Evil Is Not, And Strives To Unmake The Universe In Its Own Image

Evil Is Not, And Strives To Unmake The Universe In Its Own Image December 4, 2011

The ontology of evil is that evil is anti-being, it is a self-destructive parasite whose end, if it were allowed to come to pass, lies in the extermination of being itself. Evil cannot exist on its own, but only thrive on the good, eating away at it until that which was good is no longer and that which is fed on the good will then die out as well. Nonetheless, evil appears in the world, it is a phenomena which we encounter, even if, essentially it is illusory. Thus, St. Athanasius wrote: “But good is, while evil is not; by what is, then, I mean what is good, inasmuch as it has its pattern in God Who is. But by what is not I mean what is evil, in so far as it consists in a false imagination in the thoughts of men”[1]  We create what is evil through our minds, we establish it in the world, giving it the illusion of being: it appears, but we are not able to see it for the void it actually is. It takes the shape of what it deconstructs, it simulates it and fakes it as it eats it away, until the whole structure collapses and the inner, nihilistic core is revealed.

Moral evil follows through with ontological evil- it is the act in which such anti-being, such nihilism, is thrust into the world. As evil is self-destructive, so too, do we find moral evil to be self-destructive and harmful, creating much pain and suffering in the world and in the who acts on it. It leads us to go after that which is less than ideal, so that it we can then help in the deconstruction of the good itself:

But the audacity of men, having regard not to what is expedient and becoming, but to what is possible for it, began to do the contrary; whence, moving their hands to the contrary, it made them commit murder, and led away their hearing to disobedience, and their other members to adultery instead of to lawful procreation; and the tongue, instead of right speaking, to slander and insult and perjury; the hands again, to stealing and striking fellow-men; and the sense of smell to many sorts of lascivious odours; the feet, to be swift to shed blood, and the belly to drunkenness and insatiable gluttony. All of which things are a vice and sin of the soul: neither is there any cause of them at all, but only the rejection of better things.[2]

Evil is chaotic, denouncing all that is rational; in its essence, there is no reason, there is only the destruction of reason as it destroys being. To look for the reason for sin is to give too much credit to sin itself. Of course, sin, evil, thrives on the good, imitates it, and suggests itself under the illusion of good, so that we can see how and why someone would act a certain way when we see how they misconstrue the good. This is not to give reason for evil, but rather, to show the reason behind the good which is contained by and used by evil.

Moral evil resides in us, comes from us, as a kind of self-destructive tendency within; it is the embracing of nihilo over creation, turning the two inside-out. This, of course, is how it first hides itself – but later, the more it develops in us, the more it can reveal itself for its nihilistic glory, and the one who embraces the process of their self-destruction will, in the end, revel in it, knowing full well they seek the end of being.

It is, however, possible for one to come face to face with sin, to see the way sin has led one to self-destruct, and counter it with a no. They can look for and strive for a way out of the habits they have let develop – they can see what they have allowed and finally admit their need for help. This is, in part, what happened with Philip K Dick, and why he often sees his theories connect in many places to orthodox teaching, even if he realizes other aspects of his speculation take him away from it. The basis of his thought, the basis of his spiritual transformation, lies in his encounter with his own evil, and the horror he realized he had brought upon himself:

I have isolated and defined at last the death-dealing streak in me: it is rebellion. I am wild and would be tame. (Meek.) I recapitulate our original sin: rebellion, which is nothing more lofty than resentment. I pray God to break me, sincerely. I have cut through all the layers and am down to the primordial core: strife, not love; thanatos, not eros. One can go no further. It is killing me, this primordial evil in me. God help me. Erbarme mich, mein Gott!! Oder ich bin verloren.[3]

PKD has hit upon an aspect of the primordial sin. It is rebellion, but not just any kind of rebellion, but the rebellion against being itself. It hides this under the guise of self-promotion, in the idolatrous attempt to become a god-unto-oneself. By rejecting the order of being, by rejecting God, one must engage strife and death, in the destruction of being which can only prove itself through the power of suicide (as Dostoevsky showed in The Possessed). The only way we can try to replace God is through the destruction of everything God has created, ending with ourselves. While we might have an instinct for self-survival, we also do have, thanks to sin, the angst which leads us to destroy ourselves. The two create a battle within the soul, a battle which can only be won when God has broken us down, removed the evil, and then restored us to a rightful relationship with him, and through him, all of creation. We must focus on the good within, and work with it, to put in check the sin, to put in check our rebellion against being, but we cannot hold out without God. Without God, without the restorative power of grace, that sin will slowly work at us from within, and in the end, we will be lost.

An encounter with the evil within, an encounter with one’s own negative, rebellious tendencies reveals the truth behind the teaching of original sin. The evil within does not want to be exposed, and will lead us around in circles trying to deny this truth. But once we see it, once we see what it is doing to us, once the decay is so great that the illusion it created vanished, then we can come to the sin and say no, and admit our rebellion and our need for God. This is what PKD himself did:

This is orthodoxy. Sorry – I was led to it. By relentless reasoning, research and colloquy with Zebra himself (i.e., revelation) my errors were corrected. I haven’t arrived at the conclusion I want. But again, sorry: the  road of true inquiry does not always lead to what you want or expect, but to what is true.[4]

Reason combined with revelation – reason, which follows the order of being and promotes it, and revelation, the disclosure of what we cannot ascertain by ourselves, combine to reveal the truth and the true order of being. Reason is the antidote to the irrational nature of evil, revelation to the ignorance we have caused for ourselves as we destroy ourselves through moral evil. “The only way we could see that our universe – and us – are irrational is when God the rational bursts in and we have something rational to compare the irrational with.”[5] The two are valuable, but they are not enough. One can see the truth and still be trapped. That is why grace is necessary, it is what frees the will so that it will not be trapped by the prison of the decaying, dying self. Grace restores what was lost, though of course, it does so in such a way that our cooperation is expected. If it didn’t, it would contradict its very purpose.

[1] St. Athanasius, “Against the Heathen” in NPNF2(4):6.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011), 431-2.

[4] Ibid., 432.

[5] Ibid., 454.

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