Skip to comments.On Evil
Posted on 01/01/2007 9:10:09 AM PST by ventanax5
I have long been preoccupied by the problem of evil. Not being a philosopher, I have no satisfactory explanation of evil to offer, nor even, indeed, a satisfactory definition of it. For me, evil is rather like poetry was for Doctor Johnson: easier to say what it isnt than what it is. All I know for certain is that theres a lot of it about - evil, I mean, not poetry.
Why? Is the heart of man irredeemably evil, or at any rate inclined to evil? What are the conditions in which evil may flourish?
My medical practice, admittedly of a peculiar kind, in a slum and in a prison, convinced me of the prevalence of evil. I was surprised. I had spent a number of years in countries wracked by civil wars and thereby deprived of even minimal social order, precisely the conditions in which one might expect evil to be widely committed, if only because in such situations the worst come to the fore. But nothing prepared me for the sheer malignity, the joy in doing wrong, of so many of my compatriots, when finally I returned home. Every day in my office I would hear of men who tortured women - torture is not too strong a word - or commit the basest acts of intimidation, oppression and violence, with every appearance of satisfaction and enjoyment. I would once have taken the opening sentence of Adam Smiths Theory of Moral Sentiments for a truism:
(Excerpt) Read more at newenglishreview.org ...
Man is a spiritual being. How we treat each other depends on which spirit we choose for guiding us through this life.
Well-written review. The depths of human depravity have been plumbed so thoroughly that nothing should be novel. But somehow, Man, in his infinite paltriness, manages to descend ever lower ...
The one thing I know about evil is it is much easier to recognize in others than in ourselves. The problem is so perplexing that we can often gull ourselves into believing our own evil is actually virtue.
An interesting read.
A rigorous understanding of good and evil leading to wisdom doesn't happen unless one studies and discerns between divine good and human good based upon Divine Righteousness.
"Is the heart of man irredeemably evil, or at any rate inclined to evil? "
The Manufacturer says it is.
And the willing, do-nothing facilitators of the slaughter in Ruanda are named Kofi Annan and Bill Clinton. Does that make them evil as well? One might think so.
I can make an argument that the moral non-believer is superior to the moral believer. The moral believer has the added inducement of promise of heaven and the pains of hell as a behavioral carrot and stick to aid his moral judgement. His/her moral code is externally derived and behaviorally reinforced by percieved divine consequence. Since the moral non-believer does not adhere to notions of gods, heaven or hell,the moral non-believer's moral code is internally derived, based upon his percieved notion of right action alone.
Without evil there can be no true love- If all we ever received in life were good from God, then we'd all not need to express any real true love toward Him- only when the love has been tried by things that would arrest our affections does it become clear what love truly is.
When love can endure through severe trials and tribulations, it becomes rock solid- when a person finds out what it means to truly love with no thought of getting anything in return, then they have plumbed the depths of desire and come away stronger than ever.
Evil gives man free will- it gives him an alternative objective to give his affections to. It's like when a man or woman gets married- they are of course devoted to hteir spouses, but the fact is, that connection grows stronger as they both are tried by encountering desires on the outside- yet remaining true to the spouse. (Not all are succesful of course, but hte ones that are have conquered their desires and become stronger in their relationship by deciding it isn't worth it to play the field)
There may be folks 'full of evil' here on earth- BUT they have NOTHING on Satan and ilk who are PURE evil- these evil folks will be shocked at how vile true evil is when they descend into the pit and face eternity. Satan and ilk hate God and God's creations so much that they are compelled by desire to completely destroy them- those practicing evil here on earth are in for an awful time in the afterlife- perhaps they feel that Satan will go light on them because they 'did His bidding' while here on earth BUT Satan will NOT! These evil folks will be screaming like little girls at hte sheer fright and terror hell will be to them. http://sacredscoop.com
You pose a fascinating question. While the manufacturer says man is funndamentally evil we are assured that we are made in the image of God. Assuming that the assurance isn't just about likeness then isn't God a reflection of ourselves? Capacity for infinite goodness and infinite evil?
Reading the Book of Job one has to ask what God's conception of justice truly is. The in the latter stages of the Job crap shoot between God and Satan one began to admire Job for his restraint and question the moral premise of the God-Satan Wager. Struck me as sociopathic.
The Kymer Rouge communists did this in Cambodia too.
Now, now, now. This isn't a matter of evil. It's just a Western misunderstanding of cultural diversity.
Within the institutions establsihed by God for believer and unbeliever alike, a good argument can be made that the moral unbeliever is advanced above the moral believer. Not because the morality is inherantly better, but because the believer's righteousness is based upon faith through Christ and by continueing in that faith, the law is implicitly fulfilled, whereas if the believer fulfills the law independent of faith through Christ, that moral legalism is a sin.
Some of the most miserable people in all the world are legalistic believers who fail to believe in God through faith in Christ in the performance of good works.
