Tragedies, Evils and the Still, Small Voice

Tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand, the bucolic land of sheep and Lord of the Rings, where murder is about as rare as it can be in this post-Cain world, as at least 49 people – Muslims, worshiping for Friday prayers – have been killed in an apparent terrorist attack, perpetrated by a white, 28-year old Australian with a grudge against immigrants. He chillingly recorded much of the massacre on helmet-mounted camera, recording the all-too-real event as though the viewer – should one watch such a thing – were in a virtual first-person shooter game, which the murderer has likely spent much of his mushy millennial life playing.

Alas, and alas again. There are many factors leading up to such evil, and a whole host of preceding evils: The breakdown of culture, of family, the consequent alienation, the suppression of rational dialogue about real problems, such as cultural integration and cooperation – if such individuals are now even capable of ‘rational dialogue’ – and, of course, the malformation of conscience and the loss of any moral compass, especially the principle that grave ‘intrinsic evil’, whatever difficulties one perceives, is never, ever a way to ‘fix’ them, and will lead, unrepentant, to the loss of one’s soul- that is, the eternal despair of hell – far more ‘evil’ than the loss of one’s bodily life, as tragic as that itself may be.

Yet, as today’s reading from Ezekiel proclaims, there is always hope for repentance, should the sinner turn from his wicked ways. For now, pray for the dead, the wounded, the grieving, and for the perpetrator(s).

As expected, Canada has bowed to the obvious and ground the Boeing Max-8, the brand-new aircraft that has suffered two tragic crashes in the past two months, and this, right in the middle of March break, leaving many travellers stranded. It turns out that an automatic sensor, designed to control the powerful engines from pitching up too much, will in certain conditions take over the aircraft, plunging it up and down until, well, until control is lost altogether – and the pilots, apparently, were not even aware of this automatic feature.

This is a problem we’re all going to face in more than aircraft as ‘artificial intelligence’ – an oxymoronic term – takes over more not only of our air-flight, but cars, trains, banking, shopping, surgery, our information searches, even people looking for love, in all the wrong places. Everything is being reduced to an algorithm, a code, that works well in a limited way, but, by those very mathematical limitations, will never fully adapt to the complexity of reality, as I wrote a while ago. The automated Tesla that a certain Joshua Brown was driving decapitated him and the car when it mistook the white side of a turning semi for the sky, and went, full speed, underneath its trailer.

As the Galileo affair told us, pointed out by Pope John Paul II, there is no ‘univocal’ model that can account for the deep and always-changing richness of God’s real world. We will always need that human factor – in the current case, pilots – trained to deal with all the complexities of flight, and whose brains are more complex than the reality they face.

Yet Boeing did not tell the pilots about the Max-8’s pitch problem, saying it did not want to ‘overwhelm’ them with information. Ignorance is never bliss, as we discover all too late, and too often, leads to tragedy.

As Pius XII put it in a radio address in 1946 just after the unspeakable evils of the Second World War, the greatest sin of the twentieth century is the loss of the sense of sin. Paula Adamick will have some words to say on Pius XII, and the Vatican’s decision to open the ‘secret archives’, offering historians an opportunity to correct the calumny heaped upon the saintly pontiff. We could use more of his clarity and courage in the Church.

And while these evils occur, students on March break, have required the Texas police to call in extra cartel-busting forces to deal with their drunkenness, revelry, puking, twerking, passing out and vomiting all over the beach – not, one might think, the most felicitous way to begin one’s Lenten journey. But see what I said above about the loss of culture, our descent into evil, and we are no longer even aware of the gravity of sin. Lent? Isn’t that what you do with a five dollar bill?

It’s telling that students generally have to be pass-out inebriated to commit shameful sexual actions that, deep down, they know are deeply wrong, with life-long, perhaps eternal, consequences. As the Catechism puts it, ‘no one is deemed ignorant of the principles of natural law’, so best to drown out one’s conscience, that quiet, still, small, but yet insistent, voice that calls us, as Pope John Paul phrased it, fortiter et suaviter, strongly and sweetly, to obedience.

Would that the murderer had listened to that voice, along with all others who commit such evils – and I’m thinking here of abortion and euthanasia – on a daily basis. Murder is wrong in all its manifestations, and unless we return to the way of truth and life, we’re going to see a lot more of it.

Domine, miserere nobis, quia peccavimus tibi.