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When Men Define Evil

The Problem With Selective Depravity Is That It Condemns A Group Instead Of Sin.

Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony
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Man is a creature, not a god. Man thinks in terms of the reality of the Creator, try as he might to create his own reality.

Man has to think in terms of guilt. Humanists after Darwin tried to avoid the subject as a religious, psychological construct. Sigmund Freud, however, broke ranks and said guilt was real. He tried to explain it naturalistically as part of man’s primitive past, but he was nevertheless pilloried by other naturalists for considering it a subject of science.

In dealing with guilt, there are three basic views of man’s nature.[1] The Biblical view, with strong advocates in Augustine, Calvin, and Puritanism, is that of total depravity. Man is seen as a rebel against his God; his heart and mind is darkened by sin. Total depravity leaves no room for man’s moral advance without the grace and enabling power of a merciful God. Needless to say, such a position is seen as untenable to humanists.

A consistent alternative to total depravity is the natural goodness of man. Sin and evil are denied in man and in mankind. Any evil that exists is external to man and acts upon him. Such a position is more useful as a rejection of total depravity than as a tenable philosophy. A man who is wholly good has nowhere to go; he is as good as he can get. No room is left for growth or improvement. Moreover, no demands can be made on an entirely good person; he cannot be scolded or bullied into submission.

Even if evil is acknowledged as external to man, the question would remain as to why good men are so controlled by evil. Does this not itself suggest an evil propensity? Humanism is about the elevation of man to the place of a god, but it seldom tolerates too many men at the top. In George Orwell’s socialistic Animal Farm, some animals were found to be “more equal” than others. Likewise, humanism cannot have too many men acting like gods; some have to be “more good” than others. My father termed this position as “selective depravity.”[2]

The idea of selective depravity is that while some or even most men are basically good, there are some who are indeed evil. Selective depravity empowers the good to identify the evil element and protect society from their influence. This has been the rationale for the greatest horrors in human history. Selective depravity limits evil to a group, profession, class, race, individual, or thing. Politics and society are orchestrated to suppress the evil element to protect the good.

Who or what is selectively identified as the evil element of society? Depending on who gets to do the identifying, it could be the rich or the poor, men or women. The evil has been said to be embodied in blacks, whites, Germans, Japanese, English, or Spanish. Old, young, the environment, heredity, the establishment, Puritans, oil companies, Christians, alcohol, the family, priests, pastors, communists, capitalists, bankers, the masses, or the elite have all been, at times, identified as the focus of evil in society.

The problem with selective depravity is that it condemns a group instead of sin. Moreover, its demands are not based upon grace and forgiveness, but about making some people pay, making some group the scapegoat for the evil man knows exists. It fails to see sin as within all men, so it vilifies some and self-righteously offers to deal with them.

Hitler blamed Jews. He identified them as the depraved. Once he had defined them as evil, his solution was to make them pay. Sin requires payment; when we falsely identify sin, we falsely demand a sacrifice for sin. Man deals with sin he identifies and does so with a religious fervor.

Marx blamed capital and capitalists as the depraved element that polluted society. Marxist revolutions have thus tolerated every horror imaginable against these elements as cathartic for society. Once someone or something is defined as evil, all means of ridding it from society are legitimized.

Humanism is “the most divisive creed ever to exist.”[3] It guarantees conflict of some kind, whether racial, class, political, or economic. Men are defined as good or evil, and one group is thus constantly at war with the other.

Humanism’s selective depravity does not stop with conflict, as Nazism and communism have shown. It is a moralistic rationale for murder. If the evil group will not surrender quietly, then their moral vilification has already produced the justification for violence. From the French Revolution to the present, the cry of humanism has been, “The only good________ is a dead________.” Fill in the blanks and you have a rationale for the murder of some group.

Selective depravity is a means of power. It usurps God’s moral authority to define evil and always ends up usurping His right to judgment. At least when God tells us we are sinners, He offers us forgiveness and restoration. There is no such grace and mercy in humanism.


[1] For a discussion of the nature of man and selective depravity, see Chalcedon Report No. 132 (August, 1976) in Rousas John Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Ross House Books, 1991), 936–938. Chalcedon Reports No. 133 (September 1976) and No. 134 (October 1976) continue the discussion.

[2] Roots of Christian Reconstruction, 937.

[3] Ibid.


Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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