Courageous Evil

Recently, Karl Keating sent out an e-letter in which he noted his concern about “the attitude, so prevalent among political conservatives (most of whom are religious conservatives), that there are no limits in defensive warfare: If the other guys started the fight, they deserve whatever they get.”

Not surprisingly, he drew quite a bit of harsh criticism for his remarks. In discussion of the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that Keating's letter provoked on my blog, somebody wrote: “If I was never forgiven for this by my God, I believe I can honestly say I would sacrifice my own soul so that Japanese deaths (as well as American) could be reduced.”

What strikes me about a statement like this is how much it reminds me of Milton's Satan. There are certain temptations to wickedness that present themselves under the guise of noble self-sacrifice. Different flavors of humans see different forms of (mark this) grave rebellion against a holy God under the delusional appearance of courage and selflessness.

But the underlying temptation is always the same: We persuade ourselves that we are being, not rebels and sinners, but heroes.

Leftist rebellion against God, obsessed as it is with “pelvic issues,” often takes the route of cloaking its rebellion in the garb of Forbidden Love Standing Against Authority: “If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right” — the theme song of every degenerate, stalker, pedophile and adulterer in the world. It sings brave, self-glorifying songs about defending sexual freedom and choice while it pursues the death of innocents for a higher cause. To normal, healthy people, the prideful self-delusion is obvious. These people are not heroes. They simply want what they want. God can go to hell, for all they care, if he stands in the way of their desires.

Meanwhile they see themselves as great, romantic heroes. Such is sin's power to blind.

But the problem of prideful self-delusion is not simply found on the Left. To those on the Right, the temptation to cast God as Perverse Authority Opposed to the True Good tends to happen more in the arena of anger than in the arena of lust. And so, we get the spectacle of Internet Catholics courageously declaring (after the beheading of Paul Johnson by terrorists):

“If I were the governor of New Jersey (where Johnson lived), and I heard about the tape that announced the threat to Johnson's life, I would mobilize the National Guard around a mosque in Newark or Jersey City, roust the Muslims in that city out of their homes and businesses, transport them to the mosque — and say that, if Johnson is beheaded, the mosque will be destroyed by tank and mortar fire, and everyone inside will be killed. That is the only language these Muslim bastards understand.

“If I were a member of the Johnson family and I heard about the threatening tape, I would abduct the local imam and his family, and threaten to do to them what the terrorists threatened to do to Johnson. Then I would do it.

“Yes, I would go to jail, probably even be executed. I don't care. It would be worth it.”

Think about this perspective. An alleged disciple of Christ seriously proposing that the way to do what is good and right is to defy God and murder innocent people such that his own soul could very well be accursed for all eternity.

We may well tremble as we contemplate the question: “If professing Catholics can think such things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Some will argue that St. Paul described how he could wish himself accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of his brothers, “my kin according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). But he meant he was willing to suffer the torments of Christ, who did not sin, yet became sin for our sake. He did not mean, “I'm willing to annihilate a mosque full of innocent men, women and children — or a gymnasium full of Russian children — in an act of mass murder for the sake of a higher cause.” He did not propose, “Let us do evil that good may result.”

Indeed, he darkly warned that those who said and lived such things deserved the condemnation they would get (Romans 3:8).

In short, Paul was saying, “I would offer myself as an innocent sacrifice, if I could,” not “I will commit sins as black as hell and earn the eternal wrath of God, for the good of the fatherland.”

So it's not just the Left in the Church that often seems to see God's justice as a system of rules which must be sometimes broken by heroes who must defy the Old Man Upstairs for the sake of their Own Heroic Vision of the Good. The Right can also fall into this deadly trap.

And in making that choice, they can even become what they hate: champions of the ruthless murder of innocents for a higher cause. The One Ring can corrupt even (and perhaps especially) the Bold Men of Gondor.

So what gives me the right to pontificate about all this? Do I think I'm immune from such temptation?

On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis remarked about the temptations he chronicled in The Screwtape Letters: “My heart (I need no other) sheweth me the wickedness of the ungodly.” I hope that, should the choice be thrust upon me, I could do what is right and not deliberately seek to destroy innocent human life. But I hope even more that God will hear my plea, “Lead us not into temptation.”

Mark Shea is senior content editor for