Over the last month, I’ve heard a lot about evil. The word evil has become so prolific in our political discussions that it is starting to lose its intended effect. Evil has gone from “profoundly immoral and malevolent” to a throw-away line for people who are too emotionally overwrought to come up with something more meaningful. Calling something evil that isn’t, neutralizes an accuser’s ability to speak with any type of moral authority. If that person can’t tell the difference between someone with opposing political views and say, a serial killer, what good are they in a larger discussion.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t understand the word. To help wend my way through the political exhaust that follows the word evil around, I decided to go full Averagist; I asked four different people from Middle America to help me hash out the meaning of evil.
In today’s edition, we’ll hear from John, Erik, John, and Andy. Two of our guests are from West Virginia, one lives in Virginia, and the other is from upstate New York. Two identified their political beliefs as liberal, and two conservative. Like the previous episodes of the American Averagist, I’ll ask each person the same questions to see how different their views truly are.
Now I have to admit, when I was putting together the guest list for this episode, I thought it would be interesting to interview a pastor, a priest, a rabbi, and an imam. After thinking about it though, I came to the conclusion that my plan to be non-denominational was rooted more in political correctness rather than an attempt to accurately represent the thoughts and values of Middle America. That would have been anti-Averagist behavior and ignores the fact that, according to data from the Gallup organization, most Middle American states are 70% to 80% Christian.
So, instead of interviewing leaders from different faiths, I selected Andy, a pastor at a contemporary Christian church in Middle America. I’m glad I did. Frankly, I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered. I was expecting cut and dry answers, and found something different. But uncovering the truth about core values and new politics in Middle America is what the American Averagist is all about. So, standby, clear your mind, and enjoy the interviews on evil.
So, what did I learn about evil from these Middle Americans? The first lesson is that defining evil without religion leaves a lot of subjective definitions and difficult choices. Almost every person I interviewed had at least one answer that included “it depends,” or some other qualifier. When crafting the questions, I intentionally picked examples that I thought would provide opportunities for each person to make clear moral distinctions. But as you heard, in many cases, those choices weren’t so clear. Even when talking about a child molester, while labeling the molester as evil, a majority of our Averagists offered some possible circumstance that might explain the evil act. That was unexpected.
I also learned that people aren’t comfortable with calling out evil, UNLESS they’ve seen it up close and personal. The average man on the street doesn’t feel qualified to judge others, no matter how heinous the crime. But going to war seems to wipe away all the moral uncertainty that we civilians wrestle with. I suppose when you have seen the worst that man can be, knowing the difference between good and evil becomes a matter of life or death rather than an exercise in rhetoric.
But the most important lesson I came away with is that Christians, who make up a majority of the people in Middle America, really do get a bad rap. One of the most prolific stereotypes in American politics today is the intolerant and judgmental Christian. My interview with Andy clearly showed this to be completely false. As a Christian, I’m embarrassed to say that this was a huge surprise. I went in expecting a quick lesson in Biblically-based moral clarity. What I got was a Biblically-based lesson in understanding and forgiveness.
Evil does exist in this world. I have witnessed it myself. But Middle America is more forgiving than what some people think. Make no mistake, if someone is dedicated to committing evil acts, they will not find sympathy in the heartland. Quite the opposite. But if someone who is guilty of doing something evil seeks contrition, they’ll probably find Middle Americans who will lead them to a better place.
- How do you define the word evil?
- Do you think evil exists in the world? If so, can you give me an example?
- Do you think every human is capable of doing something evil?
- Where do you think evil comes from? Is evil a concept based in religion, or is it based on something else?
- If you recognize evil, and are certain it exists, do you feel obligated to confront it? If so, how do you do that? Are all acts of evil equal?
- I’m going to name several circumstances where the word evil was recently used by a media outlet to describe a person or action. You tell me whether they’re evil or not evil.
- Child molester
- Member of the Islamic State
- Someone who commits adultery
- People who support open borders
- People who support the wall
- A tobacco industry executive
- A police officer who plants evidence to convict a person who he/she knows is guilty of another crime.
- A government agent who uses waterboarding to gain information from a terrorist
- A vigilante who murders a murderer
- A hacker who steals financial information
- Someone you disagree with politically
- Can you ever imagine yourself committing an act that, though justified in your mind, others might consider evil?