This video was brought to my attention via Rusty’s Post.

Stephen Colbert would make the short list of people that I love. Of all the late night talkers he certainly has the most ability to converse intelligently with his guests, which makes for very interesting and entertaining television (and made the writer’s strike almost bearable). One of those recent guests was Dr. Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect (which inexplicably has black and red puzzle pieces all over the cover). I have not read this book, but based on how easily Mr. Colbert shredded his argument I can imagine it would be frustrating to get through.

Zimbardo explains that his task was to understand how good people became evil. Colbert asks if one can’t be good by following authority. Zimbardo then says that’s exactly what authority wants us to think, but there are a lot of corrupt and unjust authorities. And the best solution that he can come up with in light of this is “mindful and critical thinking,” i.e. a hermeneutics of suspicion.

But Colbert objects, “If they are unjust, they wouldn’t be authority.” With that one statement Stephen Colbert demonstrates that he has done his homework on Romans 13 and that Zimbardo’s argument is silly. Is every act of evil committed simply because someone didn’t question their social situation? How then do we measure a standard of good and a standard of evil? From what he says, it seems Zimbardo holds to a “Situation Ethics” without a measuring rod for each situation. This kind of thinking displaces guilt and responsibility from the person and hefts it upon society. It is not that the person has done a bad thing, it is just that they have not thought critically about the evils of the unjust authority before going along with it.

As Rusty points out, Zimbardo seems to hold to a dualism between good and evil, that these concepts are equal in stature and locked in an epic struggle for supremacy. Thus humans, according to this framework, can choose between either option. But Colbert objects to this when he argues that Good and evil started in the Garden of Eden. There was no “choosing” (Bonhoeffer states this well in Ethics) before original sin; to discern a good and evil already points to, in Bonhoeffer’s words, “a falling a way from [the human’s] origin in God.” In other words, in Colbert’s terminology, the devil critically assesses God’s authority and determines it to be unjust and this does not lead him to a choice between good and evil, but to a falling away from the origin of obedience to God’s authority which is the good. Evil is not another option opposed to the Good, evil is the absence or a falling away from the Good. Colbert understands this, Zimbardo does not–and so his argument gets even sillier.

Zimbardo goes on to say that if God were into reconciliation he would have admitted that Lucifer was right and God was wrong (presumably about free will and the ability to question authority) and he would not have created Hell to send the devil and all the evil people to. Colbert again rises to the theological challenge. He demonstrates that this Hell Zimbardo speaks of is not created by God, nor is it prior to the rise of evil but is in fact the human person’s removal of self from God’s love. Again, we have a sense of evil as not a thing, but as a deprivation, an absence or falling away from an origin. God doesn’t send us to hell, we place ourselves there by removing ourselves from God’s love, Colbert states intensely.

At this point, the only thing left for Zimbardo to do (as Colbert has just unraveled the argument of his nearly 600 page book) is to smugly say “Obviously, you learned well in Sunday school.” Normally this would render anything Colbert had said in the argument as irrelevant, but not this time. Colbert responds without a pause with the statement that comprises the title of this post.

This statement from Colbert demonstrates exactly the kind of “militant” Christianity that is needed in this post-modern, post-Christian world. Allow me to explain. Read the rest of this entry »