The Line Between Good and Evil

The Line Between Good and Evil December 21, 2014

The line between good and evil

The quote from N. T. Wright, as well as the accompanying picture, came to me via ProgressiveChristianity on Facebook.

“The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
~N. T. Wright

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  • David Evans

    I thought I remembered something similar from C S Lewis, but couldn’t find it. But I did find this from Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago:

    “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

    …. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”


    • Nick G

      And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

      Someone with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome 😉

    • R Vogel

      Glad you posted this. Wright’s quote is clearly just a rephrasing. Of course Wright will be happy to show you how the us is separated from the them….

  • Michael Bird

    Sounds like a paraphrase of Solzhenitsyn.

  • I often wonder whether the word “evil” serves any useful purpose except to demonize behavior and people, without really diagnosing it. Certainly, there are behaviors that we can all agree are bad and harmful, especially human cruelty. But many other behaviors are harder to define along a spectrum of “good” and “evil” because mixed motives, confused emotions, and complicated weighing of alternatives are involved.

    I wonder if it would be better to address the lack of empathy that underlies most behavior that we think of as “evil” and works against the golden rule. If we can understand bad behavior (or even behavior that is harder to define) in terms of empathy, then solutions can be forthcoming. Empathy is something that can be learned, and attitudes that lack empathy can be idenified and addressed constructively. Those for whom empathy is most lacking (those with neurological disorders ) can be diagnosed and treated without judgement.

    The concept of “evil” seems too tied up with ancient personifications of Satan and devils, and leads us to see people as enemies deserving of punishment, rather than persons who need guidance or treatment. Evil makes us turn to vengeance rather than rehabilitation.

    I found this NPR discussion on the topic interesting: