How Well Does Our Post-Christian Culture Explain Evil?


Holocaust, evil, Auschwitz "Work sets you free" was inscribed above the gates at the Auschwitz concentration camp, a place where up to 70,000 Jews and political prisoners were killed. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS/Special

The short answer might be: It cannot explain what it can’t define, and prefers to ignore or dismiss as myth.

Atheists love to ask us to explain the problem of evil in a world where there is an all-powerful and loving God. The problem of evil is a strong but not unanswerable argument against our faith in an omnipotent and benevolent God; but, this “problem” is an even stronger argument against atheism and our post-Christian culture.

Those who reject the idea of God and any ultimate code of morality, in favor of individuals following their own inner thoughts and feelings, are unable even to call evil, evil!  Timothy Keller points out how those who argue against the existence of God because of the existence of “evil” are in a quagmire:

On what basis do you say to someone, “What you have done is evil,” if their feelings differ from yours? We can call this a conundrum because the very basis for disbelief in God – a certainty about evil and the moral obligation not to commit it – dissolves if there truly is no God.  The ground on which you make your objection vanishes under your feet. So not only does the argument against God from evil not succeed, but it actually has a “boomerang effect” on the users. Because it shows you that you are assuming something that can’t exist unless God does.

The most famous victim of this boomerang experience was C.S. Lewis. He concluded that the awareness of moral evil in the world was actually an argument for the existence of God, not against it (Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller, p. 104).

Andrea Palpant Dilley was caught in the boomerang effect.  In a philosophical discussion with a young man who was arguing that morals are totally subjective, making God unnecessary, she caught herself saying: “But, if morals are totally subjective, then you can’t say Hitler was wrong.  You can’t say there’s anything unjust about letting babies starve. And you can’t condemn evil. How tenable is that … You have to consent to an objective moral standard, up here?”

Oxford professor Alister McGrath cogently points out in his book The Twilight of Atheism that “while some continue to argue that Auschwitz (Nazi concentration camp) disproves the existence of God, many more would argue that it demonstrates the depths to which humanity, unrestrained by any thought or fear of God, will sink.” Progressive atheists and secularists enamored with a “Workers’ Paradise” struggled to accept the actual nightmare of atheistic communism.

Ravi Zacharias asks a poignant question: “Is there a connection between Stalin’s antitheism and his masterminding the large-scale murder of his own people, some fifteen million of them?” The obvious answer is yes!

Op-ed columnist for The New York Times David Brooks’ relatively new book was written in part because “our culture has made it harder to be good” by losing sight of what evil is and how character emerges in our struggle to overcome evil. His Road to Character has much that a pastor can preach from the pulpit, especially when he writes how in truth, “sin” … is one of those words … that have to be reclaimed … no matter how hard we strive to replace sin with nonmoral words, like “mistake” or “error” or “weakness,” the most essential parts of life are matters of individual responsibility and moral choice: whether to be brave or cowardly, honest or deceitful, compassionate or callous, faithful or disloyal.  When modern culture tries to replace sin with ideas like error or insensitivity, or tries to banish words like …  “evil” and “vice” altogether… it means we have obscured the inescapable moral core of life with shallow language … and become increasingly blind to the moral stakes of everyday life (p. 54).

This is exactly what has happened in so much of our education and entertainment!

I can’t conceive of any pastor saying it any better than when David Brooks writes:

Furthermore, the concept of sin is necessary because it is radically true.  To say that you are a sinner … is to say that, like the rest of us, you have some perversity in your nature.  We want to do one thing, but we end up doing another.  We want what we should not want.  None of us wants to be hard-hearted, but sometimes we are.  No one wants to self-deceive, but we rationalize all the time.  No one wants to be cruel, but we all blurt things out and regret them later … (pp. 54-55).

We might add, sometimes we slip and slide into hellacious temptations and succumb to downright evil inclinations – as did those behind the crucifixion of Christ!

evil, good, history, Hitler, Holocaust, Stalin


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here