Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Fallenness

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on Silent Screams

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The agents of atrocities have a self-interest in keeping their acts invisible, buried, and publicly forgotten. The Nazis meant to plough under every death camp, and Himmler once consoled his SS cohorts that, while the German public would never know the full scope of their service to racial cleansing of the nation, they should always take pride in their work. In South African torture cells, the torturers taunted their victims with the prediction that, just as no one could hear their present screams, no one would remember them in the future either. The moral damages of amnesia are multiple: to victims, whose final indignity in survival or in death is to have their suffering forgotten; to perpetrators, whose moral health cannot be restored without confrontation of their immorality; and — not least — to a public that has every prudent self-interest in knowing enough about an evil past to be put on alert against its repetition.

P.M. Forni on Whining and Spreading Misery

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What concerns me here, instead, is the continuous or recurring complaining that is an unwarranted spreading of misery. It is the kind that bespeaks helplessness rather than assertiveness, it more interested in assigning blame than in finding solutions, and is rooted in the feeling that life is unfair. Now, disappointments, disheartening setbacks, and dreams that fail to become reality are an inevitable part of being alive. Every day you spend on earth, however, also gives you an abundance of reasons to be grateful. It is up to you to choose between giving in to dissatisfaction and resentment and embracing contentment and joy. My suggestion is that you make every effort to start walking toward joy today, not only for your own good but for the good of those closest to you as well.

James Waller on Human Nature and Pessimism

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My own pessimism comes more from understanding human nature and the relative ease with which ordinary people can come to commit extraordinary evil. Until we fully understand and appreciate that, we’re kind of at a loss to try and stop it. It seems to me that some of our discussion still revolves around the idea that perpetrators of genocide are very much on the fringe, and that there aren’t a lot of these people. But when we recognize how relatively easy it is for ordinary people to become involved in this, that just takes the discussion to a different place… It’s easier for me to sleep at night if I think that perpetrators of genocide and mass killing are lunatics or insane or only found in cultures like Germany. I don’t blame people for jumping to those explanations. But for me it begins with the issue of numbers. We know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, but very seldom do we step back and ask the question: How many people does it take to kill 6 million people? We know that 800,000 Rwandans died in 100 days, but again, how many people does it take to kill 800,000 people? If you want to say that the only people who do this are lunatics or insecure, then I just don’t know if you can round up that many people like that in a given society to commit the scale of atrocity that we see in genocide. You simply can’t rely on the fringes of society to do that. A lot of ordinary people are going to have to be recruited into that effort as well.

James Waller on the Thin Veneer of Civilization

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In Rwanda and the Balkans, neighbors often killed neighbors. How did they turn on people they’d known all their lives? And in the Holocaust you had incidences of this, too — I’m thinking of Jan Gross’ book, entitled “Neighbors,” about a small village in Poland named Jedwabne where the Catholic half of the village killed the Jewish half simply because they were given permission to do so. You realize how thin this veneer of civilization is that we put up. We say we live as neighbors and in a community, but when something happens structurally that says now you have permission to persecute, to take from, to even kill people that you’ve lived with for years, the relative ease with which people can do that is incredible.

Jonah Goldberg on Human Responsibility

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Noting that we’re all human beings can be worthwhile, but it can also be a verbal white flag for abject moral surrender. Put another way: All the great political and moral conflicts have been between human beings. To date, civilization’s greatest battles — rhetorical or otherwise — have not been with Styrofoam, dog hair, gerbils, or toe jam. Nazis are human beings. Murderers and pedophiles are human beings. To say that humanity somehow exonerates rather than confers accountability is to say that humanity is in fact meaningless. Joe Blow killed a child? Well, he’s just a human being — cut him some slack. Sure, Jack the Ripper was a rough chap, but he was a carbon-based life form.

