I will ask you two questions: If you were convinced beyond doubt that Mao was responsible for 70 million deaths, what would you say of him? On the other hand, if evidence proved that Mao had murdered only 40 million of his countrymen rather than 70 million, would your opinion of him improve? Would 30 million fewer deaths enhance his reputation? Will you agree that, when dealing with wholesale slaughtering in the millions, the sum total of suffering and death takes on a surrealistic attribute that defies human understanding as cold-blooded murders become cold, hard statistics?
In cases such as Hitler, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, the sum total of the evil attributed to these bloodthirsty tyrants defies understanding. Perhaps you, like me, can best understand the essence and nature of evil in smaller doses.
Within the past two weeks, I read of a man who punched his one month old baby in the face. As it happened, the man lost his temper after losing a video game. The outraged gamer’s baby boy died shortly after a vicious blow to his head. I cannot fathom 70 million deaths, but reading of this infant’s death made me ill to my stomach.
On my desk are two letters from an Ohio inmate serving a forty plus year prison sentence for killing a young mother and her four young children while driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. I cannot imagine 70 million lifeless bodies, but the reality of a bereaved husband and father tearfully gazing upon one large casket resting between four smaller caskets is an image sickens me to the marrow of my soul.
I spent four years teaching at a large men’s prison. During that time, I was befriended by a number of inmates found guilty of a host of criminal acts. There were men I came to know and love who often expressed guilt and shame for the crimes they committed and, unless I am a blithering fool void of discernment, these men were truly sorry for the suffering they had inflicted and the lives they had destroyed. Even so, I had an inmate in my class who had raped a twelve year old child. In describing his crime, he casually remarked, “That evening, I made a little woman out of her.” I could scarcely believe my ears. For the sake of childhood innocence, it is my hope that this unrepentant brute never sets foot beyond the prison walls that now confine him. 70 million deaths at Mao’s hands surpass human comprehension, but the violation of a twelve year old girl by one so cavalier shatters my sensibilities.
The presence of evil that staggers the mind and topples our sense of security and well-being has caused multitudes to question the reality of God. “If there really is a God, how can such evil exist?”
Perhaps this question has crossed your mind.
If there is evil, there is also good. We admire honesty. We look up to those who demonstrate charity. We respect women and men who promote goodwill and understanding. We honor those hallmarked by bravery. We are drawn to individuals who are modest, unassuming, and untainted by the stench of pride and arrogance. Those who speak truthfully earn our confidence and respect.
And though our world is stricken with evil, there is much good among us. I spent eight years as a chaplain employed by a large, urban homeless shelter. From time to time, I met volunteers who faithfully served others without drawing attention to themselves. Unlike the hypocrites whose charitable giving is followed by trumpet blasts and great fanfare, I stood in awe and hushed amazement as these few special volunteers gave of themselves with expectations of nothing in return.
To witness good in people, I had to look no further than the examples set by my mother and father. To this day, my mother has always demonstrated a quiet dignity whose moral compass points steadfastly to that which is right and proper. My father is a real war hero who carried six wounded comrades to safety under a barrage of Communist machine gun fire. The older I grow, the more I understand the benefits of being brought up by virtuous parents.
If you asked about my childhood, I would say that I never went to bed hungry. I neither huddled in squalor nor did I shiver from a lack of proper clothing. I never knew abuse or cruelty. I grew up in relative ease and comfort. Opportunities were set before me. And I was loved.
But, as many might protest, if there is a just and equitable God, all boys and girls would grow up in safe, loving homes. No child would know hunger. No child would be clothed in rags. All children would be loved. All children would have the blessings of proper healthcare and education. No girl or boy would be raised in an environment of hostility and violence. But this is not so. In truth, countless millions of children endure unspeakable suffering through no fault of their own. In the minds of many, evidence of suffering, particularly among the young and the innocent and the vulnerable, gives cause to doubt the existence of God.
There is evil. And there is good. But is there not a moral code that differentiates between good and evil? Is there not a law of right and wrong? If there is no moral code, then how would we determine what is good and what is evil? Without a moral code, how are we to understand right from wrong? Without a moral code, the words good and evil or right and wrong have absolutely no meaning.
If there is a moral code, logic demands there is an author or giver of this moral code. Without a moral law giver, there is no moral law. Without a moral law, the concept of good and evil becomes meaningless. If you were to say to me, “You must do this,” or “You must not do that,” I could rightfully answer, “Why should I listen to you? By what authority do you speak?”
