By Carmen Cejudo
When I say that word, what mental images pop up? Right Evil is a very loaded and powerful word. You don't think of puppies and dew drops for a reason. Now I understand that the subject of evil is tricky to address. Nevertheless, in my presentation, I will attempt to illustrate that the concept of evil is a social construct created for the proper functioning of society and essential to our search for spiritual enlightenment and must in essence be taken as a part of its time.
Now, to properly discuss evil, we must begin on the same page. The American Heritage Dictionary describes evil as:
These are the definitions of the noun form of evil. We are not so much interested in the adjective definition as those are corollary to our discussion of the noun evil.
So how do the different religions interpret evil? The following are my understandings of the religions teachings.
In my limited studies of religion, I have discovered that the eastern religions have a similar view of evil and view it as a duality of good.
Evil has no real existence, being part of the illusory world of phenomena. Hinduism sees evil in a light similar to that of Taoism, that it is part of the continuity of life. One of the main deities in Hinduism, Shiva, is both a creator and the destroyer. His consort, Kali, is the black, the destroyer of the universe at the end of the age of Kali. She is truly a vicious sight, usually portrayed as an old hag with gnarly teeth, a protruding tongue and a garland of human skulls and severed hands. Vishnu is the creator, Shiva is the destroyer, and yet Shiva, like Kali, is not necessarily feared. Rather they are revered for their power. It is understood that all that is created, including life and this earth, must inevitably be destroyed.
In Buddhism, there is no particular dealing with evil. Rather it is merely another aspect of suffering. Suffering is a product of ignorance. Once one is aware of oneself then one will recognize that one is capable of evil only in ignorance. Suffering and pain can be ended through the pursuit of truth and self knowledge.
A main tenant of Buddhism is also compassion. Because evil occurs in the world, it provides an opportunity for compassion, an empathy with those who suffer, for when one suffers all suffer. Like Hinduism, Buddhism sees evil in light of the whole of creation. We are not individuals, but rather a part of a whole and as such it does behoove us to understand evil and to attempt to eliminate it from our lives and that of others in general.
The Monotheistic Religions
Similar to the eastern religions, the monotheistic religions share a common view of evil as they are borne of a common history. A main tenant of Islam, Judaism and Christianity is that of Gods gift to man of free will. God is understood to be all benevolence and any evil that may arise on earth is a manifestation of humans wrong decisions. To quote Derek:
The problem of evil in contemporary philosophy is used as the basis for atheism. Because God and evil are incompatible, and evil surely exists, there must be no God.
But like the book of Job, the argument is made that Gods ways are mysterious and cannot be understood by mortal man.
According to Augustine, evil is the privation, or absence, of good, as darkness is the absence of light. It is possible, however, for something created good to diminish in goodness, to become corrupted, and evil has crept in when creatures endowed with free willangels, such lesser spirits as demons, and human beingsturn away from higher, or more complete, goods and choose lesser, partial ones. Furthermore, according to Augustine, what at first appears to be evil may be understood as good in the context of eternity. From God's eternal perspective, everything is good.
In Christianity, much of what is talked about in respect to evil is its identification of evildoer and the punishment bestowed upon them. If you notice, the punishment for evil in essence is more evil for what is hell but unending and intense suffering? While I understand the basis for this view, I do not see it as a proper way to end evil. Instead what it does is instill fear of authority in people so that society runs much smoother. If you dont obey the church, you will burn in hell. And by the way, the church is also the state.
As well, many stories pertaining to individuals in contact with the devil, perhaps if unscrupulous will make a pact with him are really just about how necessarily cunning evil is, to the point that if one does not know thyself, one is truly lost.
Social Construct of Evil
Dont misunderstand me, though. When I say the concept of evil was created, I dont mean to say that man created evil. Christians have a certain take on that, and I will address it shortly, but what I want you to understand is that the concept of evil was created, much like the concept of god to (see IR 318).
What we can learn here is that evil is in essence ever preset because we all hold the seeds for evil in some fashion. Not that men are born evil, but rather like the yin yang everyone contains a bit of darkness, of the antithesis of good. If one does not recognize the capability of inciting these shadows, perhaps the shadow will overtake you.
I do not believe humans are born evil. Rather, it is the contrary, if you look at children, even yourself, we are bring to harm others. It is only when we have detached ourselves from them, when in essence we have dehumanized another that we are able to commit atrocities against them. This is what happens in war. This is what happens in racism, and yes, this is what happens in meat eating.
And yet we do not find capital punishment as evil, but rather as retribution for evil committed. One must then take the definition of evil in the context of its age.
In attempting to gain further spiritual enlightenment, we must of necessity confront the problem of evil for by bettering ourselves, we must diminish our capability of performing evil, of being evil.
Evil is a word too often just thrown about. It has the impact of an immediate visceral reaction, and of course we all want to believe that we ourselves are not evil nor would like to perpetuate it.