I also pondered it in light of the recent school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

As much as I would love to believe in a reality absent Hell, my experience as a police officer/detective has shown me otherwise. Every day I witnessed people who made decisions that placed themselves into it’s midst. Quite simply, Hell’s essence is any place devoid of God. People choose it for themselves. God doesn’t send them there. Over my career I watched people perpetrate unfathomable evils upon others. Conversely, I have seen people walk out the other side of unimaginable suffering with an unconscionable dignity that can only be possible with the presence of God. In my former career, I’ve seen that suffering is inevitable but peace in the midst of it is only attainable by those who have not shown God the proverbial “door”.

Now, as we battle with the questions as to how someone could shoot first graders, all the secular answers are starting to pour in. ‘It was a mental health issue’, ‘he had Asperger syndrome’, ‘it was the mother’s fault’. While these answers might sound legitimate to some, I find the media – which conveniently acquits itself of any responsibility – is dealing with the symptom, not the disease. I try to impress this on my students in their quest for answers; and I know my colleagues do the same. The media seeks to place the blame on everything else…except the increasing and collective absence of God in society.

Certainly, God was present in the heroic teachers and principal, who placed themselves in harms way, saving dozens more lives. But isn’t God’s absence felt when we expel him from our school systems (under the guise of not offending the three percent who don’t believe in Him)? Isn’t God’s absence felt when we allow our children to watch television programs that mock His laws? Or play video games that desensitize them by killing as many people as possible? Don’t we deny God’s existence by denying the presence of His adversary? Why is it we’re afraid to call out evil for what it is? Perhaps we should begin with those questions before we piggy back them with discussions about “mental health” or “gun control.”

Jesus taught us that we can only overcome evil with love. The problem is, with God’s exodus from our collective conscience we now look at the media to define what love is; thus we have lost our ability to identify what it is not.  We now equate love with tolerance, even if it means losing our laurels. As Catholic educators our job should be not only to equip our students with a capacity for Christ-like compassion, but to teach them that love isn’t always pretty; sometimes it needs to say “no, I will not tolerate that.”  

The night of the shootings, my two young daughters had questions of my wife and me.  They were afraid. I didn’t tell them that evil doesn’t exist. I told them we would protect them from it, and would one day teach them to do the same, with God’s help.

I am reminded of another quote regarding our culture, from Pope Benedict: “the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.”

Our kids have a profound ability to live up to the task of bringing God back. Let’s give them the tools to do just that.   


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