None Dare Call It Evil

Recently, NRO’s Jonah Goldberg had a bit of a dust-up with some Professor of Bligity-blargh Mumbo-jumbo from some college somewhere, over whether it was right and proper and productive to refer to ISIS as “evil.” It went a little something like this:

First, the professor (actually, the director of the Program in Human Rights at Macalester College — yeah, bligity-blargh) was all like this:

Is ISIS evil?

The problem with that question is that the answer is as easy as it is useless. Yes, ISIS is evil and must be stopped. Saying so over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.

The flip side is that “evil” is also a word that stops us from thinking. There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil — because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. “Evil” is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.

We can say they are evil people doing evil things for evil ends. Or we can do the hard work of understanding the context that made them, so that we can create a context that unmakes them.

Then Goldberg replied:

…I find it more than a little appalling to be lectured to about the evils of calling ISIS evil, particularly from a person who specializes in the issue of “human rights.” I understand that in our culture saying that “some people can’t be reasoned with” is seen as closed-minded. But sometimes you can be so open-minded your brain falls out. If the view of the human rights community is that it is simply useless to describe ISIS as evil, than what good is the human rights community?

Maybe I’m the fool here, but it just seems obvious to me that a group that crucifies its theological enemies, buries children alive, forces young girls into sexual slavery, and seeks global dominion isn’t a great candidate for reasonable conversation and compromise. Moreover understanding the “whys” behind their behavior strikes me as a moral dead end.

This brings to my mind a passage from Psalms that has been coming to mind a lot lately:

Psalm 97:9-10

9 For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

There is a lot in the Bible about loving your enemies. Christians take that very seriously. But if you take the entire Bible seriously, you have to notice that it says– repeatedly, unambiguously — that there is such a thing as evil. And it doesn’t instruct us to understand evil or open a dialogue with it. The proper moral attitude toward evil is to call it what it is and fight against it.

Leave a Reply