The End of Evil


I was waiting for someone to write an articulate piece on this subject of EVIL.

Having worked with a number of people over the years, especially while a Jail Chaplain, people who were thought of or written of as “evil” or “monsters,” I welcome the discussion about this “spiritualizing” or “mythologizing” judgement toward people (I repeat “people” for a reason).

If you listen to all the “news” channels, you’d think our World is Full of Evil.  We seem to love this word for anyone or anything that horrifies us, threatens us or makes us afraid.  “Evil” is our default for our nightmares.

Substitute any terrible thing or hated person you want for the Islamic fighters and ask yourself, what does “evil” even mean?

Maybe someone outside the religious community, who has no verses or creeds to quote, can help us understand.

James Dawes of Macalester College in Minnesota writes (Should We Call ISIS “Evil”?, highlights mine),

Is ISIS evil?

The problem with that question is that the answer is as easy as it is useless. Yes, ISIS is evil and must be stopped. Saying so over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.

There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil — because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. “Evil” is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.

The flip side is that “evil” is also a word that stops us from thinking.

And we can ask how it is that normal men — men who were not born evil — get turned into monsters, so that we can work to change the structures that produce terrorists over the long term instead of locking ourselves into an endlessly repeated, short-term policy of “killing fanatics” until they are gone.

Dawes slips, in my opinion, when he uses the word “monster” in this part, a mythologizing term that makes it easy to turn away from the human face of bad actions, but we get his point.

The point is to ASK, to THINK, to LEARN something from terrible acts, rather than “lock ourselves” into cliches or dehumanizing judgements (which of course, make us not much better than the “evil monster” we despise and fear).

Dawes offers a very difficult, but essential, conclusion:

Nonetheless, trying to understand evil is an offense. It is an offense to everything we hold dear, because understanding — that is, true and effective understanding — must bring us close to the other, must help us see the world through their eyes.

That is a painful, offensive process, and that is exactly what we must do.

That closeness is terrifying. . .but I agree, it is exactly what we must do.  Because it’s wise and reasonable and healing to face our phobias up close and personalized.

Could we just say there IS no such thing as “Evil,” and use other words that are more helpful, meaningful and rational?

What do you think?

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