In pondering this question, and thinking about the recent riots in cities across the UK, I drew a comment on Twitter from a church pastor in Liverpool. 'What we are seeing is EVIL,' he said.
And who can disagree, when people turn feral, and smash, loot and burn indiscriminately?
Yet, it prompted me to delve a little deeper into the nature of the evil we are seeing.
Firstly, there's a well of social evil here. As a London-based youth worker commented to Christian thinktank Ekklesia yesterday:
'Of course there is a huge amount of criminality and copycat looting involved in all this. But to pretend it has nothing whatsoever to do with the erosion of our social fabric, the closing of youth centres, and the sense among a mass of people - not least the young - that they have no real future in a country where the poorest are being made to sacrifice most while bankers get away with murder... that's pure fantasy.'I believe a truly Christly response has to include the recognition that society's rottenness has, close to its source, injustice, the divide between power-brokers and the broken. And the Church of Jesus should speak for those without voices. We cannot just shout 'thuggery' and call for tougher measures. We must ask 'why?' We must work for justice and stand alongside and among the disadvantaged.
But to leave it there risks excusing the execrable. Because there is another level of evil at work here: moral evil. 'I'm not really bothered' said a Manchester rioter. 'I'll keep doing it every day until I get caught.' 'We can do what we want' crowed a female London rioter.
Even psychologists, analysing group behaviour, admit the presence of basic selfishness in the mix: 'For most people looting is opportunistic' says Jason Nier, associate professor of psychology at Connecticut College. And greed is certainly a factor.'
At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, as a cliché I once heard has it. Like so many clichés, it's true. At heart, people are selfish. (My friend Andy had some thoughts about this which you can read here.)
It's not just the gangs, of course. Bankers gambled with economic stability - for greed. Politicians helped themselves to public money - for greed. Media moguls turned a blind eye when journalists were immoral - for greed... Gangs smash and loot shops - for greed.
But we must go deeper still. Under social evil, under moral evil, there is spiritual evil. As Paul the apostle describes it:
'We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.'Spiritual powers, by their very nature, hide. They masquerade behind human evil - be it greed expressed in violent looting or greed expressed in high-level corruption.
How do we oppose them? How do we engage in a spiritual 'clean up' campaign?
We pray - 'at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication' as Paul writes later in the same passage quoted above. We share the gospel and see its transforming power at work in lives changing selfish hearts into new hearts. We speak out for justice and against what is unfair because apart from anything else, giving the voiceless a voice may prevent them from finding a voice through wielding a baseball bat.
'The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh' writes Paul, 'but have divine power to destroy strongholds.'
Pray, love, evangelise, love the poor, speak for justice.
In fact - let's be the church.