How are we to understand what has been going on in July 2011. It has been a month that has shown up the moral bankruptcy of the 21st century. At the end of the month there was a manifestation of terrible evil. Some would challenge that description regarding the Norwegian, Anders Breivik (wrongly described as a “Christian fundamentalist”) who on 22 July killed 8 people through a huge truck bomb in the centre of Oslo. He then gunned down 69 (mostly young) people who were attending a political youth camp on Utoya Island. Breivik had been described as ‘insane’ by his own lawyer. But Norway’s domestic intelligence chief, Janne Kristiansen, told the BBC she believes he is “calculating, evil and sought the limelight.” So this mass killer is undergoing psychiatric tests at a prison which was a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. He is being kept in isolation on suicide watch.
The Bible is quite clear, there is such a thing as “evil” and “an evil one”. Indeed, as we live apart from God we are all “evil” (Luke 11.13). Change comes as the Holy Spirit works in our lives (Gal 5.19-25). We become evil as we are obsessed with evil thinking and doing. Paul writes in Romans1:
“Furthermore, [after condemning homsexual acts] since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (verses 28-32).
Derrick Bird, Hitler and evil
This same debate occurred last summer over Derrick Bird, who in June 2010 went on another wicked and terrible killing spree in Cumbria when he shot 12 people before killing himself. On that occasion The Independent newpaper ran a story on the killings by an “investigative psychologist” with the headline, “A simmering anger fuelled by low self esteem and paranoia”. At a different level the News of the World (then still being published) called Bird “Psycho-Cabbie”, implying he was not a normal person, but a “psycho” taxi driver suffering from a disease. As Ron Rosenbaum put it, this analysis allows you to think such people “have poor ‘impulse control’, and so it’s not something we have to fear from normal people like ourselves.” However, in his article “Rescuing Evil” (First Things October 2010), Ron Rosenabaum was not happy with these assumptions. He found more helpful some observations of the Oxford (and Northumbrian) historian, the late Hugh Trevor-Roper (alias, Lord Dacre of Glanton).
At the end of the Second World War as a member of MI6, Trevor-Roper had to go into Hitler’s bunker to reconstruct the details of Hitler’s death. This was partly to scotch rumours of the Nazi leader’s escape and survival. But, writes Rosenabaum, “In the process, Trevor-Roper learned an immense amount of previously unavailable information. This included the discovery of Hitler’s ‘final testament’, in which, shortly before he killed himself, he commanded the German people never to cease and desist from their war to exterminate the ‘eternal poisoners of humanity, the Jews’ – a job he’d left unfinished.”
Rosenbaum eventually managed to meet Trevor-Roper. When he asked him, “Did Hitler know he was doing wrong when he was committing his crimes?” “Absolutely not,” was the reply. “He was convinced of his own rectitude.” Rosenbaum reports that “all Trevor-Roper discovered confirmed him in his belief that Hitler was a true believer – a man who did not consider himself evil but a heroic doctor, a veritable Pasteur, a great benefactor to humanity purifying the human race of infection”.
The frightening thing is that such hideous and evil false ideas can be tolerated and even internalized by reasonable people. But the Christian Gospel helps you to be immune to such corruption.
The sociologist David Martin says that people …
“… need a good story, a moral landscape of admonition and promise, for people who have sustained a bad Fall, but nevertheless seek a better city; and en route that story should tell them who is their neighbour, how to find a way home after prodigal expenditure in a waste land, and how to recognize a pearl of great price when they see it.”
That “good story” is only in the Bible and is, in fact, its account of reality and the true nature of existence. People then need to live by that story (much of which is an historical story) in a relationship of faith in the risen and reigning Jesus Christ. Such is a sure way of combating the evil of Hitler, the evil of the violent and terrible anti Islamicism of Breivik,or the evil of (often quietly fascist) multicultural irrationalism that seeks to mute critics of Islam or of any other religion or philosophy.
Victoria Barnett’s analysis of those Germans who resisted the Nazis and particularly the Holocaust, in the Second World War, and those who did not (whom she calls “bystanders”) is instructive. The main difference between the two groups was that those seeking to help the Jews maintained a different vision of what Germany was and could be from that which the Nazis promoted. Those who stood by simply felt helpless to do anything other than comply. They saw the situation as irremediable. They could not imagine things otherwise than they were. Today, the biblical account and vision of a saving God of love enables people to resist the terrible extremism of men like Breivik and Hitler, and also the subtle extremism of modern anti-Christian secularists
Open democracy has been a catch phrase on the lips of Western Presidents and Prime Ministers not only in condemning Breivik but also is supporting the, so-called, Arab Spring. Of course, every one wants greater freedom in Muslim countries, especially where conversions to Christianity carry a death penalty and women can be treated as chattels. But what is the truth? Is democracy always a good thing?
Yes, a good case can be made that in a Christian context, as Winston Churchill said, democracy “is the least unsatisfactory form of government known to man.” But what happens when democracy is exported to a Muslim context? Is it more likely to protect those converting to Christianity and bring reasonable freedoms to women? (I write as ex-President Mubarak of Egypt is having his first day in court after his arrest. He is being charged with corruption and ordering the killing of protesters - the latter a charge that carries the death penalty. He was deposed on 11 February, after 18 days of mass demonstrations, centred on Cairo's central Tahrir Square, in which some 850 people were killed).
Sadly there is currently disillusionment in Egypt. On 30 July one 27 year old Egyptian woman, Fatma Fahmi, said she had hoped that the regime changes ushered in by the Arab Spring would mean change for women. But that optimism has gone. Women’s groups, it is said, are struggling in the face of many of the popular Islamic movements that are taking hold across the region: “How about we leave the Stone Age and start treating women a bit better?” she said (The Times, 30 July). But in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win just under half of the seats in the People’s Assembly. Women’s groups are wondering what kind of legislation the party will pass, given that many of their key political members follow a strict interpretation of Islamic law. But why was all this not expected?
In Egypt with 90 percent Muslim, 9 percent Christian and with a majority rural population, democracy will surely mean that “true Islamic believers” will be elected to power. These are Muslims who have not been seduced by the acids of urban Western secularism. That is because many “conservative Muslims”, like those Muslims in the UK lobbying for sharia law, are wanting to vote in representatives who will promote, as they define them, strong marriages and strong families and certainly outlaw homosexual sex. They do not want the chaotic sexual free for all of the current West. But in a Muslim country, with a conservative Muslim government, this is likely to mean unacceptable draconian practices are tolerated, if not enforced. Nor at present does the future look good for the Christian community. In May, it was reported that 12 Christians were murdered when Copts were attacked by Salafi Muslims. Many good Muslims were horrified. But it did not speak well for the new regime.
We all need to pray for Europe and the Arab world in their respective confusions; and peacefully work to spread the goodnews of Jesus Christ.