Os Guinness on the Weight of Prophetic Witness

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Prisoner 174517 was thirsty. Seeing a fat icicle hanging just outside his hut in the Auschwitz extermination camp, he reached out of the window and broke it off to quench his thirst. But before he could get the icicle to his mouth, a guard snatched it out of his hands and dashed it to pieces on the filthy ground. “Warum?” the prisoner burst out instinctively — “Why?” “Hier ist kein warum,” the guard answered with brutal finality — “Here there is no why.” ¶ That for Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish scientist and writer, was the essence of the death camps — places not only of unchallengable, arbitrary authority but of absolute evil that defied all explanation. In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, and economics were pathetic in their inadequacy. One could only shoulder the weight of such an experience and bear witness to the world. “Never again” was too confident an assertion. You never know was the needed refrain.

Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives

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This innovative volume will be welcomed by moral and political philosophers, social scientists, and anyone who reflects seriously on the twentieth century’s heavy burden of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other evidence of people’s desire to harm one another. Mar’a P’a Lara brings together a provocative set of essays that reexamine evil in the context of a "postmetaphysical" world, a world that no longer equates natural and human evil and no longer believes in an omnipotent God. The question of how and why God permits evil events to occur is replaced by the question of how and why humans perform radically evil acts. ~ Product Description

Cary Tennis on Alcoholism and Redemption

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It’s that experience of utter hopelessness, or moments of clarity, or hitting bottom, at which some sufferers typically call out to a higher power for help and others seek the aid of psychiatrists, healers and scientists. The common paradox in all these experiences is that personal powerlessness is twinned with personal responsibility: You suddenly realize that while no one can cure you, neither can you cure yourself on your own. You need God, or friends, or an institution, or a belief system, or something — anything — not yourself. And thus begins, in myriad forms, the archetypal untangling of epistemological knots that results, ultimately, in an unaddicted ego that knows it is both profoundly free and profoundly interdependent. And that’s the basis of a healthy society. For that reason, many recovered addicts view with suspicion systems of government aid that seem to prolong dependency and/or to shield sufferers from the fundamental hopelessness of their situation. Thus we would expect Bush, not just as a political conservative, but as somebody who’s experienced deep hopelessness, aloneness in the universe and the need for God, to view welfare and other government attempts to eliminate suffering as simply, and wrongly, shielding people from their true problems, the recognition of which alone could catalyze deep change.

Christiane Amanpour on Bearing Witness to Horror

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I have spent the past decade in just about every conceivable war zone. I have made my living bearing witness to the most horrific events of the end of the 20th century. Because CNN is seen all over the world, I’ve become globally identified as a harbinger of war and disaster. Wherever I go, people say jokingly — or maybe not so jokingly — that they shudder when they see me: “Oh, my God. Amanpour is coming. Is something bad going to happen to us?” U.S. soldiers, with whom I now have more than a passing acquaintance, joke that they track my movements to predict where they will be deployed. And I have calculated that I have spent more time at the front than most normal military units. … And then there’s the nightmare of what we see: in Rwanda, piles of bodies being lifted by bulldozers after a genocide and dumped into mass graves — and the toughest of soldiers, supervising this, in tears. In Bosnia, little children being shot in the head. In Somalia and Ethiopia, the walking skeletons heralding those terrible famines. I remember once doing a live shot from a so-called famine camp in Somalia, in which I showed a man, told his story, and explained how ill he was. I suddenly realized that he was dying at that very moment. And I didn’t know what to do — I didn’t know how to move the camera away, how not to sully what was happening in real life. These images and these sounds will never leave me.

Richard Rodriquez on Race and History

Go This lack of a sense of history has allowed us a kind of romance with race and ethnicity that is fanciful. I did a documentary some years ago about America and teenagers and the past and all these kids who were announcing themselves as wanting to recover their history, as though it was some reassurance, when everything I've ever read about American history is an embarrassment. It's filled with tragedies of all kinds. The notion that we would study history in order to feel better about ourselves is just ludicrous. But we have this romantic sense because we know it so little, our past really seems noble. I don't look to Aztec Mexico for any reassurance about my identity. I'm aware that Aztec Mexico was a decadent society; its bloodlust was so extreme that its ultimate sexual energy was its pursuit of death. There's nothing in that history for me that leads me to the romantic calendars that you see in Mexican restaurants with the Aztec, almost naked with the feathers coming out of his head, and the Aztec princess at his knees. Nothing of that is convincing to me. History is a terrible, terrible burden which we need to confront, but I don't think the search for authenticity begins there.

