Evil In The Structure of Society
Humanity as a whole has so structured society that nowadays we find ourselves turned towards certains kinds of actions and away from others. The society we belong to defines our lifestyle, which influences what we do. We are turned towards certain kinds of good and certain kinds of evil; this page is concerned with the kinds of evil. We're talking global society here, as well as society at a national or people level.
The society I know best from the inside is Western society and, arguably, it is the most influential the world has ever seen because many in so-called developing countries aspire to the lifestyle it defines; it has become global.
The Variety of Structural Evil in Western Society
The evils that Western society pervades the world are of many kinds, not just the ones that anti-globalisation or anti-Western people speak of (though they include these). The structural evil of the West is what the West aspires to or considers 'OK' in each aspect, and that which politicians dare not seriously challenge.
The following table sets out examples of the structural evils of Western society, to which the rest of world tends to aspire (note: some are found in other cultures too). In the third column, for some aspects, is given the examples of snide, sneering comments.
Structural Evil of West
(Click those that are links to find explanation)
"Don't be a prude!" "Go on, enjoy yourself"
Non-transparency, hiding facts
"They don't need to know"
Depending on gadgets; Worship of convenience
Adverts for latest power gadgets
Getting message across by ranting, polemic, obfuscation, sneering
Much content of the advertising industry; and of many blogs (including anti-Western ones)
Surfeit of transient relationships; keeping up outward show
"Don't wear your heart on your sleeve!"
Squandering; Over-consumption; Greed; Ignoring the Tragedy of Commons
"I couldn't care less" |
"You're not of the brown-paper and sandal brigade are you!"
Snobbery, fashion; Humour that hurts; Competition as the sole meaning of sport
"Oh! Don't be a bore!" |
"I was only joking [when I said that nasty thing]!"
Seeing Olympic silver medal as a failure.
(Possibly seeking justice is a good thing of Western culture (for example democracy, rule of law, reduction in corruption). Arguably, the gross injustices wreaked by Western lifestyles are a result of dysfunction in other aspects, such as the ethical, pistic and aesthetic.)
Individualism; Self-centred attitude applauded
"I did is My Way" |
iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.
Idolatry of reputation, technology, national identity, economic growth, etc. Also self-worship. |
Refusal by the leadership and people to "seek first God's kingdom and righteousness" [Matthew 6:33]; Not depending on the True God, nor that it is "rigtheousness that exalts a nation".
So we can see that the evil that pervades and shapes society is not just superficial but deep, and not just of one kind but many. And what we have above is only examples. A similar analysis could be done for many non-Western cultures - e.g. Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, Jewish, African-Pentecostal, African-traditional, Marxist, etc. (Yes, I do include a Christian culture in that list; Christian cultures have their own evils, just as Jewish culture at the time of Jesus of Nazareth did.) In each there are many kinds.
Notice however what is omitted from the above: 'Issues'. The above table is deeper than issues like abortion, pornography, drugs, which are mere symptoms of those deeper things. Even the rise of militant atheism may be seen as a symptom not a root.
Countering Structural Evil in the Name of Christ
Where does structural evil come from? Structural evil builds up and prevails because individuals contribute to it, and acquiesce to it, over a long period of time.
Structural evil penetrates the world via books, films, broadcasting, news feeds, social networking sites and blogs. These are not themselves to blame; what is to blame is the content that individuals convey through these, both explicitly and in the attitudes behind what they say. The way these evils pervade and contaminate society and our lifestyles is not by logical argument, nor by openly recommending them, but often by people making snide comments, by cynicism, by jokes that sneer, which move people unwittingly to accept this kind of evil as 'normal' or to be aspired to. This happens in day-to-day conversation but especially in the media. In the media it is often within comedy, soaps and plays. Very dangerous are those that purport to convey 'real life' because what seems plausible in them is imperceptibly yet deeply tainted with a distorted view of what is to be expected and what is to be aspired to - the deep expectations and aspirations of the authors.
There is also an historical dimension to it, which instils inertia and a religious element that makes people react to change. But also defines what is 'normal' and what is 'evil'. In Soviet Russia much associated with capitalism and freedom was 'evil'; in the USA, much associated with the State is 'evil'.
But history has shown that courageous people, led by the Spirit of God, can make a difference - example, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Evan Roberts, etc. Can we be of this company?
What should we do?
- Don't assume that Western lifestyle and values are the 'right' ones or 'from God'. Don't assume that Christendom is of God. Just as Jesus was against the religious attitude of those who assumed God's favour at the time, so He might be against the religious attitude of those who assume God's favour today.
