Search Results for evil
The definition of evil is informed by one’s core beliefs, and different kinds of arguments try to explain its existence.
Some materialists and scientists scoff at the idea of evil as if it were an antiquated legacy from a superstitious past.
Violent criminals are usually described in the news in psychiatric terms. Murderers are often reported as having a mental illness instead of being possessed by the devil. However, sometimes callous murderers are called “monsters” so the idea of evil can creep in to our essentially scientific worldview.
Meanwhile, savage tyrants and warlords are often viewed through a historical or, perhaps, political lens.
Evil in Christian theology
A basic theological distinction exists between natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil includes “acts of God” such as floods, earthquakes and avalanches. Moral evil is a conscious human choice to turn away from God’s will and participate in some action harmful to self and possibly others.
Duns Scotus classified “intrinsic evil” as acts that are inherently evil and accordingly prohibited. But intrinsically evil acts are not evil because they are prohibited.
In Christian theology evil is often seen as a necessary component of God’s plan of salvation. Here one accepts as an article of faith that God permits evil for some greater good, beyond the comprehension of mere mortals (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
A Christian school of thought, begun by Irenaeus and popularized by John Hick, argues that evil is permitted, but not caused, by God. Why, one might ask, would an all-powerful God permit evil? According to the Irenian school, the answer lies in the idea of ‘soul making.’ A soul freely choosing to abstain from evil is of greater value than one that automatically avoids evil like a programmed robot. The free soul apparently better glorifies God than would a sinless automaton.
Although evil may ravage, test and torment good souls living on earth, the true goal of our finite, earthly life is to be made worthy of eternal heavenly life. According to this perspective the evils of the world act as a crucible. Souls not succumbing to but resisting evil are purified and strengthened toward the good. Evil, then, is necessary. It acts as a kind of hammer that pounds out the soul’s impurities.
God permits some evils lest the good things should be obstructed.
Another Christian argument, influenced by Plato‘s idea of the Forms, is given by St. Augustine. Augustine sees evil as a privatio boni—the absence of good. According to this view, since God is good, evil must be where God is not present. Therefore God doesn’t create evil. It’s a choice. But the theological debates get complicated here, and some ask whether Augustine’s theodicy holds up for both natural and moral evil.
Different branches of Christianity hold different views about what happens to evil souls in the afterlife. Some Churches damn sinners eternally. Martin Luther, for instance, believed that some souls are predestined for hell. Meanwhile, some contemporary Christians pray for the liberation of souls in hell while others do not.¹ And the Catholic Purgatory is neither heaven nor hell, but a difficult preparation for heaven.
Evil in non-Christian religions
Evil in Islam is similar to that of Christianity. But for Muslims it is evil to suggest that Christ is one with God (John 10:30). And the prohibitions in the Koran differ from those of the New Testament. Notably, killing is permitted in the Koran in some circumstances (see http://www.yoel.info/koranwarpassages.htm and http://www.islamreview.com/articles/jihadholywarversesinthekoran.shtml), whereas the very thought of killing is denounced in the New Testament. Many branches of Christianity do, however, entertain the idea of a Just War.
In Hinduism a different view of evil is presented. Evil is permitted to maintain a proper balance of sacred heat or power (tapas) within the universe. Aspects of Hinduism speak to the reality of hell for evildoers. But evil in Hinduism is mostly viewed in terms of personal ignorance and spiritual development, making hellish punishments temporary instead of eternal.
According to this perspective, the evil soul reincarnates on earth until it is cleansed of the ignorance that influenced it to commit bad deeds. This differs dramatically from the Catholic view that souls in hell are eternally damned and, strangely enough, would never want to leave. Unlike the Christian, the Hindu aspires to transcend apparently relative ideas about good and evil through an experiential knowledge of universal truth.
Accordingly, the goal of Hinduism differs from both Christianity and Islam. For the Hindu, heaven is a halfway house on the road to ultimate realization. The reincarnating soul may enjoy periodic visits to different heavens but, though the round of rebirth, it eventually transcends all heavens and ultimately achieves the greatest good of the Brahman. A similar but in some ways different view of evil is presented in Taoism.
An interesting but often overlooked question is whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu heavens and hells are identical in character. The celebrated Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade notes that heavens and hells are described differently among world religions. But do they all feel the same? We can’t really know but my guess is NO.
