This question came up today as I read this Gospel Coalition article that questions the reports of ISIS beheading children in Iraq and then placing their heads on pikes. I reacted instinctively against this story the first time I heard it; not because I don’t believe people are capable of such behavior but because it reeked of a much broader attempt to portray ISIS as so absolutely and irredeemably evil that they simply have to be destroyed. Dehumanization of the enemy is textbook strategy for searing public conscience, to get them to agree to any means necessary to stop the evil. Cue American air strikes and arming of the Kurds.
Of course, I don’t mean to justify the goals or tactics of ISIS, which enough news reports have verified as horrendous. It is merely a warning to temper our feelings with facts. The question is, how do we react when the facts don’t support our feelings–or the way we would prefer to feel about our enemies? Jeff Turner pulled up this quote from C. S. Lewis today, which is a good prompt for reflection:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?
If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.