What Is “Evil”? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week’s Question That Haunts comes from Tanya:

Leave your answer below and I’ll proffer an answer on Friday.

  • Mike

    “Evil” is similar to “wicked”. God is “angry” with the “wicked” every day (Psalm 7:7). “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5.) Can I still fit in the “progressive evangelical” category if I believe that behavior can be considered evil while the person committing the behavior is not evil but just “broken”, a “cracked eikon” (Scott McNight)?. After working in residential treatment for the last 20 years with youth on juvenile probation, I’ve adopted different language that supports treatment and rehabilitation. “Broken” kids are easier to help than “evil” ones.

  • http://antichristaliens.com/ Lock Ledger

    Out of the billions of people in the world, I am guessing that there are a few definitions floating around out there.

  • Ric Shewell

    I don’t think the Greek offers much help. “Pornea” just kinda makes us, today, think of pornography (evil+writing/drawing).

    It seems to me that evil is usually associated with disobedience. Evil things is the result of God’s desires not being accomplished. If God’s desires are fundamentally love, then anything short of that is evil (although, we prefer to reserve the word for the most horrific acts. In our language, evil primarily functions as hyperbole).

    I think another thing that brings up confusion is whether evil is a noun or an adjective. It seems to me that the best use is always adjective. Evil is not a force of its own, but is a way to describe things that are disobedient. So “deliver us from the evil one” or “from the evil thing” or “evil things” is a better translation than just “deliver us from evil,” whether or not you believe in a devil.

  • Craig

    Here’s a start: something is evil if it is both bad and marked by malicious intent unmotivated by concerns for good or for justice.

  • Chad

    I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis
  • https://registeredrunaways.wordpress.com/ Registered Runaway

    Perhaps too simple- but isn’t evil satan? Isn’t he the one we point to behind every evil act that takes place? He’s the tempter, the accuser, the liar and so forth.. so every evil event, big and small, he is behind. When we talk about Sandy Hook, I would believe that Satan exploited a man’s vulnerability due to his mental illness. Again, this may be too simple an explanation.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      No.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ants Jim Fisher

    For me, wickedness and evil has two components: one is hurting someone on purpose and the other is experiencing some level of pleasure as a result. If I am angry and am retaliating hurt-for-hurt, that is not necessarily evil, just broken. If, however, I cackle with glee in my heart for having done so, then it is evil. But what do I know? I am just making this stuff up.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      I think you’re on to something there. At least it is an easy place to start drawing the line.

    • http://rbridgesimagery.com robert bridges

      I’d go further and say that the desire to cause another pain for one’s own pleasure is sadism. Not necessarily evil as we all have a touch of sadism inside….but hey we are both just making it up as we go so who knows.

      We can enjoy the play.

  • Nick

    I agree with Craig that evil is “marked by malicious intent.” That’s why I think there is problem with the word “evil.” I don’t think that evil, in its purity, exists. That sort of word completely dehumanizes people. After the shooting happened at Sandy Hook, my wife and I were talking about how everyone was saying this was “pure evil.” And yeah, of course it was horrifying and terrible and wrong, but I think we use that word to oversimplify things. No one acts out of purely maliscious intent, with nothing but a desire to see destruction. No one is the Joker. When we say “evil” we take away all social, cultural, psychological, neurological, chemical factors that go into what happened, and we try to reconstruct a persons ontology to align with a simplistic idea tha t is easier for us to deal with. Saying someone or something is like saying “the terrorists hate us because of our freedom.” No, “they” don’t. It’s more complicated than that. I agree with Mike’s use of “broken.” This acknowledges a problem, with a history, and we can at least try to deal with it. Evil, just is.

    The closest thing I can think of as being evil, as in “malicious intent” is when people are psychopathy or sociopathy. Sociopaths cannot empathize with other people and do no have any consideration for the feelings of others, but only do what serves their own personal interests. This sounds evil, but the problem is, sociopathy is a disorder. Sociopaths are not normal healthy people who wake up one day and say, “hey, I think I’m going to be compeltely selfish and act with maliscious intent.” They can’t help it. Sociopathy is terrifying, and can have devastating effects, but it’s not evil, it’s a tragic disorder.

    Now if someone was in a perfectly healthy mental condition and decided to behave like a sociopaht, that would be evil, but that doesn’t exist. W want that to exist, because we don’t want to treat our enemies as subjects. We want to demonize them. Brokenness can be dealt with. Evil, just needs to be destroyed.

    • Nick

      One last thing. To bring this to a more theological place, I think god is much more interested in dealing with brokenness than evil, because I believe god is involved in rehabilitation and redemption, not destruction of the other. Evil is a useless nonproductive word.

      • Jubal DiGriz

        For me that’s a strange statement. I consider evil and brokenness identical.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      You’re getting to the modern question, involving neuroscience, something we are just starting to grapple with and is challenging our legal system. If the question is a Biblical one, then there is no one answer. Evil changed as the politics and culture changed. Usually with little or no explanation.

  • http://www.vickiarkens.com Vicki A

    I agree with Ric that the word evil is used in our culture as hyperbole. I think the Bible uses the word evil, at times, to describe anything which falls short of perfection or God’s will. For example, Jesus says that “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” In this case, evil seems to mean imperfect. (I realize that my comment doesn’t get to the heart of Tanya’s question, but I wanted to put this out there. It’s a good question.)

  • Charles

    Evil is a human concept based in dualistic thinking.

    Brain scientists say the idea that people make conscious decisions to hurt or harm is no longer sustainable. For one thing, there is no such thing as “free will” with which to decide to commit evil. (Like evil, free will is an antiquated concept for most.) Autonomous, conscious decision-making itself may well be an illusion. And thus intentional evil is impossible.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    In my emergent faith, my understanding of “good” and “evil” is tied directly to the notion of Oneness. Where Oneness (within ourselves, with one another, and with our world) happens, that could be called “good.” Where Oneness is undone — and by “undone” I mean the deliberate act of creating or facilitating brokenness inwardly and/or outwardly — that could be called “evil.” And there are numerous scenarios we could discuss on what constitutes “Oneness” and “brokenness,” but essentially that is my general take on “good v. evil.”

