Recently, I had a robust conversation with a neighbor centering on present day movies and how there is a discernible absence of absolute good and evil offered in the films we watch. The discussion caused me to pander the difference in eras, and it also made me wonder why we no longer see clarity in this area.
Before continuing, ask yourself the title question: Do you believe in absolute good and evil?
We live in a world filled with gray. It’s often difficult to discern right from wrong and good from evil. Frequently, people will contort and change their usual thought processes to see things from both sides, which is their effort to maintain an open mind. Having an open mind is, of course, the proper way to react to almost all challenges, yet is it possible we have taken matters to far?
To examine this a bit, let’s say a country desires to take over another nation for no better reason then they want to control those people and lands. Through most of recorded history individuals would not try to delve to deeply into such situations, they would instinctively know it is not a good act for a nation to take over and control another country or populace—such acts were routinely called evil; however, oftentimes today many people have a tough time referring to anything in absolute terms. This is revealed to us when we see the blatant chastisement of those who speak in basic truths.
Make no mistake: the words, good, and evil, are absolute terms and we live in an era in which those words are most unpopular.
Consider the scenario above. When a nation decides it will take over another country by force, battles and wars ensue (obviously), yet think about the soldiers fighting on each side, they are likely young men and they’re simply following orders from their leaders—it is not their desire to take over another country, and that leads many today to say we cannot call the conquering nation evil because so many of their soldiers have nothing to do with the decision to go to war. Yet, we appear to have lost the ability to discern between the macro and micro. In other words, we can beyond any doubt refer to the conquering nation (spoken of above) as committing an evil act on a macro level; however, on the micro level, the soldiers fighting the battles of conquest are not as culpable and referring to them as being evil might be improper.
Let’s refine this a bit farther. Germany’s actions during World War II, on a macro level, were evil; however, the guilt of Germany’s actions does not imply that every German soldier who fought during WWII was evil (most of them had families and lives that they wanted to live). Therefore, we can refer to WWII Germany as being evil, while intuitively knowing every German soldier was not necessarily an evil person. Our present culture has lost the ability to make such generalizations, and that represents a critical problem. The loss of the skill to make sound generalizations leads to chaotic thinking.
It must not go unsaid that individuals can commit evil acts. Murder is the obvious example, and yet even with some of the most debased actions, many refuse to use the word evil to define them.
So, why do so many today steer away from using such terms? I believe it has a lot to do with the loss of a sense of sin in our culture. We have tossed aside centuries, even millenniums, of what is considered good and evil. Most people today have their own pet grave sins they commit regularly, and they likely know somewhere in their conscience that those acts are sinful, but they have no desire to stop committing those acts. No one desires to be a hypocrite, so if person X knows they are committing grave sin Y, and they refuse to stop committing grave sin Y, that person will not call out other gravely sinful acts because they’d be hypocritical. Jesus once said:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. [Matthew 7:4-5 RSVCE]
Most know of that passage, and we also know we’re committing grave sins, yet we don’t want to stop, and we don’t want to be a hypocrite, so most of us remain silent and become reluctant to call certain acts evil. We’ve no intention of removing the sin from our personal lives, so we utterly refuse to acknowledge the many grave sins being committed all around us. This is how we’ve arrived at a place in which good acts are no longer called good, and evil acts are no longer called evil.
In earlier eras, people had no problem using absolutes, and while some of them might have been hypocrites, in general, they were correct about their discernments.
Things have gone farther than a simple denial of good and evil; instead, we have reached that place (predicted by the Bible), in which clear evil is being called good, and clear good acts are being called evil. I can cite examples, yet they are all around us, and I have no doubt you know many.
We have gone from a culture in which it was easy for people to discern good from evil, and then we journeyed through a time in which people refused to call certain acts evil or good, and now we are moving through a time in which we often call good evil, while just as often calling evil good.
The problem with all this is simple: good and evil still exist no matter what any generation thinks. Basic truths do not change with the passage of time.
What do you think? Do good and evil exist? Have we lost a sense of sin and have we rejected general absolutes?
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