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The Line Separating Good and Evil

This past Friday, September 11th, we reflected and remembered on the nineteenth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The attacks killed 2,977 people and injured thousands at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

This brings us back to one of the classical philosophical debates concerning the human condition. Are humans basically good or evil? Is society capable of improving itself? Many people are convinced that human intelligence together with enlightened social engineering is capable of creating a good peaceful society.

The Judeo-Christian concept of history holds that society, reflected in human nature, was, is, and shall remain imperfect and flawed. There was never a Golden Age of morality in western culture or indeed in any culture at any time in history. There never has been and never will be a time when all elements of society and culture can be engineered by human knowledge or human effort to work in complete, utopian harmony.

I believe the great intellectual Malcolm Muggeridge has articulated this truth better than anyone when he said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

I recently read an article by John Rosemond, an author who writes and teaches on parenting. He was very helpful to us in raising our children. He says:

One of my books, Making the Terrible Twos Terrific!, has recently become a best-seller in China, of all places. Seriously! What sorts of problems are Chinese parents having with their toddlers? The same problems American, French, Russian, Australian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Czech and parents of all other nationalities are having with theirs, that’s what.

Human nature is human nature, folks. Children do not come into the world civilized; rather, they must be civilized. They must be taught to accept submission to legitimate authority, for starters. They must be taught respect for the property of others and other people. They must be taught to control their impulses because most of their innate impulses are destructive and self-serving.

In a segment of 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace documented the story of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer in charge of the Jewish extermination. Eichmann had escaped postwar justice by fleeing Germany to Austria before settling in Argentina, and he was able to remain a fugitive for over fifteen years. Finally he was captured in and put on trial in the early 1960s. Wallace asked his viewers, “How is it possible for a man to act as Eichmann acted? Was he a monster? A madman? Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying? Was he normal?”

Wallace followed this question with an interview of Yehiel Dinur, a concentration camp survivor who had testified against Eichmann at Eichmann’s 1961 trial. A film clip showed Dinur walk into the courtroom. He began to weep uncontrollably and then collapsed on the floor. Dinur explained to Wallace, “I was afraid about myself; I saw that I am capable of doing this. I am exactly like he.” Eichmann was no longer that powerful Nazi who had orchestrated the Holocaust; rather, he was simply an ordinary man.

As Wallace closed the segment, he concluded, “Eichmann is in all of us.” What a powerful statement. Is it possible that I could perpetrate this type of evil?

Nobel prize winning author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” The prophet Jeremiah says that the human heart “is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). This explains all that we see going on in the world today.

This is why many people believe that our future is hopeless. And if what Jeremiah has said is true, it would appear that there is no hope, particularly for my children and grandchildren.

But God does not leave us without hope. He sent us His son, not just to teach us to live good lives, but to transform us. To give us new hearts. The prophet Ezekiel describes what God desires to do in our lives:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36: 26-27)

You can see that Ezekiel is not talking about religion. The religious attempt to do good in order to win God’s love and approval; for them, is all about the externals. True Christianity focuses on the internal. It is all about the life of God, working in the hearts of men.

This is the world’s only true hope. As the Apostle Paul put it, “It is Christ working in you, and this is the hope of Glory.” (Colossians 1:27)


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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