    It’s important for me to point out that my understanding does not include the notion that “good” or “evil” are related to rewards or punishments (e.g., God punishes for evil acts, or if you are “evil” you go to “hell,” if you are “good” you go to “heaven,” and so on). It is not tied to a theology or eschatology. Where we create Oneness, we are aligned with our human purpose. Where we create brokenness, we erode our human purpose. What is that purpose? Oneness. By which I mean creative harmony and order (which is the very nature of Creation, of which we are all an integral part). When there is disorder and disharmony, not only do we harm ourselves and others, but universal Oneness (which is the ultimate human end) is harmed. And that is evil.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Welcome back, R. Jay.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Thanks Tony. I’m happy to be back.

  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

    This is a good question, I’m anxious to hear your response Tony.

    I’m partial to two explanations of evil:

    1) Augustine’s theory of privatio boni is appealing. Basically evil a privation, a lack of the good. It is not tangible or material and therefore does not exist. It is parasitical upon the good and points to that which should exist, much like blindness.

    2) Sin or Evil is simply “missing the mark,” or in process terms, “failing to actualize our initial aim.” What gives evil an “agent like” feeling sometimes is the socialization and institutionalizing of mistaken beliefs, theories, traditions etc., passed down from one generation to another, which leads to deep seeded habits of obedience to authority–you don’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things. Sometimes you just have to “do your job,” as in the case of Adolf Eichmann for instance.

    • Craig

      It seems to me that there are many things that would be good, even though the lack of those things isn’t exactly evil (e.g., a small plate of cookies on my table). And some failures to actualize one’s initial aims turn out to be fortuitous, or good.

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        Good points Craig.

        You’re absolutely right, a deprivation of cookies is not evil, HA!. Augustine is basically saying that there is no such thing as Evil. To quote Athenatious, “Good is; evil is not.”

        To your point abut sin or evil sometimes being good, I can’t argue that falling short of our inital aims can sometimes turn out well, but from a process perspective I would posture that that is precisly where God is at work, attempting to bring the about the most empowering and novel forms of goodness :)
        .

    • Curtis

      “failing to actualize our initial aim.” That assumes we know what we are aiming for. If I aim to go to the bookstore, but end up meeting my future wife instead, does that mean my wife is evil?

      Isn’t it the nature of the outcome, not the intention, that determines if something is evil?

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        Good question Curtis. Maybe this example will help clarify:

        I believe that our rapid depletion of resources and pollution of the environment are evils. I participate in these evils. Is that sin? In my view, it is sin when I participate more fully in them than I need to in order to accomplish positive goals. That is, sometimes I judge that driving the car or taking a trip by air, despite the use of scarce resources involved, is the right decision given all the relevant considerations. This does not mean that it ceases to participate in evil. At other times I engage in waste knowingly, aware that I could do better. I consider that I am then sinning.

        • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

          BTW Curtis, to your remark about knowing what we’re aiming for, when I say “initial aim” I’m reffering to what Process Theologians call God’s directing and empowering call to novel forms of goodness.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          Jesse, you’re on to something in your response to Curtis on “the nature of the outcome” versus “intention.” I’d say they are related, though I think Curtis’ take is a bit off. Here’s my own addition to the discussion:

          Let’s take obesity as an example. We know as a fact that obesity is destructive. It harms the heart. It harms the joints and muscles. It can lead to diabetes, cardiac and lung issues, and so on.

          In this sense, we can say obesity is “evil.” This is not a disparagement nor a value judgment upon the obese person. Obesity is “evil” in that it is a state of brokenness that is terribly destructive to the body. It is also destructive to others, to community, to society.

          Now, if someone is aware of their obesity and does nothing to undo the destructive situation — and moreso if they willfully continue in the same habits that created the obesity — that is facilitation of brokenness. Which, again, we can say is “evil.” (I must acknowledge that this circumstance would require us to examine the emotional and psychological conditions that attend obesity.)

          But what of the person who changes their habits, begins eating more appropriately, and pursues a positively impacting exercise regimen so as to undo the brokenness of obesity? This is a step toward Oneness, the undoing of brokenness. This is “good.”

          Does the undoing of brokenness see its fulfillment immediately? No. But when the process is initiated, although the effects of the brokenness remain for a time, the brokenness is no longer sovereign. The pursuit of Oneness is sovereign. So long as it remains a pursuit and does not intentionally cease.

          • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

            Good example R. Jay. On a personal level, I am tempted to blend Augustine’s privatio boni (i.e. Evil does not exist) with the Process perspective. The binary opposites of good vs. evil are a problem for me.

            I like where your heart is in the statement that the never ceasing pursuit for goodness is vital. I agree endlessly.

            • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

              Thanks Jesse.

              I think (though I am not sure) that it was Thomas Merton who wrote, “That I want to please you pleases you.” That somewhat speaks to my perspective, though unlike Merton and most other traditional Christians (including Augustine), I don’t see “evil” from within the framework of theology, sin, reward/punishment, or atonement sacrifice. Those are old notions from an older time. They simply do not apply anymore as rational premises for explaining and dealing with evil.

              “Evil” can be seen as both effect (e.g., lung disease) and action (e.g., smoking), both of which are rooted in the mind’s condition (and to this we can also say “spiritual condition”). Whatever “good” or “evil” are, each are a consequence of cause and effect, and those are factors of the process of the mind.

              Many — and I might even argue, all — of life’s “evils” (both effects and actions) are completely avoidable and undoable. For example: obesity, smoking, human violence, air and water pollution, poverty and hunger (and other forms of socioeconomic suffering), drug abuse, greed, and so forth.

              Referring to Curtis’ earlier remarks, the “nature of the outcome” is almost always dependent upon the “intention” that drives the action (and intention can be passive or active). To which I must disagree with Curtis and say “intention” is at the very core of what constitutes and creates human evil.

              • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

                Well put R. Jay.

                Yes, If I were to concede that “Evil” did indeed exist I would completely agree with you that it can be seen as both effect and action, rooted in the human condition or the “flesh” as Paul says.

                My problem more or less is the ethical dilemma of keeping the age old dichotomy of good vs. evil in place.

                To explain a bit better, the category of “evil” is not necessarily the most helpful to me when it comes to categorizing “effects” and “actions” in the world. I tend to consider it nonexistent, because it demands that we make distinct normative judgements based upon our feelings. Herein lies the problem of moral dumbfounding (Richard Beck does great work on this). Shweder’s ideas of moral psychology are helpful here. Basically he says there are three domains which someone can violate and thus have that infraction be considered a “sin.” They are: Community, Autonomy, and Divinity (or Sacredness).