Most cultures around the world at some point in history have seen evil as a cause of mental or physical illness. This view is prevalent in Shamanism. And some religious writers, such as the Catholic, Michael Brown, say they feel the presence of evil almost anywhere.
And on the inferiority of evil as compared to good, W. H. Auden writes in A Certain World:
Good can imagine Evil; but Evil cannot imagine Good.
¹ See this excellent discussion: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=329730
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Natural Evil refers to the basic theological distinction made between natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil includes so-called “acts of God” such as floods, earthquakes and avalanches.
By way of contrast, moral evil involves the ideas of human free will and choice, and is more about ethics.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 –1778), however, argued that these two types of evil are not always mutually exclusive. Talking about the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Rousseau suggested that human design had something to do with the suffering experienced there.
Jean Jacques Rousseau responded to Voltaire’s criticism of the optimists by pointing out that the value judgement required in order to declare the 1755 Lisbon earthquake a natural evil ignored the fact that the human endeavour of the construction and organization of the city of Lisbon was also to blame for the horrors recounted as they had contributed to the level of suffering. It was, after all, the collapsing buildings, the fires, and the close human confinement that led to much of the death.¹
- Philosophy Weekend: The Four Types of Evil (litkicks.com)
- evil (3quarksdaily.com)
- 12 scientific revolution and enlightenment quotations (slideshare.net)
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Christian apologists say that Job’s suffering points to the mysterious ways of God and highlights the need for faithful obedience in the absence of human understanding. Critics say that it depicts God as an immature, cruel tyrant. For instance, the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung and some Jungians say that God “makes a bet” with Satan. In the story, Satan contends that Job will not remain faithful if God allows Satan to torment him.
In Jung’s Answer to Job, a short commentary about the Job’s plight, Jung says the Biblical story reveals a dark, non-integrated aspect of God. Why would a perfect God, Jung argues, allow a blameless servant to be persecuted by the devil? When Job challenges God, asking why he suffers, God answers not on Job’s terms but by completely overwhelming him. God asks if Job is able to create the stars, the oceans and a sea monster.
Jung sees this as indicating God’s immaturity. For Jung, God projects his own dark side onto Job. While this dynamic may occur in many people, to Jewish and Christian believers it’s misguided to suggest that God would behave this way (See Isaiah 55:8-9). As God implies to Job, could an allegedly immature consciousness create all of creation?
Biblical scholars debate whether the story of Job refers to an actual person or if it’s just a folktale outlining the general human problem of why do bad things happen to good people? The author of the book is not mentioned. Some traditional rabbis and early Christian theologians believed the author was Moses. Today, some scholars believe that parts of Job were written by at least one additional author.
But to return to Jung, he seems to overlook the folktale aspect by treating Job as a real person. Jung’s writings about Job have also been criticized by Fr. Victor White. White says that Jung confuses a narrative image of God with the actual God. In Jungian terms, White says Jung confuses the God-image (archetypal image) with God (archetype).
Indeed, it seems that Jung analyzes God from the perspective of his own, man-made psychological theories. In reducing God to Jung’s all too human ideas, might Jung, himself, exhibit the psychological mechanism of projection? Theological critics of Jung would certainly say that his commentary on Job suffers from presumption—that is, intellectual arrogance.
Regarding the problem of evil, many theologians would maintain that God’s ways are usually way over our heads. Along these lines, we could hypothesize that God permits evil to torment Job for a greater good which, Job, Satan and Jung couldn’t hope to understand.
Jung’s (questionable) analysis aside, the story of Job has parallels in other cultures, most notably the ancient Egyptian Protests of the Eloquent Peasant.
- Lessons from Job. (katherineannesmith.wordpress.com)
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William Blake (1757-1827) was an English engraver, painter, poet and mystic born in London.
Like visionaries from most world religions, Blake believed that a spiritual light exists behind the world of appearances. His writings and art mostly refer to philosophical, mythological and biblical themes.
Unlike artists who use abstraction to hint at a perceived yet normally unseen reality, Blake’s imagery is quite direct as he attempts to portray his perception of inner light, according to his own vision.
He differs from mainstream Christianity by emphasizing the importance of spontaneous, unguided and unchecked spiritual experience. At times his work is reminiscent of Gnosticism, especially when saying the self and the Godhead may be one. Blake’s beliefs differ from both Catholicism and Gnosticism, however, in that he seems to imply that good and evil are relative ideas constructed by the regimented mind.
