When people see something horrible, or wicked, or deviant, we come up with a grouping for those responsible for said malfeasance. We call people “crazy” in order to create a safe, fenced in group from which we have just separated ourselves. In childhood there are “bad guys,” which is an awfully neat line for an incredibly undefined population. More than one commentator pointed out that the American media used “insurgents” for what we called, during the American Revolution, “patriots.” Categorizing gives power to the one who makes the categories. It gives us the power to protect ourselves.
In the wake of the terrorist act at the Boston marathon, there is now a desperate longing for explanation. What degree of mad ideologizing could lead to such an act of hatred? People are already eagerly anticipating a category into which that person can be put. We will most likely brand this person with some variation on “zealous” or “disturbed.”
But what’s strange to me with this particular event is the urgency I’ve seen from a number of voices to say “Humanity isn’t like this.” There seems to be an express desire to make sure than humanism itself is defended. Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted a commentary on this which got widely circulated, and he uses language like “a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population” and “a tiny sliver” versus “a vast majority.” The culprit is a lack of tolerance, and the guilty party is not most of us, because humanity is not “inherently evil.”
At some point each of us will need to wake up to the fact that we can’t create enough categories of brokenness to make ourselves a safe exception. We are in the broken category, the untrustworthy category, the hateful category, and the evil category. Some degree of socialization and behavior modification may keep us out of the Lord of the Flies, but it’s not our inherent capacity to choose to be good.
There’s only one category that we ought to strive for, and that category is “forgiven.” It will keep us from the kind of hubris that we use to take power over others, write them off, and separate ourselves from them. Forgiven is a fundamentally evangelical category – it always makes room for someone else.