The Problem of Always Externalizing Evil

The Problem of Always Externalizing Evil June 20, 2017

Our world is full of people who think that evil is only external to them. This is one of the most dangerous ideas a person can hold. When we do not understand our own capacity for evil but merely fixate on someone else as the embodiment of evil, we can eventually become the thing we hate (whether that thing is real or imagined).

Isn’t it crazy that Islamophobic terrorists fixate on all the things they dislike about Islam–some real, some imagined–and decry what they see as Islam’s particular penchant for terrorism, only to become terrorists themselves?

Isn’t it crazy how Muslims who engage in terrorism are so often focused on injustices in the world, only to create more injustices themselves, often killing innocent people in the process?

Isn’t it crazy how anti-abortionists who develop extremist views fixate on the killing of babies in the womb only to go and kill people in abortion clinics–just like they decry in the first place?

Isn’t it crazy that a progressive man can become so fixated on the evils of the Republicans and Trump and their injustices that he can go and commit the injustice of taking a life through an act of terror?

How dire the warning for all of us fixated on the news these days and desperate to see a rebuke come to Trump and his administration for their many injustices. How dire the warning to every Trump supporter who spends hours broadcasting their disdain for “libs.” Evil is not only external to us. Yes, it is that, but not only that. And if we fail to grapple with our own inner demons, we are going to be part of the problem. In extreme cases, we could even become radicalized.

There is a massive denial that fails to grapple with our own sin nature. The evil part of our nature is more than human fallibility and more than animal survival instinct. Within our hearts, we hunger for justice in a way that animals do not. But within our hearts, we also encounter a radical struggle between good and evil. In pop culture right now, we see this illustrated in the summer blockbuster Wonder Woman, where Diana Prince initially believes she can stop all violence in the world by killing the external threat to the world but discovers that human beings constantly battle good and evil within themselves and must learn to choose the good. I know, I know … It’s just a fictional story. But there is a reason we resonate with these types of films; they contain themes that speak deeply to our experience of the human condition.

Denial is common to religious people. You would think religious people of all people would be humble, but in fact religious pride can easily creep in to our hearts. We begin to think we have found faith because we are more virtuous than other people. We can begin to look down on others. Like the Pharisee who prays in the Gospels, we can find ourselves thanking God we are not like “that particular sinner”! Instead, we ought to be humbled by our own need for deliverance.

But denial is also common to secular people. The denial of original sin (or some synonym) and the denial of a need for deliverance. Just as with the religious person, the secular person can easily begin to view evil as merely external and to ignore its budding in their own lives.

All of us, secular and religious, must grapple honestly with the battle between good and evil in our own hearts.

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P.S. Please also note that I am not a scientist, but a person with expertise in theology and the arts. While I am very interested in the relationship between science and faith, I do not believe I personally will be able to adequately address the many questions that inevitably come up related to science and religion. I encourage you to seek out the writings of theistic or Christian scientists to help with those discussions.

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