                The problem is if someone violates the Divinity dimension (e.g. burning a flag or creating a piece of art titled “Piss Christ”), it is more or less a matter of subjective feelings or sensibilities rather than objective, empirical, publicly available criteria (e.g. destruction of the environment).

                Basically, Divinity violations are in the eye of the beholder. At the end of the day people are just going to disagree with each other on what should called “good” and what should be called “evil” when it comes to what is considered sacred. Bottom line here is that we just have to learn to live with and love each other and, for me, the language/categorisation of “evil” may not the best way to go about doing that.

                Even in more objective situations I would be weary of calling something “evil.” I mean, take your example of obesity, like you said, you don’t mean it as a disparagement or a value judgment of the obese person, but if I’m that obese person I would probably take offense. Besides, we all die anyway right?? (sarcasm)

                • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                  Jesse, here is where I think you captured the key of this discussion: “we just have to learn to live with and love each other and … the language/categorisation of ‘evil’ may not the best way to go about doing that.

                  I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think the use of the term “evil” is inadequate and perhaps even dangerous. Why dangerous? Because the implications of the term are captive to an old theological dualism that allows us to place instant value judgments upon others (which has the consequential effect of elevating ourselves in many cases). This is why I use the term “brokenness.” It applies to all of us equally, in spite of the various degrees in which our brokenness is experienced or exhibited.

                  Also, how the term “evil” and its historical/theological connotations effect inner emotional processes is critical. Because when something is seen as “evil,” it often elicits a disproportionate response to it.

                  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

                    Amen.

          • Craig

            In this sense, we can say obesity is “evil.”

            R. Jay, I acknowledge this sense of the term, but this simply makes “evil”, in that sense, a synonym for “bad” or “harmful.” Right? If there’s anything particularly interesting about “evil” per se, it will have to be found in one of its other senses.

            • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

              Craig, you are right. “Bad,” “harmful,” “destructive” . . . these are synonyms for “evil” in the example I posed with obesity.

              And isn’t that largely what we’re dealing with here? Asserting synonyms for “evil” and the elaborating or deconstructing the various implications of those synonyms?

              One word I do not use when it comes to evil is “sin.” I don’t find “sin” to be a proper synonym for evil because it is immersed in exactly the kind of theological briar patch that obscures and chokes true understanding of the real-world fact of human brokenness, its causes, its consequences, or, for that matter, its authentic cure.

              • Craig

                R. Jay, I agree. So we could say that the question “what is evil?” has a variety of interpretations. On one interpretation, it’s just the question of “What is bad?” But this interpretation misses, I think, the spirit of Tanya’s questions. Her questions recognize that there seems to be a more peculiar sense of “evil.” So it’s some more peculiar sense that we should try to identify. I agree with you, however, that we needn’t appeal to theology-laden notions of sin or sinfulness in identifying the more peculiar sense.

                • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                  Exactly, Craig. And perhaps “variety of interpretations” is where the “haunt” may exist for Tanya.

                  In her question, Tanya mentioned two things that she could identify as evil: the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and passing a bad check.

                  She didn’t qualify her remarks, i.e. she didn’t explain “why” such things were evil. She simply recognized a self-evident “evil” quality in them.

                  I suspect we innately understand that one of the fundamental components of “evil” is the harming or taking of Oneness from another (whether an individual, a group, or the Earth). I should add that “Oneness” includes the various mechanisms and forms of security that maintain and/or facilitate the continuity of life and living.

                  • Craig

                    I read Tanya as suggesting that there seems to be a sense of “evil” under which passing a bad check is merely bad (and not evil). I think there something to such a sense, so it’s about such a sense that I think we can answer her question, “how does this work?”

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      True. Is writing a bad check evil? Yes. Is it “more evil” than murdering a human being? No.

                      It begs an excellent philosophical question: why is murdering a child more evil than passing on a bad check?

                      I think that comparative value qualifier is what Tanya may be seeking.

                    • Craig

                      There’s a plausible sense of “evil” according to which writing a bad check generally isn’t evil. This is especially if the check writing is done in ignorance, in a desperate attempt feed one’s children, or in an attempt to gain compensation from an unjust economic system, etc. The occasions in which murdering a child isn’t evil are much harder to come by. If, however, we broaden the sense of “evil” (so that it’s just a synonym for “bad”) then the “excellent question” is simply the question why murdering a child is worse than passing a bad check. And that doesn’t strike me as a particularly excellent question at all. Answers to that question are quite obvious, are they not?

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      More specifically, I said “excellent philosophical question.” Almost anyone would obviously say, “Of course murdering a child is ‘more evil’ than writing a bad check.”

                      Where “philosophical” comes in is going beyond just embracing the obvious, and diving deeper and more mindfully into the “why.” We “know” certain things are “evil,” but very rarely do we consider why. I think the “why” is extremely important. Because when we can peer into it, we can uncover the DNA of our ethics. And that is certainly important.

                    • Craig

                      But it’s easy also to find plausible philosophical accounts of morality/value that explain the intuitively obvious–that murdering a child is worse than passing the bad check.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      That’s what I’m asking, Craig. What are those philosophical accounts? If something is “intuitively obvious,” then what informs that intuition?

                    • Craig

                      Alright, I see. A philosopher might try to account for the way in which murdering the child is worse than passing the bad check in several ways: (1) while both actions are morally wrong, murdering the child is more blameworthy (and there are plausible accounts of blameworthiness that would show this to be the case); (2) perhaps relatedly, while both actions are generally morally wrong, murdering the child tends to reveal something more deeply perverse about the perpetrator; (3) while both actions are generally wrong, it is easier for countervailing considerations to render the bad-check-passing actions justifiable, and, therefore, permissible; (4) while there are general reasons to avoid performing both actions, there are additional reasons, which are quite significant, for avoiding murder (or, alternatively, there are reasons to more strongly disapprove, or impose sanction against, murder).

                      I think there’s a plausible general account under which all four points are true.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      Excellent. Getting close, but you’re still wading above the surface of the water and not diving beneath it.

                      Here’s my crack at it . . .

                      Why is murdering a child more evil than writing a bad check?

