Friday, 18 August 2017

Two Roads

Self-Made Saints

Every society believes in the existence of evil.  Every society has a code of right and wrong, good and evil--however different the codes and lists may be.  Where, then, does evil come from?  What are its origins and causes?

There are only two basic positions given in answer to this question:  the first argues that evil is resident in every human being and that unless it is restrained or checked, it will break forth in word, thought, and action.  The second world-view is that every human being is born morally good and pure: corruption comes from the "outside"--society, others, socio-economic conditions.  We well recall serving on a jury in which a child had given evidence.  Some members of the jury argued vehemently that of course the child told the pure, unvarnished truth because children are pure and uncorrupted and without sin.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was of this persuasion.  He was very sure that, at least as far as he was concerned, his heart was free from any and all evil.  He said he felt that man is naturally good.  But, whatever others may thing or do, he was certain that he was morally and ethically pure.  He felt it was accurate to claim of himself that he was "on the whole the best of men".

Where, then, does evil come from?  It is at this juncture that Rousseau becomes a most notorious false prophet:  evil, he insists, has come into his life from the outside.  It comes from other men.

The more "social relations develop, ideas progress . . . and society is drawn closer together by mutual needs", the more men begin to "compare" themselves with others until they are "filled only with the desire to rank everyone below themselves . . . . And once the heart has taken on this habit of making comparisons it becomes impossible not to feel aversion of anything that surpasses us, lowers us, restricts us, anything that by simply being there prevents us from being everything".  [Cited in J. H. Huizinga, Rousseau: The Self-Made Saint (New York: Viking Press/Grossman Publishers, 1976),  p. 69.]
Yet, though Rousseau's position was, and remains, laughable--his sanctimony entirely self-made--and though he facilely shifted the blame for his own evils and sins upon human society in general and those in particular around him, his position is consistent with the majority in the West.   When asked, Are you evil and wicked? most in our day would instinctively deny that they are.  And if asked further, have you ever done anything bad or wrong, most would, at the same time, acknowledge that indeed they have.  And if pressed further, and asked, Whence did that evil come?  Did it come from within you, or from something or someone outside of you? most would agree that the evil was in society, or the community, or the "system", or whatever else, and it had infected the subject in the same way that one becomes infected by the flu.

In other words, laughable and ridiculous as Rousseau's ideas may be, they are the common currency of our Age.  The lengths the human heart will go to in order to avoid "fessing up" to the truth of the matter are boundless.  We would rather embrace the idiocy of Rousseau's position (or its derivatives), clutching it desperately to our chests, than face the cold, hard alternative: "all mankind are evil, and since I am a member of the species, I too am evil, born in sin".

The Lord of mankind spoke of two roads: the broad road, which leads to destruction and damnation; and the narrow road which leads to life, eternal life.  We are all on one of only two possible roads.  Each of the two has its own prominent road sign.  Each signpost points out the place from where immorality and evil originate.  On the broad road, the signpost points away--to somewhere else, way off the road.  Evil is foreign; it comes from another place.

On the narrow road, leading to life, the signpost pointing to evil has a schematic of every pilgrim walking on that road.  That's why the road is narrow.  That's why it leads to life.

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