How to Define ‘Evil’ and ‘Immorality’ in the Post-Modern West

Jesus Mosiac

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series covering the moral case against socialism. To read the articles in order and to learn more about the case against socialism, go here:

Before I can make the case that Marx’s socialism is immoral, I must first explain what I mean by “immorality” and “evil.” Over the course of human history, “evil” has been used in a variety of ways. In Western Civilization, evil has for nearly 2,000 years been understood within the context of Judeo-Christianity, and a great emphasis has been placed on understanding evil as that which is contrary to the will of God as it has been revealed in scripture. Anything that violates God’s law has been considered evil.

In other parts of the world, evil has been defined in a variety of other ways, often shaped by that region’s religious beliefs. In countries in which Islam is the primary religion, for instance, evil is typically understood within the framework of the teachings in the Quran.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, these views began to fade with the rise of secularism and various anti-religious movements in the West. Of course, religious people maintain their religion-specific understanding of “evil,” but throughout most of Western society, including in America, “evil” has effectively come to mean “morally reprehensible” and that which arises “from actual or imputed bad character or conduct,” as the Merriam-Webster dictionary notes.

In a country in which most people don’t hold fast to a specific religious set of beliefs, it’s difficult to nail down exactly what it means to be “morally reprehensible.” This is because, as many American Christian authors have noted in recent years, most people today have no objective moral standard by which all actions can be judged.

An objective moral standard is a clear standard of conduct that is considered to be absolutely true. Today, most of the non-Christian, non-Jewish, non-Islamic West has rejected the idea of an objective moral standard, favoring instead the post-modern subjective standard, which is really just another way of saying that morality ought to be determined by each and every person. Only when people collectively agree that a particular behavior, such as murder, for instance, is immoral, can that behavior be rightly considered by the whole of society to be “evil.”

While substantially more could be said about evil and morality, for the purposes of this website, all that needs to be agreed upon is that it’s immoral to force—using the threat of violence or imprisonment—peaceful people to participate in activities they are morally opposed to. Or, put another way, it’s highly immoral to force people to engage in actions they believe are immoral.

For instance, I think the overwhelming majority of Americans would agree it would be highly immoral for the government to force a gay couple to give their money to groups that openly call for all gay people to go to prison. Similarly, few, if any, would argue it’s incorrect to say it would be immoral to compel with threats of violence or imprisonment a vegetarian to slaughter animals. Most people, including those who support the continued legalization of abortion, would also agree it’s evil to force women to have abortions.

At the heart of all these issues is a recognition individuals have a natural right to live peacefully without having to violate their conscience. By “natural right,” I mean every single person is born with this right. No one, including government, gives it to you. Simply by existing, you have the right to live without being compelled by force to violate your conscience. This is why in America we don’t force pacifists to kill people on foreign battlefields or imprison doctors who don’t want to perform abortions.

This, of course, doesn’t mean people can do anything they want. Individual freedom is limited to those behaviors and beliefs that don’t directly harm other people. For instance, a person can’t steal from another person and then claim his or her religion permits thievery and thus allows him or her to take others’ property whenever that person desires to do so.

In short, it is my firm contention that it is highly immoral to compel people to violate their deeply held and sincere beliefs by forcing them—using the rule of law—to participate in acts they deem to be extremely immoral. A “free society” cannot properly be considered “free” if its citizens do not even have the basic right to abstain from activities they believe to be morally wrong. If people can be forced to engage in immoral actions, then “personal liberty” only exists to the extent the majority of people in society permit it to, which is to say that fundamental human rights don’t exist at all.

Now, let’s move on to more pressing matters: explaining why Marx’s socialism is immoral.

PHOTO: Mosaic of Jesus Christ at the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. Photo by Flickr user Chadica. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)