In the Face of Evil

 

The word “evil” has become trivialized, particularly in this election season. Just like the words racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, it is casually thrown around like a ragdoll: who gets to play with it next? When people don’t like other people, or dislike their positions or the way they comb their hair, they just call them evil. Who can argue with evil?

I was going to write on this topic later, but then Doug Watt posted on the horrific practice in China of stealing organs. And the question slapped me in the face: how do we act in the face of true evil? What about other evils, such as abortion and murder? How do we take back the word “evil” so that we demonstrate its power and resilience? Do we even recognize what evil is anymore? Is there anything we can do about the commission of evil in this country or elsewhere in the world? Or must we resign ourselves to wringing our hands, condemning the careless use of the word, and praying for clarity and a strategy for action?

What do you think?

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  1. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    In a world where words no longer mean what they say – Affordable Care Act, anyone? – “good” and “evil” become disconnected from any definitional touchstone.

    I am a traditionalist. I use the Torah definitions of good and evil. But your mileage, as with your religion, may well vary!

    • #1
  2. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?   —  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Evil can be both large and small. It is in all our hearts.

    We need to not reclaim the word, but.mean it when we use it.

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  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    10 cents:If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Dime, I keep feeling like these thoughts, so important, cut into my own heart! Thank you.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    When human life becomes a commodity, the knowledge that there is good and evil leaves the room.

    This has been true since history began to be recorded. Some say that Napoleon accomplished militarily what he did because he was able to amass huge armies. Human life was cheap.

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  6. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Just my gut reaction: So much of modern evil is a refusal to respect life. And I don’t mean that as a code word for abortion – I mean it in its original sense. Respect for life means that you can’t take it or destroy it or damage it – you may have the physical ability to do it, but you don’t have the moral authority to do it.

    If you think you have the authority to simply steal someone’s organs, that shows that you think you’re entitled to get away with whatever you have the power to get away with. Or, in other words, you think that there is no moral restriction – you’re entitled to get away with whatever you can pull off. There is no morality or authority, there is only power.

    For example, some scientists argue that they have no duty to restrain themselves in pursuit of possibilities. No “ought” restrains them. If they can develop the technology, they should develop the technology, no matter what it is.

    That’s a philosophical assertion that begs for discussion.

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  7. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    10 cents:If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    No. Sorry. I will not accept this kind of logic.

    There are lines, not merely shades of gray. I may not be where I ought to be, but I know full well that I am nowhere near properly evil.

    Probably another Jewish/Christian divide – emphasizing opportunities for growth rather than sinfullness and need for atonement.

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  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bryan G. Stephens:Evil can be both large and small. It is in all our hearts.

    We need to not reclaim the word, but.mean it when we use it.

    I’m suggesting we need to reclaim the word because of those who use it so carelessly, like the Left. I also think it needs to be used when it is appropriate. Even if we mean to call it evil, is it really evil?

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  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN:When human life becomes a commodity, the knowledge that there is good and evil leaves the room.

    This has been true since history began to be recorded. Some say that Napoleon accomplished militarily what he did because he was able to amass huge armies. Human life was cheap.

    And supposedly we have progressed! It makes one wonder if evil is winning, doesn’t it?

    • #9
  10. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    iWe:

    10 cents:If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    No. Sorry. I will not accept this kind of logic.

    There are lines, not merely shades of gray. I may not be where I ought to be, but I know full well that I am nowhere near properly evil.

    Probably another Jewish/Christian divide – emphasizing opportunities for growth rather than sinfullness and need for atonement.

    I am not sure what you mean. Would you clarify?

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    KC Mulville:For example, some scientists argue that they have no duty to restrain themselves in pursuit of possibilities. No “ought” restrains them. If they can develop the technology, they should develop the technology, no matter what it is.

    That’s a philosophical assertion that begs for discussion.

    Would you like to open this up a bit, KC? It’s a very important and pertinent topic.

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe: There are lines, not merely shades of gray. I may not be where I ought to be, but I know full well that I am nowhere near properly evil.

    Yes. But we all have the good and the evil inclinations in us. I wonder sometimes where the lines are between doing something bad and doing something evil. Or is that the same thing?

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  13. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Susan Quinn:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Evil can be both large and small. It is in all our hearts.

    We need to not reclaim the word, but.mean it when we use it.

    I’m suggesting we need to reclaim the word because of those who use it so carelessly, like the Left. I also think it needs to be used when it is appropriate. Even if we mean to call it evil, is it really evil?

    I think evil is always “big”. What I mean is “from a small acorn springs a mighty oak”. It is never a small thing when we do certain things for those things can grow.  In the same way a good is always “big”.  A small good thing can really change things if it is “watered and nurtured”.

    • #13
  14. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    iWe: There are lines, not merely shades of gray. I may not be where I ought to be, but I know full well that I am nowhere near properly evil.

    I agree.  I have my failings, but there is a difference between most of us and the people who remove the organs out of living people without anesthetic for profit.

    All evil can’t be prevented.  Any mechanism that could would itself be dangerous if it ever fell in the wrong hands.  But I think you have to start by calling evil out.  At least starting with the worst of the worst of it and working our way back.

    At the risk of being sentimental, you hope one person inspires another person and on until you have enough people to do something, whether it is shaming people into stopping or something more depending on the circumstance.  But it begins by someone saying “this is wrong and it has to stop.”

    • #14
  15. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    10 cents:

    iWe:

    Probably another Jewish/Christian divide – emphasizing opportunities for growth rather than sinfullness and need for atonement.

    I am not sure what you mean. Would you clarify?

    In general, Christians start with the premise that man is fallen, sinful, and in need of atonement. That means that when evil is discovered, a pious Christian might well say, as your Russian does, “we are all sinners.”

