Does “Evil” Exist?

On a couple of blogs I visit, there has been extensive discussion on the word “evil” and whether or not it played a role in the recent school shooting.

On one of these blogs, the owner asked where the idea of good or evil comes from. Although I knew the answer he was looking for, I decided to do a little research. Following are some of the things I learned.

For many, the concepts of “good and evil” are essentially moral standards derived from the bible. As one source put it, “… it is His holiness that defines it” (evil). Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland noted that “Evil is a lack of goodness” (i.e., Godliness). Moreover, the bible says God is love (1 John 4:8); thus, one would assume the absence of love in a person is un-God-like — and therefore “evil.” Simply put, to the Christian, the word “evil” is associated with morality and ethics (i.e., whether something is “right” or “wrong”) and this is determined by bible teachings.

Probably the most defining concept of evil is related to the belief in Satan, who many see as the epitome of evil.  Consequently, if we take the word evil literally, it means the work of Satan (or the dEvil). As one source put it, “Those who practice evil are in Satan’s trap and are slaves to sin.”

Some who use the term ‘evil’ are implying that evildoers are “possessed, inhuman, or incorrigible.” This is unfortunate because when the word is misapplied, used perniciously, or used without sensitivity, it can be harmful … even dangerous.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the concept of evil should be abandoned because it has a negative effect on human potential and vitality and contributes to an unhealthy view of life. Other philosophers feel the concept involves  unwarranted metaphysical commitments to dark spirits and the supernatural.

Interestingly, the word “evil” is not defined the same in every faith:

  • To the Bahá’í, evil is a concept for lack of good (e.g., cold is the state of no heat, darkness is the state of no light, forgetfulness the lacking of memory, ignorance the lacking of knowledge, etc.).
  • To the ancient Egyptians, it was simply a lack of order.
  • To the Buddhist,  evil means whatever harms or obstructs the causes for happiness in this life.
  • In the Islamic Faith, things that are perceived as evil or bad are either natural events (natural disasters or illnesses) or caused by humanity’s free will.
  • In Judaism, evil is not real since it is not intrinsically part of God’s creation.

Hence, the next time someone asks you if a particular act was “evil,” your best response might be … “It depends.” 🙂

One final thought (from the study I reference below):

The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

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For anyone interested, further information on the topic of evil (from an academic perspective) can be found here.

Christianity and Social Issues

Please tell me why Christians feel the need to be the world’s conscience.

NO ONE has the right to tell anyone else how to live their lives. And to pass laws that do so is reprehensible!

I lived in the Christian world for many years so I’m intimately familiar with the believer’s point of view on such contentious issues as abortion, the gay and lesbian lifestyle, same-sex marriage, etc. However, as a Christian, I never felt it was my place to force my beliefs on others.

From time to time, I did quote select scriptures to defend my convictions, but this was because I had been taught that God’s word is “living and active” and “sharper than a two-edged sword.” I just knew in my heart of hearts that when non-believers heard words from the bible, they would immediately see the error of their ways.

I found out later that the problem with this thinking, which I didn’t understand until I left the faith, is that not everyone believes the bible has ‘divine’ value. In other words, the ‘holy words’ I used to ‘prove my point’ provided no particular incentive for people to change their ways.

Today, I agree with many others that the bible was written in a different age with different views on social justice; thus, it cannot (and should not) be used as a source to set the standards for contemporary living.

And I strongly feel that no laws should be passed that are based on the moral biases of others.

In one of my other websites, I provide this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

‘Nuf said.