What’s Wrong With Teaching 9 Year Olds To Murder?

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I recently watched the movie “The Beasts of No Nation” on Netflix. The movie was recommended on several critic top movie lists and so I was lured in. The film is about child soldiers in Africa. It is extremely violent, very graphic, and vulgar language seeps throughout the script like water from a clogged toilet. It is absolutely not for children, and in general I cannot recommend it. I had to turn my eyes away several times. For instance there is a scene in which a child is pressured to kill an unarmed prisoner with a machete while he begs for mercy.  It frustrates me when directors make movies this way. There seems to be a loss of subtlety and no concern for the imagination of the audience.

Why would the film’s creators make the movie this way? Why would they produce a film with so much gore and graphic bloodshed? I do have a little sympathy in this case because I think they were trying to reveal something of the depravity of a situation that has been hidden out of site. They were trying to open the door for the rest of the world to see what is actually happening. Simply put, armies in Africa are recruiting orphans to become members of death squads.

I spend a lot of time in my life thinking about morality and ethics. Movies like this can be a challenge for Christians because it brings up the problem of evil. How could a good God allow such things? And in my opinion this is an important question that has compelling answers. My intent is not to provide answers here, but to suggest that the people that use such questions to dismiss Christianity need to provide an explanation as well.  In my experience people of faith are the only ones that blush when faced with such questions.   But they shouldn’t be.

The atheist that uses the problem of evil to undermine Christianity (or any other religion) is also in a difficult spot. In order to shoot at theists like this he has to walk out on the quicksand. I say this because they have to assume that evil actually exists in order to use it as an argument against God. Then after they “win” the argument and the embarrassed Christian goes home, the honest atheist must face the world he has tried to articulate. It is a world in which there is no consistent reason to believe in the existence of good or evil as anything other than a cultural construct. That means that good an evil don’t really exist in the world. They are a matter of human perception much like our hatred of brussel sprouts.

I don’t mean to suggest that atheists don’t really believe in good and evil. They do. In fact they get angry if you suggest that there is any problem with their morality.  Further, they behave in ways that are often moral and virtuous, and I applaud this. I don’t mean to imply that every atheist is a monster. My point here is more subtle. At the risk of over simplifying things (I realize there is a broad spectrum of beliefs out there), the atheist narrative provides no compelling reason to believe in the existence of evil. It says there is nothing but matter in the universe. We are nothing more than complex systems of electrons colliding according to the laws of physics. From the standpoint of physics, the murder of children is no different from the killing of a rhino or a rose bush.  Just matter in motion.  A world without an absolute, immaterial standard of ethics provides a weak protest against the kind of evil in the “Beasts of No Nation.”

I remember my first day of college chemistry class.  My professor stood up and pointed to the periodic table of elements on the wall. He said, “Everything that exists is on that table. Can anyone name anything that exists that is not on that table?” The class was silent (except for me).  But if he is right, then our actions are just a bunch of chemical reactions from the periodic table. Our thoughts are just the chemical depolarization of neurons in the brain. This is true for all thoughts. Bloodthirsty ones as much as altruistic ones.  Evil and good are the same thing: matter in motion. Nothing more than that. And when we logically analyze the common atheist protests against injustice (things like wealth inequality, rape culture, or the recruitment of children into death squads) the logic sounds a lot like, “I don’t like it,” or “we don’t like it.”  Or maybe, “the brain isn’t wired to work that way.” Which of course is not true, the brains of those child soldiers and their recruiters definitely ARE wired that way. But that point aside, for a system of ethics to be meaningful it must provide a compelling reason for people to live in a certain way. It must tell the bad person why they MUST not be bad. It must tell the person that wants to rebel against the moral conventions of our society why they MUST conform.  What in the universe compels the killer not to kill? Especially when the darker dimensions of human psychology and culture seem to be compelling them to kill and rewarding them for it?

The movie was obviously intended to create outrage. And that is exactly what it has done. There is nothing quite like staring directly in the face of evil at close range to bring out our inner moralist. How could anyone teach children to be so violent and bloodthirsty?   It is hard to watch a movie like this and then conclude that your revulsion is nothing more than a personal or cultural preference.