    Jews don’t do that. We all make mistakes, and we all can improve, but that does not mean I have to start with the premise that we should be slow to label evil where we find it.

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn:

    iWe: There are lines, not merely shades of gray. I may not be where I ought to be, but I know full well that I am nowhere near properly evil.

    Yes. But we all have the good and the evil inclinations in us. I wonder sometimes where the lines are between doing something bad and doing something evil. Or is that the same thing?

    Evil and bad are the same in the Torah.

    Where are the lines otherwise? It is a legal issue.

    Murder is wrong. But Jewish Law puts things like gossip in the category of murder, even though it is not the same degree as homicide.

    • #16
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    All sin is evil in that is separates us from God.

    • #17
  18. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    We don’t recognize the propensity for it in ourselves; perhaps that’s a starting-point. NB: I’m not advocating moral equivalency here, more a recognition of the capacity to either commit or condone evil in each and all of us.

    • #18
  19. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    iWe:

    10 cents:

    iWe:

    Probably another Jewish/Christian divide – emphasizing opportunities for growth rather than sinfullness and need for atonement.

    I am not sure what you mean. Would you clarify?

    In general, Christians start with the premise that man is fallen, sinful, and in need of atonement. That means that when evil is discovered, a pious Christian might well say, as your Russian does, “we are all sinners.”

    Jews don’t do that. We all make mistakes, and we all can improve, but that does not mean I have to start with the premise that we should be slow to label evil where we find it.

    Yes, we Christian are an unmotivated lot that do very little to confront evil. We sit around gazing at our sinful navels. ;-)

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Quinn the Eskimo: At the risk of being sentimental, you hope one person inspires another person and on until you have enough people to do something, whether it is shaming people into stopping or something more depending on the circumstance. But it begins by someone saying “this is wrong and it has to stop.”

    I think shining a light on the topic in this way is one powerful way to have an impact. Some folks seem to think that evil is easy to recognize; certainly the most flagrant acts are. But I wonder when an act reaches that level? Thanks for your inspiring suggestion, Quinn.

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  21. doulalady Member
    doulalady
    @doulalady

    Do you have a navel 10c? Enquiring minds want to know.

    • #21
  22. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    10 cents: Yes, we Christian are an unmotivated lot that do very little to confront evil. We sit around gazing at our sinful navels. ?

    YRT, do I detect a note of sarcasm?  Or a rather all-encompassing generalization here?  Just wondered…

    • #22
  23. michael johnson Inactive
    michael johnson
    @michaeljohnson

    I thought Herr Nietzsche settled this question years ago.  I read that book in college and thought….yeah.  Of course I was at the time, as we later said in the army, young dumb and full of it.  Talking about evil is like talking about the lack of rain.  You can in small ways ameliorate the consequences of drought….dig a well….but evil? The devil is always seeking to devour.

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  24. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Susan Quinn: But I wonder when an act reaches that level?

    I think the Chinese stealing organs obviously reaches that level.  That’s why we start with the worst and work our way back.  Because it’s easy to lose focus on great obvious evil by worrying about cases on the margin.

    • #24
  25. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    10 cents: Yes, we Christian are an unmotivated lot that do very little to confront evil. We sit around gazing at our sinful navels. ?

    YRT, do I detect a note of sarcasm? Or a rather all-encompassing generalization here? Just wondered…

    When I am done navel gazing, I will answer.

    • #25
  26. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    doulalady:Do you have a navel 10c? Enquiring minds want to know.

    I can tell you don’t work at Google.

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    As a Buddhist, I had discussions with Buddhist friends (all on the left, of course). They objected to calling a person evil; they said it branded the person and made it more difficult to redeem him/herself. I said, isn’t that the point? If there’s any chance for redemption, shouldn’t they know how terrible the act was?

    I also had other issues regarding word choice in Buddhism. My first teacher told me I should other words instead of “genocide.” That word was inflammatory. (It didn’t matter that it was accurate.) I used the word to describe the horrific killings in Rwanda. And the wife of my last Buddhist teacher didn’t use the word “evil”; she felt it wasn’t an appropriate translation in Buddhism and gave too much of a religious connotation. Right. It’s clear I made the right decision to leave that practice.

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  28. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    There was a Ricochet podcast a year or so ago, I forget which one, where a traditionalist who did not support Same Sex Marriage discussed the issue with someone who was gay. The traditionalist made the comment that he was tired of being branded as “evil” by his opposition because it was a device used to stop any free exchange of thoughts. To his point, “evil” is something that you confront and eradicate, you don’t negotiate with it. You don’t freely exchange ideas with it. So the easiest way to protect your philosophical position is to label the other one “evil”. Once done, you don’t need to worry about people on your side finding philosophical holes in your position because everyone will be living in an echo chamber free from “evil” ideas.

    Whenever I hear someone throw the word “evil” around I think of  “The Stoning of Soraya M“. This was pure evil. Anything else is pale in comparison. I’ve only been able to watch the film once, in a theater here in Atlanta that specialized in independent movies. The audience was so stunned that for 5 minutes after the film finished,  and the lights came back up in the theater,  everyone sat in silence.

    • #28
  29. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    10 cents:If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    I was just trying to recall this quote and here it is.  I remember it blew me away when I first read it.

    • #29
  30. Mr. Conservative Inactive
    Mr. Conservative
    @mrconservative

    We can only know what evil is, if we know what good is. I think Dostoyevsky was getting at this when he wrote, “Without God everything is permitted.”  Right and wrong must be objective.  If not, then almost anything can be justified.  If right and wrong are objective, then someone must define the terms and determine what is good and what is evil.  That someone must be G-d.  He is the only one qualified to make such determinations. No one else can be trusted to do so.

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