Nor iron bars a cage
Is there a fundamental definition of evil? Are there things which objectively possess this property independent of the perception of man? CS Lewis, when he was an atheist, found to his surprise that the concepts of good and evil couldn't be banished by the simple expedient of declaring the world meaningless.
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. ... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
The inescapability of having to choose a standard or axioms -- even provisionally -- is the fracture line at the base of moral relativism and multiculturalism. When Richard Dawkins claims that "better many worlds than one god" or a lesser light makes the more pedestrian, but logically equivalent argument of "who’s to judge who’s right or wrong?", they are making statements that cannot be assigned a consistent truth value. After all, Richard Dawkins undoubtedly believes that he is right; and that his argument contains more intrinsic worth than a character string composed at random by typing monkeys. He could hardly agree to the proposition that it is better to have many monkeys than one Dawkins. And if it is true that no one can judge "who's right or wrong" then who can judge the truth of that assertion itself?
It is this illusory attempt to escape from the need to believe in something -- even provisionally -- that explains why all attempts to enforce an equivalency among all ideas and cultures inevitably creates a fascistic kind of monoculture itself. Belief, denied the front entrance as principle, often smuggles itself in via the backdoor as fascism.
The investigations by the British Columbia Human Rights into the politically incorrect writings of Mark Steyn are a case in point. The idea that all cultures are to be respected transforms itself into the conclusion that the culture in which Mark Steyn can write must be suppressed. Yet ironically the attack on dissenting opinion is justified by appealing to the very culture which is to be suppressed. The Atlantic recalls that during the 1990s Salman Rushdie argued against a British ban on a Pakistani film that depicted him as an alcoholic, lecherous Rambo-like Jewish tool who is eventually hunted down by heroic international Jihadis but who is ultimately destroyed by flying, lightning-bolt spitting Korans. Excerpts from this classic film are shown below.
Rushie argued against the film's ban because it violated a fundamental taboo -- against suppressing speech -- within his own culture. Readers will notice we've arrived at a place almost as murky as the one C.S. Lewis was trying to understand. Fortunately Lewis' framework for making sense of a universe populated by both good and evil can shed light on our more limited problem of figuring out the relationship between freedom and anti-freedom within the framework of freedom itself. The key concept Lewis introduces is one of choice. Not the notion of choice as the fictional ability to do anything without paying a price or suffering the consequences: that is a counterfeit idea of choice composed of the shadows of multiculturalism. But of choice as inherent human ability to select between right and wrong and face the consequences.
It's not necessary to dwell on Lewis' idea of good and evil as a kind of broken symmetry to arrive at the counterintuitive idea that freedom is the outcome of a willingness to assume the consequences for choices. This relationship between consequence and choice is at the kernel of the commonplace expression that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". Western society is free to allow every manner of expression only for so long as it is willing to pay the price of doing so. Salman Rushdie's "freedom" to let a Pakistani Jihadi call for his death is based on his willingness to defend that freedom as a fugitive and to struggle on its behalf.
Consider for a moment why Mark Steyn is a "free" man. It is only partly because he is a citizen of Canada but mostly due to his willingness to write without fear; or perhaps more accurately, in despite of it. Anyone who has struggled against tyranny understands this relationship intuitively. Whether you are in the Warsaw Ghetto, the French underground or in safehouse in Sampaloc district in Manila, freedom is always within your reach, if you are willing to pay the price.
Any writer can be as free as Mark Steyn or Salman Rushdie. Our civilization only offers the possibility of being free; and to choose right instead of wrong. No bureaucracy can guarantee it for us. Lewis understood that if one were looking for legitimate reasons to become an atheist, a release from the burden of choice was not one of them. Good and evil, right and wrong were not things you could wholly avoid on the path of life. He wrote:
I know someone will ask me, 'Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?' Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is 'Yes, I do.' I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, 'Don't worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you'll like it when you do is another question.'
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