Anglican Samizdat

March 11, 2010

The denaturing of evil

Filed under: Christianity — David Jenkins @ 2:53 pm
Tags: , ,

The New Statesman would like to substitute “damaged” for “evil”:

Bulger killers were damaged, not evil.

Why can we not see Jon Venables and Robert Thompson as both victims and perpetrators?

Since the 1993 murder on Merseyside of the toddler James Bulger, the single most profound shift in our understanding of what creates disturbed children comes not from the criminal justice system, but from neuroscience. It is the graphic evidence for something many parents instinctively feel: that love is as vital to children as breathing. Brain scans conducted in the 1990s on children from Romanian orphanages deprived of almost all human interaction show a virtual black hole where the part of their brains dealing with managing emotions should be. The scans suggest the infant mind is not born but made, building itself like a muscle over the first two years of life as parental attention triggers physical responses in the brain.

In Samuel Butler’s Erehwon, the sick are treated as criminals and those who commit crimes as people in need of healing. For today’s elite, having largely abandoned the idea that the will exists independently of the brain, the latter of Butler’s ideas does not seem too far-fetched. Evil, for an atheist, is not rebellion against absolute moral law, it is simply something he doesn’t like, something that disrupts the harmony of the information processing capacity of his neurons. For example, in Christopher Hitchens’ case it is something that seeks to diminish his ego.

Most people, though, even though they may be adiabolists, instinctively understand that evil is real. In the case of Venables and Thompson, their killing of a helpless toddler was an act of evil for which they bear responsibility; to claim otherwise is to make them less than human – it assumes their freedom of choice had been “damaged” to such an extent by their parents that it no longer existed.

Nevertheless, there is still hope for Venables and Thompson: it is in acknowledging the evil they have done and in the saving power of Jesus Christ.


1 Comment

  1. Obviously it is vitally necessary for materialists to “establish” that a newly-born person is a tabula rasa, and the mind-is-only-brain-function reductionism (as in your New Statesman excerpt) is part of this. But I think that calling the murder an “act of evil” requires careful definition of “evil”, and explanation of its source in your understanding (which is not to be taken to suggest that I would disgree with you). The removal of moral responsibility – which you point out – is also vital to the materalist position, and the “Humanist” idea (fantasy) that criminals are simply people who need to be treated nicely.

    Comment by John Thomas — March 12, 2010 @ 5:12 am

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