- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Tom Duke, who was working in the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, remembers it like it happened yesterday. As a principal in investment banking at Sandler, O’Neill and Partners, Mr. Duke, 57, arrived at his office at 8 that morning. The Alexandria resident had commuted on an early morning flight to New York City.

After hearing an explosion, he was told by a colleague that a plane had hit the north tower. Mr. Duke and several other people in his office decided to leave the building, opting to take the stairs from the 104th floor instead of the elevator.

Mr. Duke returned to his desk to put on his suit jacket — to make sure he looked professional. He thought the worst thing that would happen was that the buildings would be smoky.

“I lost 66 co-workers that day,” Mr. Duke says. “I lost my best friends. … It was an evil act. I don’t know how you justify an act like this. It’s horrendous that so many people should have to suffer.”

Since the beginning of time, evil has plagued mankind in one form or another. Every generation seems to have at least one event that brings questions about the matter to the forefront of society.

However, the average American is not equipped to think through the predicament, says Os Guinness, author of “The American Hour” and “Time for Truth.”

“September 11 caught America as off-guard intellectually and culturally as it did in terms of intelligence and defense,” says Mr. Guinness, who is writing a book on evil to be published next year by Harper San Francisco. “We’ve defined deviancy down. … People thought of evil as ‘good guy, bad guy,’ which owes more to Westerns and fairy tales than it does to a good understanding of human nature.”

The reasons for evil, he says, depend on a person’s worldview. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, humanity descended to a fallen state when sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden at the tempting of Satan.

Mr. Guinness says the Constitution calls for a separation of power in the federal government for the specific reason of limiting sin.

Societal trends have weakened Americans’ view of evil, he says. Progressivism, for example, teaches the idea that human beings become better over time, but September 11 reveals that people are as good as or better than ever at causing corruption.

Mr. Guinness says postmodern thought has debunked labels, making it worse to judge evil than to commit it, and that many people have turned to psychology in the mistaken belief that therapy will solve all dysfunction.

Another ideological problem is what Mr. Guinness terms “Pollyannaism,” in which people choose to see only the positive in the world. Because of Western prosperity, he says, many Americans have been able to shelter themselves from pain and therefore display a naive, sentimental view of life.

“Many of those who said that September 11 was surreal had watched too many horror films and hadn’t seen real evil,” he says. “The 20th century was the most murderous century of all human history. Roughly, one-third of a billion human beings were killed by other human beings.”

Arnost Lustig, 76, who works as a professor of literature at American University in Northwest, lost his father, Emil, at Auschwitz, the most brutal of Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II.

Mr. Lustig, along with his mother, Terezie, and his sister, Hana, survived to tell about the horrors they experienced during their years as prisoners. Today, he is an author of several books concerning the Holocaust, including “Lovely Green Eyes.”

“One day, I saw 50 naked women marching naked in the rain,” he says. “Humiliation is evil. It is the worst crime on earth. If you kill someone, he is dead. If you humiliate him, he lives with it until the end of his days.”

Although Mr. Lustig, who was born in Czechoslovakia, says evil is incomprehensible, he believes that “morality is the mother of justice.” He says each person is responsible to judge between right and wrong, which is what differentiates human beings from animals.

“You know what evil is,” he says. “You feel it like love and justice. You can fight it.”

Forgiveness is one of the ways to combat evil, says Cornelius Plantinga Jr., president of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“At times, when a people is reeling from violence and cycles of revenge that loop around, it raises the question, ‘Who is going to cut the loop? Who is going to absorb evil without passing it on?’” he says. “That’s the only way cycles of revenge ever stop. … It makes the idea of the need for a savior much more possible.”

Mr. Plantinga, author of “Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be, A Breviary of Sin,” says if supernatural good does exist, many people wonder why God would create a world in which evil also could flourish. He suggests that God believes the risk is worth it, similar to the chance two people take when conceiving a child.

“Even if a child is a generator of evil, the child could be a generator of good and maybe at the end of the day the good would outweigh the evil,” he says. “What if you have a Heavenly Father who has a much clearer picture where everything is headed? If such a God decides to have children, we have to think that God thought it was worth it and has good reason to think so.”

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