Friday, April 19, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Ranking Evil

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

History has produced some seriously wicked people. On one level, that’s irrelevant: the comparative gravity or triviality of a man’s sins, as we assess them, makes him no more and no less subject to judgment than any human being born of Adam’s stock. Naturally speaking, we are all hell-bound and desperately in need of Christ.

Tom: That said, some of the people on this list have done incredible damage to the world and to their fellow men and women. Larry Taunton’s team ranked them 1-10. You may or may not agree.

What do you think of the list, Immanuel Can? Does it show a sense of perspective?

How Do You Measure Wickedness?

Immanuel Can: It shows a certain kind of reflectiveness, for sure. There are some surprising people on the list, but given what they did, perhaps they shouldn’t be so surprising.

Tom: According to the post, it’s sort of a combination of scale — sheer raw numbers of dead — and the magnitude of a person’s evil influence on history. That seems to me to be a reasonable way to look at it.

IC: Okay. But then we should include people that most others tend to overlook. Because evil influence is often thought to be only something like “physical deaths directly caused”. That’s how guys like Hitler always end up at the top of the list. But is it more evil to kill a body, or to poison a mind? One only sends a body to the grave; the other is likely to send a soul to a lost eternity. Which is worse?

Tom: Well, and it never stops with poisoning a single mind. There’s a domino effect with spiritual poison ...

IC: Right. So it’s possible for someone who actually killed no one personally to do more real evil than someone who killed many. How do we tally up the evil of men who misled millions into false religions, for example, or who blasphemed against God and discouraged people from belief? The only reason they don’t place on conventional lists of history’s most evil people is that their wickedness was spiritual rather than physical. But from a Christian perspective, we would have to recognize that it was all the more deadly for that.

The Sanhedrin Assessed

Tom: So, keeping all that in mind, if we work up from the bottom, very quickly we find one pick nobody in the secular world would even consider. What did you think of #9?

IC: You’d have to be awfully wicked to meet God incarnate, see his miracles, and then proclaim him to be motivated by the devil and to plot his death. Could there be greater wickedness? The Pharisees of Jesus’ day might just rank #1, actually … or maybe #2, right behind Judas Iscariot. What greater wickedness could one plot than to attempt to extinguish the One who was truly the light of the world? That’s a crime against all humanity that has ever lived and ever will, and a crime against God almighty.

Tom: Yes, I found that one rather low, just edging out the Kim political dynasty of North Korea. Then we run into a pair of the Usual Suspects, Ivan the Terrible and Vladimir Lenin. Lenin would make anyone’s list for sheer numbers of dead, but like you say, I find it hard to put him above the people who murdered the Son of God.

Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Muhammad

#6 is a little bit daring these days ...

IC: #7, you mean? #6 couldn’t be more expected.

Tom: Yes, sorry. Choosing Adolf Hitler is thoroughly and completely predictable. Choosing Muhammad is daring. Hitler’s adherents can’t do much better than whining that “Hitler did nothing wrong” these days. Muhammad’s are a little more scary to deal with if they lock you into their sights, and for that reason I see a fair bit of reluctance online to say anything critical about him at all, let alone refer to him as the Sixth Most Evil Person of All Time. So, bravo.

IC: Well, he’s pretty darn bad. He has it two ways: he was physically violent — even his favorable biographers note he was a savage warlord and abuser of women — but also a misleader of millions into spiritual condemnation. So yeah, he’s abundantly earned his place.

Tom: Then we come to numbers 4 and 5, where Mao and Stalin edge out Hitler. I guess the rationale for putting them in that order — Mao, Stalin, Hitler — is primarily numbers-related. Mao is credited with 70 million deaths, Stalin with 25 million, mostly of their own people. Hitler gets blamed for starting a war that killed 50 million, but he wasn’t personally and directly responsible for all those deaths. There were other world leaders involved, and other agendas being pursued. He was probably directly responsible for less than 10 million, but it depends on how you calculate that.

