September 11, 2015

Human Evil & Moral Clarity

In the dark days after the planes hit, the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain mused to a friend, “Now we are reminded of what governments are for.” Sept. 11, she forever after insisted, made plain that “the primary responsibility of government is to provide for basic security – ordinary civic peace.” This responsibility is a divine mandate, emerging both from our created capacity as dominion-bearers as well as from the sovereign’s vocation of the sword. “This does not mean,” Elshtain cautioned, “that every government and every public official is godly but, rather, that each is charged with a solemn responsibility for which there is divine warrant … a political ethic is an ethic of responsibility.”

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4 Responses to Human Evil & Moral Clarity

  1. ken says:

    God commands us to love our neighbor. Shaking my fist at God, or screaming “Why did you let this happen?” does not help my neighbor in the slightest. I wonder if the intellectual puzzle of “Why did God let this happen?” is just a distraction from loving our neighbors. Playing the “Why?” game is much easier than doing something constructive.

    • MLiVecche says:

      If yelling about evil is all that happens then, sure, it doesn’t much help the suffering neighbor. But the point made in the essay is that the recognition of evil and the resulting hatred of it ouht to be, and often is, a goad toward seeking remedy. In the case with which I deal, the remedying of injustice and the preservation of those conditions that advance human flourishing, the help provided the suffering neighbor is pretty clear. Understanding and action needn’t be mutually exclusive.

  2. Steve B. says:

    May I humbly add that there is a presupposition to moral clarity that is a moral equality of humans. A danger to extrapolating Lewis’ Tao to cover all places and all actions is that there is an inherent human inequality in all philosophies and religions except Christianity. That is, a natural status accepting an inequality of humans ordered by ancestry, ethnicity, association, or other legal status. The Tao of Islam is ordered by acceptance of Allah, thus in a theocracy rendering all non-Muslims as inferior. In Christianity all humans are created and loved by God equally and we are all morally equivalent before God, meaning every person has an opportunity for salvation. Jesus preached and taught this, Paul strove to imbue the nascent Church with it, Augustine articulated it with his dialectic of two cities, and early church scholars and lawyers reconstituted Roman law with Greek philosophy and Christian moral imperatives to arrive at what we know as canon law, the basis of all Western law and governments, even modern secular ones. So a government that acts to protect its citizens does so not just for altruistic or paternal reasons, but out of a moral imperative that comes from our “modern” understanding of human rights, natural rights that derive from our universal equality before God. A poignant essay informs, teaches, and causes one to reflect, and Dr. LiVecche does not disappoint today.

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