The moral unbeliever is successful not because of anything with value from within them, but quite the opposite. God doesn't punish the moral unbeliever, but He does discipline the unfaithful believer, especially the moral ones.
There are many, many, many good works performed by unbelievers. None of them though are good by the standards of Divine Righteousness which will judge them in the future.
Some might be good for a short period of time, or maybe even for a couple of centuries, but in the long run, any human good work performed independent of God is simply parlayed into evil by the Adversary, attempting to create a counterfeit Paradise. Accordingly, as such works distract from a relationship with God, substituting evil for divine good, they will ultimately be judged as good for nothingness along eternal standards.
The reason God doesn't punish the moral unbeliever is because He doesn't have to do something that is good for nothingness. The unbelieveer is already dead to God and is already condemned to everlasting damnation. (We are condemned before we are saved.) It's only through faith in Him, that the unbeliever may find hope that is eternally trustworthy. If the unbeliever doesn't accept even the death of Christ on the Cross, there really isn't anything else that would be convincing of a sincere faith for God to perform anything more with the unbeliever, other than sorting the good things out from the things that are good for nothingness on Judgment Day.
Evil, like history, belongs to men alone. If a tiger escapes from a zoo and attacks you, it would hopefully not cross your mind as being an evil act; and even while being brutalized, you would know that the tiger does not hate you, or is attacking you from malice; it is just being a tiger.
So people act with purpose. That gives them a capacity for evil. And yet to know if their actions are evil or not, you must know what that purpose is. Its context. Their purpose may even be just, and yet their execution of that purpose is what has resulted in evil.
Evil may indeed be an act of commission or omission. So unless you actively oppose it, you are accessory to it.
Evil is also dependent on its recipient. An act of little consequence to an adult might be terribly oppressive to a child. And yet it is not fair to call an otherwise normal and neutral act evil, just because who it is directed at is weak, and feeble of spirit. Except when directed at them for just that reason.
It might be said that suffering is evil. Not causing others to suffer, but suffering yourself. If you refuse to suffer, despite injury, then you transcend being a victim. From that point on, even if the intent is evil, it is just reduced to a contest between their seeking to harm, and your seeking to protect. Win or loss, it is just a contest.
In the end, to understand this abstract of man, you must also use another abstract: judgment.
We do reason with evil in a very fundamental way. By consequences. Having been a parole officer in my early days I have met evil sociopaths. While they have no moral conscience and are devoid of empathy, some do have a finely tuned sense of consequences. Having tasted the rigors of prison life,they want no part of it again and will willingly constrain their behavior to avoid prison. They never will develop a conscience or empathy but out of sheer self interest, they can develop a sense of consequence.
An insightful observation! The evil so obvious in slaughtering alive partially delivered otherwise healthy children--so easily defended by the democrat party--is a prime example in our day and age.
But in reality countries that are or were led by atheist regimes like North Korea, the Soviet Union, or China have all been afflicted with evil.
The believer knows there is such a thing as a greater good. But the non-believer thinks it is all subjective and therefore impossible to assign absolute moral value to actions.
Upon what standard would a 'non-believer' base a standard of 'right'? This is the secular humanist dilemma--if you will allow that distinction--since the basis can be changed according to whom holds the reigns of power to direct public attention.
Thanks. Great site.
Did I miss some thing...Are you saying that failure to believe is a sin ( qed evil) So the notion of the moral non-believer is an oxymoron?
Sorry if I'm being a bit dense here...( Got a bit overly festive last night.)
If you talk about Hate... you are getting close!
We would disagree then, Dan. The Theist-Atheist Split is merely a dichotomy. Nations of believers can be as vicious and depraved as nations of non-believers. 1933 Germany was one of the most fervently religous nations in Europe. Croatia was one of the most fervently Catholic nations in Europe and unimaginably vicious via the Ustasha. They claimed the imprimatur of God as an instrument. The capacity for evil is not tied to ones capacity to believe of disbelieve.
The examples of staggeringly vicious believers and non-believers throughout history points out the disconnect.The only difference is the religious sociopath claims God as his justification while the non-believer claims " historical inevitablity" or " justice" as his rational for slaughter.
Great article. Thanks for posting. Thanks to all contributors.
Words and deeds bump! Criminal behavior is caused by criminal thinking. Identify the INDIVIDUAL criminals. Incarcerate or kill them, depending on their crimes against INNOCENT INDIVIDUALS. We the living can, have, and will continue to do it in the future. It is what allows us to live in peace and freedom.
Plotinus has one section of his basic writings on Evil. He was highly religious yet pre-Christian. You might say his Platonism would be Pagan, and it was, but he was very thorough and can hardly be beat even by Aquinas.
How very true.
I think it depends on how you define the word. To me, evil is the act of diminishing life. Life is free will. Take away a man's freedom or his life and you are doing an evil thing.
But many living things depend on killing to survive. And we need to incarcerate criminals. So we have the concept of a "necessary evil". We kill a chicken so we have food but tell a child it is wrong to kill a chicken for fun.
