A world without evil. Most people long for it. Some people pray for it. A few people are fooled into believing they have discovered it.
The good news is that one day evil will be eradicated, and redeemed humanity will enjoy the unmarred splendor of the world the Lord originally desired for us.
Until then, evil is ever-present. It existed before its entrance into our perfect world when our first parents disobeyed God in the Garden. The repercussions of that celestial rebellion continue to echo.
Some, however, are capable of deluding themselves into believing they can experience some sort of perfection. That is at the heart of many cults.
Their false messiahs persuade followers that they are part of such communities. In order to do so, they often move their people far from the “contaminating” influence of other people. In addition to Jonestown in Guyana, there have been utopian-turned-deadly villages in a places like Waco (Branch Davidians) and San Diego (Heaven’s Gate). More recently we’ve seen eleven children rescued from a Taos compound where they were being groomed to become “school shooters.”
Rolling Stone (no conservative publication) reports, “those drawn to these idealistic communities typically enter with the best of intentions. ‘It’s abnormal for young people not to want to make the world a better place . . .’”
The 1840s was a heyday of American utopian communities—more than 80 were founded in that decade alone, including the Brook Farm Community, which existed in Massachusetts from 1841 to 1847, Fruitlands, formed in 1843, and the Oneida Community, which lasted from 1848 to 1880.
Even the open-minded Rolling Stone notes that innocuous communes can grow dangerous. After all, virtually every cult begins with the promise of some version of utopia on earth. And if they don’t turn violent, they eventually peter out and fade away once they realize earthly utopia is a dream.
Caterers of Evil
One does not need to scurry off to a cultic campground to encounter evil. It comes to us uninvited.
I am pondering evil’s intrusions after reading about a naïve American couple who, while bicycling around the world, were killed by an Islamic terrorist in Tajikistan.
It’s a sad story, but ironic due to their misperception of reality. One had proudly written, “You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted.”
The idealistic biker once named his scooter after his mentor, the French philosopher, Rousseau. Like Rousseau, he believed in the innate goodness of humanity and presumably in the jettisoning of Christian revelation as an arbiter of truth. This victim of terrorism went so far as to write, “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own.”
As one British theologian explains Rousseau’s position:
Of course, he does not entirely deny human fallibility, error and capacity for evil. But he treats it as inessential: something that can be understood and moved away from—through trust in the wisdom of the human heart.
It is a good thing to remember that many (likely most) people have goodwill towards their neighbors. But minimizing the fact that there are millions of human predators is a dangerous denial.
With 4-6% of American men meeting psychiatric criteria for antisocial behavior, along with 1% of women, it’s a scarier world than even many cynics realize. (While most of the men are mere sociopaths, 1% of the population may actually be classic psychopaths.)
Talk about Naïve—and Ultimately Pessimistic
Last year Cory Doctorow, a celebrated Canadian-British writer penned an absurd article defending utopian thinking. He courageously, but foolishly, ignored traditional idealistic ground and argued that even disasters can have utopian endings.
In a diatribe against the prominent role of dystopias in modern literature, he argues that if we only had a positive view of humanity, we could avoid the collapse of society. “The belief in other people’s predatory nature is the cause of dystopia.”
Doctorow plays it safe by discussing short-term difficulties, without societal collapse. The point of most dystopian stories, however, is exploring what happens once we have exhausted the extra provisions we can share with others when store shelves are permanently emptied.
The idealistic notion is that the power of positive thinking will get us through any potential destructive force. He sounds quite optimistic, until the closing paragraph reveals his self-professed “techno-agnostic” pessimism.
Disasters are part of the universe’s great unwinding, the fundamental perversity of inanimate matter’s remorseless disordering.
Evil Does Exist
Contrary to the notion that “evil is a make-believe concept,” wise people recognize its reality. C.S. Lewis explains the existence of evil quite succinctly in Mere Christianity.
And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
For this reason, God allows the existence of evil for a season. In the end, it will be swept far away from the new heavens and the new earth into a dustbin called Hell.
It’s possible a Christian reading this column may feel some sort of pride in being on the “good” side of the equation. Because of this, we must remember it is only by the grace of God that there is anything praiseworthy about us. Let us reflect on C.S. Lewis’ caution about how we must keep our eyes focused on our Lord, lest we too become corrupt.
If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst. Of all created beings the wickedest is one who originally stood in the immediate presence of God. (Reflections on the Psalms)
Finally, although evil does indeed exist, we should not fear it or dwell upon it. Yet it is important that we be forewarned, so that we do not become vulnerable to destructive situations or people. Holding ourselves apart, while keeping our eyes open. As Jesus advises:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)