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Why Do We Call Evil Good?

In a recent commentary, I told you about my friend’s autistic son who, despite being surrounded by things that cause him genuine distress, bravely does what needs to be done.


As I put it at the time, his courage is both an example for and a rebuke to our culture’s obsession with “microaggressions” and “microtraumas.”


Well, recently, my friend’s son unknowingly rebuked our culture again. The occasion was the question he asked his father after yet another viewing of one of his favorite movies, “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.


For those of you unfamiliar with the 1962 film and the 1957 Broadway musical it was based on, “The Music Man” tells the story of Harold Hill, a con man who preys upon small towns in the Midwest. It’s a great movie.


After having fleeced most of Illinois, Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa. He decides that the way to get at the town’s wallets is to sell them on the idea of creating a marching band, which requires money for uniforms, instruments, and music lessons.


Through a combination of charm, fast-talking, and great songs like “76 Trombones” and “Ya Got Trouble,” he persuades most of the town to part with their money. All that stands between him and his payday is a buffoonish mayor, who is no match for Hill, and the town librarian, who has fallen in love with him.


Actually, there’s someone else: an anvil salesman named Charlie Cowell who comes to River City with evidence of Harold Hill’s previous crimes. And that brings me back to my friend’s son.


After watching Music Man again he asked his father if Harold Hill shouldn’t be regarded as the villain of the story and Charlie Cowell the hero. After all, he pointed out, Harold Hill admits to being a “dirty rotten crook” and a “big liar.”


Yet in the end, the town—and the audience—sides with Harold Hill. They convince themselves that his lies have made River City a better place to live.


My friend’s son cannot understand how this can happen. The right and wrong of the situation is clear to him. Ironically, his disability has made him immune to the sentimentality and relativism that seduce the audience as surely as Harold Hill seduced the people of River City.


Chuck Colson, whose grandson Max is also autistic, noticed how people like Max lack guile, they don’t use subterfuge like a lot of us so-called “neuro-typicals.” Chuck also speculated that people like Max think in a way that’s closer to the way God intended for all of us to think.


While autistic folk are as fallen as you and I, they don’t rationalize their wrongdoing, and thus are genuinely surprised and even disturbed at other people’s flagrant transgressions, both on screen and off.


This story brings to mind another musical, “South Pacific.” In one of its most memorable numbers, a sailor sings “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”


The same thing is true of relativism and calling evil “good.” As my colleague’s son reminds us, this kind of folly doesn’t come naturally. It’s not the way God made us.


Instead, it’s been carefully drummed into our ears and from there into our minds and affections. The process is so effective, we don’t notice its impact and we end up despising those who, like Charlie Cowell in “The Music Man,” point out our folly.


Well, not all of us do. And thank God for them.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: May 22, 2015

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