                      Life — by which I mean the human state of being biologically alive, and the state of sentiently experiencing that aliveness — is the most fundamental essence of the nature of our existence. It is the most sacred of all rights. As such, new life (i.e., children) is particularly precious. In its innocence and vulnerability it requires unique protection and nurturing because it cannot survive on its own. And if children do not survive, humanity does not survive. The survival of new life is necessary in order that it may become self-sustaining so as to perpetuate more life. This is why it is the very height of human evil to murder a child. It is an unnatural undoing of the object of our natural impulse to protect the innocent and defenseless and thereby preserve humankind. To kill a child is to commit humanicide. It is an affront to the very nature of what we are.

                      Writing a bad check, while evil (though referring to your #3 above, justification could in some moments be found in it) does not come close to approaching the level of reprehensibility that attends murdering a child.

                      That’s what I was trying to get at. The why. The deeper reasons. And my outline above also gets to why we know the murdering of a child is “intuitively evil.”

                    • Craig

                      Torturing a child in a deliberate, prolonged, and sadistic way, to the point of severely and permanently crippling the child both physically and mentally is just as bad, if not worse, than murdering the child. But the “life” of the child in your sense needn’t even be threatened in such a case.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      Excellent observation!! This is exactly what I meant by “excellent philosophical question.” Now we’re diving! haha

                      In your example of the torture of a child, you do an excellent job of arguing against my own premise regarding the impulse to perpetuate biological human life. However, note that also mentioned that “the state of sentiently experiencing” aliveness is integral to “the fundamental essence of the nature of our existence.”

                      In that sense, preserving our biological perpetuity includes securing the experience of living.

                      In which case, evil is not achieved merely when biological life processes are extinguished. Harming a child’s experience of aliveness by causing unnatural distress and damage — i.e., inflicting brokenness upon the child — would also qualify as evil.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      But is torturing a child “worse” than killing a child? Hmm. This I will think on.

                    • Craig

                      How do you determine whether something is “integral to the fundamental essence of…our existence”?

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      Great question.

                      How do I determine whether something is “integral to the fundamental essence of … our existence”?

                      I would divide the “essence” of our existence into three necessary parts: biological, psychological/mental, and spiritual.

                      Our biological functions are found in our heartbeat, lung function, blood flow, and the other physical systems that maintain our body.

                      Our psychological/mental functions are found in how we experience living, by which I mean how we interact socially, how we respond to emotional and physical stimuli, how we examine and cope with our environment, how we form relationships, and the emotional and intellectual methods we employ to foster and maintain those relationships.

                      Our spiritual functions are found in how we perceive the implications of living in our environment, how we define the implications of being alive, and how we apply our conclusions about those implications in our lives both personally and socially.

                      So with the three basic premises above, I would determine that the following are, compositely, “integral to the fundamental essence of our existence” . . .

                      food, water, exercise, and sex [biological]
                      joy and emotional security [psychological/mental]
                      security of conscience [spiritual]

                    • Craig

                      On your picture, should we infer that gratuitously hindering a person’s ability to sweat (through the application of antiperspirant) is as wrongful as gratuitously hindering a person’s ability to concentrate (through the repeated infliction of sharp pain)? If not, why not?

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      You ask a great question . . .

                      [1] Gratuitous inhibition of sweating by chemicals
                      – vs –
                      [2] gratuitous inhibition of concentration by pain.

                      There’s a lot of texture and layering there, such that it probably delves into excesses of detail that would not serve the overall discussion. Of course, I’m not complaining about those excesses of detail. They’re right up my alley and deserves a detailed answer. I just don’t think I can adequately give that answer here. So I’m going to forgo answering it for those interests. BUT . . . I will be giving it a lot of thought, and will consider posting an answer on my blog some time down the road.

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    I think the place to start is life itself. Anything that is alive has the right to be alive and not in pain. Basic needs such as food, water, air and some occasional rest contribute to that. So polluting is evil, disturbing to the point of causing unrest is evil. It gets complicated as soon as you start wanting fresh vegetables, but an awful lot of suffering in the world can be eliminated based just on these basic ideas.

    • Curtis

      Is pain always evil? Childbirth, for example?

      • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        I’ve heard that kinda pain is not good! I think we muddle the question as soon as we start talking about intentions, so yes, natural pain is also evil. Volcanoes are evil. I didn’t say it is evil to not attempt to alleviate all forms of pain or suffering. Intentions are considered afterwards. Causing pain for no good reason is obviously evil. Building your castle on a volcano is just dumb, making your slaves live there is evil. Telling a woman she can’t have pain meds during labor for some irrational reason would be evil.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          Why is “natural pain” evil? Why are volcanoes evil?

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            We are talking about God here aren’t we? If there is a consciousness behind creation, if something decided to create a world with death and life tied together, then we should include everything. If we limit ourselves to just asking what acts committed by a normal human are evil, I don’t think we really cover the topic.

            • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

              I am not talking about God at all, actually (particularly if by “God” you mean a divine being, a deity who is believed to be the Creator and Sovereign over the universe). Human evil is a wholly human creation. As such, the notion of “God” is irrelevant to this subject, inasmuch as we wish to discuss this in real-world terms rather than mythological terms.

              • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

                Then there is no evil. Good and evil have to be in relation to something. I suggested life and pain. If you can claim that the pain of childbirth is somehow necessary, or not evil, because of what comes of it, then how is that different from a man claiming that the pain of war is necessary to give birth to freedom? Or, why is all birth good? The ZPG people would disagree.

                If you say that evil is a wholly human creation, then I think we are talking mythologically. If it was not evil for all the species before humans to go extinct, then it is not evil for humans to go extinct, and nothing really matters, do what you want. That’s not how I see it.

                • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                  Actually, I entered this particular part of the thread by asking, “Why is natural pain evil? Why are volcanoes evil?” I offered no opinion (as yet) on your claim, but merely requested clarification; requested the “why” to your claim.

                  And I’m still curious. Why, in your eyes, is natural pain evil? Why are volcanoes evil?

