The Simplicity of Goodness and the Complexity of Evil

The Latin word simplex means “without fold,” meaning straightforward, guileless, and artless–without any concealment or dissimulation. Aeneas, Virgil’s Roman epic hero in the Aeneid, embodies the Roman virtue of integritas, which means blamelessness, innocence, purity, and oneness—the absence of all deceit. Goodness by its nature is not artful, subtle, complex, or duplicitous but direct, open, and transparent. The Latin word duplex that means double also means “double-tongued” or guilty of lying. The child in Hans Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”—simple, guileless, and ingenuous—is the only character who dares to speak the self-evident truth about the king’s nakedness, “But, Daddy, he’s got nothing on!” while all the other characters pretend to see magnificent cloth, beautiful colors and patterns, and a handsomely dressed emperor. The rogues who pretend to be spinning, weaving, and sewing claim the cloth possesses the magical property of appearing invisible to the incompetent and the stupid. Evil resorts to the duplicity of clever lies to dupe an entire court and the entire crowd watching the king process under his canopy as everyone pretends to see the beautiful clothing the emperor is not wearing and everyone consents to the shameless lie lest they lose their respectability, reputation, or position at court.

The nimble fingers of the weavers move the imaginary thread in indirect, roundabout, tortuous movements that denote the devious, crooked nature of evil that twists the meaning of words and invents preposterous lies while the child’s candid words state the simple truth of common sense which the eyes declare. In G.K. Chesterton’s short story “The Wrong Shape,” Father Brown discovers an oriental knife that he calls the wrong shape spearbecause it conceals its true purpose. It does not have sharp, long lines that reveal its obvious use. He explains, “The lines go wrong on purpose—like serpents doubling to escape,” and goes on to elucidate: “Don’t you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose? It does not point like a spear. It does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It looks like an instrument of torture.” The spear and the scythe announce their usefulness in an unambiguous, self-evident way. No one questions their purpose because the nature and form of these instruments reveal their intention with no subtlety, but an instrument of torture must disguise its hidden intention.

Father Brown even calls a miracle “simple” and compares it to the true design of the spear and the scythe. Explaining that a miracle is simple because, like a straight line, “it is a power coming directly from God,” Father Brown argues that the mystery of the miracle does not complicate its simplicity. God intervenes forthrightly in human history. For example, when Christ hears the petitions of those who implore him, the plainspoken ask for bread or wine, for healing, for the raising of the dead, or for the forgiving of sins, and Christ immediately and straightforwardly responds to their pleas: “Go, thy faith hath thee well.” It is not a complicated matter with many turns and twists or several conditions or qualifications. The troubled or the sick cry for help in their dire need, and God unhesitatingly grants their desires. When two blind men make a forthright plea to Christ, “Have mercy on us, Son of David,” Christ responds with a simple question: “Do you believe I am able to do this?” When they answer, “Yes, Lord,” Christ immediately cures their blindness: “According to your faith be it done to you.” Thus spears, scythes, and miracles do not confuse or obfuscate but serve their natural purposes in a simple, straightforward, or undeviating manner that defines the uncomplicated nature of simple goodness.

Goodness, then, acts according to the intended, God-given, or natural purposes for which all created or man-made things are designed. It never resorts to craftiness. Evil, on the other hand, resorts to circumvention, duplicity, complexity, artfulness, and indirection to achieve its results. Contraception relies on the lie that marital relations have no procreative or holy purpose, only the pleasurable gratification of the moment, and frustrates the natural end of conjugal love. It resorts to the duplicity of pretending to love without the total gift of self and of pretending to give while withholding fertility. The legalization of abortion depends on the artfulness of pretending the baby in the womb is not a human being or has the legal status of a person. “No fault” divorce gives the illusion that the dissolution of a marriage carries no moral culpability or has any harmful effects on the various members of a family, even the children. Just as the crooked Oriental knife Father Brown discovers arouses suspicion about its intended use and hints of torture, the use of law to justify immoral acts assumes “the wrong shape.”

Embryonic stem-cell research imagines that using aborted fetuses for medical research to cure disease serves a humanitarian purpose and involves no ethical considerations to respect the dignity and sacredness of human life. True research serves to elevate and enrich human life, not to exploit it as raw material for experiments that desecrate it. Surrogate motherhood blurs the simple meaning of motherhood and fatherhood with its complicated technology that often involves several maternal and paternal figures (egg donor, surrogate mother, and adoptive mother and sperm donor and adoptive father). Science and medicine, then, also serve inhuman purposes and wear the wrong shape by the misuse of knowledge, power, and technology that makes them appear as suspect as the crooked knife. The jargon, euphemisms, and verbal engineering that justify the evils of the sexual revolution—terms like women’s rights, women’s health care, reproductive freedom, the right to one’s own body, the right to privacy—employ a subtle technique similar to the artful method of the weavers who label all who fail to see the beautiful clothes incompetent or stupid. All who oppose the enlightened agenda of sexual liberation qualify as bigots, extremists, homophobes, and sexists guilty of discrimination. Language too can have its own wrong shape.

Nothing can be more simple, self-evident, and clear as the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” or the Church’s teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” and “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching does not change and remains unchangeable” (#2270, 2271). The Roe v. Wade decision complicates a simple matter of self-evident moral truth into a maze of complexity: abortion is legal in the first trimester, abortion may be restricted in the second trimester, abortion is not permissible in the third trimester except for the health of the mother that includes “psychological” health. Abortion is sometimes moral; it is sometimes either moral or immoral; at other times it is immoral, except in certain circumstances when it may be moral. It all depends. Thus a law that does not protect life, serve justice, or honor sacred moral teaching is also “the wrong shape” because it is twisted in its legal reasoning.

Good and evil, then, have a shape—an appearance that corresponds in its intention and nature with its actual purpose. A knife is meant for cutting things and objects, not to kill a sleeping patient by way of torture. A miracle is meant to reveal God’s love and to answer a human prayer, not to make God inscrutable. A doctor is obligated to heal and, in Hippocrates’ words, “First of all, do no harm,” not to use medicine to kill or hide the true facts about the harmful effects of abortion and contraception to mind and body. Law is meant to defend persons from violations to their body, property, dignity, and freedom, not to deconstruct morality, ignore the wisdom of the ages, or to defy common sense. Words are meant to speak the universal truth in clear, unequivocal language, not to call a naked man a handsomely dressed king, to call killing babies or the elderly acts of mercy, to call marriage an arbitrary “artificial construct” that has no basis in nature, reason, or religion, or to make the simplicity of truth a complicated problem or abstruse matter beyond the reach of human reason, common sense, or traditional wisdom to know because it is always changing, elusive, subjective, and relative—a subject fit only for the competent and sophisticated experts (weavers) to decide.

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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