JUST WHAT IS EVIL?


Click on picture below twice. Note closely speaker in green shirt to see a sad result of evil. It was a land mine on a farm.A subject which has engaged Christians and the Christian Church as well as philosophers and devotees of metaphysics is “what is evil?”. Most people have at least a hazy definition if asked. It is likely to be different, either in detail or substance, from their neighbors.

One of the difficulties facing us when we define evil is relativism. Almost all of our definitions in the area of behavior, morality, and ethics are shaded by our cultures.We can not escape this since it really is impossible to step completely outside of one’s cultural heritage.  At times, we try to be totally neutral, but even that very effort is shaded by our culture. It is not my intention to get any deeper in this phenomenon. Rather as a Christian, I choose to begin with a Christian start point which is predicated on one thing: God has given us immutable, unchangeable, and specific absolutes.

This is the start point to define evil.

The patristic and classical definition of evil is the privation of good. C. S. Lewis used this definition when he wrote the Screwtape Letters, as well as his other works, as did Tolkein in The Ring trilogy. Both of them were classically trained, and had no sympathy for attempts to soften bad behavior with contemporary psycho-babble. Attempts to lessen the penalties for wicked behavior have been with church people, as well of everyone else, since the dawn of time.

A second aspect of defining evil is how the individual understands what is absolute with God.  Many an evil act has been perpetrated under the presumed blessing of a God or other higher moral authority.  We see extreme examples in jihadist suicide bombings  as well as Christians bombers who kill and maim to stop abortions. In their worlds, they are pleasing their respective Gods. The Islamic jihadist male even gets a reward of 70 virgins in paradise. I have never seen with what the increasing number of female jehadists is rewarded.

These problems become less when we apply the patristic and classical definition of “privation of good”. Does the act disallow good? There is less argument about what is good. There is still at least one sticking point, however.

I (we) are doing (fill in the blank) in order to stop wrong (evil) actions by others which conflict with our understanding of our right conclusions. This is usually at the root of Christians persecuting Christians. History generally affirms what is God’s position all along, but it may take a long time to do so.

An example is the recent action of Rome which declared that Martin Luther was not actually a heretic since the Roman Catholic Church has been teaching justification by faith all along.  They even now call him “Blessed” (one stop short of sainthood). This only took about 500 years to accomplish. However, that it was accomplished is a sign of other possible corrections. Rome is not the only group to whom this applies. It is a human trait.  Rome simply has been in business much longer than most other groups. They have today 1.1 billion adherents, and must exercise due diligence when making changes or corrections.

With this as a background, next we will explore evil acts by individuals, by groups, by churches, and what distinguishes evil acts from an evil person, an evil group, or an evil church.

Fr. Orthohippo

Post #2 – MORE TO COME.

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About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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2 Responses to JUST WHAT IS EVIL?

  1. James says:

    Father,

    Thank you for your post. The second to last paragraph is intriguing. Where can I read more about how the Catholic Church recently changed its position on Martin Luther? Thanks so much.

    Blessings,
    James

    • JAMES, this action by the Vatican was recently announced. It has been fairly common knowledge among our group, and first passed along to us by our Father General and Bishop. You can best track it by googling vatican announcements of blessed status – Martin Luther, or Luther heresy charges dropped. Thank you for your comment.

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