This relativistic view is especially apparent in his so-called ‘minor prophecy’, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1791), an arguably grandiose work of undisciplined introspection that leans towards a nebulous, incomplete kind of Buddhism. While not without its literary merit, and also containing a few worthwhile critiques of religious hypocrisy, Heaven and Hell seems to reflect Blake’s personal quest and, perhaps, limited degree of spiritual understanding. Whether it contains any universal, salvific value is a matter of debate. Some might say it’s a useful signpost along the road of spiritual formation while nonetheless incomplete. Others might say it’s misleading.
William Blake (1757-1827) was an English engraver, painter, poet and mystic born in London.
Blake’s best-known paintings are The Canterbury Pilgrims and Jacob’s Dream. He also illustrated Young’s Night Thoughts (1797), Linnell’s The Book of Job (1826), Dante’s Divine Comedy and did imaginative engravings for his own writing.
Other works include Poetical Sketches (1783), Songs of Innocence (1789), Songs of Experience (1794) which include ‘The Tyger’, and the prophetic poem ‘Jerusalem’ (1804-20).
Most of the notables around him thought he was a flake, and his work and ideas were largely unrecognized. Near the end of his life he lived in poverty, spurred on by a band of youthful admirers.
- The Tyger – William Blake (mitchellcharman.wordpress.com)
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Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French semiologist, best known for his book Mythologies (1957). Barthes argued that most of what we assume to be natural could be products of history and culture. More specifically, linguistic and artistic representations play a crucial role in the naturalization of arbitrary and morally ambiguous historical events.
By way of example, politically active gay persons usually challenge the following argument:
Homosexuality is ethically bad because it is unnatural, and heterosexuality is ethically good because it is natural.
Critics will say that, according to this line of reasoning, a deadly rattlesnake could be good for children because it is natural. And this seems a valid critique of this kind of argument. Regardless of one’s beliefs about the joys or horrors of homosexuality, to challenge it with this type of reasoning is philosophically weak.
Barthes also makes a distinction between readerly and writerly text, outlined well at Wikipedia:
A text that makes no requirement of the reader to “write” or “produce” their own meanings. The reader may passively locate “ready-made” meaning. Barthes writes that these sorts of texts are “controlled by the principle of non-contradiction” (156), that is, they do not disturb the “common sense,” or “Doxa,” of the surrounding culture. The “readerly texts,” moreover, “are products [that] make up the enormous mass of our literature” (5). Within this category, there is a spectrum of “replete literature,” which comprises “any classic (readerly) texts” that work “like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, [and] safeguarded” (200).
A text that aspires to the proper goal of literature and criticism: “… to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text” (4). Writerly texts and ways of reading constitute, in short, an active rather than passive way of interacting with a culture and its texts. A culture and its texts, Barthes writes, should never be accepted in their given forms and traditions. As opposed to the “readerly texts” as “product,” the “writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages” (5). Thus reading becomes for Barthes “not a parasitical act, the reactive complement of a writing,” but rather a “form of work”¹
However, this distinction seems spurious, for readers are always interpreting and creating as they take in a text, regardless of if being a so-called “classic” text or an “avante-garde” text. In fact, avant garde texts usually emerge within some new kind of clique or arts group that can be just as “bourgeois” as traditional groups. This was made abundantly clear whenever I attended a Cultural Studies class in university, which usually reeked with the snobbery of style exuded by some students living on their wealthy parents’ credit cards.
¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes#Key_terms. See more on this distinction here: http://www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~raha/700_701_web/BarthesLO/readerly.html
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Cults and Religions – What’s the difference?
Many debate the differences between religion and cults. Some say there’s no difference. In other words, religions are cults and cults are religions. But this kind of thinking arguably doesn’t do justice to the complexities of faith and the supernatural.
One difference seems to be that, in a cult, a charismatic leader is undeservedly glorified. Some say that this would make Abraham, Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Buddha and Mahavira cult leaders. But cults also display a relatively short longevity (after the leader dies, the cult dwindles away). This didn’t happen in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Jainism. So they can’t be called cults by that standard.
Another difference is that cults typically isolate new members from their families and unbelievers. Religions tend to be less drastic, with most (not all, mind you) accepting interfaith relationships.