The principle is that we do things that serve the greater good. The life of a chicken is less than that of humans. And the freedom of a criminal is less important than the lives of his many victims.
Moral relativists don't do calculations like this. They will say that Saddam did things things that were good looking at it from his perspective. But if you tally up the sum total of human misery and subtract it from whatever enjoyment was derived from the pleasure of Saddam and his minions, you come up with a big negative.
I see no dilemma in it at all...The commonly accepted standard of moral right action is threefold...1. The Law ( baseline) and 2. Conscience ( the internal standard) and The Ideal ( The moral aspiration).
I admire anyone who comes to moral right action by either method. Both however are equally subject to moral affirmation or hypocrisy.
It's been said that no man does evil in his own eyes. All interest is self-interest. The difference is in how we choose to see our 'self'.
Once again, your range of info astounds my humbled mind.
Sorry, but all three are based in the might of the declarer, if you look carefully.
The fact that islam rules 1/5 of the planet proves to me that there is no supreme being and that humans are fundamentally primitive, hopeless beings. Until islam withers, I'll feel the same way. Communism in the USSR in my younger days made me feel the same. We'll see if both evils can be reduced.
Use any engine to search 'argument from evil' to see how widely discussed this question is and how nobody can find an answer other than to use the existence of 'random' evil as proof that there is no involved God.
Thanks for the heads up on Plotinus...terrific stuff. I can see where you made the Plotinus- Aquinas connection. Plotinus thinks with all the rigor of full bore Jesuit minus the Jesus.
Maybe, but the regime was not religious at all. They would pretend to be but Hitler destroyed and subjegated Jews and Protestants. Only the Pope compromised with Hitler for the survival of the Church.
Tens of millions of people were exterminated by regimes commanded by atheists. I don't know of any Christian leader who has killed that many.
The only difference is the religious sociopath claims God as his justification while the non-believer claims "historical inevitablity" or "justice" as his rational for slaughter.
Some religions become corrupt and commit evil. Today Islam is like that and the Catholic Church once was.
But Christians do have a common moral compass even if it can be attracted to evil at times. Without a belief in a greater good, your moral compass tends to point towards yourself.
I suspect that you have the same problem that many radical muslims have. They tend to think of Christians as single entity. Muslims are no more monolithic than Christians and Jews are.
David Kilcullen ( A counter insurgency specialist) notes that if we insist on seeing an Islamist from Java as the same thing as a Jihadist from Yemen then we are doing the interest aggregation and interest articulation of the Jihadists for them.
The distinction between evil and not evil is the ability to disaggregate them.
Satan is prince of this world, this age, and we are here to decide who we will follow. We have been given "free will" for this test and along with that, a set of instructions on how to defeat Satan, leader of Islam. Don't think because evil is here that there is no God. You will stand before Him one day. Until then, look for truth in all things and you won't find that in many of our Christian churches today.
The men who waded ashore on the beaches at Normandy were not acting in their self-interest. They wanted to save civilization.
If you say that they were acting in their own self-interest because they saw themselves as part of civilization then I say that's a stretch. When you say that, you can't say to a child that he is being "selfish" because all things are selfish. It makes the language clumsy to have to say, "you are not acting in the interest of the greater good".
Except of course for the angelic domain and angelic conflict.
Maybe even less so considering how often they are at each other's throat. But that's the nature of people on the dark side. Gangsters fight other gangsters.
In America, we have lots of different types of Christians and Jews alongside each other but they do not wage war.
The Hutu and the Tutsis have lived near each other for hundreds if not thousands of years.
In that time they have been rivals at times having the occasional tribal war.
No doubt the crowding that high population density places on people living at the subsistence level may have put pressure on the relationship of the two groups.
The authors above paragraph made me think of the new tribes that are forming in our inner cities, namely the gangs that the illegal drug culture has been financing and incubating.
Small skirmishes happen fairly regularly how long before a true tribal war breaks out in one of our inner cities.
Given that many of these gangs are linked between cities it seem quite possible that a gang war in one city should spread to another or several other cities.
There will always be evil. Without evil we would never have evolved from single cell organisms. But we must always fight it.
Of course the Nazi regime was religious...even hyperreligious. All of its rituals were patterned after classic Norse, Protestant or Catholic religious rituals. The SS was patterned after the Jesuits. The choice of the Swastika was no accident any more than the Church chose the Celtic Cross for Ireland. Every Nazi symbolic choice was driven by religious semiotics. Hitler himself appealed to divine providence as his motivation to power in his speeches. Hitler goal was to BE become the Psychopathic God. He was actively interpretating what he percieved to be God's message.
That tribal skirmishes have broken out in US cities...
The Blood/ Crips feuds of the 80's and then the East/ West Rap Feuds.
I suspect the recent shooting deaths of NFL Players Tank Williams and Darrent Williams are the latest manifestations of it.