The great question for the atheist is this: What is wrong with teaching nine-year-olds to maim and murder? If we are just animals, and there is no absolute moral authority, if there is no objective ethical standard that applies to everyone… Then what is wrong with that?

If we are simply the product of time and chance acting on matter… if we are nothing more than biology, what is wrong with people acting like animals?  This is the significance of the movie’s title. The main actor makes a statement at the end of the movie that he has become like an animal. And he’s right. Most of us don’t like it. But what is wrong with it in any absolute sense? Isn’t our outrage just an example of a ethnocentric perspective that wants to tell other people how to live?

In a material world isn’t all of this just a matter of cause and effect? Aren’t we just reactants in a global test tube? If a poor child watches his family murdered by an invading army, isn’t it predictable that he will get snatched up by a violent militia looking for recruits? Isn’t this predictable? If it is nothing more than cause and effect at work, how could we protest? Dogs hate cats. Lions kill hyenas. Humans hate other tribes of humans.  It’s all the result of DNA at work in an unfeeling and uncaring world. It can be nothing more, because nothing more exists.

We could say that people shouldn’t act like animals, that human societies have evolved social norms and mores to control our behavior.  But if we mean by that, that there are no human beings that act like animals, we would be wrong. In fact the truth is exactly the opposite.  The real problem is that a great many humans very frequently act like animals in just this sense.  And its not just Africa. Arguably, European history is far more beastly than anyone other. But why should it be any different?  To say that these things threaten our existence, or cause  psychological pain really begs the question. Of course animals engage in behavior that threatens their own existence, and causes them harm?   The history of the world is a history of extinction.

What is wrong with herds, and packs, and tribes fighting against one another for resources? What is wrong with one organism killing another organism in order to survive? Watch any nature show, this is the way of the world.  And no one ever watches animal behavior and then makes a moral protest.  We don’t say, “sharks shouldn’t kill fish.” To the contrary, in the evolutionary/atheist view of the world it is precisely that kind violence which has helped successful species (like humans) adapt and unsuccessful ones to evolve or become extinct. That kind of behavior has actually helped us to survive.

Social pundits, college professors, and cultural revolutionaries like to tell us that there is no such thing as morality. They often do this in an attempt to normalize their own deviant sexual behavior. When they say, “there are no rules,”  too often they mean “there are no rules for me.”  But if they are right, they have proven too much. “Normal” isn’t a concept that only applies to their preferred version of wickedness, it applies to all behavior. It applies to child abuse and child nurture.  Freedom and tyranny.  Gay marriage and gay bashing.  It is all common and normal.  Of course, there are a few statistical anomalies. But isn’t that the way of nature as well?

Sadly there aren’t enough voices to point out the failings of this kind of moral relativism. These ideas are only seen for what they are in the face of extreme wickedness.  And a movie like “The Beasts of No Nation” has once again reminded me of this. Christians may have trouble finding an answer for why God would allow such evil and suffering in the world.  But the atheist or philosophical materialist has a much greater problem in my opinion.

What is wrong with teaching nine year-olds to murder?

Seeing the Beauty of Christ Through Brokeness: Book Review


Beauty Brokenness

This is a short book (I read it in one day, a little more than an hour- I guess that makes it a booklet) and for only .99 on Kindle you can’t beat it. I would recommend the book to add to your perspective on pride, humility and suffering.

It is full of some golden observations on the need for humility in the Christian life, and especially in ministry. It speaks a note that is frequently missing, and one we would rather not face.  We would all like success without the pain of failure, suffering, and self-denial. But God uses these important teaching lessons to bring us the greatest joy and greatest usefulness. I love the emphasis in this book on the importance of character and humility over the value of personal skills and gifts.  The book is full of practical stories that flesh out his ideas, and these are helpful. He is also honest about his own pride and struggles and reveals how the Lord has humbled him. That is a rare trait as a leader. It makes me want to meet him!

