Something inside us, a defective gene in the moral DNA of the planet perhaps, must account for the fact that we are forever crucifying what’s gentle, innocent, and guileless. Nature itself, is often brutal, rationalizing, generous only to the aggressor, disdaining of that which cannot, or will not, defend itself. Evolution is, after all, about the survival of the fittest, the calloused. It assigns a different role to the gentle and guileless. They are to be the lightening rods around which bitterness and cruelty can constellate and vent themselves. Consequently we generally erect the cross where it is least deserved. Allow me an example:
Twenty-five years ago, Toni Morrison, who recently won the Nobel prize for literature, wrote a book entitled, The Bluest Eye. The book, like the girl whose story it narrates, was originally trivialized, dismissed, and misread. However it eventually found its audience and its vindication, as sometimes happens to what gets crucified.
The Bluest Eye is the story of a young, black girl, Pecola, upon whom neither nature nor luck have smiled. She lacks physical beauty, self-confidence, a decent family, mentoring of any kind, and love of every kind. Yet she is gentle and innocent, a good person. She is also guileless, but with that particular brand of artlessness that attracts the bully, brings on scorn and pity, and makes canon-fodder for gossip. From the opening lines of the story, you already know that Good Friday soon awaits her.
You don’t have long to wait. Just after puberty, when she is a child still really, she is raped and impregnated by her own father. She bears the child, though it dies soon after birth, and she is left on her own to sort this out which, of course, she cannot. Eventually, and this is where the defective gene in the moral DNA of the planet comes in, she is herself seen as somehow morally defective, as of no consequence. Her escape is daydreams. She makes believe that she is beautiful, that she has the loveliest blue eyes in the world, but illusion, as we know, is not reality and she ends up alone, a used bottle, insignificant, discarded, another item in a garbage can.
In telling her story, Morrison, with her enormous talent, paints some truly memorable descriptions of how her poverty, the poverty of her kind, is generally perceived by us, the outsiders. In essence, to us, her poverty is an affront: “They were everywhere. They slept six in a bed, all their pee mixing together in the night as they wet their beds each in his own candy-and-potato-chip dream. In the long hot days, they idled away, picking plaster from the walls and digging into the earth with sticks. They sat in little rows on street curbs, crowded into pews in church, taking space from the nice, neat, coloured children; they clowned on the playgrounds, broke things in dime stores, ran in front of you on the street, made ice slides on the sloped sidewalks in winter. … Grass wouldn’t grow where they lived. Flowers died. Shades fell down. Tin cans and tires blossomed where they lived. They lived on cold black-eyed peas and orange pop. Like flies they hovered, like flies they settled.” (The Bluest Eye, p. 92)
Morrison ends the book with these lines: “And now we see her searching the garbage-for what? The thing we assassinated? I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it is the fault of the earth, the land, of our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it’s much, much too late.” (p. 206)
In the accounts of Jesus’ death in the gospels, we have that curious incident where Pontius Pilate, drawing on a law that allowed the governor to release a prisoner every year at the passover, brings Jesus out before the crowd and offers to release him. The crowd however prefers that he release to them Barabbas, a convicted murderer. Curious. They want a murderer released and the one whom they know to be innocent crucified. Why?
That’s the defective moral gene inside the DNA of the planet. Toni Morrison simply puts words to it: An entire country can be hostile to flowers in a certain year; the land can kill of its own volition; and we, like the crowd at the crucifixion of Jesus, can too easily say that the victim has no right to live and that we prefer instead to have Barabbas released to us.