Jul
16
2015

Confusion: The Introduction of Evil

For the agenda of evil to proliferate and undermine the moral order, some form of confusion enters as a prelude for the battle that follows. While the Tower of Babel and John Milton’s Council of Pandemonium in Paradise Lost portray chaos on the grand scale of unintelligible languages or endless conflicting arguments that lead to no consensus, confusion produces its destructive effects in many other forms. In his essay “On Experience” Michel de Montaigne acknowledges that his skepticism about the discovery of truth proceeds from “this infinite variety of opinions” that confounds the human mind in the areas of law, scholarship, medicine, and religion. He laments the proliferation of arguments and books in scholarly discourse: “There is more trouble in interpreting interpretations than in interpreting the things themselves, and there are more books on books than on any other subject.” He can make no sense of the religious controversies and wars of his day that follow from the Protestant Revolt. The rival claims of Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists lead the mind into a maze for Montaigne: “I have observed in Germany that Luther has left behind him as many schisms and dissensions concerning the uncertainties in his beliefs as he raised about the Holy Scriptures.” Confusion, then, breeds skepticism, a distrust of reason, and a subjective view of truth as relative.

Many forms of confusion underlie the moral chaos of contemporary life. The “Statement of Dissent” of theologians at Catholic University of America who challenged Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae argued that the teaching of the Magisterium on contraception was not infallible and allowed for the tribunal of individual conscience to determine the matter: “. . . we conclude that spouses  may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the values and sacredness of marriage.” The statement confused Catholics, giving the false impression that the scholarship of theologians carried greater authority than the judgment of the Pope.

Macbeth

Macbeth

The Supreme Court justices in Roe v. Wade who claimed “we do not know when life begins” likewise introduced an uncertainty that disoriented the moral consensus of an entire nation and justified legalized abortion. The legalization of same-sex marriage creates more confusion, especially in the minds of the young who cannot comprehend the strange idea of two mothers or two fathers marrying and adopting children. All this moral ambiguity naturally serves the purpose of desensitizing the conscience, clouding reason, and dulling the moral sense as it erodes the meanings of right and wrong and natural and unnatural. The appeal to exceptions and extenuating circumstances (abortion for the sake of the life or health of the mother, contraception for the extreme situation of a married couple, same-sex marriage for those “who are born that way,” birth control for teenagers who will be promiscuous “anyway” also advances the agenda of evil that thrives in the atmosphere of a moral vacuum of alternative choices, limitless exceptions, and endless options.

Perverting love, killing innocent human life, undermining marriage, and advocating homosexuality originate in confusion, some distortion of a universal moral truth firmly established by civilized norms and the sacred writings of world religions. If theologians, lawmakers, teachers, judges, and physicians do not know, have doubts, or feel uncertain about right and wrong, then of course this skepticism begins to pervade an entire society and disposes younger generations to embrace the doctrine of relativism by renaming it “progressive” thought that supplants antiquated ideas. The confusion does great damage to the young because it has the effect of indoctrination—the same message repeated in some religious denominations, political parties, college courses, and popular culture. To confuse and mislead the young gives the agenda of evil a great advantage and momentum to pursue its goal of moral anarchy in order to reinvent morality and redefine good and evil according to contemporary practices and views. Nothing disorients the young more than words like “transgendered” and “bisexual” that obfuscate the universal meaning of maleness and femaleness and contradict the most self-evident truths about self-knowledge.

The greatest form of confusion is the loss of self-knowledge, the fundamental truths about man’s human and moral nature and sexual identity. When confusion subverts self-knowledge, great evil always follows as the ancient classical world and Christian moral tradition demonstrated in its understanding of pride as the root cause of tragedy. For example, the lack of self-knowledge in Sophocles play Oedipus the King begets the arrogance the ancients called hubris which always precipitates untold suffering and moral disaster. Oedipus did not heed the warning at the oracle at Delphic that spoke the famous words, “Know thyself” and “nothing in excess.”

Self-knowledge meant that man is neither a god nor an animal. Man is less than a god because he is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful, and he is above the animals because he is a rational being capable of self-control, the moderation of appetites and passions, and the virtue of temperance. Oedipus’s tragedy follows from his pride, his belief in his superior knowledge that rejected the prophecies of the soothsayers that forewarned of his impending tragic fate. Confusion begins the prelude to tragedy that brings the shock of evil. Because Oedipus rejected his fallible human nature, failed to know his real parents, and rejected his power of reason, he committed the heinous sins of patricide and incest. The root of all evil to the Greeks is the loss of self-knowledge that confusion instigates.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth also suffers from confusion that begets pride, corrupts self-knowledge, and releases tragedy. He imagines he can change his human nature and not suffer guilt as the consequence of sin and crime. He presumes to murder King Duncan, his king, kinsman, and host, and does not consider the psychological and emotional trauma that follows his violent killing. Because he let the witches confuse him with the equivocal words, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” he listened to the false prophecies of the Weird Sisters that promised him kingship but never hinted at the torment of his conscience and the damnation of his soul. Confused by the trickery of “these juggling fiends,” Macbeth causes his tragedy, the death of his wife, and the murder of his many victims. By rejecting the God-given moral order written on his heart and conscience and subscribing to the lies of the witches speaking in half-truths and mumbo-jumbo, Macbeth reduces his noble heroic life to “a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.” The confusing language of the witches’ half-truths, artful riddles, and gobbledygook paves the way for tragedy.

Confusion destroyed the lives of Oedipus and Macbeth, two illustrious leaders, by blurring reality. Oedipus denied the truth about his birth and the identity of his mother and father. Macbeth rejected his moral nature and ignored the voice of conscience because the witches intoxicated him with illusions of kingship. Lady Macbeth boasted that her feminine sensibility had no influence in curbing her willingness to commit murder, asserting “unsex me here . . . . Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall,” only to wash her hands constantly to remove every trace of blood: “Out, damned spot! Out I say!” This disorientation about primary realities like self-knowledge, human nature, and moral law also explains the moral anarchy of contemporary culture.

Confuse Catholics and make them think that their own individual “conscience” amounts to the Magisterium. Confuse married couples and make them think contraception is an act of love. Confuse parents of children in the womb into thinking abortion is a mere medical procedure that only eliminates tissue. Confuse an entire generation of young men and of women into thinking marriage is an outdated institution or artificial “construct.”  Confuse the young into thinking they are neither male nor female, that there are five genders, and that anyone should be able to marry anyone. This is ancient tragedy writ large reiterating a timeless wisdom: to reject self-evident truths about man, woman, family, love, and marriage is hubris, man presuming to be the measure of all things. The pride that man is god always concludes with the same tragic ending—man discovering too late by way of suffering the perennial truths given to the light of reason by way of wisdom.  While good in its oneness is never confusing, duplicitous, or ambiguous, evil in its multiplicity always advances by doubts, uncertainties, and hidden meanings found in riddles, exceptions, extreme cases, special circumstances, and penumbras.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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