Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 12, 2000
When 'everything is permitted,' all hell breaks loose
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
You've probably heard the famous fable about the frog who, when dropped into a pot of boiling water, immediately jumped out; but the same frog placed in a pot of cool water that was gradually brought to a boil, just sat there and cooked.
The story is probably apocryphal, but it makes an apt analogy for how our society has come to accept increasingly outrageous levels of criminal depravity as more or less inevitable.
Recently, a man in the U.S. killed his son by deliberately smashing his head onto a concrete sidewalk, then used the child's lifeless body as a weapon to fend off police officers.
Another fellow locked his senior citizen mother in a room for days without food and water because she refused to give him money. When she begged him for a drink, he sloshed water under the door and told her to lick it up off the floor.
Last month, the home of an invalid 90-year-old woman in Glace Bay, N.S. - the grandmother of a police officer working on a drug investigation - was firebombed. Then there is the litany of vicious murders, beatings, and other crimes perpetrated by children; the school shootings and knifings; sundry rapes and other assaults; home invasions; bombings, burnings, and serial killings, and so on. This sort of stuff was simply unheard of even 20 years ago.
We jadedly document the breakdown of civilization, but almost never is there any serious discussion about why it is happening beyond trite ideological sloganeering about economic inequality and social victimization, which only serves to distract from the more fundamental root causes of moral degeneration.
Sometimes in the wake of exceptionally egregious incidents like the Columbine massacre, there is emotional hand-wringing about "How could such a thing happen? - It's inhuman," the question always left hanging.
The real problem is that depravity and the capacity for evil are all too human, which is the genesis of our dilemma. The ideology of liberal humanism, which dominates our cultural ethos nowadays, denies, excuses and scapegoats human evil, and sneers at the authority of God, leaving us ever more defenceless against the essential reality of the human condition, which has not changed at all.
"If there is no God," Dostoyevsky wrote, "then everything is permitted." In their refusal to acknowledge the sovereignty of God, liberal humanists have removed the ground for declaring any behaviour categorically wrong. Certainly there are many things liberals contend are wrong and socially unacceptable, but they have no more profound authority than mere opinion with which to justify their arbitrary moral codes.
Liberals have spent the last 300 years campaigning to demolish Christianity's claim of moral authority, seeking to replace it with a structure of science-based ethics and human reason - their fundamental philosophical error being the notion that human reason would or could necessarily produce desirable outcomes.
However, without God, all that remains is the will to power and political advantage. Without God, any attempt to declare something true or beautiful or good becomes nothing more than an attempt to compel or convince other people to agree with a subjective point of view.
The liberals' rationalistic workaround for this dilemma is to feebly maintain that right and wrong become self-evident with exposure to proper information and the right social environment. Holding tenaciously to the belief that "people are essentially good" and inherently capable of justice and virtue, they maintain that only foolish and uninformed choices are responsible for evil consequences.
That such a feel-good faith would be a popular sell is unremarkable, but unfortunately it is also a complete crock, unsupported by either history or empirical observation of current events. Dostoyevsky was right. Having denied God, too many people are convinced that "everything is permitted."
Christianity and Judaism are founded on the acknowledgment that human beings are not essentially good, but rather essentially sinful. Being made in the spiritual image of God, we have some limited capacity for good, but it is all too easily overwhelmed by our complementary capacity to do evil, the latter much broader in scope than overt criminality.
Consequently, the Christian-based traditional view is that humanity's selfish and dangerous impulses must be contained by the exercise of ordered social restraint. Remove that restraint and all hell breaks loose, as witnessed in the distempered phenomena I cited above.
Until about 30 years ago, I reckon that even most criminals still had a sense of what used to be called common decency, and would have affirmed that there are such things as objective right and wrong.
The spine-chilling characteristic of our present era is that not just criminals, but vast numbers of non-criminals, disavow the existence of absolute moral order, creating a social environment where it is all too easy to infer that everything is permitted.
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