Mark Bowden, in his endorsement of Cullen Murphy's God’s Jury, invites our attention to the fact that "we need to be constantly reminded that the most dangerous people in the world are the righteous, and when they wield real power" we see the real pathology of the "righteous."
It is not only the ISIL righteous destruction of some of the world’s greatest and most valuable cultural artifacts because they are pagan – the Puritans in Britain did the very same thing, only they destroyed Christian artifacts, not pagan ones. Barely a week ago, some righteous Orthodox Christians in Russia also decided to destroy some artifacts which they considered "incompatible with Christianity."
One is reminded of the reply of the Caliph to the entreaties of John Philoponus to spare the great library in Alexandria: "If the books substantiate the Koran, they are unnecessary and must be destroyed. If they do not substantiate the Koran they are worthless and must be destroyed." The torture chambers of the Inquisitions, which devised new ways to make burning at the stake infinitely more painful, and more long lasting, than had ever previously been known, was commanded and operated by the righteous. Oh, not that the priests or bishops did any of the "hands on" torturing, no that would have soiled their hands (in addition to their souls), and the twisted, pathological mind of these righteous-ones cleared its conscience by having lay people carry out the actual performance of the evil.
Torture chambers are, after all, as Michael Ignatieff says, places of morality, for they serve a higher moral cause, a more lofty righteousness. Perhaps there is a reason why Christ ate and drank with publicans and sinners rather than with the religiously righteous? Perhaps it had something to do with the way He shamed the righteous into retreat with what He wrote in the dust that day? "Righteousness" is the wellspring of so much evil, even when the evil is committed by very moral people who are not innately evil.
Hanna Arendt describes it so well: "The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together." Such righteous evil need not be so dramatic, however. It can be mundane, very, as Arendt says, banal. It is most often a simple bureaucratic act, the stamping or signing of a document, or the refusal to do so. Sometimes, it is even something that many people will agree with while not thinking their thoughts through to the end, by not even caring about the ramifications of it since it seems to suit their particular brand of righteousness.
I recall a story that the irrepressible President Harry Truman once told on himself. "A Catholic priest went into a restaurant in Kansas. When the owner saw him he asked him to leave. ‘We do not serve Catholics in this restaurant!’ The priest was incredulous. Pointing to a picture on the wall he asked, ‘Then why do have that picture of Pope Pious on the wall?’ ‘The Pope!! That rotten salesman told me that was picture of Harry Truman in his Masonic outfit."
A case in question is that of Kim Davis, the Kentucky elected official who holds that her personal perception of righteousness gives her the right to deny the rights of those she was elected to serve. Her defence attorney demonstrates the banality of her righteousness in his ideological statement, ""If Davis’ religious objection cannot be accommodated, then elected officials have no real religious freedom when they [hold] public office." In other words, if a civil servant does not have the freedom to impose his or her own religious views on the public that he/she was elected to serve in a purely legal and regulatory capacity, then the surmise is that she has no religious freedom. If so be, then why should a Baptist court clerk be compelled to give a required document to a Muslim or an atheist?
Why? Because that is the job that they freely accepted, and they should not be allowed to violate that trust and break the law in order to arrogantly and coldly impose THEIR perceived righteousness on members of the public who have every legal right to obtain the very documents or services they have every legal and civil right to. Of course, those who give no serious-minded thought to the ramifications of such matters, may hail Ms Davis as some sort of "hero of Righteousness," but if Ms Davis entered an Orthodox Church, we would not canonically consider her to be either baptised or lawfully married, because neither baptism nor marriage is valid outside the Church. We are no public servants, elected to provide to each member of the public what they have a legal right to.
A Sacrament of the Church cannot be accomplished without the priesthood of that Church. If an Orthodox Christian were an elected or hired civil servant, why should his or her religious beliefs not shield that person from having to issue any documents to Ms Davis in relation to her supposed marriage? A Sacrament is precisely a Sacrament, not a secular act. A public official hs no right to allow his deeply held religious beliefs fulfil his duties. Indeed, knowing that a Mormon was going to marry many women in a temple "spiritual marriage" ceremony, why should my deeply held religious beliefs not shield me from having to issue a regular marriage license to a Mormon? Or a Muslim, since he worships an entity that "I" do not believe is actually God, and follows the wrong prophet?
Why should I be forced to issue a building permit to a "Christ-hating" Jew to build a synagogue, or issue a land title or building permit to a Muslim community, since my deeply held religious beliefs state that Muslims are antichrists, for a Buddhist Temple or a Hindu place of heathen worship which my deeply held religious beliefs do not allow my conscience to issue that document? Evil is banal, and far to often committed by the righteous in the name of deeply held religious beliefs. Ms Davis certainly has a right to her deeply held religious beliefs, but has she a right to hold a public service job in which she insists on trying to forcibly impose her religious beliefs on those members of the public she swore to serve, who do not share her religious beliefs? Think of the unspeakable chaos that would be caused if such a perversion of the bureaucracy and civil service were to be upheld? And how would it serve religious liberty if members of one religion in the civil service had the religious right to violate their oath of office to serve the public if they could deny service to anyone with whom they did not religiously agree?
Ah, but there are righteous, are they not? So was Caiaphas and the rest of high priestly council. They were only protecting Israel and the Jewish faith. Pilate, or course, was only a bureaucrat carrying out his duty to make Christ’s death as painful and humiliating as possible. He may not even have been, in and of himself, an evil or sadistic person. Like Adolf Eichmann, he was only a bureaucrat carrying out his duties for the higher good of protecting the Empire. They were all being moral and righteous according to what they perceived to be a higher, more moral and more righteous ideal. Evil is banal, but less so when it consists in doing what one think best serves one's own concept of righteousness and what one perceives to be a higher moral good. Evil is not alone in being banal; righteousness can be just as banal, and far too often, the perception both of evil and of righteousness are almost wholly subjective. Being convinced that one has the mandate of heaven can make a person very, very evil even while one sincerely believes himself to be fulfilling righteousness. (Vladika Lazar)