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Maxim Monday: Shun evil

This Maxim requires a lot of defining. I looked up the definition of ‘shun,’ and I’m glad I did. In my head it means ‘reject,’ and it does. But it also means to avoid or ignore. Of greater importance is the definition of evil.

I’ve avoided talking about evil on my blog. I’ve thought several times about writing a post on what I consider evil, but I’ve chosen not to every time. I guess I can’t avoid it any longer!

In the Christian world many people write entire books about ‘the problem of evil’ or ‘theodicy,’ the attempt to reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient, loving god with grave evil in the world. It’s a real conundrum. I don’t think there is a good answer in a Christian context. Embracing a polytheistic, Pagan mindset has mostly obliterated this problem for me.

I do think evil exists. I do not think it is a single, spiritual source, such as Satan. I think evil can be horrifically malicious and it can be quietly banal. Evil can be a single deliberate act or the ignorant repetition of lesser choices over a period of time. Evil can be done with the best of intentions. Evil can be personal or systemic. Sometimes it’s spiritual, but mostly evil is just human.

In my world, evil is not worshipping a different god than me or even sacrificing a chicken in honor of one’s god. I grew up in the 80s, with Satanic abuse panic and kids whispering that D&D games would lead you to the devil. None of that was real, let alone evil.

There are large issues of evil in this world. I believe corporations like Monsanto are part of that evil – because they threaten safe food sources, bully small farmers, wield their economic and corporate heft in a way that dominates agriculture around the world, and causes damage to ecosystems. (Does this mean that every person who works at Monsanto is evil? No.)

I believe that profiteering from wide scale war, like many organizations in the military-industrial complex did in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, is an act of evil.

I believe that if we see some one being bullied and we say nothing and walk away, that is an act of evil.

I believe that any and all acts of rape and physical coercion are acts of evil.

I believe that any and all forms of child abuse and neglect are acts of evil.

I believe that all us engage in forms of evil, mostly unknowingly, at some points in our lives. Sometimes we just do not know better. Sometimes we must choose between the lesser of the evils. There are shades of evil. We are all complicit.

My hope is that as we grow and mature – which ideally we are doing throughout our lives – that we start shunning evil more and more. Perhaps as children it starts by standing up to bullies. Perhaps it’s learning how to hold compassionate space for those suffering around us. As young adults maybe we begin shunning activities and influences that we see perpetuating evil on a grander scale.

As mature spiritual people we cannot ignore evil, for that only allows it to flourish. We can avoid it whenever possible. We can reject it to the best of our abilities. Some of us have more opportunities, resources and privileges to make louder, bolder stands than others. Hopefully we can reject what we believe is evil to the fullest our of capabilities.

Let us shun evil.

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About Niki Whiting
  • Niklas Gander

    It sounds like you’re equating “evil” with “sociopathic.” Those things that are specifically not benevolent to one’s fellow. Bullying is dysfunctional, and sociopathic. It impacts mainly those who are being bullied, but brings an entire generation into a fight. What is evil? The bullying or the ensuing fight?

    I’ll grant you that I have no good definition of “evil,” and when I appeal to my other mother tongue, I get an idea of “disease, pain.” The Old Swedish word used in the Lord’s prayer is “ondo” – pain, injury, wound, but within this context specifically, evil. You know, Victor had a saying: evil is whatever is broken, twisted or left out. Not sure one can really read that without appealing to poetry to explain it. If left in the realm of literality, it doesn’t seem to capture the fullness of the damage that is evil.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      I tried to mention systemic evil. Bullying is both a single act, but is also caused by and contributes to systemic evil. For myself, I could easily substitute the word ‘sin’ for evil here and have it mean near on the same things. Each of us might sin against another, sometimes that’s just a fuck up or a mistake, but systemic sin is much more difficult to weed out. Is it sociopathic though? I don’t necessarily think so. If it is, then most of us are involved in widespread sociopathic activity on some level.

      Maybe using Victor’s defintion, sin is whatever is broken, twisted or left out; but evil is something larger. In any case, let’s shun it!


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