I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the current U.S. political scene, and am disturbed by the way in which religious principles get maligned by both parties.
A little background on me: I’m a mormon, and I have what mormons call a “testimony,” which means you’ll hear me stating my belief in pretty strong terms. I have a fairly simple, Sunday-school-esque belief that there IS clear-cut right and wrong. I also believe that just as God would have us choose the right, Satan would have us choose wrong (Sunday-school-esque, remember?). And in order to accomplish that, Satan needs to make good things look bad, and bad things look good.
He’s done a great job of that.
Consider for a moment the Christian principle of altruism. The Ayn Rand institute (an institution for which I have a lot of respect — one which does a lot of good) published the following in Philosophy: Who Needs it:
Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice — which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction — which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of good.
The context here is that suicide bombers (among others) are maniacs, and that the principle of self-sacrifice is what enables them to, well, sacrifice themselves for what they see as a higher goal.
Fine. While we can probably agree that suicide bombings are “bad,” if not outright EVIL, it’s not the principal of self-sacrifice or altruism which is at fault. Fault lies in PICKING THE WRONG HIGHER GOAL.
My point here is not to discuss self-sacrifice. It’s to use this as a model, as an example for cases in which both the Left and the Right have taken bad activities, and smeared not the activity itself, but one of the good principles used to justify that activity.
In short, just because an Evil person does an Evil thing and justifies it in part with some ideal, principle, or meme does NOT mean that the ideal, principle, or meme is Evil. What has REALLY happened is that a Bad Thing has been mixed with some Good Things, and one or more of the Good Things look “guilty by association.”
C.S. Lewis described this process really well in The Screwtape Letters. Don’t go thinking that I’m being all original here, because for the most part I’m not.
Another example, this one much more commonly used: The crusades — there are those who say that because Catholicism and Christianity were used to justify the crusades, Catholicism and Christianity are Evil.
You might as well say that because sex was used to create so-and-so (insert name of your favorite target of vilification here, but don’t use Hitler or you’ll be accused of invoking Godwin), that sex is evil.
Upshot… I remain convicted of my religious beliefs, even in the face of evidence that those selfsame beliefs get used as justifications for evil acts by other people.