Being Inhumane Is More Human Than We Think. I’ve been reading Clay Jones‘ new book on the problem of evil. It’s been a good read so far. But I have to say, it’s not been the most comfortable book to read. This really shouldn’t surprise me considering the nature of the topic.
I’ve read more than my fair share of articles and books dealing with the problem of evil. I know for many people this is a major hurdle in accepting an all loving God. Why would an all loving, all powerful God allow the sort of evil we see in the world today? The fancy name for this dilemma is a theodicy.
Is This A Problem?
As I said earlier, I’ve read quite a bit on the problem of evil. And up front, I should say that this was never one of the things that kept me away from God when I was a non-believer. I’ve talked about this in other articles I’ve written on the subject. I don’t see a problem with thinking that an all loving God might have a morally sufficient reason for permitting pain and suffering. But I can understand how some might find this difficult to accept.
You see, if we want to complain about evil in the world, then we have to acknowledge that evil exists. It’s an admission that there is a way things ought to be. And evil is a violation of the “oughtness” as one author put it. We know what’s right, and this isn’t it!
Currently the world is facing an onslaught of what would be categorized as “Natural Evil”. In other words, the pain and suffering is not directly caused by human actions, but by some force of nature. Human sin can compound and increase the suffering. Actions such as withholding aid or hording needed supplies can exacerbate the effects of naturel evil. But the main source of suffering is still a natural one.
Some may read that last paragraph and think what I used to think. “That’s so inhumane to withhold aid from those who are suffering”. But is it though? Is human nature really set to “good” by default?
What’s Different Here?
Where I think Dr. Jones’ book separates itself from other works on the subject is in clarifying just how evil humans can be. Oh, we all understand the Hitler’s and Eichmann’s od the world were evil. But we tend to view them as the extreme. The outliers. The rest of us are pretty good by comparison. And this is where Jones hits us with the hard truth. We aren’t as good as we think.
In a more systematic way than I have ever seen presented, Dr. Jones goes about deconstructing the idea that humans are by nature, good. And he shows that being inhumane is more human than we think.
One Death Is A Tragedy, A Million Deaths Is A Statistic
I can’t remember who is responsible for this quote, but it has always haunted me. “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic”. It’s incomprehensible to us that the Nazi regime was able to kill 6 million Jews alone. This doesn’t count other groups such as the disabled, mentally challenged, homosexuals and gypsies that add to the body count.
But how were they able to do it? How were a small group of people able to carry out such mass destruction? Here’s a hint. It wasn’t such a small group after all. People knew. Lots of people knew. And they either went along, or said and did nothing.
We like to tell ourselves that if it had been us, we would have done something. We would have said something. “I would have been like Bonhoeffer, and stood up to Hitler”. Well, a few did. A few. But the majority didn’t. The majority knew what was happening and did nothing about it.
Ok, maybe that happened once, but it’s an isolated case, right? Wrong again. Look at communist regimes of the 20th century alone. Over 120 million people were killed. 120 million. And these were not war time casualties. These were dissidents or enemies of the state.
There are countless other examples. Dr. Jones tells of The Rape of Nanking. These were atrocities committed by Japanese troops against the population of the city of Nanking, China. More than 300,000 Chinese were raped, tortured and murdered during a period of just a few weeks.
Need more? We can talk about Rwanda, where 800,000 Tutsis were killed in about 100 days, mostly by machete. The Ottoman Turks killed 1.2 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923. It was this atrocity that spawned the phrase “Crimes against humanity”. Cambodia, Guatemala, South Africa, Pakistan, Uganda, no continent is untouched.
It turns out, what we consider inhumane is in reality, all too human.
But Normal People Don’t Do These Things
Some will still protest that these are the outliers. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people will still insist that most people are good by nature. This idea was put to the test by what became known as “The Eichmann Experiment”.
The Eichmann Experiment was meant to try and find out how so many people could have gone along with what was happening in Nazi Germany. The experiment was conducted from 1960 to 1963 by psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University.
People were pair off and one was designated a “teacher”, while the second was designated a “learner”. The learner was strapped into a chair with electrodes attached, and told they had to learn a list of word pairs. For each mistake made, the teacher was instructed to administer an electric shock to the learner. But, with each new mistake, the voltage would be steadily increased.
Would They Do It?
What the “teachers” didn’t know was that the “learners” were actually actors. There were no electric shocks actually being administered. But the actor/learners would increasingly scream and writhe in pain with each increase of pretend voltage. But the teachers continued to administer shocks, even when told that the voltage could potentially kill the learner.
The object was obviously to see how many people would administer dangerous levels of shock when told to by an authority figure. Any guesses on what percentage went through with administering all shocks, including the potential deadly one? 65% went along, up to administering a lethal shock. And surprisingly enough, there was no difference between men and women. They all participated equally.
Incredible as it may seem, the experiment was repeated in 1970. This time, in Germany itself. Just 25 years removed from the horrors of obeying an authoritarian regime, 85% of participants administered the potentially lethal voltage when told to do so. Eighty Five Percent!
Why Is This Important?
If you’re anything like me, these examples have driven home just how cruel we actually are as a species. What we call inhumane, is actually more normal than we would care to admit. So why is this important?
Because unless we truly understand our human condition, we don’t understand our need for a Savior. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are still good. The humanity is still good. But that simply isn’t the case. We need a savior. I will leave you with one final quote from the book. And I hope you take the opportunity to read it. It will change your perspective on good and evil.
“We are left then with the most discomforting of all realities—ordinary, ‘normal’ people committing acts of extraordinary evil. This reality is difficult to admit, to understand, to absorb…As we look at the perpetrators of genocide and mass killing, we need no longer ask who these people are. We know who they are. They are you and I.”- Sociologist Harald Welzer
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Jones, Clay. Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions (pp. 61-62). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.