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Moral Reconstruction, Anyone?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

That word again: evil. A whiff of sulfur about it, no warmth, no pulse, evil as the actuating force in another mass shooting, with more of it to come, certainly, in this beat-up age of ours. Not a few have joined President Donald Trump in using the E-word since the Baptist-church shooting in Texas and the massacre in Las Vegas.

The president's endorsement of this theory or that one disqualifies him automatically, with many, as teacher or prophet. It is true his credentials are in grave disrepair -- not that it should matter for present purposes.

The quicker civil society can catch on to the imminent need for discourse on the more malignant kinds of human behavior, the sooner we might start repairing the damage done to moral understanding over several centuries.

Moral misunderstanding, not the insufficiency of adequate gun control laws, is the great threat to human life.

I have said this before. There is a need to keep on saying it. We haven't gotten the picture yet in our time and place.

Despite over 2,000 years of civilized teaching to the contrary, only an indeterminate number of moderns believe (or believe with more than modest conviction) in the necessity of moral codes.

"Moral codes"? Yikes! We all know by now what that means. It means prune-faced killjoys telling vital and intelligent people what to do. It means stifling choice, imposing notions on people with notions of their own -- quite conceivably different ones. It means invasion of other people's space and denial of that sacred end and object, diversity. Don't we want diversity? Come on!

We actually don't want "diversity" in every department of life, only in departments whose effects exclude the inculcation of murder and destruction.

Moral codes differ on particularities, but all, including our own (or the one Americans used to embrace, generally speaking), include some obligations to others: e.g., the obligation to refrain from killing people (except in cases of dire necessity, such as war).

We will likely have noted by now the pathological failure of Devin Patrick Kelley to consider the human worth of those worshiping at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church on the Sunday morning he evidently decided he'd had it with other people, and that it was time they got what was coming to them. In other words, that which he, without consultation or discussion, had decided they deserved. He might have been a visitor from a distant planet for the amount of feeling he had for his victims. He was a killing machine, like the great white shark in "Jaws." No moral law restrained him -- no account of the bonds and obligations that underlie civilization and keep the jungle at bay.

The moral law is distinguishable from a religious covenant. Nevertheless, religion -- the apprehension of a relationship with and duty toward God (in classical times, the gods) -- is at the foundation of morality. And this is part of the problem with modern attempts to call evil by its right name. The 21st century sees God more as bother than father: a supernatural pain in the region reserved generally for sitting down; a made-up baker of pies in the sky.

Under such a dispensation of capital-d Doubt, evil takes whatever shape we fancy: ideological, racial, economic, whatever. Its origins escape inquiry. As for prayer, the tweeters told us this week what they think of humble resort to God as a strategy for confronting evil and preventing massacres. They gave the idea a resounding "pfft!"

So much for moral reconstruction as a means of controlling, to some extent -- maybe a considerable extent -- propensities to deny value and worth and dignity to others, to wipe out those others if it comes to that.

We might want to try reconstruction anyway. The human marketplace advertises no cure-alls for hatred and malice. But the shelf life of "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself" is rumored to be truly impressive.

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