Monday, January 11, 2016

Self-evident Good and Evil

There are some things that ought to be self-evident. Our founders identified a few of these:

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….
And yet, even though these are self-evident, our president and a large number of people miss the obvious. They don’t recognize the God who gave us our life and the rights that go with being His children. They don’t recognize the equality of each of us, and give special privileges to some and prevent others from enjoying their life, liberty, and property.

Today I want to talk about what is right and wrong, or good and evil—things I think are self-evident, but that many selves are ignoring the evidence of.

The impetus to write about this comes from a video clip of news people on PBS discussing the presidential campaign, using the word Satanic to describe Ted Cruz [on Youtube, and also found here].
PBS News Hour, photo from here

Judy Woodruff is the host. She is speaking with David Brooks, writer for The New York Times, and David Corn, writer for Mother Jones. Woodruff asks Brooks to comment on the Republican presidential race.

Judy Woodruff: What’s going on over there. Is anybody making any headway among that group?
David Broooks: Yeah, Ted Cruz is making headway. There’s… You begin to see little signs of liftoff. Trump’s sort of ceilinged out. Carson’s collapsing. And Cruz is somehow beginning to get some momentum in Iowa and elsewhere. And so people are either mimicking him, which Rubio is doing a little by adopting some of the dark and Satanic tones that Cruz has. And so…
Judy Woodruff: Let me just ask you, what did you just say?
David Brooks: If you watch a Cruz speech, it’s like “We’ve got this enemy,” “We’ve got that enemy.” “We’re gonna stomp on this person,” “We’re gonna crush that person,” “We’re gonna destroy that person.” It is an ugly world in Ted Cruz’s world. And it’s combative, and it’s angry, and it’s apocalyptic.
David Corn: Well, it’s actually, if you go to a speech from his dad, who’s a pastor, evangelical, Rafael Cruz, it actually is Satanic. I watched this speech in which he said Satan was behind the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay “marriage.” So it’s not too…
David Brooks: OK, well, I withdraw the Satanic…Ted Cruz.
David Corn: Sometimes it’s metaphorical, but sometimes it’s literal.
David Brooks: Mephisophelian, maybe, but it’s dark, and combative, and, frankly, harsh. He gets some jokes in at the beginning, but then it’s just, “We have enemies. We’re in an apocalyptic situation. We’re on the edge of the abyss. You need a tough guy to beat that back. That’s his personality. That is not Marco Rubio’s personality. He is a sunny optim….He’s been running the youthful optimism campaign. But he’s beginning, to prevent Cruz from getting liftoff, to mimic that, sort of get a piece of that. I personally think that’s a mistake, because in authenticity almost never works. And so if Rubio starts to go like Cruz, he just doesn’t look like himself, and that bothers me.

I’m not sure how to get a transcript of everything Ted Cruz says and then do a word search and check for tone, but I wouldn’t use those same words to describe him. I would say resolute, strong, bold, firm, really smart, good-humored, and optimistic. He inspires hopefulness in me. And he scrupulously avoids tearing others down, so I don't know where Brooks gets that.

I’d also need evidence from everything Marco Rubio has said. I don’t think he’s being anything but the real Marco Rubio, which is both articulate and serious. I don’t think he’s doing any Cruz mimicking.

These commentators’ use of the word Satanic was just a metaphor, from people who comment about politics-as-a-game. It’s fluff and unimportant. And also happens to be inaccurate. But it reminded me of this scripture from Isaiah chapter 5:

20 ¶Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
We’ve seen that switch vividly, especially the past decade. The following verse is also pertinent:

21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
I don’t have a lot of patience for politics-as-a-game. I recognize that swaying people’s opinions is necessary in the process of finding leaders worth supporting. But it ought to be that every voter studies the Constitution, studies the issues, studies the candidates, and uses wise discernment. That’s what I expect of myself as a good citizen.

