Editorial, The Week in Review – Analysis, Commentary, Opinion
Comic Books and Theology – Questions from The Suicide Squad
My friend the Reverend Shawn Moore asked the following question after his viewing of the DC Comics movie The Suicide Squad:
“Is bad behavior the same as being evil? A group of misfits, who actually do wrong are freed from their bondage to stop an evil force! In the end the bad guys stop evil. Is it possible to be bad and still answer a higher call to boldly hinder evil from happening?”
Doing harm to others, wrong action, these are not the same as doing evil. Just as the realities of pain and suffering are not in and of themselves evil.
Our philosophical and theological traditions (in the Western world) have overwhelmingly preferred an opposite view, normatively attributing the existence of pain and suffering to the reality of evil; pain and suffering, as well as aging, disease, or the corruption of the body in general, are all the result of the reality of evil in the world.
In this world-view it has been the common practice to view the suffering of “bad” people as evidence of divine justice, or even to take the view that the presence of suffering in the life of an individual is objective evidence of their guilt.
People who hold this type of world view, are also likely to hold a view that “good” people suffer; either because they are being tested (like Job), or because they are subject to unjust attacks by demonic forces. Corresponding to this, is the notion that events such as natural disasters, which cause great harm and suffering, are also caused by demonic forces who are simply trying to wreak havoc in the world. Many of these contortions in thought stem from a theological desire to defend God, the creator of the universe, from charges that the existence of pain and suffering, of “evil” provide justification for claims that God is not good, not loving, or lacking the power to prevent evil, which if conceded too, would hint at the notion that god is not God.
The conflation of pain, suffering, and evil is a theological error we need to avoid.
The only real evil in the world is “moral” evil. “Moral” evil requires an actor, the actor must understand that their actions are evil, they must desire it, and they must engage in those actions of their own free will.
This is a subject Pope John Paul II addressed in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). Most people who do harm to others do it unwittingly, many others do harmful things because they believe they are serving some higher good, most of the remaining bad actors do bad things because they feel they are “owed” something, or they are justified in what they do in some other way. Most of the harm that occurs in the world, occurs like that. These motivations are not truly evil, the actions that stem from them happen accidentally, or they happen due to ignorance and confusion. By saying this I am not trying to excuse anything, ignorance and confusion can be quite harmful, and avoidable, we need to protect ourselves from the ignorant, the confused, from accidents, but they are not categorically evil, they need to be met with understanding, forgiveness and the opportunity for redemption.
Evil requires knowledge, intention and action; just as does the good.
Because God made human beings free, we are never defined by the sum of our actions, neither are we defined by our most recent actions, we are always and at every moment capable of changing our fundamental stance toward right and wrong.
A person in the habit of doing good things is always capable of doing something depraved, and vice versa, just as a person who has led a life of depravity may still be the recipient of grace, convert, and be saved.
The sinner is not sin itself; even in the act of sinning.
To conclude, if the Suicide Squad opts to do good, for the sake of the good, knowing that it is good, and desiring the good, then they are good, but only in that moment.