                  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

                    See misplaced response below

  • Drinking From The Streams

    You don’t believe in demons or Satan, so I’m truly curious to see where you go with this. Some of the things you say/write get me so excited, and some I just sigh and wonder how you get there. Even Jesus confirmed the existence of demons and Satan, but you cast them out of your held beliefs. I just don’t get you sometimes.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      When you say “Jesus confirmed,” this does not mean Jesus actually said x, y or z. It is more accurate to say that whoever transmitted the copies of the Gospels claimed that Jesus said x, y or z. There’s a big difference. This may be why some of us can embrace a Jesus-belief yet still reject certain things he is said to have believed in (like demons) or did (like walking on water or rising from the dead). Besides, the Gospels may be “canonical” where traditional Christianity is concerned, but they are not in and of themselves universally authoritative (an individual may choose to accept the Gospels as authoritative for their own personal faith, but that remains in the realm belief, not absolute truth).

      • Drinking From The Streams

        There are many people who read the Scriptures in their original languages who can confirm Jesus truly addressed demons. We aren’t without access to the originals.

        As for whether or not to believe the authority of the Bible, that’s a whole new can of worms and one I’m simply too tired in life to debate any more.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          DrinkingFromTheStream, you wrote: “We aren’t without access to the originals.

          Not true. None of the manuscripts that make up the Bible are originals. The primary sources are all copies, and in all likelihood copies of copies. Scholarly experts, both Jewish and Christian, agree on this. In many cases there are multiple copies of the same book, and the contents of those copies in numerous circumstances do not entirely match.

          As to the nature of Biblical “authority,” that is something man has entirely contrived.

        • Curtis

          Besides, most of Scriptures were verbal in their original form. Passed on by word-of-mouth for generations before anyone bothered, or had the ability, to write them down. We don’t have access to the originals. But we have access to the stories as they have been passed along, in many forms, through history.

  • Tanya

    Yes, to clarify — I did try to suggest that there are some terrible things we popularly call “evil,” and some things, ie, “writing bad checks” or, “envy,” we might concede are wrong, and still comfortably call “sin.” But we generally reserve the use of “evil” as an adjective to mean “really, really bad.” Hitler was evil. The murder of children is evil.

    I’m asking if that is biblically or theologically informed, or just a habit we have. Maybe we really don’t know what we’re talking about, but throw the word around because it suggests something repulsive. And also full of theological importance. “Despicable” doesn’t pack quite the punch.

    And thanks to those who also pointed out that sometimes the word is used as an adjective and maybe sometimes as some disembodied free floating “thing.” A noun. “I looked into his eyes and saw evil.”

    Why do theologians talk about “The problem of evil”? Could they simply talk about “The problem of sin?”

    I also appreciate the conversation about mental health above. Because it seems like those of us who are open to that as an explanation of some crimes are less inclined to use the word “evil.” True?

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Tanya, thanks for being part of the discussion, and for adding more detail to your question.

      You asked whether the notion of evil, and its use in describing certain ills and actions, is biblically or theologically informed. I think you’ll see a number of responses on this. For myself, I am an emergent faith Christian, but neither the Bible nor traditional Christian theology inform my view on evil.

      I view evil from the holistic vantage point of real-world human experience, rather than from ideas drawn from ancient mythology, particularly such ideas as “sin,” the Garden of Eden mythos, God as divine rewarder and punisher, and Jesus as savior and redeemer. Those ancient ideas, while certainly relevant within the confines of traditional Christian belief, do not speak to the realities of the twenty-first century world as a whole. (I’ve elaborated somewhat on these things in several of my earlier comments in this thread.)

      I wrote yesterday that evil is both an action and an effect. Intention is critical to this, as it is the spark to the creation of evil acts and therefore the seed of evil effects. Mental health issues are important here, because the nature of the mind is at the core of intention. If a mentally ill person shoots a child, is that act evil? Yes. Is the effect evil? Yes. But was the person driven by evil? Now there’s a key question. It needs to be better specified: did the person act with deliberate evil intent, or did the person act as a consequence of an involuntary evil condition (what people would have called “demon possession” two thousand years ago; what we today would call mental illness)?

      The distinctions are extremely important because they not only help us better identify and understand that evil, both in action and effect, is not one-dimensional, but it also better equips us to respond appropriately to the conditions of evil as they effect perpetrators. And in becoming more informed, we hopefully would be less inclined to apply oversimplified labels to a complex and multi-textured reality.

      And that is key to my own position on this matter. Our response to evil. Not the response of some deity, and not a response borne of ancient theological notions that have no real-world applicability. Because evil is really our own creation; it proceeds from us and is inflicted upon ourselves, one another, and our world. Our burden. Our solution.

    • Ric Shewell

      good questions. It seems that evil is thrown around the Scriptures just as haphazardly as we do today, but this is why I love the Wisdom literature of the OT. Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Eccl. all deal with evil and come around to some varying answers.

      One thing that I think is important, and why we call it the problem of evil and not the problem of sin, is that SANE PEOPLE NEED THE DOTS TO CONNECT. What I mean is that we need to see the perfect connection to cause and effect. In the matter of our latest national horror, the first questions people ask are, “Why did this happen?” and “How can we ensure this doesn’t happen?” And people quickly attempted to connect the dots between the shooting and assault rifles, mental health care, security, etc. We need to connect the dots because its to scary to believe that sometimes the dots don’t connect, sometimes things are random, mad, and senseless. Vanity.

      And when we encounter random, mad, senseless, unwarranted pain and destruction — we use the adjective evil. We try to connect evil to something (in the theological world, most often to human or creation’s sins), but I don’t think we can actually attribute all random destruction to a particular sin on creation’s part.

      This is Job’s dilemma. He’s stricken by random, mad, senseless, unwarranted pain and destruction, and then we have poetry upon poetry of Job and his friends trying to connect the dots of his experiences with some sort of cause, whether or not someone sinned or if God should be cursed. In the end, God is God, and is that good enough? Questions are not answered, and dots are not connected.

      Meanwhile, in Proverbs, its pretty clear that destruction is the direct result of disobedience/foolishness.

      Anyway, “Evil” does seem to be an accurate way to describe random, mad, senseless, and unwarranted pain and destruction — whether its by weapons or weather.

    • Luke Allison

      Here’s something I’ve been thinking about.
      Evil is typically NOT like the Joker in the Dark Knight: badass, sort of sexy, dangerous, etc. Evil IS typically self-centered, egoistic, petty, and unattractive. I’m sure there are exceptions to both of these.