George Stephanopoulos on Government

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Because I believe in original sin, because I know that I’m capable of craving a cold beer in a village of starving kids, because I know that selfishness vies for space in our hearts with compassion, I believe we need government. A government that forces us to care about the common good even when we don’t feel like it, a government that helps channel our better instincts and check our bad ones. I don’t think government is good, just necessary.

Bettijane Levine & Eli Wiesel on Evil

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After years spent studying the world’s great philosophers and writers, of poring over the Bible, Talmud, Torah and other ancient texts, of discussions with inspired social and religious leaders, [Eli] Wiesel
still has no answer to the question of what makes people good or evil. “I can give all the usual answers — education, home, parents, peer pressure. But these are just factors. The mystery of why people become
good or evil is still just that — a mystery.” But he has thought of one “rational approach” to ensuring more goodness in humanity. It is respect. “If I respect The Other for whatever The Other is, and The Other respects me for whatever I am, then there can be understanding and even great friendship between all people.”

The Enemy Within

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Have you ever wanted to read the Puritans but felt too intimidated to give it a try? You are not alone. And now, you can get the same doctrine without the cumbersome sixteenth century grammar and syntax. Kris Lundgaard’s book distills John Owen’s powerful books on Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin into easy to understand, bite-zize chapters that edify and instruct without tripping your mental circuit breakers! If you, like me, often find yourselves living in Romans 7:14-25 and want to know how to kill sin, get this book. It will furnish you with sharp weapons. ~ Brian G. Hedges at Amazon.com

David James Duncan [as Peter] on Suffering and Evil

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Window down, transmission in neutral, he was gliding along, exhausted, under stars and sinking moon, driving at swimming speed, otter speed, watching the same moon-silvered riffles and silent glides she’d navigated moments before. And when he pictured again the way she’d watched him — one small, rounded ear up, listening to his babble, the other ear down, listening to the world beneath the asphalt, crushed and alive, two worlds at once — it touched something in him, unlocked something, and he felt himself fall through a kind of false bottom, felt he was driving now, down, into a vast, dark pool. A pool of sorrows, it seemed at first. And not just his own, not just crushed otters and lost Tashas. The stuff of small and large losses, and of recent and ancient ones — poxed kakiutl and napalmed Asians, leveled cities and leveled minds, lost tribes and understandings, broken bridges between worlds — it was all somehow suspended here. Immense sadness on all sides, yet immense depth — there was room down here for all of it. And in his exhaustion he didn’t panic, didn’t try to escape, didn’t close his mind around any one hurt. He just kept easing the Olds down through it all, thrashing on a gurney, Natasha laughing in a cloudburst, the one good paw scrabbling at the road. No matter how much he saw, more kept coming. Sorrows were endless; he’d always known this. But so, he discovers as he kept sinking and sinking, was the spaciousness of this great black pool.

R. Douglas Geivett on the Human Condition

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Consider this small sample of perennial human concerns. We are moral creatures with moral duties to one another, but we seem confused about the source of morality’s claim upon our lives, unsure of our judgements about what is right and wrong, and curiously impotent to consistently practice our morality. Though we are familiar with the brevity of life, and some of us even make a tolerably good show of accepting the finitude of our existence, we have an irresistible and uncanny hankering for permanence. We have no trouble relating to the ambivalence of Woody Allen’s confession, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We ponder inconclusively the personal and cosmic significance of the many evils of human experience. And we are shocked to find the worst of human impulses lurking in that most unwelcome of places — the deep recesses of our own hearts. Even if we are fortunate enough to be spared life’s greater tragedies (war, famine, plague, and the like), we fret about the monotony that accompanies a life of relative ease and comfort — and we come full circle to wonder again what life is about.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

