Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Speak of the devil: A short, incomplete, unqualified meditation on evil

Evil is this guy. Photo by Manachar Bandicoot, Flickr

What is evil?

Evil is non-existent.

Evil is relative.

Evil is universal.

Evil is the darkness.

Evil is sin.

Evil is the devil.

Evil is amorality.

Evil is intentional malevolence.

Evil is "non-good."

Evil is the lacking of good.

Evil is defective good.

Evil is balanced against good.

Evil is the "dualistic antagonistic opposite of good."

Evil is the result of a mistaken concept of good.

Evil “is a way of marking the fact that it shatters our trust in the world.”

Evil is contrary to God.

Evil is deviation from the character or will of God.

Evil is forsaking God.

Evil is the absence of God.

See/hear/speak no evil ... and look disinterested while doing it. Photo by sanjitbakshi, Flickr

All these statements are drawn from various world religions and philosophies. If the last one is true -- that evil is the absence of God -- then contemplating evil's nature makes me feel profoundly lonely.

You'd think evil, be it physical, moral, or metaphysical, would first frighten or devastate me. And it does, especially when it happens on a scale that overwhelms my puny human notions of what our infinite universe and sentient selves are capable of inflicting, such as when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines or Syria's chemical attacks were revealed in grisly detail.

But evil is also isolating. Whether you qualify only acts as evil or view "evilness" as an independent entity, evildoing sets both the doer and the done-upon apart. They have now participated in the inexplicable, in a force all humans experience at one point or another but cannot always define. They are marked. We are marked. Our separation is simply a matter of degree.

It's easy (I hope) to say no to "traditional" evil as Moses' tablets outline -- murder, theft, adultery, etc. Yet we say no to light, to good, to the fullness of joy in a thousand small ways every day -- with pettiness, recrimination, selfishness, pride -- and it puts us in hell of a different sort: at arm's length from a divine, heart-scorching love.

My priest was preaching on this topic last weekend, and he said, "You don't have to earn God's love. You have it." So I take that to mean I have to choose God's love. Choose it over temptation. Weakness. Inadequacy. Despair. And yes, evil.

It's a tall order in a disheartening world. But then I think about how lonely I felt simply imagining a life apart from light, not to mention living apart from it. So it makes the choice easier, if not the acts.

Believe me, I'm nowhere close to digesting the enormity of evil in any of its explanations or situations. I just know I don't to be more marked than I already am.

Prayer #269: The Fourth Wise Monkey

Mizaru shields his eyes, lives sight unseen.
Kikazaru blocks his ears, lives sound unheard.
Iwazaru tapes his mouth, lives word unsaid.
Make me Shizaru, who crosses arms
and lives with evil deed undid.

Amen.

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