Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Evil, Naturally Speaking

Evil. Bad, bad stuff. Seems nowadays that many things are called evil by someone - hurricanes, wars, presidents, terrorism, religion, tsunamis...the list goes on. Yet at times when it seems a most appropriate adjective, the word is nowhere to be seen. I fear that we have lost a great deal of understanding of what evil really is, how real it is, and how dangerous it is. We ignore such things at our own peril.

As a starting point on how we often misunderstand the reality of evil, I listed on Wednesday some common usages of the word, all of which are flawed in some way. Some people call the 9/11 hijackers evil men, and others call them misguided. There are some who call President Bush evil, and some who call him good. I've heard Hurricane Katrina called evil, caused by another evil (global warming.) Somewhere we need to reign in all the hyperbole and relearn what evil is so we can properly understand the threat of it. When one person calls an action evil and another person calls the same action good, at least one of them is wrong. Evil is a real thing, and logic says something cannot be both evil and good. I'm hoping we can start to clarify the line, the other side of which lies evil.

So what is evil? Evil as most people understand it seems to fall into two categories: moral evil, and "natural" evil. The former is more dangerous, and more difficult to define, so I'll start with what I'm calling natural evil. The discussion on moral evil will start Wednesday, and probably consume most of the series.

Natural evil would be things that are perceived as bad, or very bad, but are not brought about through moral agents. An example would be Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes are not sentient creatures acting maliciously. Rather, hurricanes (and earthquakes, volcanos, tornados, floods, etc...) are natural events without any conscious intent. Disasters don't plan to do harm, they just are. These events leave behind trauma, death, destruction and pain: all results we rightly associate with evil. Yet there is nothing in the storm or disaster that equates to free will, malice, or consciousness. Natural determinism, following physical laws - not hateful spirits trying to pound mankind into submission. Mother nature is a concept, not someone wrathfully pushing natural evil onto the world.

That being said, that storms aren't conscious or willful, there is someone behind natural evil. This type of evil is the type often motivating the question "why would a loving God allow (or cause) evil?" To that question I'll turn tomorrow (will I solve it? tune in and see) before turning towards moral evil. Hint: God does cause what we call natural evil, but is natural evil really "evil"?

'Til then, God bless!

No comments: