Thursday, September 08, 2011

What is evil?

The first two posts of this possible booklet:

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations

What is evil?
On September 11, 2001, a cadre of terrorists, under the direction of a man named Osama bin Laden, hijacked four planes.  They flew two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon in Washington, DC.  The attempt to fly a fourth plane, perhaps intended for the Capitol building, was foiled by its passengers.

The majority of those looking on immediately identified these actions as evil.  There were some, of course, who believed the United States had done things in the world that explained the hatred these individuals had for the US.  But even then, few thought that the response was justified.  Most of us would have no problem identifying those who delighted in the deaths of so many people as "evil."

We hear of things every day in the news that we quickly identify as evil.  A serial killer somewhere is systematically hunting, raping, and killing in some area of the country.  A man and his wife kidnap a young girl and they keep her in their secluded “compound” for years.  He rapes her regularly until finally she is discovered and freed.  Most of us are quick to identify these actions as evil.

A child goes missing and eventually the police arrest the mother for murder.  Their theory is that she duck taped the child’s mouth, perhaps suffocated the child.  Then they suggest she put the child’s body in the trunk of her car at some point.  She eventually buries the child not far from her home.  In this particular case, the mother was found not guilty and many in the public were enraged because they had come to the conclusion that this was an evil woman who had done horrible things.

But what makes these actions evil?  Before we can get to the question of why God allows such things to happen, we need to get clear in our minds exactly what it is about these things that makes them evil.  For example, are these sorts of evils the same as God allowing a tsunami or earthquake to kill 10,000 people?  If evil is simply a question of pain and suffering, then the pain of a tsunami seems to outweigh by far the suffering of one child who would suffocate in the space of a minute.  Are they the same?

We would argue that the problem of pain and the problem of evil must be separated as two separate issues, at least when we are trying to explain why God allows them.  The first issue asks why God allows people to suffer.  If God is perfect, then why do things incredibly less than perfect happen in the world?  Why do we get paper cuts and skinned knees?  Why do people die of cancer or get killed in a mud slide?

By contrast, the question of evil is why God allows individuals with evil motives to carry out their intentions.  Why does God allow murderers to kill other people?  Why does God allow the greedy to steal the life savings of the elderly?  Why does God allow men and women to cheat on their spouses and tear apart homes?

Evil is any intent or action that works against the love of God or your neighbor.  It is, most obviously, any intent or action that is deliberately harmful to others.  But it can also be intentions or acts of selfishness that harm others because we are willing to sacrifice others more indirectly in our own self-gratification or promotion.  Evil, as we are defining it, is always a matter of intention.


Scott F said...

Calling selfishness evil seems to pushing the definition a little but it's your pamphlet, dude.

I do hope you come back to the problem of suffering. As bad as evil is, suffering seems the greater challenge to human existence.

Enjoying it so far!

Ken Schenck said...

I struggled with how to word that. I am not so much concerned here with narcissism or milder forms of selfishness, but when selfishness becomes harmful to others or reflects a defiance of God.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am sure you don't suggest that those that don't believe in God must honor what the religious or a particular denominaton deems as important, do you? We live in a society that allows for diversity of 'faith commitments'.

And even those that do and assume a 'Christian' label, have different understandings of the Christian tradition. So everyone that is a Christian is self-interested/self-invested in thier understanding of their faith. This is why there are different denominatons that value different aspects of the christian Tradition. Therefore, how can anyone judge whether someone is behaving "selfishly". Everyone's faith is theirs alone. And how they illustrate that faith, or what they do as faith is a matter of personal choice and value.

And each way of understandng "faith" is going to have its own values of ultimate importance, as well as the values that the indivduals within faith communities hold as important. So, how can you make a broad statement about "faith claims" amd what is considered evil? Paul said thatt whatever is not of faith, is sin. And the Gospels say not to judge your brother, etc. And Jesus said that to his own Master a believer stands or falls.

Those that are "outside the faith" (in however that is judged by those "in the faith" whch varies depending on one's stance and standards) aren't to be judged either.

This is why atheist decry faith claims, that are not based on reason. Their faith is in reason, not Tradition or Text. Therefore, is their faith valid? And is what someone chooses to do 'in faith", sin?

One's judgment is based on one's values. Therefore, one who is seen acting selfishly, might choose to provide for their own rainy day, rather than give it to enable another in their irresponsiblity or presumption on/about life and God's provision...

Another might be labelled selfish for buying another new car, but the judgment is based on class envy, as it is no one's business whether another person buys a new car or not, if they are living within their means and not stealing from another.

This s the very problem we have today with differences in political philosophy and how we view what society should be or do! We will always have these differences, as long as we remain free.

Does that mean that our society is 'evil' because it's voting populations chooses something that I don't value, or I think is inappropriate? NO!!!We live in a a government that is "for the people and by the people"...our govenrment is "in the course of human events, it becomes evident that MEN are to create"....government is not a creation of "God"! Men in free societies act as part of influencng government, acting in government and in the publc's interests.

What is evil? The relgious say it is the absence of "good". One then has to define "good" and so on and so forth.

Evil in free societies is defined by breaking the law, confiscating property, in effect, it is the disregard of another's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Is owning one's own life, selfish? or is it in line with the Founder's understanding of character in self-responsible behavior? There will always be differences as to paternalism, and government. I don't believe I want to live under a "Nanny State"!

Ken Schenck said...

If I appear to be a little light on talking about evil as disobedience in relation to God (I think you would have the opposite sense), it is because I believe that sort of discussion often becomes a "blank check" for people to project their sense of who God is. So evil becomes disobeying (my projected understanding) of God (=disobeying me).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, Ken, indeed! We all can have our understandings of anything and everything, as there isn't a real identification about American society, except the "ideals" of liberty and equality. So, anyone is free to grasp those terms and make for their reality as they choose. Is that selfish? No, it is a matter of being human and making sense of life.

In our society, we don't value "the King", or "the leader", as ultimate. We value liberty of conscience, and "equality under law", meaning that "the personal" or individual and private property has meaning, as an indivdiual right, not corporate right. Free assoication is a right of individual choice, which makes for collectives or corporates.

The child is born into society, and the indvidual chooses within society, as he matures. We aren't a caste system, or pre-determined in that sense. Choice is considered liberty of association, commitments, etc. to values, choice of mate, vocation, and other social entities.

Respect and valuing another's person is valuing thier right to pursue their own ends. There is no "collectivism" regarding our justice system, in that sense. (Yes there are family laws, corporate law, etc.) But, Americans believe that they are free n their society to choose where, when and how, for the most part. This is liberty.

Equality is an ideal that will never be reality, in one sense as none of us are equal in all ways. But, "equal before others", yes, this is American justice.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Evil, I've heard is a calculated plodding, methodological plan to entrap, or enslave. Such behavior doesn't have to have an end, as some who are evil delight in such strategizing about another's life.