Engaging Culture

Ideas Have Consequences

When most of us heard about the recent church bombings in Alabama, we assumed it was the usual suspects – rednecks driven by racism. But apparently the culprit is much more philosophical. World Magazine reports in the March 25th edition that the three young men arrested were all bright college students from good families. Two were theater majors and one was in pre-med.

Gene Edward Veith, cultural editor of World attributes the acts to the growing nihilism of the youth culture that surrounds us – particularly among intelligent, creative young people. Convinced of their superiority to peers and adult society, they don’t believe in the “liberal pap they are force fed at school, nor in the more conservative ideals of their parents. They scorn the church, which they blame for not understanding or appreciating them. Their attitude is reinforced by their music, and they relate to everything with mockery, irony, and theatrical self-displays.

That these three students saw burning churches as a “joke” calls to mind the cases of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy students at the University of Chicago with genius IQs, who murdered a child in 1924 for the sheer philosophical thrill of it. After all, they had been studying Nietzsche, the philosopher revered still today for teaching that there are no absolutes, morality is relative, and superior beings create their own values by their choices. Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? asked their lawyer Clarence Darrow.”

As Veith points out, it’s an argument brilliantly dealt with in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Rope.”

Ideas do have consequences. What’s taught in the relatively safe havens of the academy have a way of filtering down to the streets, and too few college professors and writers spend enough time viewing the end result of their theories. But now there’s a number of smoldering churches in Alabama to remind us that everything begins as an idea.

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