“But at least he’s honest about it,” I said with resignation.
“Give me a hypocrite over an honest villain any day,” said Mr. Magundi. “Hypocrisy at least admits a standard and can be held to it as long as daylight shines on the hypocrite. It’s best simply to be virtuous by habit, and always to do the right thing for its own sake. But it’s far better to avoid wrong from fear of public opinion than never to avoid wrong at all. Honesty is a virtue, but not the very highest virtue of all; and I’d rather be spared by a liar who professes no desire to kill me than slaughtered by an honest murderer.”
“But as for me,” Mr. Bates concluded, “I’d rather live in a Christian nation.”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Mr. Magundi agreed. “A nation that turns the other cheek when attacked, that gives all it has to the poor, and that loves all its neighbors as itself! What a glorious experiment that would be! I wonder why it’s never been tried before. Benjamin Franklin was right: ‘He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.'”
“It seems kind of unreasonable,” Mrs. Bowman said, “but they sure get mad if you tell them that.”
“Of course they do,” Mr. Magundi agreed. “The more indefensible the position, the more vigorously it must be defended. Any soldier could tell you that. The proposition that the earth is round doesn’t need much defending; the facts are there for everyone to see, and they’re very hard to ignore. But you will find, in dark corners of the Internet and other disreputable places, people who defend the proposition that the earth is flat with all the fanaticism of a crusade.”
“Sometimes, Mr. Magundi,” said Mr. Bates, “it seems to me like you’re sticking up for the terrorists.”
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Magundi replied. “To say that certain actions by our government might encourage terrorism is not to excuse or condone terrorism. Terrorism is simply evil, but it would be ridiculously foolish not to ask whether some of the things we do make it more or less likely. If Mrs. Bowman refused to lock her house on the grounds that there ought not to be thieves, we wouldn’t quarrel with her condemnation of theft; but few of us would be surprised if we heard that her silver had been stolen.”
“The corporation’s first responsibility is to its stockholders,” said Mr. Bates.
“No,” Mr. Magundi replied, “the corporation’s first duty is to the moral law, just as yours or mine is. A corporation is legally a person, and it cannot expect to enjoy the privileges of personhood without the responsibilities. When a man loses touch with the moral law so completely that he becomes a danger to his neighbors, we have procedures for locking him up as a dangerous psychopath. If a corporation is legally a person, then a corporation that displays all the behaviors of a deranged psychopath should be legally a madman; and we should be able to lock it up in some sort of receivership until we’re sure it’s no longer a danger to the community.”
“There was this speaker at Derek’s school,” Mrs. Bowman was telling us, “and he kept telling the kids they should have pride. Pride, pride, pride. And while Derek was telling me about it, I kept thinking: Wasn’t pride supposed to be one of the seven deadly sins?”
“We don’t talk much anymore about the seven deadly sins,” Mr. Magundi said, “and I think I know why. If you look at that medieval list of the worst things that can infest the human soul, it turns out to be a catalogue of everything we consider virtuous. Our entire economic and political system is built on lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. Where would we be if we started calling those things sins?”
“Because they’re evil,” Mr. Bates replied, and he seemed to think it a definitive answer.
Mr. Magundi, however, was not satisfied. “‘Because they’re evil’ is never an adequate explanation for the actions of our enemies. Until we can understand why our enemies believe their actions to be good, and until we can even see, to a certain extent, why their belief is reasonable, we can certainly never have peace with them, and we probably can’t defeat them.
“The first step in understanding our enemies might be to ask what they want. Our own answer to this question is almost always false, and ridiculously general as well: ‘They want to destroy our way of life,’ we say. Our enemies say the same thing about us. No, we need to imagine what they’re actually thinking if we’re going to get anywhere.
“Perhaps one way of stimulating our own imagination would be to ask ourselves what we want. Here again we’re likely to find that our answer is embarrassingly general. ‘We’re fighting for freedom,’ we’ll say. Oddly enough, our enemies say exactly the same thing.
“If we inquire persistently, we may finally decide that what we really want is for them to leave us alone. Now we might have something to go on. Is it possible for us to imagine that our enemies are a little like us? Do they, perhaps, want to be left alone? And is it possible that there was some way in which we were not leaving them alone that caused them to become our enemies in the first place?
“You’ll never hear a straight answer to these questions, because a straight answer might lead to peace, and peace is not what we want. We no more want simple peace than we want the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers to sit down for a parley in the middle of the field and decide to call it a draw. What we want is victory: our side winning and their side losing. But because people die in wars more commonly than they do in football games, and because we believe that killing innocent people is wrong, we must persuade ourselves that the people we kill really do deserve to die. Why? Because they’re evil.”