As a high school student, I remember watching a news story with my father about a horrific murder. I was so aghast, that I blurted out, “How terrible. That’s so inhumane.”
Without hesitation, my father responded, “Son, murder is not inhumane. Inhumane means not human. But humans did that.” He caught me off guard. But he got me thinking.
Of course, his point was not to question the wickedness of murder. Rather, it was to challenge the common assumption that murderers are fundamentally different from the rest of us. It was to challenge the assumption of our language that doing evil is not what humans do. But is this correct?
Think about it:
Murderers are human.
You and I are human.
Therefore, you and I share a common humanity with murderers.
This is an uncomfortable truth. It is not easy to recognize that we share the same inherent capacity for evil as those who shed innocent blood. It’s much more comfortable to think of murderers as “inhumane,” that is, people fundamentally different than us. It makes us feel better. It makes us feel morally superior. It gets us off the hook.
The Reality of Evil
But is this right? My friend and Biola Apologetics colleague, Dr. Clay Jones, has written a compelling article in which he makes the case that to do evil is to be human. For the record, Dr. Jones has probably studied the problem of evil as much as anyone alive today. Here is how he begins his article:
I first began to study human evil so that no one could disqualify me for having glossed over the immense sufferings that people perpetrate on each other. I didn’t want anyone to say that I had gotten God out of the problem of evil the easy way: by making evil seem less serious than it really is. But as I read about one sickening rape or torture or murder after another, something strange happened: I was struck that evil is human. I realized that heinous evils weren’t the doings of a few deranged individuals or even of hundreds or of thousands but were done by humankind en mass. I studied continent after continent, country after country, torture after torture, murder after murder and was staggered to discover that I hadn’t taken Scripture seriously enough: humankind is desperately wicked.
To make his case, Jones walks through various 20th century atrocities in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, communist China, the Rape of Nanking (Japan), and a couple dozen more (and for the record, he doesn't let the U.S. off the hook).
He then concludes:
Human cruelty is imaginable. By that I mean that if a human set on hurting someone else can imagine a horrific torture and has the opportunity to do it, he or she will do it. I could go on and on and on with one sickening story after another and, sadly, none of this is inhuman. Also, in most of the horrors mentioned above the world knew what was going on and did nothing to stop them (p. 7).
Murder Is Not Inhumane
I realize that I haven't fully made my case here. Check out his article. Yet if he’s right, then the Holocaust was not inhumane. It was perpetrated–or at least supported–by masses of human beings. The same is true for all genocides in the 20th century. It is true for slavery. And it is true for ongoing brutalities today.
Jesus certainly thought the human heart was corrupt and that humans are capable of great evil. He taught that wickedness came from inside: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
And so did the apostle Paul. In his letter to the Romans, Paul proclaims that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin. According to Paul, no one is righteous — no one seeks God. Humans lie, curse, shed blood and live without fear of God (Rom. 3:10-18).
The point is not that all humans commit murder. Many do, but many don’t. And it is not to ignore that we are made in God's image and also capable of great good. The point is that we humans have the inherent capacity to do far greater evil than we can imagine. This ought to humble us and motivate us to figure out why humanity is so broken and how to fix it.
The next time someone refers to an evil act as inhumane, consider asking a simple question, “What do you mean by inhumane? And why do you think we use a term which technically means not human to refer to behavior that seems to characterize human nature en masse?”
This post and additional resources are available on Sean McDowell’s website
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash