Dennis Prager, syndicated columnist and talk-radio host, has written an interesting article which he entitled "The case for Judeo-Christian values: Hate evil" for the Jewish World Review. He begins by pointing out that the hatred of evil is commanded in the Bible, in such places as Psalm 97:10 ("Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones . . .") and Proverbs 8:13 ("The fear of the LORD is to hate evil . . .").
Now, it may seem obvious to the reader that we ought to hate evil. In fact, if you are like many Americans (the culture with which I am most familiar), you were raised with role-models who loved virtue and fought for truth and justice such as Audie Murphy, the Lone Ranger, and Superman. But, as Mr. Prager notes, this detestation of evil isn't as common as we would like. He notes:
The vast majority of ancients didn't give thought to evil. Societies were cruel, and their gods were cruel.
In a taped talk I have by Dr. John Mark Reynolds (visit his blogspot, Eidos -- it's a real treat), he made much the same point. He said that in the ancient world, people did not seek out the gods for comfort because they were seen as unspeakably cruel. In fact, most people lived their lives tried to avoid being noticed by the gods because being noticed by the priests of these fickle beings usually meant no good.
It is important to remember that just as Christianity brought some sanity to world by standing against the idea and practice of infaticide (see the essay by Christopher Price entitled "Pagans, Christianity and Infanticide" for details), so it was that Judeo-Christian teachings brought a realization that evil is to be abhorred and defeated.
You may be asking: since it seems so obvious that evil is a wrong that we ought to defeat it, wouldn't the rest of the world have come around to a realization that it was a wrong without the dictates of the Bible? Of course, any answer to this question is speculative. However, we do have a couple of hints that such would not be the case. The first is found in Mr. Prager's article when he talks about the reasons that evil is not hated in the Muslim world. He says:
In much of the Arab and Muslim world, "face," "shame" and "honor" define moral norms, not standards of good and evil. That is the reason for "honor killings" — the murder of a daughter or sister who has brought "shame" to the family (through alleged sexual sin) — and the widespread view of these murders as heroic, not evil. That is why Saddam Hussein, no matter how many innocent people he had murdered, tortured and raped, was a hero to much of the Arab world. As much evil as he committed, what most mattered was his strength, and therefore his honor.
The second reason is also touched on by the Prager article when he discusses Eastern religions and evil:
Nor did higher religions place hating evil at the center of their worldviews. In Eastern philosophy and religion, the highest goal was the attainment of enlightenment (Nirvana) through effacing the ego, not through combating or hating evil. Evil and unjust suffering was regarded as part of life, and it was best to escape life, not morally transform it.
Ideas have consequences. In a pagan world, the Gods themselves were both good and evil which gave no compelling reason to choose good over evil. One would be acting equally consistent with the wills of the gods if they chose to follow Aries or Mars or any other of the ancient gods who valued warfare and killing over any god or goddess who valued peace.
In a world without the God of the Bible who loves good and hates evil, there is likewise no compelling reason to hate evil. For without God, there is no objective standards of right and wrong, and we are left with what Jean Paul Sartre called the bare, valueless fact of existence. But this is contrary to our experience. As stated by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining "It's not fair" before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty that they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and there is no such thing as Right and Wrong--in other words if there is no Law of Nature--what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like everyone else?
It seems then that we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may sometimes be mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not merely a matter of taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.
I think he is right. We cannot help but recognize that things are right and wrong, but if there is no God who put those ideas in place (which logically follows), then the ideas of right and wrong are mere social conventions or misguided thoughts we have. There is no reason to follow these innate feelings if it doesn't suit your purpose or goes against the teachings of whatever religious beliefs you find to be in vogue.
It may be that we would have come up with some justification to hate evil without the existence of a loving God who loves good and hates evil, Himself. But I think Mr. Prager's article correctly points out that such a conclusion is far from a given.