Good People Made Evil

“We have seen

Good men made evil wrangling with the evil,

Straight minds grown crooked fighting crooked minds.”[1]

Edwin Muir was a Scottish poet, raised on farms on the Orkney Islands, whose family fell apart when they moved to the slums of Glasgow in 1901. They were forced off their farm by high rents, but the move to Glasgow proved even more devastating. Within five years, Muir’s mother, father, and two brothers were dead. Muir himself — who went on to become one of the most respected translators, poets, and critics of the mid-twentieth century — likened the transition to being born and raised in the eighteenth century and suddenly finding himself in the twentieth. “When I arrived I found that it was not 1751, but 1901, and that a hundred and fifty years had been burned up in my two days' journey. But I myself was still in 1751, and remained there for a long time.”[2]

That fascination with time and our movements through it, forward in hope and turning back in memory, characterized his poetry, which he came to rather late in life. In “The Good Town,” a poem that describes a town where no one had to lock their doors, Muir reveals how drastically it changed after two wars.

The soldiers came back from the First World War, maimed and ragged, to find the countryside divided up, the roads crooked, the light falling strangely. But after the second war the houses that sprang up from the rubble looked like prisons, families and friends were scattered, and all that was good and kind was thrown away. “How could our town grow wicked in a moment?” he laments.

His answer is that in the past the townspeople were swayed to follow good leaders; now “the bad are up…And we, poor ordinary neutral stuff / Not good nor bad, must ape them as we can / In sullen rage or vile obsequiousness.” He closes with the epigram quoted above, and adds, “Our peace betrayed us; we betrayed our peace / Look at it well. This was the good town once.”[3]

The disappointment and regret evident in his tone might be dismissed as simple nostalgia for a past that can only stand in the way of progress, except that it stands as a warning just as relevant today as he thought it to be in the early fifties: how to fight evil without becoming evil?

In the good town, people went about their lives without much thought given to how their town might devolve into fear and suspicion. In the absence of threat, families took up their responsibilities and cared for others when needed. Vigilance for such freedoms was not pressing because everyone followed, more or less, the example of conscientious people.

But therein lay the weakness, Muir seems to say. Most of us simply follow those who lead, happy in the confidence that they will solve — or at least deflect — problems which we would have to face without them. But when the bonds of community evaporate and the corrupt and cunning thrust themselves into power, we must suddenly “ape them as we can,” either in “sullen rage or vile obsequiousness.”

Muir’s warning takes us to task for our naiveté, while mourning the loss of good will that made life peaceful and harmonious.


Recently, an incident was reported in national news in which a couple who wanted to rent a facility for their marriage ceremony and reception were denied on the grounds that the prospective groom was black, and his fiancée was white. The owner explained that the Bible did not condone mixed-race marriages and thus she would not rent the facility to the couple. The groom’s sister asked for clarification, but the woman refused to elaborate. It was simply part of her Christian belief.

The video of the exchange between them, while civil and restrained, went viral. In the aftermath of a wave of outrage, the woman and her husband issued an apology. Having been raised in Mississippi, it was her belief, she maintained, that such marriages were condemned by the Bible. However, her pastor had helped her to understand, she said, that the Bible does not condemn or prohibit bi-racial marriages. She and her husband were sincerely sorry.[4]

When I read this account, my immediate reaction was to condemn outright such obvious racism being justified by the Bible in the name of Christianity. It was yet another example of an agenda fueled by inbred prejudice, an assumption of white superiority, and a grievance reflex in which evangelicals believe their religious freedoms are in jeopardy. Added to that was the unthinking assumption that one’s dominant culture — in this case white Southern culture — was somehow ordained by God in the natural order of things, and that Christians who questioned or refused to honor that order were disobedient to God’s law as outlined in the Bible.

Then I began to reflect on my reaction. It was not that I regretted it or questioned my beliefs. They sprang into light spontaneously and I knew they were genuine. What I began to wonder about was if my reaction was a mere accident of geography.

If I had been raised in that woman’s culture in the South, growing up with legalized and socially acceptable discrimination and racism, would I have questioned those embedded assumptions? She looked like somebody’s grandmother, the kind who bakes cookies and keeps an immaculate house — hardly the face of evil. Nevertheless, I felt a surge of anger and impatience. In order to suffer from cognitive dissonance, you need to be engaged in cognition. Would I have felt that dissonance, now so evident, had I grown up in the sixties in Mississippi?

Where I did grow up — in the foothills above the Napa Valley in Northern California — my private Christian college was only fully integrated in the early seventies, when a group of African American graduates from a Christian academy in Oakland came to campus. It wasn’t that there was an official policy barring them, it was rather that they did not feel welcomed or respected.

With numbers comes strength; one of those young men ran for Student Association president in his sophomore year and won. Gradually, attitudes began to change, and friendships developed. But if those African American teenagers hadn’t questioned the status quo, those embedded assumptions, how long might it have taken for understanding and acceptance to flourish?