      Dean Koontz’ novel “From the Corner of His Eye” is a very interesting story about the banality and substance of evil vs the freedom and joy of living life for others.

      I’m not one for trying to make scientific or philosophical definitions of something that people have been telling stories about from the beginning of time.

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    It’s not so much my “eyes” as my definition. Which you can argue with or not. But you said “evil is a wholly human creation”, and I pointed out some problem with defining it that way. Natural pain is evil because it fits my definition. With my definition, rules can be made that fit what we know about neurology and human affects on the environment.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      So according to your definition, what is “natural pain,” how is it evil, and why is it evil?

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        Could you tell me where you are going with this? I think we have hit philosophical bedrock here with “pain”. If you we can’t agree on that as something commonly understood, I don’t know what to do. Or is it the “natural” part? I just mean, not man-made. But it doesn’t for this conversation that humans are part of nature, in fact my definition is designed to avoid that problem.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          Perhaps the concept of “natural pain” is not as commonly understood as you may suspect it to be. Some would argue that natural pain is actually not evil because, albeit the experience of some natural pain is severely unpleasant, it frequently serves as a signal indicating a condition requiring attention so that life processes can be maintained. For example, natural pain in the chest could signal a deeper problem in the heart. In which case the pain is a blessing, and not evil.

          So much for hitting philosophical bedrock.

          And to answer your question, “Where are you going with this?” . . . I want to see the rest of the iceberg that’s below the surface, not just the little piece emerging above the waters. This is a “titanic” subject, and as such we should endeavor to navigate the waters with great specificity.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            I think as soon as you start giving reasons for pain, you open something up that I don’t want. If you are talking about theodicy, then there is question of why have a universe that requires pain to alert you to health problems? In a purely natural world, then why give reasons at all? Evil is evil, much of it can be prevented, and that’s where our focus should be.

            • Curtis

              It seems to me an ideal that seeks to eradicate pain is misguided.

              My grandparents raised their families on farms. I sometimes spent the summers visiting them. For them, pain was a common, if not daily experience. Yes, pain is unpleasant at the moment. But at the end of a day, nurturing the pains of a good day’s work, pain was a sign of blessing. The blessing of a good day’s work. The blessing of having land and cattle to tend to. The hope and expectation that the pain and hard work will ultimately lead to a plentiful harvest at the end of the season. Those in pain from hard work were revered and considered blessed. The ones who did not experience the pain of work were either to be pitied or scorned, because they were not participating in the work essential for life.

              Their mantra, in short, was “no pain, no gain”. They would not honor nor respect a life free from pain.

              I know that is probably not the type of pain you are referring to. But I don’t think it is a simple as trying to eradicate all pain from our life. The most certain way for me to avoid pain is to stay at home with my windows and doors locked. But I don’t think that is the life God calls us to. God does not call us to avoid pain. Quite the opposite, God calls us to fully enter into the pain of life, just as Jesus did.

              Pain is an unavoidable part of life. To avoid pain is to avoid life. But I know that is probably not what you meant.

              • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                In my experience, pain is often a good thing. I’m very much fitness-focused and work out six days each week. The phrase “feel the burn” refers to the sometimes sharp discomfort experienced in the muscles after an intense routine. This discomfort, or soreness, is a “natural pain,” a natural process of repair that the body undergoes which results in increased muscle mass (which means increased metabolism, and which generally means a healthier and stronger body). So for people like me, if I’m not experiencing that soreness or “pain” the day after a workout, then that’s not a good thing.

                Many, if not most of us, would describe natural pain as a form of discomfort, which has varying degrees of severity, and in most reasonable cases is not sought after (one exception: women who choose to become pregnant are reasonably aware that pain will accompany childbirth). Yet how discomfort is experienced and perceived varies from person to person. My example above illustrates that very case.

                Which means natural pain is only “evil” relative to the one experiencing such pain.

                This is why I reject the over-broad notion that natural pain is evil. And to that, I still have not discovered what standard Lausten applies for concluding why natural pain is evil.

                Or why volcanoes are evil. We still haven’t touched that one.

                • Ric Shewell

                  R Jay, I have been trying to keep up with all your comments, though I’m trying to get to the crux of your argument for evil, which I think is your first post about “oneness.” Since muscle fatigue and child birth do not necessarily destroy “oneness,” these are not evil pains. Right, so far?

                  But what constitutes a “one”? Is my finger a “one” or is my body a “one,”? Does my family have “oneness”? Does humanity have a “oneness”? Does the universe have a “oneness”?

                  I ask because the larger the view of “oneness” becomes, the more trite a bit of destruction is.

                  Birth example: a woman will experience a tear in her perineum, a painful death and destruction of certain bodily cells, but in light of the oneness of family, this death and destruction is not thought of as an evil.

                  We see the oneness of a family as more important that the oneness of that piece of flesh? Of course we do.

                  Is there a oneness more important that an individual? We commonly think so. Whether its family, nationality, or society, if an individual gives him or herself up to pain or death for the benefit of other, we honor that sacrifice and probably wouldn’t count it as evil. The oneness of the group or society was preserved.

                  But what if oneness was greater than society or humanity? What if oneness of the universe demands pain and death for reasons we can’t see. In fact, we all feel pain and die, it seems to be woven into the oneness of our existence. How then can that be evil?

                  I just want to push you a little on the oneness thing. If you can find a good and healthy reason for the pain of child birth and muscle fatigue based on teleological ethics, then others could probably find good and healthy reasons for just about any pain and death out there.

                  • Ric Shewell

                    *correction, a woman *may* experience a tear…

                  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                    Hey Ric.

                    Your questions are right-on! Let me answer a couple of them point by point.

                    You wrote ….. But what if oneness was greater than society or humanity? What if oneness of the universe demands pain and death for reasons we can’t see. In fact, we all feel pain and die, it seems to be woven into the oneness of our existence. How then can that be evil?

                    I actually do not believe natural pain is evil. And I agree with you that Oneness is more than just the individual, and more than just human community and society (you will note that I am not saying Oneness is “greater” than these).

                    As for Oneness possibly demanding pain and death for grander reasons, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree. At present, my issue is with the words “demanding” and “reason.” Those terms are rife with philosophical connotations that are too complex to get into here at this time. However, I can say that what we define as pain and death are realities to the human experience that need not be defined as “evil” simply due to their generally accepted unpleasantness. Part of achieving inner Oneness is learning how to creatively respond (both intellectually, spiritually, and physically) to those realities during the course of our lives.

