A Punch in the Gut: Atrocities in Process Perspective
Atrocities are a punch in the gut. If you distance yourself from them, seeking refuge in the comfort of a warm bath or a soft pillow, you are part of the problem. They are windows into a side of life that is painful and ubiquitous, but never acceptable. One name for it is evil.
Process theology has twenty key ideas. Many of them are happy and uplifting. All things are interconnected; all living beings have intrinsic value; the earth is alive with subjectivity; God is love. But one of them - #16 - is not happy at all. It is that there really is something in the world that is evil.
Here is how it appears in the PowerPoint called Twenty Key Ideas in Process Thought. (Please copy and use the PowerPoint if you wish; it's free and there's no need for citations. It's offered by the Cobb Institute.)
Understood as debilitating suffering from which no instrumental good can compensate, and also as missed potential, evil sometimes happens to human beings in natural ways: natural disasters and diseases, for example. No need to blame nature. But evil is especially heinous when caused by human beings as they harm one another and other animals. We see it the recent atrocities in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
How to respond? It is good and proper to feel punched in the gut by the suffering of the victims and their families. And let no "theology" reduce the pain of the punch by saying that "evil is but an absence of good" or "all things work for good for those who love the Lord." Or, even worse, that "it's all part of God's plan, built into a divine blueprint known by God in advance of creation." An open and relational (process) response to atrocities lives with the punch. It does not hide from atrocities.
Amid the punch it is right to be angry at the way things are and to stay angry. In the face of atrocities, let there be no peace of mind. Avoid warm baths.
But it is also important not to demonize the other or avoid blame. Note that evil as debilitating suffering and missed potential is also suffered by Russian soldiers who follow the orders of their commanders, including the testosterone driven officials who sit behind desks in faraway places issuing them. And note that evil has been committed many times by many agents, including the United States with its use, for example, of cluster bombs in Vietnam and drones more recently in, among other places, Afghanistan. In the house of atrocities there are many rooms.
Open and relational theologians, be warned! The rest of us grow weary of theologians who turn their attention to God in the face of atrocities, luxuriating in defenses. We grow weary of the argument that God is not responsible for the evil. Yes, it is true, but it is the preoccupation with this truth that is itself evil, if it (the preoccupation) softens the gut punch. The healthy response is to receive the punch, live with it, and work like hell to help create a world in which the atrocities are minimized, for life's sake and for God's sake.