Keith O’Brien: evil.

I was digging through the file labeled “Not Surprising at All” this morning and came across the story of Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and exceedingly high-ranking Cardinal.  It turns out that he spent his whole career ferociously opposing the rights of homosexuals and making advances on his male subordinates.  One of those was public, the other was not.

If you want all the details, Mark Turner has a great write up over at the Friendly Atheist.

I will only say that this guy is a sick, twisted person.  Not because he wants to be intimate with men, that’s quite beautiful.  What’s sick is that he could dedicate much of his life to infringing upon the happiness of people with the same desires.  It’s twisted to call consensual love a danger while coercing those beneath you for intimacy in the shadows.

I don’t know how a human can lack empathy to that degree.  How can he not put himself in their shoes?  When the dogmas of religion supplant empathy, that’s where true evil lies.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jedgardee
  • Bubba Maximus


    We need to stop using the word “evil.” Theists use “evil” as a way of identifying “bad” things from “good” things from a supernatural/superstitious/fairy tale point of view. One could argue that “evil” has its origins in a concept of “God.” If we don’t believe in “God,” then why would be bother to describe something “bad” as “evil?”

    If we’re going to have any success in our efforts, we need to be more careful with our use of language. Words mean things.

    • sqlrob

      Definition of EVIL

      a : morally reprehensible

      Words mean things, and it looks like the meaning fits.

  • Andre

    “Not because he wants to be intimate with men, that’s quite beautiful.”

    Actually, it’s not beautiful in this case. He was using a power imbalance (from his position of power within the Church) to initiate/force the intimate contact. Essentially a form of rape. Reading the stories of the priests in the Mark Turner post, it really is sick what this man was doing. Then, on top of it, his outward treatment of and attitude toward the LGBT community does border on evil.

    @Bubba: I think evil can still be used but, unlike in religion, people are not innately evil, but they can act in ways that are evil. Concepts can be evil (slavery, rape, mass murder, etc) as well. One thing I don’t want to do is have religion take an incredibly useful word out of my vocabulary.

    • Andrew Kohler

      I agree with Andre (and not just because of his similar name!), especially with regard to the use of the word “evil.” I especially like the idea of differentiating our use of that word from the concept of original sin. I do not think that one needs to believe in a god to use that word (in fact, this reminds me of some theists’ contention that atheists are unable to have meaningful morality). I believe that the word “evil” should be used for especially egregious actions which deliberately cause harm and subvert compassion and empathy to the extent of perverting our very humanity, or for people who are dedicated to such actions. Saying something is “bad” (or even “horrendous,” “egregious,” etc) simply does not have the same power in our language as saying it is evil, and nothing less will do for the likes of slavery and rape.

  • Bubba Maximus

    Separating “evil” from the concept of “original sin” is a nice idea, but one that is inherently flawed inasmuch as “evil” is intrinsically intertwined with “sin” in the first place. To use the word “evil” is to inherently admit to some concept of “sin,” which is folly, as “sin” in and of itself is a meaningless word in an atheist moral construct. Just as the swastika (in and of itself a symbol of life and positive connotations) is culturally irretrievable from its association with Nazi Germany, so too is the concept of “evil” too tightly bonded to the idea of “sin.” I fundamentally reject the notion that we should use the word because it is “convenient.” Frankly, that’s lazy. Not unlike atheists who put up trees and exchange gifts during “Christmas,” we should all strive to not give in to what is easy for the sake of convenience. We’re better than that.

    • sqlrob

      To use the word “evil” is to inherently admit to some concept of “sin,”

      No, it inherently assumes morality, not sin.

    • Andrew Kohler

      I just looked on, and there are several definitions for “evil,” only some of which seem to me to be inherently tied to the concept of sin (a concept which I reject, just to be clear). I see what you mean with the analogy of the swastika, a symbol which long predates its obscene use by Hitler, but if anything I think that the use of “evil” to connote sin is the original (no pun intended) meaning, and its meaning has changed so that it no longer necessarily connotes this.

      I do agree with you that language is very important, and I understand your desire to remove from our language words which endorse a religious worldview. What is your proposed substitute for “evil”? Once again, “bad” just doesn’t seem adequate to me.

    • Glodson

      Separating “evil” from the concept of “original sin” is a nice idea, but one that is inherently flawed inasmuch as “evil” is intrinsically intertwined with “sin” in the first place.

      This is wrong. The concept of Original Sin is an example of Theodicy. Original Sin is an invention of Augustine of Hippo as an attempt to explain why an omnibenevolent and loving god allowed evil to exist. It is a retcon of god. God of the Old Testament follows the same arc as other Mesopotamian gods. He is callow and cruel and inhumane. This is typical of gods of that region, where flooding was erratic and a bad harvest was damning. Harsh conditions gave rise to a harsh god.

      As mankind progressed, the gods changed. They went form being figures that explained the world, to being beings that granted morality. We can see the change in the Bible, and it becomes even more substantive when we see the duality concept from Zoroastrianism included. Now God is the good figure, juxtaposed by a re-imagining of Satan as the evil figure. But there’s a problem.

      Why did God allow Evil to exist? Evil here includes so much more than just sin. Evil is why sin even exists. This isn’t a problem for non-Christians, where evil is not always connected to the supernatural. It isn’t a problem for us as our base for morality is not based on the existence of a god. It is a problem for Christianity. The very concept of Evil strikes at the core of the belief of a loving god, and is the reason for the branch of theology called theodicy.

      Evil is a great word. It tells you when someone has been wantonly immoral and harmed others. It tells you that it wasn’t a mistake, it was a calculated act. And it will always be a reminder of the mental gymnastics required to believe in a loving god. It is lazy to just leave the word behind because people want to tie the word to sin. We should be the ones decoupling this, reminding people that not all sins are evil. There’s nothing evil about premarital sex. There’s nothing evil about being a non-virgin on your wedding night. There’s nothing evil about homosexuality. There’s nothing evil about not honoring your parents. There’s nothing evil about making an idol. There’s nothing evil about having a god before the lord. There’s nothing evil about working on Sunday. There’s nothing evil about not marrying your rapist. Evil and sin are two distinct concepts, and we should be reminding people of that.

      • Andrew Kohler

        “We should be the ones decoupling this, reminding people that not all sins are evil. ”

        Well said! :-D

        • Glodson

          Thanks. It was a point I was thinking about last night as I went to sleep, the idea that evil and sin are linked, or that evil has to be about a supernatural force.

          I was thinking of it like this: let’s say I said something hateful. Saying my comment was bad doesn’t capture it. It can lead people to thinking that I just said it poorly, or it was an example of miscommunication. However, saying that I said something evil tells people that my comment was morally wrong, wantonly so.

          Same goes with sin. Saying a person is sinful is not saying they are evil. It is just saying that a person is doing something another’s imaginary friend really doesn’t like.

    • Artor

      It sounds like you have a problem with the meaning of the word “evil,” that the rest of us don’t. I have no problem disassociating “evil,” from religious concepts of evil. Evil does not equal sin. If you have a problem with it, feel free to use other words, but be aware that not everyone who uses the word “evil,” means what you think it means.

  • Katybe

    And in a bizarre juxtaposition, the first story linked after this one in a “if you liked that, read this” random selection was the recent Elf Orgy post, which gives me a mental picture I really didn’t need!