“The essence of good is a certain kind of reasoned choice; just as the essence of evil is another kind. What about externals, then? They are only the raw material for our reasoned choice, which finds its own good or evil in working with them. How will it find the good? Not by marveling at the material! For if judgments about the material are straight that makes our choices good, but if those judgments are twisted, our choices turn bad.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 1.29.1-3
Hammer. Car. Gun. Twitter. Airplane. Religion.
I can use the hammer to help build houses for those in need, or I can use it to harm another person.
I can use the car to deliver citrus I glean from farms, or I can use it to harm a group of people.
I can use the gun to hunt for food, or I can use it to coerce another person.
I can use twitter to share information that informs and motivates, or I can use it to harass another person.
I can use an airplane to visit beautiful places, or I can use it to commit terrorist acts against a country.
I can use religion to inspire me to love more or to hate more.
Left alone none of the above can help or harm. They are tools for us to use, and if our reason is good then our application of these tools will be good.
Consider this extreme example. (source)
It has been almost 18 months since something precious was taken away from our daughter Pyper. She was 14 at the time it happened and it was nearly 5 ½ months later before we found out that not only was our little girl raped, but also pregnant as a result of that ultimate violation.
I would love to stand before you and tell you that this has been an easy road, but it hasn’t — especially the criminal proceedings and working to lobby the state legislature; however, having Noah in our lives has helped, and continues to help, our family heal. To look upon his precious little face and to see him smile and watch his momma, has been a blessing straight from Heaven. When I look at him, I see God and His love for our daughter; I see how He has taken something that was meant for evil and turned it into a beautiful, amazing miracle — a testimony of His love and promise for our lives. Noah did not ask to be brought into the world in the way that he was, but I can say without a doubt, since day one, he has been loved and wanted. God has a plan for him, and Pyper and I are firm believers that it’s not what happens that makes a person who they are, it’s how that person chooses to deal with the situation.
While an undergraduate I remember hearing, for the first time, about a girl who was raped but decided to keep the baby. I remember thinking how difficult that must be. What would the mother see when she looks at her child? Would it be a reminder of how she was violated, or would it be a reminder of how, from an evil act, something good can be found? There are many stories, like the one above, in which the child is seen as a “miracle”.
Abortion is a sensitive subject. I respect the arguments made by both sides, and I do not use this example as a means to start a debate on its moral standing. For me, it is a reminder of how those facing even greater challenges than I am work through what Epictetus calls “externals”. No matter what informs us, be it religion or philosophy, we must let good reason guide us. When our decisions are good and consistent with our values, we can find that steadiness we desire.