Some might argue that we are guided by a conscience. It is that soft, inner voice within that steers us from evil and leads us to good--a wise and gentle tutor that teaches us the difference between right and wrong. Our conscience, some believe, is the moral law giver. Can this be true?
The problem with such an argument becomes apparent when we consider how individual consciences differ. As a ready example, there is a great divide among those who see an unborn child as a person of worth and value, yet, as one in three pregnancies ends in abortion, it becomes obvious that a good many people do not assign personhood to the developing fetus. In other words, some view clinical abortion as a form of infanticide while others see the surgical removal of an unborn baby from its mother’s womb to be of no more moral relevance than, say, the slicing off of an unsightly mole.
Allen Ginsberg, the celebrated American poet whose conscience led him to stand for workers’ rights, had a lustful taste for child pornography. By his own admission, Ginsberg’s conscience did not trouble his raging pediofilic tendencies.
In some cultures, the practice of cannibalism is unimpeded by moral qualms or social stigma. For those who insist that we are guided by that intuitive voice within, it must be remembered that no universal conscience condemns all women and men against consuming human flesh. Indeed, in the animal kingdom, over 1,500 species are cannibalistic. If humans are merely the evolutionary byproducts of matter plus time, how would Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, be any more reprehensible than, say, a mother guppy eating its young?
Is there anyone so foolish as to believe barbed wire and crematories and lethal gas troubled Hitler’s conscience? Do we have evidence that the white supremacist and proponent of eugenics Margaret Sanger lived to regret labeling blacks, Jews, Arabs, and Native Americans as human weeds? Did Charles Darwin experience the pangs of regret for teaching that persons of African descent are more closely related to apes and chimpanzees? As he breathed his last, did Josef Stalin weep for the millions of Russians who suffered and died by his hand? As far as we know, these villains went to their graves feeling justified by their actions. Let us conclude, then, that as a moral compass, the human conscience is all to often woefully lacking.
In referring to Hitler and Sanger and Stalin as villains, I have made a moral judgment based upon their gross and repugnant violations of a moral law, and in my appeal to the existence of a moral law, I am asserting there is a moral law giver. If there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law and if there is no moral law, on what basis do you and I condemn tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong?
Let us avoid being careless thinkers by suggesting ethics and morality are best guided by civil law or the will of the majority. We must never forget that dark time when an overwhelming majority of German citizens believed that Jews were subhuman. In 1857, the United States Supreme Court declared that African-Americans, an inferior people, could never be American citizens and, as such, were not entitled to protection under the law. A belief, an opinion, a custom, or an issue may be legal and popular and acceptable and yet remain as morally repugnant as the Dred Scott Decision.
Let us consider a universe without God. If there is no God, you and I are nothing more than the evolutionary byproducts of matter and time. Tokay geckos, Humboldt squid, and bitterwort dandelions are also byproducts of evolution. As evolutionary byproducts, how are the murderous deeds of a serial killer worse than a gardener’s eradication of chickweed? If there is no God (in whose image we were created), why should human life be esteemed above plant life or animal life? Why should the value of my daughter’s life be of an inestimable greater worth than the life of a field mouse or a carpenter ant?
If there is no God, in whose image we are fashioned, how can we claim an innate superiority over the other evolutionary byproducts that occupy this planet? Superior? African horned tortoises live longer. Cougars run faster. Squirrels are better climbers. No homing pigeon ever depended on a GPS to get home. Are we truly superior? Do hedgehogs bomb civilian targets? Would an elephant sell heroin laced with Fentanyl to a neighbor? Have you ever read of a brood of ducklings that roasted to death in a parked vehicle while the mother duck shopped for summer clothing? On what basis are we superior? A bedbug can go seven months between meals. Seven hours between meals is pretty much tops for me. Shall I tip my hat to the bedbug?
If there is no God, you and I are a mere conglomeration of sentient tissue, according to the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “dancing to our DNA.” In other words, Dawkins denies the reality of evil.
Without a moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, words such as good and evil are void of meaning. And so, to the one who says, “I cannot believe in God because of the evil in this world,” the assertion that evil is real and extant assumes there is, in fact, a God who authored a moral code by which good and evil are determined.
If there is a moral law that differentiates between good and evil, there must be a moral law giver. And if there is no moral law giver, how might we define good? How do we explain evil?