Perhaps it is appropriate that on the cusp of Christmas eve morphing into Christmas day, from the age of humanity being ensnared in evil to the day that Christians celebrate the birth of someone who they believed would save all of humanity from evil that I post these thoughts; or rather questions.
Let me give fair warning right now that I will be posing questions that I do not have the answers for, or at least not good and complete ones. Nor will I try to provide answers here. This blog is meant more to make us think on a problem that has been part of human history since the first human.
It is amazing that one event, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, can touch off so many different thoughts and reactions. Or, perhaps not. This was an event that embodied the cold blooded and purposeful killings of young children; an event that, so far, seems to have no motive. Despite all the different takes and disagreements on the various issues relating to these murders – gun control/gun rights, mental health, the role of male identity, God’s role or lack thereof, etc. – something all the differing groups and people do agree on – this was evil.
But that brings up the question of what is evil?
All of the dictionaries that I looked at had as their first meaning that evil was something that was immoral, morally reprehensible, bad, or wicked. This was followed by something being injurious and harmful.
Evil poses a problem for those who posit a good and moral, an omnipotent and omniscient God who created the universe and its rules. However, many Christians also feel that evil poses a problem for the atheist too. These Christians say that without an objective, absolute standard of good how can you judge an act as evil.
What I find of interest here though is how much agreement there is on what evil is. This agreement extends across many different religions, and includes atheists. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Wiccan, or Atheist, all agree that what happened at Sandy Hill Elementary School was evil.
This extends across many different actions – pulling the wings of flies and torturing animals is evil, torturing humans even more so; killing the innocent is evil, abusing children is evil; and on and on. There is a great deal of agreement on what is an evil act, more than there is disagreement.
The reason for this agreement is that, as the Bible says in Romans 2: 14, “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Morality is written into our hearts.
We approve and we disapprove because we cannot do otherwise.
Can we help feeling pain when the fire burns us?
Can we help sympathizing with our friends?
Edward Westermarck (1912 : 19)
This is a common belief of most people. The disagreement comes in on who does the writing on our hearts. For atheists such as myself, the writer is our evolutionary heritage and nature as highly social and highly intelligent animals as manifested through our various societies. For the theist, it is God.
I have already written defending the atheist view of the source of our morality and will not do so here. For now, let it suffice that here I stand, my nature does not allow me to do otherwise.
But is the recognition of evil enough? Too many seem content to label evil but do nothing about it. Even worse, they seem to think that to label is to understand.
Hitler was an evil man. However, was he always evil? At one and two years was he an evil child or was evil something he grew into? If the latter, which I believe to be the true answer, then what caused this child to grow to become an evil man?
The man responsible for the evil done in Newton, from what I understand, had no violent past, no history of aggression. No evil acts done before this one. Why did he commit this one then? Further, does this one evil act make him evil, or just a sick man whose sickeness led him to commit evil?
In fact, in light of our advances in the understanding of human behavior and mental illness (although still very much at the beginnings of a real and thorough understanding) should we be labeling anyone as evil? Is that a useful concept today or does it get in the way of understanding what actually happened?
As I said, a lot of questions that, for now, I am not providing my take on. Indeed, on many of them I do not have a firm opinion. I will though say that evil does exist, but not as something extrinsic to humanity but instead as something that is a part of humanity. To overcome evil we need to understand our humanity.