Numbers and Motives

I guess here’s where I start to wonder if you can really measure evil by numbers killed. I really question that. If you can, then the Genesis flood makes God himself a candidate for this list, and I don’t think we Christians would accept that easily. We maybe ought to consider that the motive for killing is significant. Killing to punish the guilty (if you are qualified to do that), or killing to protect your family and nation are on a wholly different level from killing for power, riches or plain old bloodlust, and on that level, numbers really aren’t the determining factor.

IC: No. And as I was suggesting, damaging souls is more serious than damaging bodies.

Who else do you want to point out, Tom?

Tom: Well, number 3 is Margaret Sanger, the founder of what later became Planned Parenthood. If she had been an active promoter of abortion rather than just very strongly pro-contraception, I would actually put her at #1, given the sort of uniquely defenseless and personally blameless victims we’re talking about. But she wasn’t. Still, Planned Parenthood, which for many years has been a partially-public-funded abortion mill, has contributed heavily to the 61 million+ abortions in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, so I get what the list-writers are trying to do by naming Sanger.

A Millstone and the Depths of the Ocean

IC: Yeah, I thought you’d pick that one out. Something about millstones and the depths of the ocean …

They would probably be better off pointing the finger at Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, the lawyers who exploited Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”), turning her into a headline, a career-maker and a cause célèbre. We could have had Roe v. Wade and its millions of associated dead without McCorvey — any equally clueless, poor, desperate woman pregnant and on her own would have served their political agenda just fine — but we absolutely could not have had that groundbreaking legal decision without those two engineering it. It can be argued that Margaret Sanger’s successful promotion of contraception set the stage for one of the greatest evils of the last century, but was she as calculatingly immoral as those lawyer/activists? There’s little evidence for that.

I guess I’m on the fence about that selection ... not about the evil of abortion, but about where one ought to rightly point the finger.

IC: There are other such horrendous people as well. Kermit Gosnell comes to mind. But is he worse than the politicians who are advocating infanticide and then celebrating by lighting up towers?

It’s funny how we haven’t morally progressed since the days when people worshiped idols like Moloch, and cast their infants into the burning arms of an idol. We’re still sacrificing our children; we’re just better at it than they were.

Tom: And when we’re talking about evil, Margaret Sanger is long dead, and yet the pro-abortion movement she is distantly connected with having initiated is still very much a force. Is it reasonable to single out historic activists while ignoring ordinary citizens marking their ballots for candidates who promote pro-abortion legislation, or the militant third-wave feminists threatening to riot in the streets if Roe is ever overturned? The fact that these people are qualified to cast only a single vote apiece hardly makes their consciences any less seared.

Making Marx Possible

What do you think of Karl Marx at #2?

IC: Well, no ideology has been anywhere near so homicidal as the one that bears his name, so if body count counts, he’s got that. On top of that, he declared that “the critique of religion is the first of all critiques”, so he’s been a big booster of atheism, and sent a lot of people wrong that way too. Nasty man. He has a lot to answer for. #2’s about right.

Tom: The most recent evidence of Marxism’s destructiveness being Venezuela. But realistically, is it possible to have Marx without Charles Darwin? Can you effectively get rid of religion without first having some plausible veneer of pseudo-scientific evidence to work with?

IC: Well, that’s just it … you can’t.

Tom: So then, does that make Darwin the most evil man of all time? Well, you can certainly make the case that his theory of evolution is among the most virulent ideological poisons ever introduced into the human population. How much spiritual damage has Darwin done? It’s almost incalculable.

IC: And I think that’s the big takeaway here. If one thinks only from the human perspective, “evil” looks like one thing, but from the divine perspective, it’s quite another. Everything depends on whether you think the destiny of souls or merely the happiness of the flesh is important. What we do to the way people think about God is ultimately more important than anything we do to them or for them on the physical level.

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