Lyle and Erik Menendez brutally killed their mother and father. The evidence is plain; no one denies it. So, why is it so hard to find them guilty? Their defense attorneys argued persuasively that the brothers endured a nightmarish childhood of sexual and physical abuse, and that they were thus acting out of a kind of insanity that excuses them from first-degree murder charges. The arguments on both sides reduce to the same basic premise: wrong was committed.
The prosecution accused the brothers of murder and appealed to the public’s sense that murder is evil. Likewise the brothers, in claiming they had been mistreated, appealed to a society that abhors child abuse. This was not a matter of arbitrary human laws being violated, it went much deeper. It was a matter of “right and wrong”—a concept that is universal and unique to humanity.
No matter where people are found, they recognize that some things are wrong. Although human groups differ on what they prohibit, they all censor something. C.S. Lewis articulated this point well:
Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked (1952, p. 5).
This also is personal. When I look inside myself, I find this moral sense that I did not invent. I can find no explanation for it in the world—it must derive from beyond that realm. If there is nothing but matter in the Universe, and matter is the only eternal reality—then how do you explain this moral sense in humanity? Did it arise from rocks, trees, or animals? No, this moral sense is one of the clearest and most personal reminders that there is a God.
Lewis, C.S. (1952), Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan).
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