I have said and I believe that all evil is human. It is created by humans, destroys humans, and nearly defines humans since I don’t know of another animal that is evil. Some are destructive and some are killers, but not premeditated with evil motives. Suffering is produced by human consciousness even when it is felt as though in the flesh, even when it is through empathy with others, including animals. Evil is often attributed to the flesh, the bestial, in all its neediness and unreasonableness. We demonize the yearning for food, water, love, control and status. In the process of struggling over these things, we produce children -- sometimes so deformed and venomous that we might better call them spawn. Is spawn evil? But we are the ones who make them so.
These things go in degrees, confused as our thinking about them may be. In our Manichean-rooted world (filtered through Judaism, Christianity and Islam) which is all about enclosures (the fort, the palace wall), dichotomies (you’re either in or out), and control (hierarchies). There are many definitions and boundaries -- always the goal and the effort is to keep things the same, inalterable, predictable. But this planet is only temporarily and partially stained by this thinking. We can find new paradigms.
I would like to distinguish between evil and sin. Evil is human. Sin, more than that, is institutional, a set of rules devised by humans in an attempt to control the Evil “FORCE” within people. Sins are meant for lists and degrees of sinniness. (The opposite of sunniness.) The worst list starts with everyone who, simply by existing, is sinful (Original Sin due to existing), so we all start “one down” which means that the authorities have the advantage. (Not God. There is no conceivable God. The concept is a great emptiness and any attempt to define shrinks God to within limits so that he/she is NOT God, the Ultimate, the All Including, anymore.)
The biggest sin, of course, is defying the authorities. In a stroke of theatre, the Ten Commandments are engraved by lightning on tablets of granite and carried down off a mountain by Charlton Heston. You’re supposed to do what they say, in spite of sly re-interpretations. The next category “down” (all these defined by authorities who are authorized by institutions secular, religious or some mix) is capital crimes which justify a death sentence, then felonies, then misdemeanors, then “failure to obtain a permit” and regulations. Where there are no institutions (failed states) and therefore no laws, there is no sin -- just force and chaos. When laws become unjust, entangled, unenforceable, corrupted, the institution is attacked, which is the sin that ends sin. But not evil, a force that remains so long as humans remain.
The breakthrough by the major religious thinkers (Jesus, not Calvin) was to leave rules and go to principles, like the Golden Rule. That which one would want to be done to oneself, should be done to the others. Universals. The greatest good to the greatest number. No monkey business about deservingness or whose turn it is. (Experiments show that monkeys DO get upset about such issues.)
The breakthrough we’re trying to make now, in the 21st century, is to the principle of fittingness. As Shaw pointed out, the Golden Rule is not much help when dealing with a liver fluke. But if we understand the place and interrelationships of liver flukes, we will understand more about life principles. It is an ecological matter. No need to spare the mosquito on our arm, as Schweitzer was reported to do, but we should only destroy enough of them to protect the children from malaria and be careful to understand what depends upon eating mosquitoes and what bats will eat if there aren’t any mosquitoes. And not to use DDT, effective as it is, because of the side effects. We don’t want to kill eagles. As for the bed nets, they wear out and then where’s the money for replacement after Gates has bought so many? Supplies need a money stream, not a donation.
So sin is fairly easy to deal with. Just get the rule book, and, if you can, cross out all the rules that don’t answer to principles that serve the highest (oops, hierarchy alert!), broadest goals. Throw out the petty offenses. Try to be aware of what hurts others and oneself. Over time. Going into the future, make new rules that serve the well-being of self and whole. Cultivate empathy.
Evil is the big problem, because it’s not an entity, it’s not supernatural, and it’s not definable. It’s an ooze of temptation, suffering, greed, inequity -- well, it’s not exactly inequity because inequity (or probably more accurately unaddressed need) is what exudes evil. It is the precursor pus of the infected wound. We love its glamorous sheen. We WANT scabrous inequity, so long as we have the high side of the seesaw. It is the evil characters who fascinate us.
Evil is not sex, which is bright blood carrying the oxygen of life. Not that blood can’t be infected or poisoned by hate microbes. Evil is a process, a force, and so is sex, but they can be opposed to each other as much as mingled. It’s not that sperm or ova are good or bad -- they are beginnings, potential, could go either way. It’s the process that counts. But it’s not a struggle between good and evil that creates a new child. It is space in which to unfold them and diligent attention to mending their mosquito bed nets in a world where we can’t even trust highly trained loyal soldiers with our underground atomic missiles.
What’s to be done with Lucifer’s children? Ironically, and in spite of Evil being a human force and Sin being institutionally defined, there is no human or institutional answer that has anything to do with Evil or Sin. Institutions would put them in prison and lock the cell doors. Evil would force conversion to the appearance of Obedience and Harmlessness. Society could address the inequities and torturing stigmas, try to eliminate them by making laws and declaring rights. Probably never will succeed. These are only extensions and conversions of the same problem.
The only antidote to evil is good and good is as much a human construct as evil is. That is, an impulse toward generosity and inclusion has to be there first, and then the ways of easing and justifying the suffering of children will appear. The brain support for empathy -- whether it’s mirror cells or some other little knot of reacting cells -- is not there in everyone but for every person who looks at a child and feels what they feel, the moment of enfolding, warming and lifting up is at hand. No institution, no rules, no greed can oppose that. It’s totally subversive, sometimes secret, and even dogs can do it -- without drugs, without sex -- but with eyes. We must learn to penetrate the darkness, to know without turning away, to double our gaze.