Reflecting on his own experience of evil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that there are three ways in which we become tempted to participate in the violation of human dignity and the desecration of the earth. The first temptation is the idolization of human power in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Bonhoeffer could be describing the phenomenon of Trumpism in our own time. It is the reversal of all values in which evil is called good, words mean nothing, and freedom is exchanged for mass participation in the elixir of violent power. This is evil in its purest form.
There are, however, more subtle forms of complicity with evil.
This is, perhaps, a peculiarly contemplative temptation: to retreat into interiority and abdicate one’s responsibility for the renewal of the world. Such a retreat betrays an actual contempt for human beings, whether through self-righteousness, sectarianism, or cynical indifference. Here, one perceives the reality of evil but refuses the risk of love.
Finally, Bonhoeffer describes what I call the liberal, humanitarian temptation:
Bonhoeffer is describing the temptation to love the world as we would like it to be, rather than as it is, denying or tolerating actual evil in the misguided belief that people and institutions are ultimately good. “He can’t really mean that.” “Oh, that will never happen here.” It can happen here. It has happened here. Though evil, unlike love, cannot endure forever, its reality, however long or short lived, must be acknowledge honestly, resisted, and overcome by the power of authentic love: love that is willing to risk everything for the sake of real human beings and the real world.