David Brooks is one of the token kind-of-conservatives at the New York Times, and I enjoy reading him because it is interesting to read someone who is not a committed conservative philosophically, but has something of a conservative temperament. He is also from what I understand an agnostic or atheist, probably more of the former, so as a Christian it is also interesting to see where he goes with his almost conservative thoughts. In a piece last week titled, “When ISIS Rapists Win,” he asked a typically modern question filled with Enlightenment, progressive assumptions when confronted with the horrific evil of ISIS:
The ISIS atrocities have descended like distant nightmares upon the numbed conscience of the world. The first beheadings of Americans had the power to shock, but since then there has been a steady barrage of inhumanity: mass executions of Christians and others, throwing gay men from rooftops, the destruction of ancient archaeological treasures, the routine use of poison gas.
Eve the recent reports in The Times about the Islamic State’s highly structured rape program have produced shock but barely a ripple of action.
And yet something bigger is going on. It’s as if some secret wormhole into a different historical epoch has been discovered and the knowledge of centuries is being unlearned. . . .
This wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century. Western experts have stared the thing in the face, trying to figure out the cause and significance of the moral disaster we are witnessing.
You can sense the palpable frustration in his piece; such blatantly egregious evil is incomprehensible to a good modern like him. I use the term modern to identify a perspective among educated elites of Western culture that is informed however obliquely by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a 19th Century (died 1831) philosopher who developed something associated with his name, Hegelianism. This philosophy, which powerfully influenced Karl Marx and thus the rise of communism, in extremely simplified form said there is an inherent logic in reality called dialectical materialism. According to this worldview, history moves by fits and starts, also known as thesis and antithesis, into an ever positive direction.
While it’s easy to see modern liberals/progressives as the offspring of Hegel and Marx, this same mentality infects someone like Brooks who is not Biblically or Classically rooted (Plato, Aristotle, et al). So as a child of the Enlightenment, he is shocked that human beings are, always and everywhere for all time, capable of such intractable and monumental evil. Like a good Hegelian he believes that as time goes on human beings and societies and cultures will inevitably become more humane and less barbaric. By God’s common grace some do, but as long as we live in a fallen world, and until Christ returns, we will also see evil, some of it as gut wrenching and incompressible as we witness from ISIS Barbarians.
The different faiths that embrace the Bible also have an explanation as to why evil exists. Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve in the Garden was that if they only disobeyed God, who was after all trying to keep something from them, they would be just like him, “knowing good and evil.” They would be able to call the shots, determine meaning, right and wrong, be a law unto themselves. We call this usurpation sin, and all it brings in its wake is suffering, misery and death. So that’s why, Mr. Brooks, there is such a phenomenon as ISIS. And you can find an answer to sin 2000 years ago, when a man died on a cross, was buried, and rose from the dead three days later to reconcile sinful man to a holy God. As the Apostle Paul says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).