We live in good times. Very good. Television shows are of motion picture film quality, gasoline is cheap, and any wars being fought are far away. Out of sight, out of mind. In truth, the phrase, “First world problems” reflects these great times, because first world problems really are insignificant from the perspective of those suffering from true life or death situations such as malnutrition, political and religious persecution, daily bombings, unhygienic living conditions, and the list continues.
We live in a wealthy, free country and can do more or less whatever we wish within the bounds of legality. However, it is apparent that when life is too good, the temptation to create evil emerges. There seems to be some human necessity to define ourselves against what we are not. When fighting great evils like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, we knew we were not those terrible things. We were the light to the world, the beacon on the hill. “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” says the Statue of Liberty’s famous quote.
Where is that beautiful idealism today?
No great evil to unite against and fight to the death, to sacrifice our sons, daughters, mothers, or fathers, or to ration our daily meals and energy usage has made us soft. Like an athlete with nothing to train for, our strength fails us when we are surrounded by easy living. We allow irreverent squabbling and self-created injustices — gender neutral restrooms, Christmas trees in public places — to seep into the cracks of morality such that before long we do not realize what is truly right and just for the good society. Even if you consider Islamic Jihadists to be today’s great evil, how many of us are actually thinking about that evil daily, wondering how we personally can fight the great fight to save the world?
Instead, we have time to enjoy life, to binge on television shows, to walk out on commencement speakers, to post minute-by-minute updates on Facebook, and to raise “theybies (gender self-determining children).” In the face of the Nazi evil, did Europeans and Americans have time to file lawsuits against CBS or NBC for their favorite program’s disappointing ending? I’m certain they were more concerned about the future of the free world than whether they agreed with a speaker invited to a university’s campus. Today, times may appear good and easy, but do not be fooled. It is impossible to test morality against a black hole. We just get sucked in.
There is a definitive relationship between the good times we enjoy and the decay of our moral selves. The time spent on social media reporting all the great things we are engaged in is equal to the amount of time spent looking at everyone else’s social media and lamenting how terrible our own lives are. The existence of hundreds of cable television channels means one can watch television until one absorbs so much hate and violence that one metamorphoses into that vision of violence oneself. The easy accessibility and societal acceptance of pornography forever distorts both a woman’s and a man’s worth, image, and potential. Yes, times are too good for our own good. We are living so well that we are not actually living.
Instead, when we spend so much time not living, we grow preoccupied with creating problems where none ever existed, focusing on societal “abnorms” as if they were norms, and bringing to light issues that always enjoyed the dark. We simply do not have anything more important to focus our energies on. Consider the attack on gender, the vilification of university campus speakers, inequality, and even God, among others. Suddenly these “issues” have emerged as some great revelation of evil in society. Are they really? Who says so? If you remove yourself from the incessant buzzing of social media and take time to think for yourself and do your own research, you might realize just how inflated these non-evils really are.
The more disturbing reality is how easily we bring to light these invented evils when the true ones lurk beneath the surface, tearing at the very fabric of our society and human essence. While we may not be fighting the definitive evil of Nazi Germany, there nevertheless exist many darker, more complicated, but less obvious ones that are worth fighting the good fight. Consider the birth control pill, abortion, child gender choice, and pornography in this category. Over the next several weeks I will be diving into each of these individual topics to explore more deeply the darker nuances of these issues.
Ultimately, however, what is evil? Most of us know what it is when we see it, but can we define it? In the simplest sense, evil is the complete absence of goodness, like black is the absence of light. Where there is no goodness, there exists evil. There is no in between.
To be continued …
Theresa Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. No question or comment is too scary, too difficult, or too offensive.