Bohanon: Dylann, Dzhokhar and the Devil

June 22, 2015

by Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D.

We saw the face of evil in Charleston, South Carolina. A 21- year-old man, Dylann Roof, took the lives of nine innocent people who had welcomed him into their house of worship. If any crime calls for the death sentence, this is it.

We saw the same face two years ago in Boston when a 26-year-old man and his 19-year-old brother planted a bomb at a marathon race killing three and maiming many more. The younger brother Dzhokar Tsarnaev has just been sentenced to death; his older brother Tamarlan was killed in police pursuit.

Progressive pundits were quick to accuse conservatives of being hesitant to label the Charleston murders as white racism. Interestingly, two years ago conservative pundits were quick to accuse progressives of being hesitant to label the Boston murders as Islamic terrorism. In my humble opinion, the charges are both right and wrong.

It is important to call evil what it is and name its source. Philosophies of white supremacy and Islamo-facism are wicked. It is perfectly reasonable to critically analyze the source of evil and consider ways of mitigating its influence. But I am not sure that trying to identify what source of evil is the biggest evil or which minion of the devil is Satan’s greatest servant is a very productive discussion.

I think we can all learn from the great 20th-century Russian author and philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who saw first-hand the horrors of the Soviet system. He exposed it at great risk to himself in his book The Gulag Archipelago. He recognized evil as very real and very wrong, but also pointed out that no human being is authorized to become too self-righteous in condemnation — but for the grace of God go I.

In Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn said emphatically:

“So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

He went on to tell us: “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being . . . sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish.” He concludes:

“Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.”

It was reported that the Charleston murderer stated he “almost did not go through with it” because the church folks were so nice to him. The angels almost conquered the demons. However, Dylann Roof made his choice. He is responsible for his actions. He must pay the price. Justice must be done.

Calls for justice, humility and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. Let us condemn evil in all its forms but also pray for mercy to protect our own souls from its wiles.

Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D., is a professor of economics at Ball State University.

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Dr. Cecil Bohanon

Dr. Cecil Bohanon



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