I love this article by Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online, The Monster-Victim Mix-Up. Mr. Goldberg addresses his concern that modern stories explain monsters and bad behavior through understanding the events or misunderstandings that caused the behavior. I have read both popular and academic treatments of this idea for years, but what I love about this article is how it personally relates the problem to how I deal with my own child. Mr. Goldberg saw How to Train Your Dragon twice with his daughter and his reflections on this problem are rooted in his concern about what his child is learning about the world.
I understand his concern as I am a father of three beautiful children. My wife and I decided to shield them from the brutality and evil of this world for as long as we could, so we monitor what they watch, set rigorous standards on their reading material, and protect them from the burden of age-inappropriate knowledge. That may seem excessive, but if you heard some of the things that first graders talk about when their parents are not around you might be stunned to learn what some of them already know.
And this leads me to my problem. My son is now 7 years-old and is a sweet and friendly little boy who has been sheltered on purpose up to now from the evil of this world. But statistics say that on average children see internet pornography for the first time between 8 and 12 years-old. He was already the target of organized bullying over a year ago by a group of 6 year-old boys that acted like a gang (they were all of one ethnicity) and attacked him because they outnumbered him and they could get away with it. And then there is the question of what daddy does for a living. My job exists because people kill other people when they are inconvenient and all of the friendlier ways to express that point only serve to clean up the ugly truth. There is a good word for pornography, bullying, and abortion. That word is evil.
When we chose to shelter our children we did so knowing that at some point they would have to be told about real evil. My son is at the age where the depravity of our world and the corrupt nature of our culture demand that I begin to acquaint him with the idea more directly. I want our children to join the ranks of those who stand up against evil and are not afraid to call it what it is. I want them all to know that pornography, bullying, and abortion are not choices. Our children need to stay close to us when we are out because there are people that hurt and kill children to gratify their prurient and vile desires, a lesson I first learned as a child when we started locking our doors at night because of the Atlanta Child Murders. All people do evil things, but there are people that have given themselves over to evil altogether and we must face that truth. In fact, there can be no grace without recognizing that we have sinned and repenting of our evil acts.
I am reminded of someone I met after speaking to a men's conference. This man worked for the facility and as he was removing my microphone he asked if he could talk to me about something I had said in my speech. Specifically he took exception to my condemning the “daddy defense” which I characterized as blaming a poor relationship with my earthly father for a failure to properly respond to my heavenly Father. He had struggled with violence throughout his life and had hurt many people, but none of this was his fault. Years of counseling had helped him to understand that he was a victim of sexual abuse and not responsible for the things that he had done. “My father put me through unspeakable things and that was why I did what I did to those people.”
I asked him to first understand that my statement while speaking had a specific focus on salvation and a proper relationship with God and did not address what he was saying at all. “That said,” I continued, “What your father did to you was evil and I am more sorry than I can express to you for what you were forced to endure from someone who should have protected and loved you. I understand how that completely derailed your understanding of your relationships as a whole with your fellow men. But what you did was evil as well and you did not HAVE to do that as a result of what happened to you. It simply is not true that the things that happened to you somehow sanitized your own acts of evil. The good news is that God offers grace to cover all earthly acts of evil and needs only for us to recognize them for what they are and seek repentance. Whoever taught you that in order to move beyond the pain of your past you must absolve yourself from blame was flat out wrong.”
Evil is what it is and our need to clean it up and explain it away says more about us than it does about the nature of evil. Is there any question as to why our culture is as it is? Sins are mistakes, choices, and weaknesses. We cannot clean our garden of the weeds that threaten to choke out all the good that was planted because we refuse to call them weeds anymore. That seems such an unfair judgement upon those weeds to us. Pornography and drug abuse are victimless crimes. Don't like abortions? Then don't have one. It is no one's business what I do in private and if my “problems” spill into public or hurt someone else it wasn't like I wanted to hurt others. I was hurt by someone long before I hurt you. There are no monsters only victims. The only “evil” is the close minded judgement of that which we do not understand.
There is real evil. Abortion is evil. It may be sterilized, legal, medical, and often secret but it is also quite simply evil. In fact, the “legitimate” and “private” nature of abortion makes it more monstrous. Abortion exists because we tolerate it, and we tolerate it because we do not have to face it in all of its gory truth on a daily basis. Fathers, mothers, and grandparents can quietly and cleanly purchase the death of their unwanted children and go back to work, go home and play with their other children, or go and play golf and no one else has to be any the wiser for what they have done. These quiet and personal sins are pernicious and endemic to our society and it is the very fact that my son will be able to so successfully hide his sin that I am driven to educate him early on the realities of this world.
In a manner that is respectful of their ages and their capacities but mindful of the urgency, my children must learn that there are real monsters in this world. And the defining characteristic of those monsters is their devotion to evil acts against their fellow men. They need to understand that evil is a reality of our lives and must be fought within our own hearts and in the culture around us. As God told Cain, “sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Otherwise, what is their daddy doing with all of his time?