Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
I delivered this sermon to the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists Church located in Harrisonburg Virginia in the United States on October 23, 2022.
Let us pray: “We thank the redeemer for giving us life, beautiful sounds of music, physical strength, spiritual strength and this beautiful day for all of us to gather together to worship. We ask that you open our eyes and ears to the message that the congregation has asked to be delivered this morning. Give us the ability to look beyond our immediate narrow lives. We ask for all these blessings in the redeemer’s name. Amen.”
I hope you had an opportunity to watch this 2 minute video clip by Neil deGrasse Tyson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ-ZSgLadIk&t=8s&ab_channel=FOX5NewYork
The title of my Sermon this morning is “The Significance or importance of Good and Evil in Our Lives: Examples from Personal Experiences and Cultural Faiths.”
The human struggle between good and evil is primordial; it has been there; it was there before you and I were born and will be there long after we are gone. I will draw examples from my personal life experiences and the expositions from selected religious or more accurately cultural faith leaders. This message will implore you to fill your lives like vessels that will be brimming full of goodness in spite all the challenges and struggles against evil that we face in our everyday lives.
According to the video, the Universe is so vast and deep that our human minds cannot possibly comprehend it. In the same way knowledge of ourselves and the world as we humans understand it is very deep. Our faith is very deep. But our human arrogance is so big that we as humans often lack humility.
What is the Universe of Good Vs. Evil? These ideas have been inspired by my life-long human struggle and contemplation of goodness and evil, human suffering and triumph, appreciation of both beauty and ugliness. Growing up as a child at Chipewa Village in Zambia, Africa, I remember my parents and grandparents pointing out to me what was cruelty and kindness, goodness and evil. Their teachings were mixed with personal example sprinkled with generous doses of laughter and a sense of appreciation of all that is good; the gift of life, good harvest and meals, dance and song, listening to folktales by the fire at night or under a bright moonlight, wearing good piece of clothing to go to church on Sunday, the goodness that comes from living a righteous and dignified life of hard work.
All of these created in me and my community a deep sense of appreciation of life and the power and magnificence that God created; God in my Tumbuka tribe was not the God of the major world religions; Christianity, Islam, Buddism, Hinduism; but the God we the Tumbuka called Chiuta which is the bow that you see in a beautiful rainbow. Uta is also the bow that the Tumbuka used for hunting. This is what I mean by “Cultural Faiths”.
Let me discuss both Evil and Goodness. I will be light on Evil because it creates darkness, shocks and depresses us. Goodness on the other hand is uplifting and fills us with joy. There are all types of Evil from mild to just simply unthinkable. Recently, I saw the three episodes of The U.S. and the Holocaust documentary by Kern Burns. This is the ultimate in human capacity to commit evil on an unthinkable scale. I don’t want to discuss the details. I am the man who for more than forty years has learned and taught sociology and the social sciences. I have taught about evil. But was always very considerate to my young students. I am not about to change that now before this congregation.
Evil has many degrees and types. Evil also has to do with bad things such as the holocaust and the Atlantic Slave Trade happening to some people and not to others. The big question in life is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I would refer you to Harold Kushner’s book: “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”. You may get some answers. The answer is not because God wants bad things to happen to good people.
What is intriguing about life, my life, your life, is that for the most part it is filled with goodness because people and nature are both good to us for the most part.
When God created Adam and Eve, the two were endowed with soul, spiritual passion, and were surrounded with physical beauty. One can see this beauty when you see the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia in the United States, the Muchinga Escarpment in the Eastern Province of Zambia, the gorgeous blue lagoons and magnificent blue waters and sand beaches of the world such as those on the Island of Jamaica, and the breath-taking green river valleys. The ability to engage in evil of varying degrees is present in all humans.
Parents and the community are the first line of defense against evil. God and all Cultural Faiths help as people raise and nurture children be these their own or those of others in the community. A bad, cruel, poor or a lack of proper parental or extended family upbringing with little or no spiritual nurturing tremendously increases the chances that the child will not distinguish between good and evil. As I have contemplated and in my own way fought against evil, I am convinced that Christianity has a valid point; we humans seem to be born with sin.
