Christian living

Discerning Evil

The conflicting messages we hear in the world today can be very confusing, but I found the latest (#15) episode of The C. S. Lewis Podcast, “Mere Christianity on the problem of evil,” to be helpful. Here are some notes that I made from it.

The last segment of the episode (starting 21:40) is on discerning evil, and it begins with an example from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the children enter Narnia, they encounter two different stories. One is that the White Witch is the rightful ruler of Narnia, and the other is that the lion Aslan is the true ruler. The story that each one believes affects how they interpret the situation and who they trust. Our culture tells us multiple stories (22:24), and very often we trust the story told by the most reliable person. C. S. Lewis tells us that Jesus Christ is that most reliable person to whom we must listen.

At 22:55 in the podcast, Professor McGrath is asked how to discern which is the most reliable story in our post-Christian culture, and he gives us these questions to answer:

  1. What is the basis for this story in history and in fact?
  2. What affect does this story have on those who believe it? Does it make the better or worse?

At 23:57 in the podcast, Professor McGrath talks about another book by Lewis, That Hideous Strength, which centers on a global research organization called N.I.C.E. – the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. The N.I.C.E seems at first to be good, but as the story progresses it is seen to be disturbingly evil.

Professor McGrath’s mentioning of That Hideous Strength makes me think about how the evil of the N.I.C.E. is manifested. By the time we get to the last part of the book, the evil of N.I.C.E. should be very clear, but there are clues in the earlier parts that might be signs we should look for in evaluating situations in our own lives.

  1. The director of the N.I.C.E. is not who is really in charge, but is only for public-relations purposes.
  2. The real purposes and activities of the organization are hidden through deception and ambiguity.
  3. The N.I.C.E. controls the media and uses it to manipulate the public.
  4. Those who raise concerns are ridiculed and silenced.
  5. The people working for the N.I.C.E. exhibit cruelty, blind ambition, dishonesty, greed, and an elitist disdain for the common man.

When I think about these characteristics in light of Professor McGrath’s questions for evaluating the discernment of stories, I see that characteristics 1-4 obscure the basis of the story of N.I.C.E that it is working for the betterment of the human race. The N.I.C.E. justifies its deception with the idea that the public is incapable of understanding the importance of what the N.I.C.E. is doing. Characteristic #5 relates to the second question for discernment. If all of the people involved with N.I.C.E. are bad people, there is something evil at the core.

When evaluating the stories we hear today, we must ask about the basis. Is the story based on a Christian view of the world centered on the loving providence of God, or is the story based on a godless worldview ruled by arbitrary forces of nature? Is the story even open to evaluation? Can the basis be examined and discussed, or are those who question the story shamed and silenced? What does the story do to people? Are the promoters of the story honest and virtuous, or are they corrupt and deceptive? Does following the story make people better and more loving, or does it make people fearful and angry? Finally, we should each of us ask ourselves what the story we believe is doing to ourselves.

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