Columnist David Brooks recently wrote a piece in The New York Times titled, "The past meets the future," in which the "past" and the "future" discuss how to approach the problems in Iraq (April 13).
The "past" argues that the situation in Iraq is characteristic of an "unbroken pattern." Brooks quotes from an essay by Elie Kedourie that, in Brooks's words, "shows the whole history of Iraq is a story of 'bloodshed, treason and rapine.' " As a result, "we need to change our mentality, scale back to more realistic expectations."
In contrast, the "future" draws on insights from the Exodus story in the Bible as an illustration of how to effect positive change. The future says, in Brooks's words, "The Exodus story reminds us that human beings can transform themselves and their situations. It reminds us that people who embark on generational journeys are the realistic ones, because they are the ones who see all the possibilities the future contains."
After reading the essay, I found myself asking, "How can I practically support a move toward more freedom, justice, and peace in Iraq and in other troubled parts of the world?"
The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, believed in the capacity of humanity to resist the gravitational pull of evil. In her view, evil needs to be exposed, not ignored, but it doesn't have the last word. She enlisted her students and readers in overcoming the threats of evil.
In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error, - self-will, self-justification, and self-love, - which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death" (p. 242).
While I can take action to support practical policies related to Iraq that I feel are most productive, I can do more. Much more. I can contribute to the lessening of destructive human traits by striving to overcome them in myself and in my immediate sphere of influence.
Whether I'm tempted to snap at my mother or to become impatient when a neighbor is insensitive to my family's needs, or to manipulate a situation to conform to my wishes - all of which contain seeds of violence - I can "labor" to lessen my indulgence in self-righteousness and vindictiveness.
I can also be more aware of injustices done others and not perpetuate them through ignorance or neglect. I can, and do, take steps to lessen others' burdens through volunteer and other community work.
Seeing evil in human nature as more like a barnacle adhering to the bottom of a boat than inherent in humanity's nature makes it easier to leave behind negative characteristics and move toward a more inclusive, just, and merciful embrace of others. Although this view of evil may seem unrealistic, it is foundational to the teachings and example of great spiritual leaders such as Jesus.
Jesus required the very opposite of what one might expect if evil actually possessed ultimate power, when he urged: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:43-45).
If love that is derived from divine Love is truly more powerful than evil, is actually inherent in each of us, then we can feel encouraged and empowered to make every effort to embody this love in our daily interactions with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. This resolve can result in loosening the grip of evil and increasing the receptivity to good universally - not only in my own life, but as far away as Iraq.