                    You wrote ….. the larger the view of “oneness” becomes, the more trite a bit of destruction is.

                    I would largely (though not fully) agree with that assessment. While I do have an issue with the term “destruction” (since it also has numerous connotations attached to it), I think we can deal with it here, thinking of it as a chemical/physical/biological process of cellular or molecular disintegration (and where in humans, “pain” is the measure of energy released from such processes).

                    The “bit of destruction” you speak of can be seen in what occurs during a muscle workout (where you’re actually “destroying” the muscle fibers), or what occurs during childbirth, or what would happen during a volcanic eruption. Yet all of these processes of “destruction” are integrally attached to a natural reintegration mechanism that facilitates Oneness. Broken down muscle fibers repair, and become larger and stronger muscle. The tearing of the woman’s pelvic region heals, and her child is added to our numbers. The ejecta of a volcanic eruption cools and forms new land mass (such as the Hawaiian islands, for example).

                    You wrote ….. If you can find a good and healthy reason for the pain of child birth and muscle fatigue based on teleological ethics, then others could probably find good and healthy reasons for just about any pain and death out there.

                    In the case of muscle repair and childbirth, they are naturally occurring; they are inherent realities to our human nature. But I strongly hesitate to assign “reason” or “purpose” for the pain involved in both. As for volcanoes, their eruptions are a naturally occurring expenditure and release of energy. We can even define “pain” that way, where humans are concerned.

                    But what is key here is this: “natural pain,” or the naturally occurring expenditure and release of energy such as we’ve discussed here, is typically attached to a reintegration mechanism that returns the whole to a state of Oneness. And the very existence of such natural mechanisms suggests a distinctly set direction to which Creation tilts: Oneness.

                    As for the ethical part of all this, that would require a deeper discussion on the infliction of pain upon others, and the intentions involved in such infliction. Such a discussion would, I suspect, require an entirely new post altogether.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      Ahhhh, huge HUGE writer’s annoyance: the formatting faux pas. (I am presently grumbling at myself!) :-/ My apologies for the one italicized paragraph. (Annoyed! ANNOYED!!)

                    • Ric Shewell

                      I’m following you,

                      you write “‘natural pain,’ or the naturally occurring expenditure and release of energy such as we’ve discussed here, is typically attached to a reintegration mechanism that returns the whole to a state of Oneness. ”

                      Also, good job not creating causality between pain and reintegration. You merely say “attached,” which I think is what you want to say.

                      But I would say that “attachment” to some good end is your qualification for something to not be evil. That makes me nervous, because we could look at just about any pain and some jackass will say that it is attached to this or that good end. (You’re not a jackass, but people who attribute disasters and death to God’s plan and good end, they are).

                      I think that you are still determining whether or not a pain is evil based on its result.

                      However, I do think that there is something intrinsically bad (“evil” I guess) about pain, suffering, and death. All pain. All suffering. All death. I do not think it is meant to be.

                      That’s where I’m at… I think…

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      By “attached to,” I simply meant that natural pain is, in most instances, a constituent of a particular process which naturally arrives at Oneness. For example, wounds are healed by a naturally occurring biochemical process present in our bodies. In a number of different animal species, detached limbs or other appendages regenerate.

                      This same mechanism of reintegration is evident beyond just the biological, but also in the geological, ecological, and even cosmological. Observation overwhelmingly suggests that Oneness — which is inclusive of such things as order, harmony, structure, balance, and so on — is the nature to which Creation eventuates.

                      Note that I am not assigning purpose to natural pain. I am simply observing its reality as a component in processes of reintegration.

                      As to where you wrote, “I think that you are still determining whether or not a pain is evil based on its result” . . . . I think you are partly correct, but only inasmuch as 1) Oneness is Creation’s nature and therefore our nature (since we are part of Creation); 2) natural pain is frequently a component in reintegrative processes which attend Oneness; and 3) natural pain is therefore “good,” by which I might say that 4) pain is “evil” when it violates the evident natural ends of reintegrative processes (i.e., Oneness).

                      As for all suffering and all death, why would you say they are “intrinsically” evil?

                    • Ric Shewell

                      So, my questions to you would be: How do you know that a pain is not part of the mechanism to the Oneness of the universe? Just as skin cells and bacteria die for the overall oneness of an individual, how do we know that the death of innocent people are not part of the mechanism toward Oneness? Many people look at war in just such a way. Innocent people will die, but most governments have chosen that innocent deaths are necessary for some unseen future peace, or Oneness?

                      In your way of thinking, I can’t see how to set a part one pain or another, simply because we cannot quite see how all the pieces of the universe fit.

                      As for your question to me:

                      I, of course, believe in the Trinity, more or less, classically interpreted. But the God of Scriptures does not simply find a space in my epistemology or world view. My epistemology and world view depends on Christ’s resurrection and the implications. The implications of the resurrection is the renewing of creation that has begun in Christ and is yet coming. This belief in the coming new creation is bathed in language of pain-free and death-free existence. And, accepting Scripture as authority in matters of faith, Scripture does place pain and death as fallout from turning inward and away from God.

                      So, because I do not give up those cornerstones of my world-view, I see all pain as intrinsically evil, results of turning from God. And I envision a world where child birth as well as body building will be without pain.

                      I know that we don’t agree on God and Jesus, so that to me, is where we’ll often trace back our differences to.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      How do you know that a pain is not part of the mechanism to the Oneness of the universe?

                      Well that was the very conclusion I was aiming toward, that natural pain and natural death are part of the mechanism to Oneness.

                      War is quite different. War is our creation, and stems from a failure to rein in our inner brokenness. War is the infliction of our fears upon one another. It is therefore unnatural. War is evil. (Some might attempt to point to the animal kingdom and posit that blood-conflict is natural; I would say that might be true, but only if we choose to lower ourselves to the level of animals, where instinct and impulse reign sovereign.)

                      In your way of thinking, I can’t see how to set a part one pain or another, simply because we cannot quite see how all the pieces of the universe fit.

                      Categorizing pain is a delicate task. However, I might say that a general standard for differentiation could look like this: whether a pain arrives through natural inducement and/or circumstance; whether a pain is inflicted by another human being (which necessitates determining the intent and objective of the infliction.)