I am a little at a loss about the title. The book isn’t really about the beauty of Christ. It is more like the value of brokenness as a prerequisite to usefulness in ministry. At least that was my perception.  I think this is important, because one of the most valuable things that happens in suffering is that the Lord is stripping away all of our false trusts in order to show us why Jesus Christ is better than those trusts.  There are hints of this in the book, but not as much about the beauty of Christ as I expected. It is possible to be stripped down and not be strengthened in Christ, and that is not at all a valuable thing. I am pretty sure the author would agree with me on this.

At a number of points he makes some statements that I disagree with, and those may reflect his theological perspective. I am not sure what his background is, so I can’t comment. But his emphasis on free will and talk about what God “cannot” do made me pause at several points. Also, the way he suggests that Jesus needed to be broken seems strange to me,  Jesus submitted to the cross because of our sin not because of any lack in himself.  His death is an example and a patter for us, but our need to be broken is because of our sin and self sufficiency.  His need to be broken was because we aren’t what we ought to be.

There is also an emphasis on our need to choose to be broken that seems to leave out an the miraculous movement of God to change the heart through the Holy Spirit apart from our permission.  Or perhaps I should say, that we come to the point of giving our permission because his grace has changed us, and only because of that miracle.  Of course he uses suffering as one of his tools, but he also uses the Holy Spirit blessing the word of God. There are many people that suffer and are still never broken. Others suffer and become humble and teachable. The difference is more than the will of man, it is the miraculous grace of God. Otherwise I could say that I am humble because of my choice and he is proud because he failed to make the choice that I made.

In spite of my reservations theologically, the book still has a lot of value. Thank you to the author  for writing and sharing your experience.

Sawing Off The Limb That Holds You

Sawing

The problem of evil and suffering is a real problem. We struggle with it from a rational/philosophical standpoint and also from an emotional perspective. Christians often struggle more with the emotional dimension than just wrestling with the logic behind the question because we believe that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil and suffering that is in the world.

But atheists can bring this up in debate as a trump card. And it often “works” because of it’s strong emotional appeal.  Ravi Zacharias does a good job treating this in this in his book “Jesus Among Other Gods.”  He says that often this issue is raised with a list of the worst atrocities in history. This is fine,  and is actually part of my point here. The way those atrocities are discussed suggests that the person really believes they are wrong.  The world should be different than it is. The argument is a kind of protest.  And sometimes it is a protest against a god they believe should have prevented this. This outrage is used to show that an all loving and all powerful God couldn’t exist.  The conclusion: There is no god.

What they don’t realize is that the problem of evil is not just a problem for Christians. It is a problem for every philosophy and worldview.

What they don’t realize is that the problem of evil is not just a problem for Christians. It is a problem for every philosophy and worldview.  And unwittingly by removing idea of God, the atheist has removed any absolute standard of right and wrong. Now the very list of atrocities no longer wear the label “wrong” or “evil.”  The atheist may dislike them, but it is no more than personal or societal preference. These things are not examples of either justice or injustice because those things do not exist except in our minds.  The world just IS.  That is just the way things are.  And yet the very protest is making a plea that the world should be different than it is.  At the very lease, the atheist believes it is wrong for christians to believe what they do. It could be phrased in some other way,  but there is an “ought” in the protest that could only be true if there were some greater moral imperative.  In the end, the protest defeats itself.

Zacharias quotes GK Chesterton, who has made the point with a flourish:

“All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern skeptic doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then writes another book, a novel in which he insults it himself. As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then as a philosopher that all of life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie.

“The man of this school goes first to a political meeting where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts. Then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is forever engaged in undermining his own mines. in his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt becomes practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

The atheist wants to use the problem of evil to disprove the existence of god. But in the process he ends up disproving the existence of evil.  And this is not just a rational problem, it is an existential problem without compare.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), 41

Photo cropped and used by Permission Jo Jakeman. Some rights reserved 

America’s First Woman Poet on a House Fire

This is a wonderful poem by an American Puritan Woman. Her house burned down, and she poured out her heart in this poem. It is beautiful and full of deep feeling, but I think I like most of all that she is able to realize that her life does not consist in the things found here on earth. That her real life is hidden with Christ in God. In light of the recent wildfires, this is applicable.

by Anne Bradstreet
(1612-1672)

Upon the Burning of Our House – July 10th, 1666

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine.

He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.

Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.

No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adieu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho’ this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.