Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad ones. I’m often reminded of that when I have a conversation that broaches the subject of human evil. As most of my readers already know, the denial of human evil is a very real problem among younger generations of Americans. Just last week, however, I had a conversation with a college student that really stopped me in my tracks. I have reproduced it below but not for anyone’s entertainment. I have some observations that follow. I hope you’ll give them careful consideration after you read the following exchange:
UNC-Wilmington Student: What courses do you teach at UNCW?
Me: Right now, I’m teaching Law of Evidence and Trials of the Century, a course that focuses on famous American criminal trials.
Student: What case are you covering now?
Me: We’re discussing Charles Manson.
Student: I sort of admire Charles Manson.
Me: What do you mean by that? Is it the murderer part or the racist part you admire most in Manson?
Student: Well, he didn’t actually murder anyone.
Me: Actually he did. Under the vicarious liability rule of criminal conspiracy, the act of entering a conspiracy substitutes in place of the act of killing in order to fulfill the actus reus requirement. Add the intent or mens rea elements and we have the two major ingredients necessary for a crime.
Student: That’s just a technicality.
Me: The same thing applies to Hitler. Certainly, you would have no reservations calling Hitler a murderer in a purely moral sense. Calling Hitler a murderer doesn’t rest on a technicality just because he had others carry out the acts.
Student: Well, the Manson family was different. They didn’t follow Manson’s instructions. He just wanted people killed. He didn’t want them butchered.
Me: I won’t concede that you are right about that but I want to better understand your position. Are you saying that gratuitous murder is reprehensible but that clean and efficient murder is admirable? Help me out, here.
Student: Manson dabbled in Buddhism and I think that put him at peace with what he did. If he’s fine with it then that’s all that matters.
Me: Once again, I’m not going to accept your factual premises but I want to get something straight. Are you referring to the Buddhist principle that evil is an illusion? Is that what you believe?
Me: Well, let me put it another way. Since it is Veteran’s Day, let me ask you to imagine the following. An American soldier goes to liberate a Nazi concentration camp. He sees piles of bodies lying around everywhere. He smells the stench of death all around him. Are those sights and smells mere illusions or would someone visiting the same camp at the same time see and smell the very same things?
Student: Well, I’m not going to deny the Holocaust. It certainly wasn’t an illusion.
Me: Then what does Manson’s subsequent state of mind have to do with anything?
Student: I’m not following you.
Me: Well then let me help you. Just imagine that you and I get really drunk and I decide to rape you. In the morning, I can’t remember anything that happened. I was just too drunk to remember anything. Since I don’t remember the rape, I’m totally at peace with it. I can’t be upset out about it if I don’t remember that it happened. But didn’t it really happen?
Student: Yes. In the scenario you described there was a rape.
Me: Just remember that whenever you make Manson’s peace of mind an issue you insult the murder victims and their families just as you would be insulted by someone denying your rape with similar logic.
Student: Okay, I don’t admire Charles Manson.
This kind of twisted moral reasoning isn’t totally new among America’s youth. Were it so there never would have been a Manson family in the first place. As a new ex-con, Charles Manson went to Haight Asbury in 1967 because he knew it was a place where morally confused young people gathered. He knew he could find runaways who were victims of abuse or who had fallen prey to addiction. He also knew he could find youths caught up in rebellion against everything their parents had taught them.
The ideas Manson taught were not welcomed on college campuses in the 1960s. There were protests to be sure. But the campuses were not yet steeped in moral relativism. Our universities were still classically liberal. That liberalism was built on a foundation of tolerance. And, by definition, true tolerance presupposes a moral judgment. Relativism simply did not fit into the equation.
Of course, the universities have changed a lot within the last twenty years. Multicultural centers started to pop up on campuses everywhere during the early 90s. Unfortunately, the multicultural worldview (read: cultural relativism) is no longer confined to those centers. New majors have popped up with strange names, which usually begin with the name of a particular cultural group and end with the word “studies.” Basic studies requirements in areas such as “life sciences,” “natural sciences,” and “social sciences” are being replaced with strange new categories. For example, my university now has a basic studies concentration requirement called “living in a diverse world.”
We all need to be prepared for where this is going. If you think debating the question “is abortion murder?” is frustrating then imagine debating the question “is murder is really wrong?” You won’t have to imagine much longer. This is the direction in which we are headed. But those debates won’t be with strung out teenaged drug addicts on the streets of San Francisco. They will be with young adults who have college degrees. And with their multicultural education will come some degree of cultural influence.
A general rule of thumb is that the trends taking place on our campuses today will be taking place in the broader culture in twenty years. The question as always is how the church will respond. It has merely reacted to the culture for far too long. That is good news for the high priests of multi-cultural diversity.