Saturday, September 04, 2004

Defining Evil

In a recent comment, this question was asked;

How would you deal with the evil in the world?

I think the first step would be to define evil. I've talked about this previously, and expressed my preference for the view of Irenaeus over Augustine. But today I'd be interested in hearing your definition.

To prime the pump, consider some of the definitions offered at the Trinity Institute's 35th national conference, Naming Evil: An Interfaith Dialogue.

From Kofi Annan;
If we are intent on naming evil, as the title of your conference tells us to, then let us name it intolerance. Let us name it as exclusion. Let us name it as a false assumption that we have nothing to learn from beliefs and traditions different from our own. That, I believe, is the true evil of our time. And I urge you all to join forces against it.
From Seyyed Hossein Nasr;
There has always been the danger of calling everyone outside a community or religion, or nation, or ethnic-groups understanding of what good and evil was, as being evil.

This is part of human nature; a kind of tribal attitude that we have which gives itself easily to this kind of exposition. And so this danger existed in the old days, but this danger has never been as great as it is in our own day.
In Trinity News' hard copy, Dr. Nasr offers this definition;
There cannot be anything other than God that is pure goodness. Creation already implies a separation from the creator...and to talk of creation is to talk of separation and to talk of separation is to talk of what appears on the human plane as evil.
From Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B;
We live in a generation immersed in evil, and we are at once both its victims and its victimizers...The question of evil now takes on totally new significance. The question now is, What happens to you and me - to your world and mine - when evil is the very air we breathe? Where shall the Christian go to find the way through it?
Jon D. Levenson offers this perspective in the hard copy;
The bad news is that evil is real, potent, tenacious, and rooted in the order of the cosmos, in nature itself, indeed in our own nature a human beings. The good news is that God is greater than any evil.
Our President uses the term "evil" quite frequently, sometimes in reference to entire nations, as in his infamous "axis of evil" state of the union address. I'd be interested in hearing his definition of the term.

Let me offer some final thoughts from Kofi Annan;
I think it may be helpful if we resolve, when we use the word evil as an adjective, to apply it to actions rather than people. Of course it is tempting when someone commits many evil acts to say that that person is evil in himself or in herself. But I'm not sure that is right. I do believe firmly that people must be held responsible for their actions and sometimes must be punished for them. Nothing is more dangerous than to let people think they can literally get away with murder. That because they have superior force in their hands at a particular place or time, they can do what they like and will never be called to account.

We call that the "culture of impunity," and the United Nations is strongly committed to fighting against it. That is why we are doing whatever we can to help build and maintain robust judicial systems, both national and international. But to say that any human being is irredeemably evil in himself or in herself -- that is a different matter...
Your turn. How would you define evil?

J.

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