Where Good and Evil Meet

19 08 2013

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“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

–Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

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6 responses

20 08 2013
Pause for Clarity

I couldn’t agree with this quote more. I actually wrote a post on this exact thought, but had never heard the quote (nor did I say it as eloquently!).

http://pauseforclarity.com/2013/05/10/real-heroes-and-villains/

I think Hollywood does a lot of damage by usually painting good and evil as being a clear distinction. They make it clear that their are heroes and villains. Really though, evil is rarely born. It is often the result of an a person being deprived of love or care at a young age. And still, good usually remains.

The show “Breaking Bad” is actually one of my favorite shows, despite its violence, because it takes you several seasons to decide who you like and who you don’t. Evil just isn’t black and white in day to day life.

20 08 2013
Christian Fahey

Thanks for stopping by, David! I think Solzhenitsyn’s point is that every human being is capable, given their choices, of either astonishing goodness or unspeakable evil (he, having survived Stalin’s penal system). Important to make the right choices!

22 08 2013
Pause for Clarity

Hi Christian,

I am not sure that that is his point. I’m sure he would agree with you, that people are capable of “astonishing goodness or unspeakable evil.” However, that’s not the point he’s speaking to in this quote. That’s not what I think he would want us to take from it.

When he says:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them”

I don’t think his point was that we are capable of good or bad and we must make the right choices. That would mean that good men make choices that lead to good and bad men make choices that lead to evil. What that implies is that some of us have more evil in our hearts than others. I think this quote, though, implies that all of our hearts are the same and there are no men of a more evil heart who we can cast aside.

Given the same circumstances, such as a choice between death or carrying out terrible orders, the hearts of the men in Stalin’s army were no different than the hearts of the men they were putting to death.

Solzhenitsyn may have lived through Stalin but maybe living through Stalin’s penal system taught him that Stalin’s evil was only as great as the number of people willing to carry out his evil deeds. When he saw so many doing so much evil he must have realized that they couldn’t have all been pure evil. Their hearts and minds couldn’t be that much different than their fellow countrymen. So then it must have been not choice but circumstance. So to condemn them, in a way, would be to condemn yourself.

23 08 2013
Christian Fahey

David,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. The quote is cryptic, in a way. Given what Solzhenitsyn and millions of other Russians lived through during the period of Stalin, it is easily misunderstood. I do know that at a certain point, Solzhenitsyn had an epiphany in prison (Gulag, Vol. 2) where the experience of prison showed him his own shortcomings and need of God. From this emerged his now famous exclamation (having heard the testimony of Dr. Boris Kornfeld, who was subsequently murdered), “Bless you prison, for having been in my life.” The trial of Adolph Eichmann showed the world that evil has a very human face. One man in particular was so overwhelmed during the trial that he collapsed under the weight of the banality of evil he saw. In effect, he saw that he, too, could be capable of Eichmannesque crimes if he yielded to the wrong and false impulses. Though I can’t be absolutely certain, not knowing Solzhenitsyn, I think this may be what Solzhenitsyn had in mind. That all of us are capable of great evil. And in committing evil deeds, we become something other than what we are intended to be. Stalin wasn’t born evil in the sense that he became after half a century of life. Food for thought for sure. Thanks again for stopping by!

10 11 2013
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Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate!
He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article
to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank
you for sharing!

10 11 2013
Christian Fahey

Thank you for stopping by! 🙂

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