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This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it — and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble. Cornelius Plantinga pulls the ancient doctrine of sin out of mothballs and presents it to contemporary readers in clear language, drawing from a wide range of books, films, and other cultural resources. In smoothly flowing prose Plantinga describes how sin corrupts what is good and how such corruption spreads. He discusses the parasitic quality of sin and the ironies and pretenses generated by this quality. He examines the relation of sin to folly and addiction. He describes two classic "postures" or movements of sin – attack and flight. And in an epilogue he reminds us that whatever we say about sin also sharpens our eye for the beauty of grace. ~ Synopsis

Robert Anton Wilson on Being Human

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This is the self-image of humanity: …the sad clowns of Picasso — the frenzied monsters of his middle period — the defeated heroes and heroines of Hemingway and Sartre and Faulkner — the cosmic butcher shop (Whoa!) of Bacon — the homicidal nightmare of such arch-typical films as ‘Dead End’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Chinatown’ — the bums and thugs and the endless succession of self-pitying and easily-defeated rebels in virtually all the novels and plays and films that claim to be naturalistic… the apotheosis finally achieved by Beckett: man and woman in garbage cans along with the rest of the rubbish.

William Lane Craig on the Human Condition

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The Christian religion, [Pascal] claims, teaches two truths: that there is a God who men are capable of knowing, and that there is an element of corruption in men that renders them unworthy of God. Knowledge of God without knowledge of man’s wretchedness begets pride, and knowledge of man’s wretchedness without knowledge of God begets despair, but knowledge of Jesus Christ furnishes man knowledge of both simultaneouosly.

Marlene Winell on Original Sin

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In conservative Christianity you are told you are unacceptable. You are judged with regard to your relationship to God. Thus you can only be loved positionally, not essentially. And, contrary to any assumed ideal of Christian love, you cannot love others for their essence either. This is the horrible cost of the doctrine of original sin.

Brennan Manning on Authenticity and the Good News

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The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.

Peter Kreeft on Everything’s Not Okay

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We need grace. We need God. We need to be loved despite our sin. This is infinitely more than what secular psychology says, that we need human positive strokes, that we are O.K. We are not O.K., and we know it, even as we repeat, for the millionth time, the most attractive lie the Devil has ever hooked us on, that sin is a superstition, that we are intrinsically good. Modernized Christianity, in it desperate attempt to be accepted by the world, compromises its bad news of sin and thus trivializes its Good News of salvation. This modernized Christianity will never get what it wants, the world’s acceptance. Even as it taunts us for Puritanism, it envies us for telling the truth that it knows, deep down inside, it has covered up. The patient likes to be told by the nice doctor that there’s nothing seriously wrong, but the patient knows all the time that both are fooling themselves. Dying people in America are usually told they’re going to be “just fine”, and they play along to spare the family the grief and honesty it cannot endure, thus plunging both into a conspiracy of lies. The same is true with regard to the greater illness of the spirit when we indulge in the conspiracy of lies that “everything’s going to be all right.” That’s the song people sing as they march to Hell.

Peter Kreeft on Original Sin

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This interpretation (of the Sermon on the Mount) naively assumes what all of history disproves, that we broken bricks can constitute an unbroken building if only we have an unbroken blueprint. Malcolm Muggeridge says, more realistically, that the most unpopular of all Christian dogmas is the one that is most empirically verifiable, the dogma of Original Sin.

Peter Kreeft on Self-Control

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If we can conquer everything except ourselves, the result is that we do not hold the power. More and more power over nature is placed in hands that are weaker and weaker. Heredity, environment, the spirit of the times, “the inevitable dialectic of history,” the media, something is always in the driver’s seat instead of ourselves.