Refusing to call evil “evil”

I just read one of the most morally confused (and indeed asinine) things I’ve ever seen on the New York Times editorial page. The author is a professor named Michael Boyle, and he argues that we must not call the ISIS terrorist group evil. Why? Because the times don’t call for moral clarity. President Bush had moral clarity, and look where that got us–a decade of war. For this reason, Boyle argues that we should avoid describing ISIS as a “cancer” like President Obama did earlier this week. Such language keeps us from seeing the world as it is.

This is the logic of appeasement. It’s very similar to the moral indifference of Western democracies that led to the rise of the Nazis and the rearmament of Germany after World War I. And we cannot go that route again. There really is such a thing as evil in the world. In a culture of pluralism, we may have difficulty agreeing on how to define the good, the right, and the true. Nevertheless, there are times when all of our pluralistic sensibilities are overcome by an unambiguous display of wickedness. It happened on 9-11. And it happened again when ISIS beheaded James Foley. How can someone be so resentful of the last president that he would refuse to see that?

No one is served when we bury our heads in the ground and pretend that ISIS is anything less than one of the most morally repugnant regimes on the face of the planet. Maybe our statesmen will disagree on the best way to address this threat. But can’t we all agree on what they are. They are evil. The only reasonable and moral response is to say so and oppose them.

18 Responses to Refusing to call evil “evil”

  1. James Harold Thomas August 22, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Professor’s name is Boyle, not Brown.

    • Denny Burk August 22, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks for catching that. I fixed it.

  2. johntjeffery August 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    The ultimate conclusions consistent with “moral” relativism, secular humanism, etc. is that there is not such thing as evil, wrong, or wickedness. Where there is neither any acknowledgement of God as God, to say nothing of no fear of God or submission to His revelation the immoral conclusions reflected in this article are par for the course. If ISIS is not evil then there is no evil, and the crimes of the Nazi regime, Imperial Japan, etc. cannot be seen as such either. This is not just “moral schizophrenia” (Koop and Schaeffer), but immoral consistency. Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing on the current state of affairs here where nihilism reigns supreme. “Cancer” is a medical metaphor that does not do justice to the reality. “Pluralism” is a fraud which has no toleration for divine justice and retribution. This goes beyond the “moral indifference” of the 1930s and 1940s to full blown immoral accommodation with the reality of evil.

    • Ian Shaw August 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

      Well said

  3. johntjeffery August 22, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    *…there is no such thing…*

  4. Matt Wisecarver August 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    “such moralistic language can blind its users to consequences. ” This is either a very revealing statement of his own fear of finality or he lives only in academia. I wonder what examples he would use to describe “evil.” Lord help us.

  5. Don Johnson August 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    I read the article differently than Denny did. I see the author warning about a too simplistic analysis of ISIS, where they are seen as simply evil which must be exterminated INSTEAD of as a group with goals and methods.

    • Roy Fuller August 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

      Correct. Burk and others get upset when people refuse to call what they are willing to call evil.

  6. Bill Hickman August 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    He’s simply arguing that the use of highly moralized language, while satisfying, ultimately undermines America’s interests in the region. Denny, do you think he’s wrong about that? Or do you not care?

    • Ian Shaw August 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      I think the issue that Boyle takes is that calling something evil is an absolute. It’s like calling something ‘wrong’. It’s not subject to gradation (though some may try). In a post-modern society, relativism permiates everything and much like people saying “well, whatever’s true to you”, this is now happening where many would have considerd this group evil.

      Now evil just becomes morally ambivolent. Which should scare people, in all actuality.

    • Denny Burk August 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      It’s not an either/or. We can chew gum and walk at the same time. We can speak with moral clarity and be foreign policy realists all at once. We don’t have to choose between the two.

      • Roy Fuller August 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

        One can speak with moral clarity and still avoid the problems of labeling groups as evil. The article actually does this well, while still pointing out the dangers of such language.

  7. Ian Shaw August 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Broken teeth, a shattered jaw
    Ten to one, behold my God
    Wicked sons of Heaven’s loss
    Raise your own inverted cross
    Kings of earth, iron first
    Serve the sacred you dismissed
    Stand before your final day
    Choke on every line you pray

    Raise your glass to death
    Not one second left

    Wake the lifeless, die to fight this
    Stand beside me, storm the gates of Hell

    Psalm 3:7

  8. Curt Day August 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I think this post is a real misreading of Boyle’s statement. Boyle is concerned about what follows our fight with ISIS. He is also concerned with what becomes of us while fighting ISIS. And he has good reason for these concerns. Remember that the US, along with the Saudis, created the foundation for the Taliban in fighting the “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union. Remember that we supported Saddam Hussein in order to oppose the evil regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. So remember the results we produced in Iraq by invading it.

    It’s not that we shouldn’t oppose ISIS, it is that we must watch how we do so lest the call to oppose new evils in Iraq become permanent or another Vietnam. After all, look what happened to the Soviet Union for fighting its own VIetnam.

  9. Tammy Alger August 30, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Is it not just as morally repugnant for a nation to murder 1 1/2 million of its unborn offspring each year, and this horrific practice is not just condoned, but protected by our courts and elected officials?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Week in Review – Aug 22, 2014 | Magnify Christ - August 22, 2014

    […] and Daniel Akin shared the truths of Galatians 2:20 through the life of missionary Bertha Smith. Denny Burk helped us see why we must call evil ‘evil.’ And over the ACBC blog, Lisa Schimdt gave […]

  2. My Article Read (8-22-2014) (8-23-2014) | My Daily Musing - August 24, 2014

    […] Refusing to call evil “evil” […]

  3. Refusing To Call Evil “Evil” - August 30, 2014

    […] Baptist Theological Seminar. He blogs on matters concerning politics, theology and culture. This article is used with […]

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes