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Mom at Dad's Grave, 1959

In this month of remembering, today is the occasion to commemorate my deceased mother’s birthday; I offer this old photo of forlorn loneliness, kneeling at the foot of my father’s grave. One of the more macabre recurrences of my childhood was to visit this grave site of my father (killed in an untimely car crash in rural Alberta when I was 15 months old). There my widowed mother would tag along her six children who would look blankly on the cement mantle that marked the spot where his body lay, and on the headstone where his name was marked with plastic letters. These visits were meant to help us remember. Remember what, I was not sure, for I had no memories of my father in the first place.

In many ways Remembrance Day is like this. We know we are to honour the memory of something, but we are not sure what to do with that memory. It is rather like looking blankly at a tombstone without insight, especially if humankind continually repeats the errors that the Remembrance is supposed to redeem.

Are we creatures so malicious that violence is inevitable, or are we just that stupid?

Hanlon’s Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity… but don’t rule out malice.

We are creatures who, in the absence of laws, create rules as a kind of shorthand to explain the universe. Hanlon’s Razor and its variants are cute reminders that not all evil is malicious. Though that doesn’t soften the blow of evil having full force, it does prick the puss of how intentional evil might be. “Don’t take it so personally,” one might quip. But senselessness, especially of the evil variety, is inexplicable and confusing.

Hanlon’s Razor is more recently articulated by former Isis hostage Nicolas Henin who wrote in response the Paris Attacks earlier this month:

They [ISIS] present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.

Arendt’s Thesis:

In Alan E. Lewis‘ masterful book on the meaning and theology of “Holy Saturday,” he connects the low points of 20th Century “enlightenment”, and he challenges our assumptions of modern optimistic expectations:

Chernobyl’s incandescent ruins, concrete-shrouded for an aeon still to come, stand as a global tombstone, memorial, and augury of what has already been deemed “the end of nature.” As the Holocaust has taught us of what wickedness humanity is capable, and the [Hiroshima] bomb of what destructiveness, so Chernobyl exposes the fatal depths of our carelessness and inattention, proving so tellingly Arendt’s thesis of the “banality of evil,” the fearsome consequences of plain stupidity, shortsightedness, and non-accountability… Chernobyl bitingly demonstrates the ultimate collapse of the modern, optimistic expectations that human knowledge shall control nature and perfect the world.

The 20th Century exposed the caving foundations of “Enlightenment’s dualism, alienating humanity from nature and fostering the disconnectedness of human beings from each other.” Some have the temerity to blame Christians and the Bible for a distorted notion of exploitation, mutated from God’s blessing in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

If this is the best critics can do to assuage their own guilt, Lewis points out that those who have “most ruthlessly and greedily exploited the earth and its resources” have not had foremost in their minds “the wish to obey every word of Scripture and to do the will of Scripture’s God… Faith best serves today’s ecological imperative not by jettisoning but by recovering the God of the Bible.”

May I suggest that we look reflectively on the many global tombstones to Hanlon’s Razor, in order to recover the memory of the One who made us for Himself. From God we have received the echo of eternity in our hearts. This memory has the function of restoring our humanity and our spirituality, for it is (we are) to be found in Him.

Hanlon’s Razor for Dad

As an end note, the way my father died could be attributed to Hanlon’s Razor. It was a simple stupid occurrence: one car stalled in a “T” intersection in the middle of rural Alberta; my dad driving home – especially to see his wife and newly born child of two days – comes over a hill that had no sign to indicate an intersection below. What appeared to be a clear, sunny, dry day in June turned out to be his last. Swerving to miss the stalled car, I imagine he simply lost control, flipped several times, with no seat belts or air bags invented for the occasion, and he died.

Mmmm… more enigma than I could understand as a child; now part of the mystery that pulls me to the One who loves me – He who made me for Himself.