Steven Hassan, an expert on cults, says
Since all destructive cults believe that the ends justify the means, they believe themselves to be above the law. As long as they believe that what they are doing is “right” and “just,” many of them think nothing of lying, stealing, cheating, or unethically using mind control to accomplish their ends. They violate, in the most profound and fundamental way, the civil liberties of the people they recruit. They turn unsuspecting people into slaves. ¹
Others say the difference between religions and cults is a matter of degree, especially with those religions and cults that attract, institutionally legitimize and reproduce authoritarian personality types and the legalistic beliefs and structured practices that these individuals participate in.
In these instances, religious or cultic affiliation apparently provides a convenient means for the psychologically immature to overlook unresolved emotional issues. Accordingly, some critics of religion maintain that religious affiliation provides a safe but essentially cowardly means for unleashing centuries of culturally and perhaps genetically inherited anger onto those who don’t wish to sacrifice their free will to the dictates of an institution. These critics say that most religious institutions must incorporate (or reject) new developments within the context of their limiting teachings and traditions.
This too, seems somewhat simplistic. For religious believers will often say they are fully choosing to cooperate with God’s will as progressively revealed to them within their particular religious organization. Apparently there’s a richness in their spiritual life that the secular critics just don’t get. And individuals belonging to orgqanizations seen by outsiders as cults often say the same thing. “You don’t understand…”
This can make it difficult to tell the difference between a religion and a cult. Meanwhile, many new religions are cropping up. And some say they’re nothing more than cheap covers created by creepy masterminds aiming to get tax breaks on donations made by gullible believers.
When in doubt, draw a chart
One of the definitions for “cult” in Merriam-Websters dictionary is: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents.”
The following chart compares some of the main beliefs and practices found within religions and cults. This is not the final word. The items in each column don’t universally apply and many of the distinctions made in this chart are debatable. In keeping with the classical sociologist Max Weber, however, this chart offers ideal types.
Ideal types are generalized constructs. They don’t provide precise definitions and they’re not comprehensive. But they are thought-provoking. And that’s their main purpose.
Above chart elaborates on many sources, including Gregg Stebben’s Everything You Need to Know About Religion (The Pocket Professor, Denis Boyles ed., New York: Pocket Books, 1999: 25-26).
¹ Steven Hassan, Combatting Cult Mind Control, Rochester: Park Street Press, 1988, p. 36.
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Not until fairly recently has corruption been recognized as a valid topic within the social sciences, perhaps partly because it’s not easily verified. Also, shrewd researchers wishing to avoid repercussions in an imperfect world may know when it’s best to keep quiet.
Corruption most often involves bribery and abuses of legitimate authority.¹ In business and government corruption may take place between as few as two people or among a relatively small number or insiders. Some examples in government would be employing a less qualified person than others or closing a business deal as a result of clandestine social and/or economic connections. In business, examples would be market collusion and all types of fraud involving more than one person.
Extreme conspiracy theorists contend that a so-called ‘culture of fear’ is purposefully orchestrated by inherently deceptive governments in order to legitimize wars and bolster certain markets. Along these lines, some believe that corruption has permeated Western culture to a degree formerly associated with so-called third and second world countries. But again, proof is usually hard to find and, most likely, always will be.
Within psychology and especially theology, the term corruption refers to specific individuals or groups whenever an action is deemed morally degrading by another group claiming moral authority. In some circles of Eastern and Western mystical theology corrupt acts are said to “pollute” the individual soul (or in Buddhism, to attract negative skandhas).
These two ideas of corruption – the social vs. the psychological and theological – may at first seem separate. But on closer inspection, they’re arguably connected. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit.” True, Christ is talking about true and false religious prophets in this passage, but it seems fair to generalize this idea to all aspects of life.
So what does this mean for the average person in our imperfect world? Even the upright schoolteacher or respected academic has probably photocopied material that is under copyright. And many decent folks made cassette tapes of their favorite albums back in the day.
The answer to this question has spawned a lot of debate in philosophy and theology about ethics, and clever thinkers have come up with a range of ideas from “situational ethics” to “necessary evil” to try to grapple with the realities of imperfect beings living in an imperfect world.
Moreover, in sociology and economics were hear arguments about the alleged positive aspects of crime–for instance, crime is said to be good for anti-crime businesses and services (e.g. anti-virus software), as well as for neutral market areas (e.g. the old cassette tape). And even the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that a limited amount of crime was good for society because it helped to define boundaries for acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior, this awareness strengthening society as a whole.² But ultimately, it seems only God can know what’s right and wrong, this also being one of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7:1).
