The Blinding Power of Evil—or—Evil as a “Duty”
Simone Weil, the French philosopher, displayed an uncommon clarity when it came to exposing human evil. Having seen first hand the horrors that engulfed Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, she was well acquainted with ordinary people’s capacity for wickedness and gave much thought to how this could be. One of her most startling conclusions was that: “Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.”1
This simple observation, that even people engaged in terrible evil generally think they are doing the right thing, is revealing, particularly in contemporary debates over such stark moral issues as abortion,2 for example. Speaking to The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois, Alex Sanger,3 the Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, “said the battle for reproductive freedom won't be won until Americans are convinced that abortion is moral.” And Sanger and other pro-abortion advocates genuinely believe that they hold the moral high ground. For them, a woman’s health and ability to terminate a pregnancy trump all other norms. “[P]regnancy is dangerous,” Sanger concluded. “It is not a walk in the park for any woman.”4
In a similar fashion, advocates for same-gender “marriages” cloak their appeals for legal rights in the language of virtue. When the Civil Partnership Act was passed in Great Britain in December 2005, David Self, a freelance writer on religious affairs, hailed the legislation as “the introduction of a new morality into gay and lesbian society” that would foster homosexual relationships that “value loyalty and love above secret promiscuity”—a problem he admits plagues the gay community. Despite the fact these legally recognized partnerships “smack of relativism,”5 Self believes he and his male partner are practicing a higher form of morality.6
These reactions should not surprise the thoughtful Christian. The very beginning of human sin demonstrates that at its heart to be a sinner is to reject the truth and be enslaved to a lie. To be a sinner is, in various ways, to “call evil good and good evil.”7 Wisdom’s saying that “all who hate me love death,”8 underscores this theme and demonstrates the link between this reversed moral compass and idolatry. To withdraw one’s affections from the Creator is to betroth oneself to evil and to turn the back upon that which one should know, by the light of nature and common grace, really to be true. The result, to use Paul’s words, is going through life with a “seared conscience.”9 It is not that abortion lobbyists or gay-rights activists are loveless and godless. On the contrary, they love much and believe much. But they love and worship wrong things, even terrible things. How sad. It is a thought that should deeply grieve every disciple’s heart.
It is necessary for those who speak on behalf of traditional moral categories to understand this: those who oppose them do so on the basis of a perceived virtue. It is clarifying to realize what is really going on: these are people enslaved to the darkness, but who believe, deep down, that they are the sons of light. Understanding this bizarre and deeply twisted view of life affects the Christian’s attitude to the so-called “culture wars.” Our “opponents” are not merely wrong. They are tragic people trapped in the zeitgeist of the age from which they desperately need to be freed. The challenge for God’s messengers today is to replace these idols of the heart with something better to believe and Someone better to worship.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (New York: Putnam, 1952), 121.
See also Kairos Journal article, "The Nietzschean Nature of Abortion."
Alex Sanger is the grandson of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, then known as the National Birth Control League in 1916.
Paul Swiech, “Advocate: Abortion Does Involve Morality,” The Pantagraph, September 20, 2005, A3.
See also Kairos Journal article, "Homosexuality and the Wisdom of the Ages."
David Self, “Face to Faith: Civil Partnerships Will Lead to the Introduction of a New Morality into the Gay and Lesbian Community,” The Guardian, December 17, 2005, 35, http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1669317,00.html (accessed March 1, 2006).
1 Timothy 4:2.