Friday, December 04, 2015

Opposing Evil is Hard. Sometimes, Very Hard.

If I name something as evil, a necessary corollary is the moral duty to oppose it.

When you name something as evil, that label comes with necessary moral obligations. Because of the very nature of evil, when you call something evil you are saying that it ought to be opposed where it can be, stopped when it can be, and that you will oppose and stop it where you have the ability to do so. This is an inherent and necessary moral obligation with evil. If you pick up a single coin it has two sides; if you name something evil and flip the coin over, the other face is the moral obligation to oppose it. It follows that the greater the evil, the greater the moral burden to oppose it. And it also follows that the greater the evil, the greater the possible cost at opposing it.

So, when a culture looks radical and murderous evil in the eye and cannot name it as evil, what is going on? Simultaneously, what is going on when a culture looks at an evil and mislabels it in the light of clear facts to the contrary?  The refusal to name it as evil is a sign of moral weakness or even turpitude. And over time the refusal to name real evils as evils turns into a corroded ethical system and becomes the inability to name real evils as evil.

Yet, the human is incapable of living in a world without recognizing some things as right and some things as wrong (it is simply the way we are created). So what does the person who is incapable of naming real evil do? They put the label of real evil on either minor evils or things that are not evil. This is one of the universal actions of the human intellect – we cannot avoid doing it no matter how tolerant we think we are – and it is the move that allows most of the great evils in human history to do the most damage. While the bull is charging the crowd, these folks would have us worried about the mouse in the corner.

For example, our current Federal Administration looks at the same evil we all do, perpetrated by Islamic radicals who (almost always) are heard yelling, “Allah is Great!” and hesitates to the point of foolishness to name it correctly. Two current favorite fallback positions are to call that kind of evil either “workplace violence” or “gun violence.”* The first fallback makes extraordinary evil seem common and easily done by any properly disgruntled employee, and the second is a self-serving political ploy. Both moves serve to distract millions from the root of the evil, and thus allow those in power to avoid dealing with the evil altogether. Simultaneously they raise other, much more debatable or minor evils, to the fore acting as if they have done something about terrorism by addressing their politically convenient evil while not actually doing anything about terrorism at all.

Take this one step further and we get what happens in parts of the cultural left. When Islamic radicals kill dozens of people, they step in front of cameras or turn to their keyboards and say that Christians are as dangerous as Islamic radicals. No facts are given because no facts can possibly be given in support of such dangerous foolishness. In fact, lies are told to support this meme. Hitler was not a Christian. But now that we know how naming evil works, we know at least one reason why these people will stare at real, murderous evil, and name the peaceful among them, and even the victim, as evil. The cost of calling a Christian evil is far, far less than calling an Islamic terrorist evil. In fact, in Progressive, elitist circles, calling Christians evil is haute couture. You are the smart gal in the room if you manage to slip that socially acceptable lie into a conversation. If you want to fit in, why utter an unacceptable truth? (Another theory of mine – everything is high school. Peer pressure does just as much intellectual and moral damage in our 40s and 50s as it does in our teens, if not more.)

Part of the philosophical power of Christian theology is that it predicts this kind of behavior for us and thus helps us avoid it if we are wise. If we are conversant in our theology and reasonably faithful to it, we are not at all surprised that the human heart is capable of naming evil good and good evil. We are equally not surprised when humans are willing to make mincemeat of other, less fortunate, humans for personal gains in power. It is all there for the attentive mind to see. But if Christians are the bad guys, who wants to listen to them?  

*Talking about gun control and gun violence today is a very popular and hotly debated issue. It is true that evil and mentally unhinged people do violence with guns. But we need to be much more careful in our thinking than we typically are in this debate. Imagine a widget that, in the hands of craftsmen, does much good, but in the hands of cruel novices, does much damage. If we are smart, we would want to limit the use of that widget to craftsmen; the morally significant variable in the equation is not the widget but the person wielding it. It is no different with guns. We can have a legitimate debate about who ought to own guns and how, but to make guns the morally significant detail (and yes, often the only variable discussed), is to miss the point and to miss an opportunity to talk about where the evil really lies. It becomes a form of intellectual dishonesty, and in cases of real ideological evil, it becomes dangerous.

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