¹ For a good list of these potential abuses, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption.
² For a good discussion on Durkheim’s view, see http://misssrobinson.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/how-do-functionalists-explain-crime
Corruption - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (plato.stanford.edu/entries/corruption)
Transparency International (transparency.org)
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From his considerable study of world myth and religion, Jung came to the conclusion that this collective data is cross-cultural. In fact, he didn’t just see the collective unconscious in myth and religion. He saw universally recognizable motifs among dreams, myth, religion, the arts and architecture. One leading example he provides is the mandala. For Jung, the circular shape of the mandala represents the potentially limitless self.
Jung calls these hypothesized patterns of human existence archetypes.¹ Existing in a larger time frame than most people’s daily awareness, the archetypes of the collective unconscious apparently connect the past, present and future.
Jung speaks to the arbitrary nature of the term collective unconscious. Towards the end of his career he writes that he rendered essentially spiritual ideas in scientific-sounding language for the sake of professional and societal legitimacy. So this, in a sense, makes him something of a postmodern thinker way before the term became popular.
Because he was, in part, doing a sell job, his insistence on the bio-genetic base of the collective unconscious seems confusing to some, especially when he says:
The unconscious has no time. There is no trouble about time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche, time does not exist at all.²
Could a timeless psyche be entirely biological? Perhaps Jung was saying that, although grounded in the body, the archetypes exhibit or resonate with a spiritual component. That is, a bio-genetic ground is necessary for the interplay of body and spirit.
What About Sigmund Freud and the Unconscious?
Freud and Jung’s views about the unconscious differ, but not so much as many believe. Some pop psychologists and New Age gurus quickly dismiss Freud’s ideas, unaware that his model of the unconscious also contains collective elements.
As we’ve seen in the above, Jung describes the archetype as a component of mankind’s psychological substratum—the collective unconscious. Freud similarly spoke of phylogenetic “schemata” and “prototypes.” And borrowing from ancient Greek and Jewish literature, Freud also devised the “Oedipus complex,” a “primal father” and likened the shadowy contents of the unconscious to archaeological ruins.
In addition, late in his career Freud revised his libido theory to include the general ideas of eros (life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). Because Freud maintained that the fundamental aspects of the unconscious are universal, aspects of his model of the self, like Jung’s, point to a collective unconscious.³ And not only that. Freud, himself, said that Jung introduced nothing new with the idea of the collective unconscious. He wrote that the “content of the unconscious is collective anyhow.”4
¹ Jung’s notion of the archetypes borrows from ideas previously found in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion and theology. The term archetype is traceable to St. Augustine, 354-430 CE.
² C. G. Jung Collected Works vol. 18, para. 684, cited in “Time and Space” at http://www.fundacion-jung.com.ar/ingles/citas.htm.
³ Michael V. Adams illustrates this point in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, (ed.) Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 101.
4 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, p. 209, cited in R. J. Lifton with Eric Olson (eds.), Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1974 p. 90.
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Clairvoyance (French clair = “clear” and voyance = “vision”)
Just as the nineteenth-century medium is now called the channeler, and the former New Thought movement has been recast as the New Age, clairvoyance is a slightly antiquated term that’s been updated with the more specific ideas of psi, PK, and remote viewing.
The term clairvoyance seems to be making a bit of a comeback, however. It’s still being used as an umbrella term for practically every type of alleged paranormal perception—i.e. perception beyond the range of the normal senses.
Critics of the idea say that there’s no real hard scientific evidence to support clairvoyance. Sympathizers say that successful clairvoyance hinges on delicate factors, making scientific replication impractical.
Believers in God who are not hostile to clairvoyance (as some devilish trick) add that successful inner vision is entirely dependent on God’s will. That is, God permits clairvoyance to happen in specific situations for some good reason. If this is true, then it is ludicrous for science to expect God to always bend to the demands of scientific investigators. Skeptics like James Randi seem totally oblivious to this possibility. For them, if something cannot be replicated in a controlled experiment, it never happened.
Suburbanclairvoyant nicely sums up how many clairvoyants (and those sympathetic to the idea) would likely see skeptics and scientists who overreach the inherent limitations of science:
…the words “controlled experiment” are an oxymoron in the Clair world, and make me laugh. There’s no pinning this down. It just is what it is…¹
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