My friend Ron Rosenbaum has written a “single” or short take for Kindle called Rescuing Evil. At $1.99, there is so much profound reflection packed into this essay that one must read it again and again, in my case obsessively. (One also prays that Ron will expand his single into an LP, a third book to join his two masterpieces Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars. And if you want your pants scared off, read his recent How the End Begins, which analyses the prospects for nuclear Armageddon.)
In Rescuing Evil, Rosenbaum explores, among other things, “theodicy,” or the study of the question: How can an omnipotent loving Divinity allow evil to permeate human existence? Ron narrows the discussion further to human complicity, otherwise known as free will: or the “evil intention within human beings, the deliberate, knowing choice to do harm, do wrong, cause suffering.”
It has become customary to point the finger at external factors: the evildoer is actually the victim! Parental abuse is to blame, a cruel environment, poor diet, addiction, an “anger problem.” And then there are folks about whom it’s said, with a mystified shake of the head, that they’re “just born evil.”
Could a baby be born with a propensity toward wrong over right? Are we talking genetics here? Or are we in the realm of reincarnation?
I bring this up because reincarnation is the theme underlying my paranormal-suspense-mystery Jane Was Here (just published in hardcover and ebook). In the story, several characters caused the suffering and murder of young Jane Pettigrew in a small Massachusetts town in the year 1853. They have been reincarnated to the present, to the same town, where they are already atoning for their past misdeeds by leading somewhat wretched lives. They of course have no memory of their past lives, and so think of themselves as ‘unlucky.’ Enter Jane, herself reincarnated, and haunted by a fragmentary memory of her long ago lifetime. She seeks answers, and at the end of the story she gets them. Her presence in the town eventually causes a cataclysmic karmic event that dispatches the guilty and restores the innocent.
I, as the author, was in charge of karma for the duration of Jane Was Here. Therefore the meting of justice is tidy and fair, with no loose threads: mystery solved. But once we exit the blithe play of fiction, the rules of karma become once again baffling.
In a 1945 speech before the Theosophical Society in London, one Lord Dowding declared: “I have some reason to suppose that those who sowed the seeds of abominable cruelty at the time of the Inquisition reaped their own harvest at Belsen and Buchenwald.” The speech caused a furor at the time, understandably. He was suggesting that the victims of the Holocaust were the past-life Christian murderers of heretics and apostates. The wheel of karma neatly regenerated these souls, centuries later, as Jews, the ultimate apostates according to Christians, and they received the same fate to which they condemned others during the Spanish Inquisition.
Reincarnation, tidy and fair, explains the most emblematic wholesale massacre of the 20th century. Except, like a snake eating its tail, this spiritual logic returns us to the same question we began with. Are the Nazis who committed evil destined to return as victims next? Were they in Rwanda, to be cut down by a fresh mob of malefactors, men and women who also chose to commit wholesale evil? And who must then be reborn themselves to be punished by…and so on. The implication is that evil is recycled. How could a loving Divinity permit it?
The Buddhists, who kind of skip God, would say that the soul is a student, sent by divine design into a world of duality. Here good and evil are necessary: they’re in fact an assignment. The soul must face challenge and conflict in order to evolve – or devolve – according to which choices it makes. And return the soul must to planet earth, again and again, until it’s fully enlightened (or its karma is lightened) – at which point it no longer needs lessons in this world of terrifying division.
I don’t have the genius, scholarship, or intellect of Ron Rosenbaum to sift through such questions. I know an abyss when I see one. I prefer mystery fiction over divine mystery; I’ll choose to write a book with the answers in the back.
Jane Was Here is available in hardcover and ebook formats at Amazon and other online bookstores, or by order at your local bookstore.
Ron Rosenbaum’s Rescuing Evil is available for Kindle at Amazon.com.