                      We must be careful, though, when it comes to the issue of intent and objective, particularly as it pertains to human motivations. One trap involves something you mentioned above, i.e., that people could justify that the deaths of some serve a greater end for the many. I, of course, reject the notion that killing a person is proper at all, to say nothing of killing many persons for serving some so-called greater purpose. I would strongly promote this rule: human Oneness cannot be advanced through methods that violate the very principles of Oneness.

                      I would furthermore mention that any such notion of justification of mass killing is a human political contrivance, which is a symptom of the very failures which move people to the unnatural event of war.

                      My epistemology and world view depends on Christ’s resurrection and the implications.

                      I would have to argue that to accept the value of Jesus’ resurrection would require you to accept the value of his torture and his execution, which were essential elements in that entire soteriological scenario (which the Christian holy texts themselves attest to). In which case, the torturous infliction of pain and the execution of an innocent is, at times, justifiable and good. Which would suggest that pain and death are not “intrinsically” evil. The whole of the crucifixion narrative would then imply that pain, suffering, and death are at times necessary for Oneness (which, in tradition Christian theology may equate to “salvation” or “redemption”).

                    • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

                      Curtis: “To avoid pain is to avoid life. But I know that is probably not what you meant.”
                      You’re right, it’s not. I have no desire to attempt to eliminate pain.

                      R. Jay: “Which means natural pain is only “evil” relative to the one experiencing such pain. Or why volcanoes are evil. We still haven’t touched that one.”
                      I did touch on it, you just don’t accept that it is by my definition. I find it much more workable than your definition of Oneness.

                      Ric: “because we could look at just about any pain and some jackass will say that it is attached to this or that good end.”
                      And that is exactly the problem of defining evil in any subjective terms like Oneness.

                    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

                      The thing is Lausten, you did little to provide any real substance to your definition. This is as far as you went with your definition: “I think the place to start is life itself. Anything that is alive has the right to be alive and not in pain. Basic needs such as food, water, air and some occasional rest contribute to that. So polluting is evil, disturbing to the point of causing unrest is evil.

                      I agree that starting with life itself is a place to start. But you do not explain the “why” in your position. You stated “anything that is alive has the right to be alive,” but you do so without any qualification. By your logic, we should do away with antibiotics and antiviral drugs so as to give way to the right of bacteria and viruses to be alive (understanding that they are within the “anything” category).

                      And no, you did not specifically touch on why volcanoes are evil, with the exception of writing “building your castle on a volcano is just dumb, making your slaves live there is evil.” You do not give the “why” in terms that substantively support your reasoning. A broad statement is all you provide, nothing more.

                      You just wrote (to Curtis): “I have no desire to attempt to eliminate pain.” Yet five days ago you wrote: “Telling a woman she can’t have pain meds during labor for some irrational reason would be evil.”

                      There is an abundant lack of substance and inconsistency in your position. And that is why I do not presently accept your definition.

                    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

                      Sorry you’re not happy with my statements R. Jay. I’m not finding this discussion very interesting, so I’m keeping my comments short. About eliminating pain; I meant that I am not on a quest to eliminate it completely. I don’t seek comfort for it’s own sake. I don’t think twice about swatting mosquitos. I don’t see much point in even discussing those. Primarily I’m concerned with intentional acts that directly or indirectly harm others. That includes harming the environment. The key word in the “woman in labor” example was “irrational”. But, you have to start somewhere, with something we can all agree on. That’s why I like my definition, it doesn’t need qualifications.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    From the best I’m able to determine, Biblical evil is a condition of the soul. It is not the quality or morality of an action or a person. An action, usually some sort of disobedience of God, results in a damaging or fracturing of the soul. This damage can only be repaired by calling on God for aid, including following prescriptive rituals. This damage is contagious (proximity to evil can also damage the soul), hereditary (children are born with the evil of their parents), and eternal. The eternal element is why only perfect (usually being fully repaired) souls are able to be reborn after death, and why broken and fragmented souls are not.

    Again, this is my gestalt reading of the Bible. My own notions of what evil is are quite different.

  • pamela chaddock

    Hey Luke Allison, I think you were close to my take. I’m not sure evil is synonymous with wickedness; rather more like a shadow cast from a choice of mistaken judgment, a consequence of an imperfect nature mis-managing God-given free will. “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:14 NIV. And it seems God allows for the possibility of evil for our growth (the rain falling on the just and unjust). Deut. 30:15: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” (Sin isn’t mentioned here, but perhaps sin would be conscious embrace of evil, with potential for wickedness and iniquity.) Becoming “perfect like God is perfect” could be considered a process of learning how to shed more light while casting fewer shadows.

  • http://www.dunwanderinpress.org robert landbeck

    There are so many expressions of ‘evil’ manifest by men against his own species, it is difficult to know where to start. We will probably never completely understand evil from a ‘Divine’ perspective, until we have understood the nature of perfect goodness, which remains outside the limits of human nature. But one can conclude that the greatest evil in the sight of God is deceiving humanity on the nature and character of perfect revealed truth. For by this deception, humanity is prevented from imagining, reasoning, searching and discovering what perfect good is; something so much more profound than the theological counterfeit that history has offered! http://www.energon.org.uk

  • Paul Rodden

    Privation of the Good.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    A fresh example of “evil” comes from the tragedy in India that has inspired a global outrage. A 23-year-old woman — a medical student at university — was raped and tortured by a gang of men with such savage brutality that certain of her internal organs were destroyed. She died of her injuries.

    Referencing my rather enjoyable dialogue with Ric Shewell above, there is no doubt the woman experienced terrible pain. And while I argued that naturally occurring pain was not necessarily evil, the kind of pain inflicted on this woman absolutely was evil. Because of its intent, and because of its ultimate effect upon the woman both physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The event was intended to destroy her, to break her, to undo her individual Oneness. And this is exactly what happened. On every human level.

    The question is, how do we respond to such evil? Yes, we grieve. Yes, righteous anger is appropriate. But then how do we respond to the attackers? How do we punish them? Do we murder them, and thereby return evil with evil? I would say no. An ethic of Oneness must be a consistent one. The killing of a human being is always evil.

  • Pingback: Evil Is (Not) [Questions That Haunt]


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