We Christians are too easily satisfied with our cultural assumptions. We are living in a country founded upon some of the highest ideals in human history. But the tragic fact is that those ideals, in order to be fully realized, were made possible by our original sin of systemic racism. Freedom, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness — all of them were premised on the foundation stones of slavery, prejudice, and discrimination. We are enmeshed in this historical legacy.

“The unbelief of believers,” wrote Thomas Merton in 1968, “is amply sufficient to make God [appear] repugnant and incredible.”[5] In words startlingly current, he writes, “A ‘Christian nationalist’ is one whose Christianity takes second place, and serves to justify a patriotism in whose eyes the nation can do no wrong…The pastors themselves tend to look to the state as a font of divine decisions in the practical order. All dissent in the civil sphere thereby automatically becomes a religious betrayal and a spiritual apostasy.”[6]

“Rust never sleeps,” sang Neil Young, and we may be sure prejudice and racism never do either. Christians are no strangers to it — it was there from the beginning and it nearly tore the nascent Jewish Christian community apart. It took a strange and disturbing vision for Peter to put behind him centuries of ceremonial religious exclusivism toward all those outside his heritage. Peter, the disciple most likely to get things right about Jesus, was also the one who could show spectacular obtuseness when stretched beyond his norms. Yet, it is Peter, together with John, who responds later to authorities with the words, “Is it right in God’s eyes for us to obey you rather than God? Judge for yourselves. We cannot possibly give up speaking of things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19,20).

And what had he seen? Jesus constantly challenging the cultural norms against women, against the poor, against the weak and dispossessed, against the established means for grasping and preserving power. What had he heard? Jesus, setting his face toward Jerusalem and his death, turning to the disciples on the road to say, “What does a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self? What can he give to buy that self back?” (Mark 8:36, 37).

“What matters,” suggests Merton, “is not simply to set conformity over against dissent, to call the one evil and the other good, and be satisfied with that.” In a way that requires patience and humility, it is not enough for the dissenter to accuse and condemn, but “after showing the need for spiritual awakening and constructive analysis, to break open the way to dialogue and keep it open.”[7]

Edwin Muir was right to be dismayed that good people can become crooked while fighting against crookedness. But he was off the mark to assume that neither the “good” nor the “evil” can change.

All of us fall short of the glory God sees in us, but none of us is beyond redemption.

Notes & References:

[3] Muir, “The Good Town,” 161.

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at

Photo credit: Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Racism can be considered another manifestation of unforgiveness in which a person is, by their choice, in Satan’s prison. This applies to the accuser & victim.

"Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. " 2 Cor 2:10 & 11

Where did she get her original erroneous racist concept?

She was a typical conventional minded person who accepted without doing her own study…like most churchgoers who never have read much bible. Stats reveal 90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible. So they just accept & parrot what their preachers teach. And so there are thousands of denominations in discord and just are followers of clergy…including those who died following JIM JONES.


The bias comes from the text—Be Ye not unequally yoked together. Skin Color has nothing to do with it.


There are many interesting points in this well written article. The one that called my attention more intensely was regarding discrimination, an issue that for me is mind boggling. The same question comes to my mind over and over again: “How come some committed Christians are discriminators? Isn’t ‘a Christian discriminator’ an oxymoron?”

One thing is terrifying: it appears that when a person gets the “discrimination bug,” they cannot get rid of it, cannot be cured of the disease. It’s alarming that not even exposure to the Gospel appears to be effective in operating a cure, a change of heart. It’s also frustrating seeing that kind of people occupying leadership (?) positions and contaminating their offices with discriminating potions. Unfortunately discrimination of women has been a “potion in motion” for a long time in our Church, and I am not sure it will ever be eliminated. If Ted Wilson is (hopefully) not re-elected, in 2020, I hope the new GC President will put this on the wall in front of him in his office:

Image result for images discriminating of women


Not always. Depends on what the object is.

Not for me. The gospel has no effect on those who reject grace.

Most churchgoers don’t even know what the gospel is.

I visited another NON SDA church SUNday and felt sorry for the deceived preacher and his congregation.

And not about the 4th commandment issue but because his soteriology is so warped.

Object? I am talking about people, not objects.
Oh…, I get it now… sometimes people are treated as mere objects, this is true…

There are good and bad preachers in any church, any denomination. Can’t generalize based on a small, maybe insignificant sample.


The discrimination engendered by homophobia is still rampant and pervasive in Adventism, fundamentalist Protestantism and also in Catholicism and Mormonism.

Regrettably it is fueled by homophobic texts in biblical scripture.

The Jewish Jehovah, the Christian God, and the Islamic Allah, all supposedly the same personhood, promotes hateful homophobia in all three branches of the religions He heads.

