Pithy Post: Can We Call People Evil?
January 25, 2012 8 Comments
It seems like most of us are either too ready to call others evil or too reluctant to say it like it is. Is it good for society for us to quickly label people who are different from us? Is it good for society for us to refrain from ascribing responsibility to people for their actions? And, aside from whether it is good for society, is it true to who we are as human beings? I think the quotes below help us think through these things more clearly.
“Another reason why words fail us when it comes to evil is that we in the West today hesitate to ascribe evil to human beings. It is below their dignity, we think. Human beings are basically good and therefore incapable of truly evil acts. If they act in an evil way, we search for explanations– in their bodily make-up, family, economic status, culture. If told that a person chose evil, we strain ourselves to peek behind the choice and discover its ‘mechanism.’” – Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, 27.
“But there is no greater insult to a human being than to reduce her to a set of influences. Our condemnation of her deed notwithstanding, we respect an evildoer by calling her evil because we are treating her as a responsible human being.” – Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide, 23.
By affirming humans’ responsibility for their actions, we are confronting the truth about them and about ourselves. And, at the same time, we are actually affirming the dignity of our moral freedom of choice.