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Why Morality?

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

Theology & Culture

New York Times contributor Michael J. Boyle recently wrote an article titled “The Problem With ‘Evil’: The Moral Hazard of Calling ISIS a ‘Cancer’”, and in it he posits that moral rhetoric has no place in a discussion, especially among politicians, about ISIS and its actions in the Middle East. Boyle states that calling ISIS evil serves to “obscure the group’s strategic aims and preclude further analysis.”[1] He goes on to imply that although ISIS has committed human rights violations, these should not be colored as morally wrong because ISIS “operates less like a revolutionary terrorist movement that wants to overturn the entire political order in the Middle East than a successful insurgent group that wants a seat at that table.”[1]

Throughout the rest of the article Boyle explains how there can really be no moral clarity on ISIS, and that any moralistic language concerning ISIS should be avoided. His reasons include what he calls the possibility of ‘strategic drift’, the development of a by any means necessary mentality by Americans in their efforts to stop ISIS, and a failure to recognize ISIS as distinct from other terrorists groups because “ISIS now occupies large swaths of Syria and Iraq, administering social services and running rudimentary Shariah courts in its claimed Islamic State.”[1] The article can be read in full at the New York Times website.

The major theological issue here has nothing to do with ISIS’s religious views, but rather with Mr. Boyle’s seeming aversion to objective morality. He is adamant about the avoidance of any type of morality being discussed when it comes to ISIS. He says that they have committed horrible wrongs, and even war crimes, but that thinking morally about these things will basically cloud one’s ability to think rationally about the situation; Boyle really takes issue with ascribing the word ‘evil’ to ISIS. To remove morality from this situation or any situation leaves one with no standard by which to make value judgments when it comes to various circumstances in life. Not only that, but it removes an essential mechanism within a person’s worldview, that is, the ability to separate right from wrong. When put in this position how can America decide to take action against what would traditionally be labeled as evil.

The absence of morality and morally informed reasoning results in America saying that ISIS can do what it wants because it is neither good nor evil, it is simply doing something that differs from America’s values, which in turn are neither good nor evil. Mr. Boyle seems to want political policy to dictate moral reasoning when in actuality one’s morals should inform their politics.



[1] The Problem With ‘Evil’: The Moral Hazard of Calling ISIS a ‘Cancer’, New York Times Aug. 22

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