All major faiths including Christianity and believing in God of all cultural faiths including faith in Christ are the most powerful spiritual forces when individuals open themselves and their hearts to the force. God or Chiuta works through parents and the community to teach children about kindness, sharing, treating all human beings with fairness and respect, and to revere life itself. When we are born then we have a tremendous gift for doing good through our families and communities.
When does evil begin to grow in humans? When human beings acquire power, material possessions and wealth for greedy ends, their powerful, true, compassionate and genuine Cultural Faith beliefs are threatened or begin to decline. Lack of or weak parental extended family upbringing and the desire to acquire material possessions and power beyond our immediate needs is the beginnings, if not the foundation of evil and sin and sometimes misery. What does all this mean in everyday life and especially for all us gathered here now?
It means as humans, we all live the way God or our Cultural Faiths intended us to live until we begin to engage in limitless hedonism, or exercise the desire for more power and material possessions for greedy ends for both individuals and nations. (Prosperity Theology or Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) The foundation for all egregious evil is the desire for more power, and material possessions which is reflected in human greed of different degrees; greed for power and greed for sex. The root and beginning of the evil and atrocities humans commit on both a small and grand scale is always the desire for more power, and material possessions than God intended for our happy, compassionate, righteous, happy fulfilled lives.
I have been blessed to have been surrounded by goodness and kindness all my life. Some of the best representatives of this goodness were my mother, my father, amama a Nya Zgobvu, my wife, my late best college friend Dr. Vincent Musakanya. Examples from my aunt NyaZgovu: one time I asked the Pastor of the Church I attend; how can I repay my aunt’s goodness? Send her a card?
Goodness Vs. Evil play a tag of war in our lives. Goodness and Evil are related to love and pain and suffering. President Kennth Kaunda said:
“The very attempts of modern societies to insulate themselves from suffering have resulted in a refusal of love, for the willingness to love and be loved makes suffering inevitable. And in the refusal of love, modern man feels pain without the possibility of transforming it into suffering. In trying to shut out suffering, Man only turns it into something useless and degrading.” (Kaunda, 1966, p.40)
Dealing with all kinds of evil is not easy. Since there is so much evil in this world, how can we live a life brimming and overflowing with goodness?
First, surround yourself and seek good, strong, and kind people. You may be lucky to be born into a good family in this sense. Not necessarily a family that is rich and well off.
Second, live a life of deep faith and humility.
Third, take care of your soul. Moore, Thomas., Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, New York: HarperPerennial Publishers, 1994.
Kushner, Harold., When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: A Search for Life that Matters, New York: Pocket Books, 1986.
Fourth, learn how to both acquire and use the power you are granted judiciously. Do not let excessive desire for power and excessive material possession lead you to commit evil. Do not let hubris overcome you. Live a life of humility. You and me are really small in this vast universe we call life.
Avoid acquiring excessive material possessions. I have often wondered why people who joined or converted to some religions or communes got rid of virtually all of their material possessions. Excessive power, material possessions, often create greed and then evil. Having the appropriate power and enough possessions to meet our needs creates goodness, happiness and joy and so much joy in our lives.
Closing Prayer: “Let us pray. We thank the almighty for the message that has just been delivered. We pray and hope that this message will help to open our eyes, ears, and our hearts to be aware of evil and to help us embrace the possibilities of feeling our hearts with goodness and joy. We ask for all these blessings and possibilities in the redeemer’s name. Amen.”
- The Holy Bible
- Kushner, Harold., When Bad Things Happen to Good People, New York: Avon Books, 1981.
- Kushner, Harold., Who Needs God, New York: Pocket Books 1989.
- Kushner, Harold., When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: A Search for Life that Matters, New York: Pocket Books, 1986.
- Moore, Thomas., Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, New York: Harper Perennial Publishers, 1994.
- Kaunda, Kenneth., A Humanist in Africa: Letters to Collin Morris, Lusaka and London: Veritas, 1966.
- Taleb, Nassim Nicholas., The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York: Random House, 2010.