Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Evil is Not My Fault

 Two Views of Evil

If you are impertinent enough to ask whence evil originates, the first hurdle to be leaped will be the general discomfort over the topic.  Assuming the initial squeamishness can be overcome, we hazard a guess that within five seconds all options will likely point to some environmental factor or another.  Vile people come from vile environments.

The sub-texts are: firstly, people are not responsible for evil acts any more than one is responsible for the weather; and, secondly, evil can be overcome or at least attenuated by changing the external living conditions and life circumstances of people.  The discussion will likely progress upon the pathways of some additional assumptions as well.  It will be assumed, though rarely asserted, that morality and ethics are a matter of class, socio-economic class.  Decent people are, well, like us.  We don't rape, murder, or steal because we are fortunate enough to live in decent environments--which in our materialist world refers inevitably to one's lifestyle, wealth, and income.  As G. K. Chesterton put it, there is an "old contemptible impertinence which represents virtue to be something upper-class, like a visiting card, or a silk hat."

A further unspoken assumption is determinism--by which we mean that whilst most of us like to tell ourselves we are free men, when it comes to evil we suddenly become iron-clad determinists.  People are evil because life circumstances determine them, or condition them, to be so.  Evil is environmental; it's nobody's fault. You catch it like the common cold. 

Well, not so fast.
  The next iteration is to begin to attribute the cause of evil to those who control the social environment.  The rich, the wealthy, the privileged--that is, those who are not evil because their privileged circumstances have prevented them from being brutalised--happen to have the means and wherewithal to alter the circumstances of the disadvantaged.  The fact that they fail to do so makes them evil--does it not?  Suddenly, the worm turns.  Rich, wealthy privileged people become not the moral class, but the evil class.

An irrevocable accompaniment is guilt.  The privileged classes accept the imputation of evil arising out of their privileges and strive to manifest sufficient pity to expatiate their sins.  They tell themselves that the wicked are victims, too.  Their circumstances have made them thus.

You may think we exaggerate.  In February 1999 a woman's car in the Somerset, UK was vandalised.  The victim, Rebecca Trimble found the police unconcerned and preoccupied.  
But when she wrote to them complaining about her treatment, the local police chief in Taunton, Somerset, replied that whoever had damaged her car was a victim deserving of sympathy too.  Superintendent, John Snell wrote back: "Whilst I have every sympathy with you being the victim of crime, the position regarding victims is not limited to those who suffer as you have done.  Many of those who are responsible for the commission of minor crimes could be considered to be victims themselves.  To my knowledge some of our prolific offenders are heroin addicts who live in the very worst of housing conditions in our area in relative poverty.  It is also true many of them are from broken homes and really have miserable family backgrounds." [Daily Mail, cited by Peter Hitchens,  The Abolition of Liberty: the Decline of Order and Justice in England (London: Atlantic Books, 2003), p. 35f.]
You could not get a more obvious enunciation of the doctrine of the environmental determinism of sin if you tried.  But then, who caused these conditions?  The privileged.  By agitating for more expropriation to bestow better health, education, and welfare upon the lower classes the privileged classes hope to assuage their guilt-feelings, and re-confirm their righteousness in their own eyes.  And so the worm turns. Deterministic doctrines work until they cannot bear the required load.  Then the privileged are overwhelmed by a paroxysm of guilt and grief since they substantially control the social environment which conditions people to evil. 

This, we suggest, is one reason the privileged elites (we use these terms consistently with the patois of our age) despise and detest Christians and Christian doctrine.  By preaching original sin and true moral guilt before a holy God we Christians are breaking the thin reed of hope to which they cling for redemption and for expiation.  Christians are a living daily insult to them, for the Gospel of Christ implies that their one shot at redemption is a load of cods-wallop.  It also explains why the guilt of the amoral quickly morphs into hatred against the Christ. 

Against such foolish bonfires of the vanities stands the indictment of the Living God: "sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the Law of God."  Period. The social environment merely provides the occasion, and the particular forms that evil adopts.  It is never the cause of evil.

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