(Maybe especially in USA and all those parts of the world that aspire to American ways. See page on America.)
- Be aware of (look out for) all these kinds of structural evil and notice how each shapes your own lifestyle and behaviour:
- Biotic: (to do with life functions)
- Sensitive: (to do with sense, feeling, emotion)
- Analytical: (to do with distinguishing )
- Formative: (to do with history, culture, technology: shaping and creativity)
- Lingual: (to do with symbolic communication)
- Social: (to do with social interaction)
- Economic: (to do with frugal use of resources)
- Aesthetic: (to do with harmony, surprise, fun)
- Juridical: (to do with what is due; 'retribution', rights and responsibilities)
- Ethical: (to do with self-giving love)
- Pistic: (to do with vision, aspiration, commitment, creed, religion)
- Don't think you can justify yourself by good in one aspect; you might be contributing to evil in another.
- Commit before God to work against each - Several kinds of action are needed:
- Live as a counter example ("ambassador of Christ")
- Humbly write and contribute to discourse in mainstream society, e.g. write letters to paper, radio, TV, contribute to blogs - but do it humbly and with knowledge and wisdom.
- Avoid trying to shape society to your beliefs; it is God's work to do that as a result of what we do, not ours. So avoid e.g. 'Christian Reconstrucionism'.
- Remember: you are part of Christ's Projects, rather than Him supporting yours.
Notes and References
We might expect that malnutrition and disease would be the global evils of the biotic aspect. Indeed these are evils, but the table is concerned with causes and attitudes, with what the West holds as 'OK' or even 'good'. Most people in the West would agree that these are evil; the structural evil of the West in the biotic aspect is what the West aspires to or considers 'OK' and which politicians dare not seriously challenge. It seems to me that one of these is over-eating. Over-eating in the West is, of course, a contributory cause of malnutrition elsewhere, e.g. read Farming God's Way.
Over-emphasis on Satisfying Appetites
Pervading the West at least since the 1960s is a an emphasis on satisfying immediate feelings, cravings and appetites. "Go with the flow", "If it feels good, do it", and so on. It was a reaction against the autere lifestyle of the post-war 1950s, and perceived Victorian excesses of self-control. Appetite-gratification and the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s mutually reinforced each other. Since then there has been a denigration of self-control and frugality. "You're not a prude are you?" There is also a strong element of the aesthetic aspect in this.
Depending on Gadgets
Convenience is something we seek, and even assume is a kind of basic right that justifies all else. (For example, if it is suggested that we should use our cars less, e.g. to reduce climate change, people excuse themselves on the grounds of convenience.)
Technology is seen as the solution to most supposed problems, at both government and personal levels. Governments look to 'e-government' to solve their problems of corruption or inefficiency. People use disposable income to purchase whatever new gadget has been advertised to them or their friends or rivals possess.
The Tragedy of the Commons
The Tragedy of the Commons, refers to "depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests." [Wikipedia 11 October 2013]. People with a Western lifestyle keep on taking and consuming and depleting the world's resources not because they are personally evil in the economic aspect but because they don't care. In this sense, this economic structural evil has much of the ethical aspect.
Righteousness, in the Bible, is not just individual but also communal and societal. Both the Hebrew root
tsdq and the Greek word
dikiasune show this; see Justice and Righteousness page. Paul Marshall nicely defines it as "Right relationships among all things in the created order."
Idolatry is seen during discussions and arguments in the kinds of statements that 'stop the argument' because all tend to accept them, or at least do not wish to be seen questioning them. It is also the root of many hidden agendas, which pervade the board rooms and top echelons of organisations (private and public) in the West. It results in refusal to trust God or do what the Lord Jesus Christ indicates is best. Often these are the idolatry of those who are called 'Christians'; God made it plain many times that bearing His Name was often insincere or contaminated with idolatry towards other 'gods', and for this reason He evicted the people of Israel. While the West might seem relatively free of corruption, maybe idolatry is the West's corruption.
Refusal to seek God's righteousness etc. and depend on God, may be seen in the reaction of the USA leadership to 9/11: the flag rather than the Cross. Refusal is a pistic / faith aspect in that it arises from deeper commitments and beliefs, often unspoken. Often this is seen in so-called hidden agendas, which evince an idolatry.
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About This Page
Offered to God as on-going work, this page is designed to stimulate discussion on various topics, as part of Andrew Basden's pages that open up various things from one of the Christian perspectives.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all the dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 11 October 2013.
Last updated: 13 October 2013 started making the table entries links to their explanation. 17 August 2014 dealt with all '../../'.