Vladimir Putin is quite sane: So, what explains him?
As this year accelerates, many still have precious memories of the most loved time of the year, worldwide – the Christmas festival, celebrated throughout Christendom, and even by those of other faiths who regard Christ predominantly as an important prophet.
However, I recall a dismissive radio presenter claiming that the celebration of Christmas was originally simply an opportunistic grab by Christians to take over a pagan celebration. There is no evidence, he foolishly and inaccurately pontificated, that the Christ child was even born around this time of the year.
He couldn’t have been more wrong, although the word “Yuletide”, the pagan mid-winter festival, has left us with the reminder of a pre-Christian world. It existed long before the apostles, following Christ’s teaching, set out on lengthy, lonely journeys to spread his message of redemption to a world plagued by confusion, the worship of multiple deities and the barbarity of warfare.
This sounds somewhat familiar. Moreover, in what has too commonly been hailed as a post-Christian age, the problem of evil at work in human affairs is one to which commentators are increasingly turning their attention. The ludicrous attacks on reason, on the reality of essentially indisputable facts, has today become more prevalent than ever before in almost every aspect of our lives.
Etiology of evil
Various theories have long been proffered to account for some human beings’ brutality and viciousness at levels incomprehensible to most people. However, the crucial question is whether inherently evil behaviour is simply the result of warped minds – or whether there is an independent entity which can operate through individuals receptive to the ability to hurt, torment, and painfully kill others – or even to simply enjoy dominating, intimidating, and sowing dissent.
The appalling attack launched by Vladimir Putin against the people of Ukraine may well place him among individuals history now regards as unspeakably evil – the Hitlers, the Stalins, Pol Pot and arguably now Xi Jinping – all tyrants whose hubris caused and causes immense hardship and worse to their own people, as well as those whom they oppress. But from where comes the motivation for possibly sociopathic or even psychopathic behaviour?
There is no disputing that all people of all religions have looked beyond this world for some deity or gods, some, not all, benevolent. The very word religion comes from the Latin “ligare” – to bind and “re” – here meaning “back” – referring to some supreme entity which mankind has long thought exists elsewhere.
Christianity yields to none in promoting the greatest teaching of all, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The arrival of Christianity, centred, as St Paul reminds us, on the reality of Christ’s resurrection, changed all this. As he pointed out, if Christ did not rise from the dead, “then our preaching is in vain”. In other words, Christianity depends on what was claimed as actual fact by those who saw the man claiming to be the Son of God dying in agony on a Roman cross. They testified later that he appeared to them as promised on the third day after his death.
Was it true? All the apostles except St John, into whose care Mary, the mother of Jesus, was given, are believed to have been martyred, utterly convinced by what they had witnessed, by Christ’s teachings, and by the miracles he performed.
His existence is confirmed in both Jewish and Roman histories. Such testimony to his claim was given by Christianity’s earlier believers that, hounded and persecuted, whole families were savaged by lions in the Roman amphitheatres, or covered with tar and set alight by the Emperor Nero to die agonisingly as human torches.
It takes a great deal of courage to accept a horror ahead, when making an easy choice would avoid this prospect. Yet down through the centuries, increasingly so in today’s world, Christians are and have been persecuted, tortured and executed for refusing to abandon their beliefs. And although we respect those determined to live good lives while following their own, often inherited, religious practices and beliefs, Christianity yields to none in promoting the greatest teaching of all, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Prince of this world
This is obviously not a philosophy to which Russia’s President subscribes. However, undoubtedly if all, including the world’s leaders, lived according to this precept – an eminently superior one, given that people worldwide want protection for their families, especially their children – peace would be universal. Many indeed try to live according to this fundamental Christian teaching. So, what has gone wrong down through the centuries?
Does the answer come through Christ’s warning about what he called the Prince of Darkness – a supreme entity of evil in this world? It is something he emphasised more than once – that this world belongs to this being, understood to be because the first human beings did what they had been asked not to do. Our inheriting of Original Sin has been regarded as its consequence.
There is little doubt of the capacity of each of us to be tempted towards both our better and our worse natures.
Simply a myth? There is little doubt of the capacity of each of us to be tempted towards both our better and our worse natures. St Paul’s warning was: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
He maintained that evil exists as an actual being, operating where it can through individuals – in Christ’s own words, as “the evil one… a murderer from the beginning… a liar and the father of lies.”
In the crosshairs
If such an entity as the devil exists, its strongest target would be Christianity – with the Catholic Church tracing its descent from St Peter, upholding the traditional beliefs and truths it teaches. However, dissent is now an issue here, with long-established traditions being challenged, to the concern of conservative Catholics.
The concerted attack upon Christianity throughout the 20th century, particularly assisted by communism and fascism, was launched upon a world wearied and weakened by two horrific world wars. Is a devil’s greatest triumph persuading the modern world that he does not exist, as G.K. Chesterton averred?
The gradual move to ridicule teaching children at Sunday schools has so long extended to the mindless disparaging of Christianity, that the Smart-Smart People, delving instead into more fashionable religions and alternative beliefs, are even tolerating the folly of the growing promotion of Satanism, particularly within the United States.
The question remains. From where has ensued the increasing attack on actual realities, the essential truth of things in so many aspects of our lives that little-challenged absurdities – amounting to deranged thinking – are increasingly invasive? Little wonder at the growth of the culture of despair, trapping so many in alcoholism and drug-taking.
Are we the richer for this? In the words of Matthew Arnold (Dover Beach):
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing
And for the people of Ukraine, facing the evil actions of an individual unmoved at the prospect of so many innocent individuals – men, women and children – wounded and dying while trying to defend their homeland the question remains – what entity of evil underpins all this?