But, since we’re in a world where some really bad stuff is going on, and we have media elites who sort of miss that and zero in on political speech they don’t like and call that Satanic, I thought I would offer as a service this list of actual self-evident evil:

·         Killing people because you don’t like what they believe.
·         Killing people because they aren’t of the same ethnicity (skin color, etc.) as you.
·         Killing people because you want their land.
·         Killing people because you see yourself as superior to them.
·         Killing people because you want their stuff.
·         Killing people because their existence is an impediment to you and your goals.
·         Killing people because their existence is an inconvenience/annoyance to you.
·         Killing people because you consider yourself to be their judge, jury, and executioner.

Are you with me so far? It should be self-evident that killing innocent people is evil. Plus we have that big commandment among the Ten that spells it out. And yet—there are jihadists who are going around killing innocent people. They’re a fringe, but they’re a leading cause of terror and murder in the world.

And then there are those who think a woman’s “right” to “choose” to kill the innocent unborn child she conceived trumps any right the child should have. So, if you’re thinking this, ask yourself, when did the evil of killing innocents stop being self-evident for you?

So that covers life. Next we’ll deal with self-evident evil related to liberty:

·         Kidnapping people.
·         Enslaving people for sex.
·         Enslaving people for work.
·         Forcing people to do your bidding.
·         Forcing people into a line of work against their will.
·         Forcing people to work without just compensation.
·         Forcing people to do things that are illegal.
·         Forcing people to do things that go against their conscience.
·         Forcing people to spend their earnings the way you prescribe.

The first few seem self-evident, and yet there are people who do them. If you’re one of those people who think everyone gets to decide on their own standard of good and evil, then you can’t say what they do is bad—even when they do it to you or someone you love. So maybe you should rethink that. Because if you think it’s all right for some people to coerce others, even if you don’t, then where do you draw the line, and why? (Consider the bakers and florists and photographers.) When did these deprivations of liberty stop being self-evidently evil to you?

Next we’ll deal with self-evident evil related to the pursuit of happiness, which we’ll shorten here to property rights:

·         Taking what belongs to others to use for yourself.
·         Taking what belongs to others to deprive others from having what is theirs.
·         Destroying what belongs to someone else to deprive them of what is theirs.
·         Taking what belongs to others to transfer to whomever you decide should have it.
·         Using up what is commonly owned by a group you’re in without agreement from the group.
·         Hoarding/hiding what is commonly owned by a group to prevent others from using it.
·         Cheating people out of just compensation for an exchange of property.
·         Lying to prevent someone from gaining something you want to own.
·         Lying about the value of something to get more than you deserve in exchange for it.
·         Lying about work you claim to have done to get pay you haven’t earned.

There’s a reason life, liberty, and property are related. If you take someone’s property, you are depriving them of the fruits of their labors. That means you are forcing them to have worked without compensation—which is slavery. You have used up part of what life consists of: their time. Decent people, good people, see the connection and earnestly strive to be honest in their dealings. It isn’t less evil when it is a government that does these things.

There’s more. When we talk about good and evil, the Ten Commandments is always a good starting place. They include valuing God—who has granted us our life and our rights to live as free people—and valuing family, life, and truth. Some of those things fit in the categories above. But let's add a few broken commandments that ought to be self-evidently evil:

·         Breaking the covenant of marriage by committing adultery, abuse, addiction, or abandonment.
·         Breaking the covenant of marriage for trivial reasons.
·         Engaging in sexual relations without intending love and commitment.
·         Engaging in sex outside of marriage.
·         Producing pornography.
·         Viewing pornography.
·         Failing to provide a secure, loving home for your children.

If you were born in the last few decades, you might not have known these things were self-evidently evil. Media tells you otherwise. But media is produced, in large part, by people whose sense of decency was long ago forfeited—people who are “wise in their own eyes” and prefer to call it evil to disagree with them, or even to sound disagreeable. And then they ignore, or extol, the behaviors that lead away from civilization.

Woe unto them. And woe unto us if we heed them.

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