19 December 2012

The Problem of Evil

"T rying to explain an evil act like the one that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is on a par with explaining how the universe was formed," Cal Thomas writes. While Thomas may be expected to have an easy explanation of the formation of the universe, he rejects easy explanations of the Newtown amoklauf. He rejects both stricter gun laws ("Connecticut already has some of the strictest") and censorship of violent media ("people killed people long before TV and movies") as panaceas. He doesn't take for granted, as some of his loyal readers might, that armed personnel at schools is the answer. But his is a faith-based skepticism. There are no easy answers because none of those offered address the intractable element of human nature.

The way to deal with evil is to first acknowledge that it exists and that we all possess the potential for it. We don't become evil by what we do, but because of who we are. We are human beings, not God. We are not "basically good," as some claim, we are imperfect and fall far short of any true standard of perfection. Evil is a "pre-existing condition." In some it is controlled by an inner compass, or by laws and cultural constraints. When it is not, we get Sandy Hook and tragedies like it. We get what we do not understand and cannot begin to fathom. 

Conservative skepticism about human or social perfectibility is grounded in belief in some "pre-existing" handicap, though one suspects that a secular psychologist could well agree with the religious believer about the existence of something irrational and selfish at the human core while disagreeing over where it comes from. What makes conservatives conservative on this point is their belief that enough attempts have been made to perfect man to prove the project hopeless, while each generation of radicals reaffirms an imperative to keep trying. What conservatives like Thomas doubt specifically is that people can plan and carry out their own perfection. Thomas himself, however, believes, with many others, that a way has already been shown authoritatively, even if many can only affirm it through faith, and that no better option than submission to this revealed way can be found or invented.

For Thomas, the idea of "evil" is inseparable from some sort of spiritual awareness. He applauds politicians ("not usually identified with spiritual concepts") for "accurately describing what happened in Newtown" as "evil." He describes recent calls to prayer as "an important first step in combating evil." This presumes that we can only comprehend evil, let alone combat it, in the context of Abrahamic myth, that without acknowledging God you can't really understand what evil is. This already goes too far, but Thomas pushes further with the provocative "suggestion" that the "source for good" may be "offended by all of the accumulated evil we are piling up?" He claims this is "not a sermon, just a thought," but what does he want us to think? If we are to think for a moment that Newtown happened because the "source for good" was offended, then Thomas is no better for suggesting that than the crazed congregants of Westboro Baptist Church.  Thomas has criticized the Westboro crew in the past, so I suppose he must mean something else -- probably that repentance and submission are prerequisites for a world without amoklaufs, or that you won't be a better person until you appreciate that you owe it to God to be so. But were Thomas more conservative than Christian -- there is a difference -- he would remember his own reminder that people have been killing people for centuries, including all those years when Republicans imagine that Christianity had unchallenged sway. People have killed individually and collectively in the name of Christ almost from the beginning, and to dismiss the killers as "not true Christians" is no more convincing than similar apologia for the extremes of capitalism and communism alike. If modernity has exacerbated the "evil" impulses in many people, as so many assume, can the answer really be to go back to old remedies that never worked as well as their salesmen claimed? Despite all skepticism, well or badly motivated, doesn't it make more sense to respond to new phenomena, new temptations, with new answers? The ultimate answer may well be that we must be born again -- but not the way Cal Thomas would mean.


Anonymous said...

I put this forth:
a] We all seem to agree that taking a human life is an act of evil.
b] The only use a firearm has is to take life.
c] Therefore, anyone who owns or desires to own a firearm intends to take a life - regardless of their justification for it.
d} Gun owners are evil people.

Anonymous said...

Insofar as Mr. Thomas goes, he is a christian. Since christians refuse to acknowledge that the basic premise of their world view is flawed, they can obviously not be reasoned with. No point in debating the mentally retarded.

hobbyfan said...

As a Christian myself, I have to disagree with the remarks by the anonymous commentator (2nd comment). You're also offending the mentally ill with you're ill-informed remarks.

Moving to the issue at hand, we don't have all the answers to Adam Lanza's rationale, if he actually had any, for killing 20 innocent young children. Because Lanza, like so many before him, opted to take his own life rather than explain himself and accept consequence, leaves us carrying his motives to the grave, and the media creating motives virtually out of thin air.

Anonymous said...

I am really unconcerned with his motives and I'm not sure just how important that is right now. What we should be concentrating on is how to force the government to become proactive on the gun and violence issue and to do something to keep guns out of the hands of potential murderers.