What is Evil Anyway?

I guess our first stab at trying to figure out how to respond to evil in the world is to try to figure out what evil really is.  What is evil?  How can we know what evil is, and what good is?  Should there be a measured device to help us understand how to act both from within and without?

For example:  Most people would say that murder is wrong.  (I’m assuming here)

How do they know that?

Some might say, “Of course murder is wrong.  We’ve evolved enough to understand if you murder someone of your own, you’re destroying the social fabric of your community.”  Unless of course, a person commits some great atrocity, and then we begin to bend our thinking on murder.  Right?  We just don’t call it murder, we call it judgement.

Someone else may say, “Of course murder is wrong.  The government has laws and whoever came up with the law says if you murder you’re going to jail.  See…It’s wrong.”  Unless of course your government allows the murder of people.  i.e. Germany in the 1940’s.  Rwanda in 1994.  The Balkins through the 80’s and 90’s.  etc.  etc.  Governments have always created groups that were ok to murder, and others who are exempt.  As long as you’re on the right side of the law (whatever that means) murder becomes something very fluid throughout human history of government.

Still others might employ ancient scriptures.  In the Torah, God gave Moses the famous 10 commandments.  Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shalt not Kill.”  In the Bible, Christians adopted to the Torah, and then have Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:21, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.” And even in the Koran, Muslims recite, 17:33 “And do not take any human being’s life – that God willed to be sacred – other than in [the pursuit of] justice.”

Therefore, killing can be seen outside of human understanding as a standard of evil given by a higher moral being.  But in all three ancient texts you can find equally compelling arguments for the destruction of other people groups.  All three, The Torah, The Bible, and the Koran give permission to murder others.  If you want to find a just way of murder, it’s not that hard.

So how do we know?
Is it ever right to murder under social constraint, government rule, or religious law?
When is it right to murder?
When is it right to see evil in the world and take action?

My Sociology friends regard murder as something of great evil unless innocence is being protected.  But who are the innocent?  I suppose it’s easy to see the innocent as those who don’t have the same weapons as the strong, but that concept quickly falls down the slippery slope of description depending on your own view of the weak and the strong.  Philosophically we call this the “Might makes Right” principle.  Whoever has the most gold and guns is right.  Surely that can’t be the overarching moral platitude for right-ness.

My American military friends have been convinced when they are sent into battle, it’s for the greater good.  (Please note, I think anyone who is willing to sacrifice their life for the greater good is the highest of moral honor)  But with all respect and honor, is there a place to question the consequences of war and protectionism within government? Who is the greater good?

My Religious friends are quick to point out how murder and killing is wrong, but they too have parsed groups of people who don’t think like them and before long, even they are caught in an ethical quagmire of life and death.

AND THIS IS JUST ONE ETHICAL DECISION.

There are several others to take into consideration.  Is it ever right to steal?  Is it ever right to dishonor parents?  (Basically go down the list of the 10 commandments.  That’s a good place to start on discussing moral issues.)

Lately, I’ve been working through the life and teachings of Jesus, and I think one of the most challenging points that Jesus brings up concerning murder is the second half of the above highlighted verse.

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has wrong against you; Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

In other words, Jesus calls people to see their relationship with other humans as more valuable than the religious sacrifice deemed necessary in the community.  It seems that Jesus is saying “Reconcile your relationships before anything else happens in your life.”  So this concept of evil and murder must be taken care of.  He goes on to say, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So in the case of murder, what should we do?

Today, I’m challenged to think of how the world is re-acting to one another.  There are evil and murderous people all over the world.  The question today is, How do we decide how to respond to things that seem evil in our eyes?  Can we distinguish the greater evil, to be more like humans of a greater good?

I know this is going to conjure many positions, but if you can; take a minute to think well about how you determine what is evil and what is good.  Let’s have a civil conversation.

Let me know what you think

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