Fletcher, A. (1997). When there is no evil… Reprinted with permission. Originally published in The Independent, Colorado Springs, CO.
Several days ago, I guest-lectured in front of a group of Colorado Springs brightest high school students. The topic was ethics and morality; specifically, evil and moral relativism. There were two opposing points of view. One was that morality was relative, that each of us determined what was right and wrong for ourselves. The second viewpoint was that absolute evil exists, and that there are absolute rights and wrongs. There were two classes. The first class quickly and somberly agreed that evil exists. The second class, bright enough to sense the trap, but not honest enough to walk into it, left me frightened. Though most of the class was willing to admit that evil does exist, a good third dug in their heels and refused. They have been told by society around them that the intellectual and tolerant person will define for him- or herself a system of morality and ethics. Further, each society will of necessity impose its own system of laws to provide for law and order, and each society’s system will be, in simplest terms, OK for that time and place.
My wife and I watched “Schindler’s List” the other night. We watched as a nation slowly convinced itself that evil things were not evil. That Jewish people were not people. That killing innocent men and women and children was not killing, and that the innocent men and women and children were not innocent.
We watched as a nation, tortured because of lawlessness and crime, because of immorality in film and the arts, because of a collapsed economy and financial struggle, first blamed and then hated Jews. I also know, though we were not told, that this nation blamed and then hated communists, homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped and disabled, all before they hated the Jews. Before long, they hated some of the Christians, too. That is, they hated the Christians who dared to defend the helpless against those in the State and in the churches who dared to call evil good.
Make no mistake-of those who called themselves believers in a Christ who drew in the dirt and died on a cross, most joined in the chorus of hatred. They rejoiced when the economy recovered, when crime went away, when the Jews went away. “Good-bye, Jews,” the little girl shrieked over and over in the streets as the Jews were led away.
We watched as a nation turned to hatred to rid itself of those it blamed for all of its social ills. We watched as that hatred became so normal that they did not even notice it as an emotion any longer. It was the way they became. Somehow, a land full of normal people became this land that sacrificed its soul to regain its national glory, and the human victims of that sacrifice blew away as ash on the air.
I confronted that second class with some of the demons of history. I threw at them Ted Bundy, who raped, tortured, and slaughtered fifty or a hundred women and girls because his own belief system allowed him to do so. His last victim was a little girl named Kimberly. When he was finished with her, he tossed her body into a hog pen. Later, they found only a shoe with its foot.
I threw at them Jeffrey Dahlmer, whose belief system allowed him to kill and eat men and boys in his home. I shoved American racism at them, and our genocide of Native Americans. I even forced them to consider the Holocaust in its unthinkable horror.
These children, your children and mine, told me that all of these things were OK to the people who perpetrated them, because they believed that it was normative. These children, our children, told me the Holocaust was OK for Germany at the time, because the majority of Germans agreed with what was happening. They have learned this from us.
They fear that if absolute evil exists, then God must exist, because only God can tell us in an absolute way what is good and what is evil. They have been told there is no God, and many use the existence of evil, great evil, Holocaustal evil, to say that God is not there. But it is the existence of evil itself that tells us that God must be there, and that he is a god of love, one who defines and condemns great evils and small. Without a god of love, evil is only relative to personal and social definitions, and the Holocaust is not evil after all. It is just….history.
A people that creates for itself a national system of morality and ethics and denies that absolute evil exists runs a great risk of doing great evil. Germany did. America did. The USSR did. China did. Perhaps America is doing so now. This is a country where many have hated communists, homosexuals, immigrants, blacks, and Jews. It is a country where many scream to have guns, to protect their personal rights and freedoms. It is a country where boys abandon their girls to become mothers alone, to raise their fatherless children. It is a country where the poor are vilified and abandoned to their fates, though many are children, or victims of divorce, or mentally ill. It is a country which has redefined embryonic life as a “fetus,” a disposable word, a temporary inconvenience. It is a country where Christians and non-Christians learn how to hate each other. It is a country where we define right and wrong based upon how it makes us feel, and how comfortable we can be. As one girl said, wiser than some of the vocal minority who denied evil, we will all have gods which control us. Either we will each be our own gods, and we will war together in a pathetic, cosmic struggle for personal comfort, or there is a God who will call us to him.
I live in terror of a Godless world, because it will never be a godless world. We watched the Holocaust happen again the other night. It is a daily thing, when there is no evil.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What are some things in society which you believe are evil, but others feel are OK?
- What are some things in you which you feel are OK, but which are what the Bible might call evil?
- What do you think might happen to a society which calls good evil, and evil good? Are there Biblical examples?
- These students did not condemn the Holocaust. Some Christians over the years have not condemned things like slavery, racism, and anti-immigrant sentiments. How do you react to this? Have we laid the groundwork for moral relativism with our own history as American Christians?
- The roots of moral relativism lie in good Christians and citizens consenting to repugnant social directions.
- The response to moral relativism lies not in fighting for what is right, but in repenting of what is wrong in our own subculture.
- It is the sin of the Christian church as a body, a community, a corporate entity, that contributes to the corruption of society; it is not merely the sins of individuals.
- Until we understand our subtle corporate sin beyond our obvious individual sins, we will be cursed with a society that follows our lead, though decades later.
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