Part of the problem with good and evil is the subjectivity of it all. Sure, there are some things about which most of us agree, but does even 99% agreement mean it’s right? Especially if our agreement is based on our limited knowledge and understanding?
Yes, we have to have laws and rules to live in a society. And yes, some behaviors must be outlawed. Clearly, some behaviors are healthy and helpful while others are unhealthy and harmful…at least as far as we can see.
Here’s my problem with referring to people, nations, actions, beliefs, or ideas as “evil”: it makes it easier…far too easy in my estimation…to hate and devalue others. Oh, of course we say the “right” things…”I don’t hate them, I just hate what they stand for…”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost every time someone says something like that, you could put the exact same words in the mouths of those about whom they are speaking.
So what’s the difference? If it’s just two sides who say they actually love one another but hate the other side’s beliefs/ideas/philosophy, how is either of them rising above petty egoism? Isn’t it just a case where each side believes they are right and the other is wrong and they must be stopped because their ideas are dangerous?
“But some ideas are dangerous and evil!” I hear you shouting.
Uh huh. I have a couple of problems with such a notion.
1. That is precisely their rationale for hating/attacking you.
2. An idea is a string of data. It has no sentience, no consciousness, no decision-making capabilities. In fact, it can do nothing without a human brain. And here we are assigning moral agency to it. Just in case you weren’t aware, that is exactly the reason why people think books should be banned.
Listen, I get it. When we see something in the news that revolts us or disgusts us or horrifies us…sometimes all three…we quickly label such things as “evil.” This is an emotional knee-jerk reaction which we engage for a very valid psychological reason: we desperately need to believe we are incapable of doing similar things so we must distance ourselves from those who do them. They become “monsters” rather than humans because they absolutely cannot be the same as us.
Batman comes to mind. Or Frankenstein.
My favorite exchange from the Batman movie with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker goes like this:
Joker (screaming): You MADE me!
Batman (cooly): You made me first.
We shame and beat and harass and spoil our children into being who we think they should be and then object when they turn into little monsters. Who often grow up to be big monsters. Except they’re not. They’re humans. Broken humans.
We are all one. When one of us hurts another of us, all of us hurts all of us. To paraphrase Jesus, can the arm say to the eye, “You’re a monster! You should die!”?
Is there an objective evil? Maybe. All I know is that I’m not qualified to point it out. I don’t think any of us are. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m the crazy one. But maybe Jesus actually meant it when he said, “Do not judge, for the measure you use will be used against you.” That sounds more and more like a prophecy. After all, they think we’re evil, so we have to return the favor. You know, so we can bomb the hell out of ‘em without feeling bad about it.
Jesus also said something else about this. “Love your enemies,” which is impossible, and he knew it. Because once you begin to love someone…not just saying you do, but actually loving them…you can no longer consider them an enemy. You can no longer dehumanize them. You begin to see them as brother and sister. Tough to think of your brothers and sisters doing horrible things, but perhaps they are broken. The ego would return evil for evil. Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek. To overcome evil with love.
But what did he know?