All other religions on the planet, not worshipping this supreme being —- Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and others have no scriptural / doctrinal / theological injunctions against gays / lesbians.

The four to five per cent LGBT population on this planet, are all acutely aware that their innate sexual orientations had zero personal input nor choice.
This is heavily backed up by modern medicine, psychiatry and psychology — despite the very recent research finding no distinct gay gene.

Every gay / lesbian will be vehement in attesting they did not choose their sexual orientation. And if they were honest, their straight siblings and cousins would equally affirm that neither did they have personal input in being heterosexual…

So gays and lesbians have every right to demand of God why He creates them that way ( Satan has zero creative power ) and then He promotes persecution,
fuels fury,
harbors hatred and hostility,
and engenders gay bashing, gay bullying, and yes gay killings.

All promoted by those very explicit anti gay “proof texts “ in His Scriptures. .

What was He thinking when He allowed them in Scripture ?

He has promoted millennia of MISERY for gays in those geographic world areas where His religions predominate —- homophobia is largely absent in Asia where He has not brain washed the local populations.

The lady who denied the inter racial couple a wedding venue would have been even more vociferous in excluding a gay / lesbian couple.

Would her preacher have intervened to say that the biblical texts she was using to justify her actions, were false ??

It is a wonder that intuitive gay Christians would continue to worship a God who fosters such hatred and anger against them,
more particularly when they had zero choice in the way He created them.


Robin –
Literalists read the Bible and take what was translated as True.
Literalists Do Not Ask WHY and Under What Circumstances was
“that” written on parchment in the first place?
There were a number of things that were forbidden because they had
to do with Heathen Idol Worship DURING Heathen Idol Worship.
The position of the Sanctuary in the middle of the camp was Anti-Idol and
Fake God worship.
But they were prone to Fake Gods. Golden Calf with God on the mountain
belching smoke and dark clouds above talking to Moses.

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"Stats reveal 90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible."

Link to study?

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Seriously. I’ve asked this before because it’s stated so often, but most people I know have and do read their Bible.


Regarding Gay persons wondering about an angry God.
It is True that this may be promoted and taught in our SDA Denomination.
However there are many Sunday communities who Welcome ALL and
Mean ALL. Showering ALL with the message of God’s Love to ALL.


I have also asked through the years with no answer(s). It is one of gideonjrn’s “talking points” with no proof other than his own opinion apparently. :slight_smile:


I don’t know of any stats on this either, but I have some anecdotal data. Some years ago I asked two different college honors classes I was teaching How many of them had read the Bible at least once. In one of the classes none of them had, and several claimed they had never even read an entire single book in the Bible. In the other class, I think I recall that one student had read the whole Bible (might have been none, but no more than 1). Both classes had about 10 students, so, not a great sample size.

On a related note, I do converse with a few hundred students in my classes each year, and it is the rare student who knows the Bible very well. Most students know where to find John 3:16 and Psalm 23, but cannot say where many other texts are to be found, such as things like “For all have sinned and fallen short,” or “seek you first the Kingdom of God . . .” Biblical literacy has dropped precipitously, as far as I can tell. Of course, maybe I am expecting too much. I have read the Bible many times and know exactly where to find many dozens of texts that I learned by memory when I was a teen. Maybe such knowledge is no longer considered useful? As far as I can tell, teens are no longer studying and memorizing scripture much at all. I cannot speak with the same personal knowledge about other adults, except those of my own age who grew up in the 60s and 70s, many of whom seem to have studied as diligently as I did.

OTOH, has such “better” exposure to Biblical truth made a difference in things such as racism and sexism? A significant number from my generation, who should know better, claim Biblical authority for considering women subservient and inferior to men. Most of my college students, with apparently less Biblical literacy, by and large believe that God has created men and women as equals and that women’s ordination should have happened many years ago throughout the denomination.


When I was in Church School 7th grade, we had 135 Memory Verses, and
we had an Ohio Conference Test at the end of the year on the Bible Class.
I knew all 135 memory verses.
In 9th 10th grade minimal memory verses in Bible Class.


I had much the same in 8th or 9th or a little of both. Mhy memory of exactly when is hazy, but i still remember many of the texts. My only regret is that they were referred to as “key texts,” which gives the wrong message about how such texts should be used. I still love knowing many of them today, many are Bible promises, and others are just plain good advice.


Interesting personal observation. Perhaps they stopped the Bible verse memorization at some point and time. I have no doubt that it has precipitously dropped off in the last decade or so. My beef with gideonjr. is that he is making a blanket statement and should be able to come up with some concrete “study/data” as he claims to exist.


Totally agree. Would be interesting to see such data if they had been gathered. Would be simple to survey. too. “Y or N Have you read the entire Bible at least once in your lifetime?”

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I shouldn’t have to do his “homework” but now I am curious to see if something exists…will look later. :smiley:


You are now obligated to report back. :wink:


Yes, Professor…will do! :wink: