Thursday, July 17, 2008

The "Good and Evil" Myth, and Critical Thinking

Let me preface by saying that if you don't believe in the general concept of the existence of good and evil in this world, then this post is not for you. These thoughts are based on the assumption that good and evil are a real part of our day to day life.

No matter what form of Faith they may embrace, most parents teach their children that good and evil are black and white--one existing over here, and the other existing on the other side of the spiritual fence. I believe this is a proper concept of the world for unpracticed little minds. In fact, black and white is where we all start, out of necessity. As we grow, though, what I call the "grayness of life" becomes more and more evident. This presents a situation that I see growing increasingly problematic in our current society, because for many Christians, grayness causes problems.

The first problem is that Christians are taught from the beginning that the "rules" (the Ten Commandments) are black and white, that obedience is non-conditional and non-circumstantial. While I believe that obedience is always required, I also believe that the rules become grayer and grayer as time passes. I wouldn't have believed this to be the case 20 years ago, but as I grow older I have learned that grayness is real. This has nothing to do with God being unclear. The fact is, we live in a gray world. And this brings me to the next problem.

Where Good and Evil Live
Grayness exists because the youthful idea that "good" is here and evil is "there" is simply false. The truth is, goodness exists in a place where it is intricately surrounded by evil, many times to the point of it being nearly impossible to identify one from the other, without careful consideration. I believe this is by design. An evil wound complexly around good, like the roots of an old tree, becomes difficult to discern--and there is the added benefit of distorting the appearance of the good. Because of this, there needs to come a time in a child's life where he is taught to look at life (and by this I mean literature, art, philosophy, music, etc.), and distinguish within it elements of truth--which leads to the next problem.

Guilt by Association
Critical thinking is an area many Christian adults are uncomfortable with, whether they're parents or teachers, because it means some level of exposure to what they may believe is untruth. And with that comes a natural level of fear--mostly for the children, and even often for themselves. Adults who don't have sufficient practice with critical thinking are uncertain of what might happen if they expose themselves to something deemed by others as decidedly "non-Christian" in nature. These same adults, then, are unprepared to teach their children the skills by which they can discern good from evil or, at the very least, truth from fiction.

Authority by Association
When the apostle Paul spoke to the Greeks in Athens (Acts 17), he demonstrated a clear understanding of Greek mythology and philosophy. This foundation gave him the authority to make his own arguments about Christianity. Another less studied speaker would certainly have held less sway with the ancient council of elders at the Areopagus. Is it dangerous? Of course. Life is dangerous. But I'd certainly rather have myself and others whom I trust exposing my children to the world--when they're ready--than to leave it to them to make their own associations. Exposure is inevitable. It's simply a matter of time. The skills to make enlightened choices come only from practice--and ultimately it is our choices that define us. If we're going to make a difference in this world (which I see as life's purpose), we've got to get people to listen, whatever our message. This means we have to know what we're talking about and why we believe what we're saying. Our audience is going to always be aware of the source of our authority--are we?

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