Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Greater and Lesser Evils and on Justice

Yes, yes, and again yes; it was necessary to kill Osama bin Laden.

But I'd like to point out that bin Laden's killing does not mean justice has been done. No way. Ask the 9/11 families; their loved ones are still gone and that is far from just. I heard one college student say bin Laden had stolen her childhood and that of a whole generation (or more) and that is not just. We have suffered a considerable loss of civil liberties and that is not just. Al Qaida as strong as ever (or perhaps stronger?) and that is not just. None of these losses has been restored by bin Laden's death; none of these injustices has disappeared.

Pakistan's sovereignty was violated and that too was necessary, granted, but not just. Killings were committed and although necessary, they were violations of more than one Commandment, and that is not just.

I won't disagree if you say keeping bin Laden alive would have been an even worse injustice. But choosing the lesser evil over the greater evil, though it's clearly the thing to do, does not magically turn the lesser evil into a good. It is still the lesser evil. It is still a manifestation of the fallenness of this world (because in a perfect world, the choices wouldn't be only between lesser and greater evils; there would be some choice unambiguously good). And as every one of us has contributed his share to the fallenness of this world, we are not exonerated when its imperfections cause us to have to do more evil. Not exonerated and not left unscarred by what we have had to do.

In short, the necessity does not make evildoing righteous or healthy or holy.

That's why we Orthodox pray for forgiveness for our sins "voluntary and involuntary".


David Garner said...

I started a blog post trying to tie my last two together. I realized it was a fool's errand and just deleted it. On the one hand you have Osama bin Laden, whose death we should all rightly mourn and for whose salvation we should all rightly pray, fruitless as it may seem to our feeble and sinful minds. On the other hand you have the armed forces who were doing their jobs and bearing the government's sword as St. Paul said to be "agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Yet in so doing, they become the wrongdoers themselves -- they now have sins to confess.

I'm resigning myself to just pray for them all. At the end of the day, it is my sin that permeates the world. It is my lack of love that causes my neighbor to hate. There really is no way to explain all of this except in terms of the manifestations of evil in a sinful world. That starts with me, not them.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It's so hard, in this world, to separate the good and the evil. They're so hopelessly entangled.

One strand of good I can see in the Goridan knot is that bin Laden will never kill again, and for that he and we can indeed thank the SEALS.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

David, you said such a wise thing. Indeed, the only way to clean up the world is to begin with ourselves. If we don't, then all our efforts will be (1) hypocritical and (2) doomed to failure, because our own pasions will mess it all up.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere is this we have to untangle various ideas about what we mean by "justice," and what role that has and why, and how it can be in any way in our hands.

This certainly IS tangled- like wheat and weeds that can only be sorted out perfectly in the end.

I think, though, that there is an element of what C. S. Lewis was on about in his essay "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" which needs to be part of our picture, too. See http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html for his comments.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, Patrick, for pointing me to that fine and prescient article, which I have just read.

My husband has done quite a bit of forensic psychiatry, and I can tell you this, in support of Lewis' point: you never, ever, want the court's verdict against you to be "Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity." That's a sentence that never ends. You can't get out of the mental hospital until the psychiatrist can be morally certain - and can persuade the judge - that you are unlikely ever to commit this crime again.


My husband had one patient who had been in the mental hospital 30 years - for what horrible crime? Shoplifting. And his situatin, in the forensic unit, was not at all atypical.

OTOH, Lorena Bobbitt was in our very own mental hospital, too, and she got out in some reasonable time.


Makes no sense.