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Spontaneous Philosophical Tea Party™

What is evil?

Christians might say the devil. Others would point to Hitler. But really what is evil? How are we expected to recognize it if we don’t even know what it is?

The word evil is frivolously thrown around almost as much as love. So much so that its powerful meaning has been reduced to what you call your teacher when she gives you a particularly tough pop quiz. Through a desire to make everyday situations seem powerful we make powerful experiences seem normal.

The closest I’ve come to a definition for evil is: The inability or refusal of one to detect evil in one’s self. However this definition is lacking. Is evil just an opinion? Could we ever have a definition of evil that doesn’t rely on personal morals? Is evil condemned to be a word used by opposite sides in a conflict  to describe each other?

Tell me, what do you think?

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Lyra Lynx

Lyra Lynx

2 Comments

  1. July 26, 2010 at 7:29 am —

    It’s a tough question. I think it was Mark Twain that said something isn’t evil on its own, but only when compared to something else.

    Evil is something that does more harm than good. Inflicting pain on an innocent or undeserving person, whether it’s physical or emotional or something else, adds to a thing’s evil tally. IMHO, of course.

    Ironically, it was the Problem of Evil that propelled me to atheism, although I find that argument uncompelling now. I’ve found other arguments that more than make up for the loss, though 🙂

  2. Allen
    February 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm —

    The question was asked on the nature of evil. I found a great definition on Skepchick of the good namely:
    human decency, common sense and rational thinking, freedom, and truth
    One might ask if there been a specific teaching or example on how to be good.
    The best example I know about is Jesus. What Jesus taught, he also lived. Here are examples of
    his teachings regarding the above definition:
    Human Decency:
    Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord
    your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest
    commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
    All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Matthew 25: 34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
    take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
    For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
    I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me,
    I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you
    hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
    When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick
    or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least
    of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

    Common Sense and Rational Thinking
    Luke 7:10-13 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus,
    they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into
    a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?
    How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!
    Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
    So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

    Matthew 7:9-12
    For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
    “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish,
    will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
    how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
    So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets

    Freedom
    Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
    Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest
    for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    John 8: 31-36 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching,
    you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him,
    “We are Abraham’s descendants
    and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
    Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
    Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
    So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

    Truth (See previous paragraph)
    John 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.
    In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
    Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

    In addition to what I found on Skepchick, I would like to add humility

    Humility (See Matthew 11 above)
    Matthew 23:11-12 The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
    and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

    If “Good” consists of human decency; common sense and rational thinking; freedom; truth; and humility
    than “Evil” in opposing it would consist of cruelty and selfishness, Suppression of logic and creative thought,
    enslavement, suppression and distortion of truth, pride and stubbornness. I suppose the list goes on,
    but this could serve as a start.

    Jesus mentioned this as well:

    John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,
    and have it to the full.

    John 8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.
    He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.
    When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

    I will add that Jesus did not like religious hypocrisy or religious exploitation of the masses.

    Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a
    tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters
    of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    It is possible to try to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus on how to be good and how
    to avoid and battle evil without being religious in a bad sense.

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