It is an interesting coincidence that I was reading N.T. Wright’s “Evil and the Justice of God” one night recently, and when I put the book down to take a break and scanned the CNN web site my eyes ran across a story about a gang rape which occurred during spring break on Panama City Beach in Florida. Although hundreds of people were partying and walking to and fro within feet of the attack, police would still be unaware of it having taken place except that it was captured on video and posted in the internet by some bystanders. The face of the victim, whom it is believed was drugged, was blurred, but she recognized her tattoos and contacted police. She knew that something wrong had happened but had no idea exactly what it was. Now she knows. Make no mistake here; this event, including the primary actors in it and the passive bystanders who did nothing to prevent or stop it, is a monstrous evil.
There are many schools of thought about the nature of evil and how we should deal with it, and one of those schools teaches that evil will fade away as more of the population becomes educated. Greater exposure to great ideas will eventually tame the beast which lurks within us all. I am not at all convinced that this is true. This event took place on spring break, and spring break is an event which represents time off from – – – school! Three men have been arrested for this crime and at least two of them were college students. I have not read any details on the third arrestee, but the odds are better than even that he, too, is a student. The bystanders, or at least the vast majority of them, were in all likelihood students as well, and their role in this tragedy is even more despicable than was that of the three rapists. If education is supposed to be elevating our social game above such acts of evil it is glaringly obvious to me that it is failing miserably.
And then there’s the devil. Many of us do not like to talk about Lucifer, Ha Satan, Beelzebub, Old
Scratch, or whatever you want to call It. For millennia it was not so, and the devil was widely acknowledged to be behind much of what is wrong with the world. Too much, I think. Most people in the past saw demons and the devil behind every rock and bush, and some still do so to this day. But can we say that they are entirely wrong? Is there no such thing as a negative spiritual or supernatural force which hates life and creation and strives against it to our injury? Jewish and Christian traditions ascribe evil to be the special province of a devil and Its cohorts and I suppose that other spiritual traditions do as well, but a great segment of the population at large does not believe in the existence of a devil and many Jews and Christians are not comfortable even talking about It. This of course is a great comfort and strategic asset to the devil. It is a good deal easier to harm an enemy when that enemy (us) does not even believe that you exist.
But I have to ask myself, whether by devil or otherwise, how could this event take place in America? Literally hundreds of partying young people either stood by and watched or, what is even worse, paid no attention at all while a woman was sexually assaulted within a few feet of where they were standing. I think it would have been better if the observers had cheered or maybe even participated. To simply ignore the attack as something beneath notice implies to me a soul deadness that is the most frightening aspect of this whole event. The rape leaves me shocked and furious. The dismissal of it by the bystanders as something no more noteworthy than a paper hot dog wrapper blowing by on the Gulf breeze while it was going on at a few feet’s distance leaves me frightened and shaken to my core.
I am not using this event to smear all college students, all young people, or all Americans with a broad brush. It is my hope and belief that if this had occurred in Central Park in New York City, the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque New Mexico, along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago Illinois or in Esther Short Park in Vancouver Washington, or even Panama City Beach on any time other than spring break, it would have ended quickly and painfully for the attackers. What I am saying is that at one time and one place a vicious act of evil occurred and America – all ages and genders and ethnicities and social strata – should look at it and ask how we could let such a thing happen. And just as the Jews said about their holocaust, which now happened several holocausts and genocides ago, we should look at this together as a society and say “Never Again”.