Evil: morally bad or wrong; morally objectionable behavior; having the nature of vice; that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune; tending to cause great harm; the quality of being morally wrong in principle or practice; malefic: having or exerting a malignant influence.
Moral Relativity: In philosophy, moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition’s truth; it is the opposite of moral absolutism. Relativistic positions often see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries or in the context of individual preferences.
I wonder when Good and Evil became too simple of terms to apply to worldly situations. Probably in the Garden of Eden, when Eve told Adam that the Serpent said it was ok to eat the apple, despite what G-d had told them both.
Discussions, obfuscating simplicity with intricacy.
A short discussion on another blog entry caused me to think about this and I decided to explore those thoughts a bit. First, there are tomes and tomes on each topic and I don’t plan on contributing to them or writing one myself anytime soon. Second, I am coming at this question, obviously, from a spiritual center that is knowledgeable of the existence of Goodand Evil in this world. Third, note my inclusion of the phrase, in this world in the previous sentence, because I am well aware of its illusory nature and the reality that the dichotomy of Goodand Evil are indeed two aspects of a whole, Oneness, corresponding to Light and Dark, Yang and Yin.
Yin and Yang: The concept of yin and yang originates in ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics, which describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin, the darker element, is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night; yang, the brighter element, is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day.
When speaking of complex systems, is it possible to oversimplify? To define them as Good or Evil and leave it at that? I think so, yes. To define an Axis of Evil in opposition to your Forces for the Greater Good is perhaps an example ofmoral relativism. To apply these designations to anyone or anything that an individual or group finds pleasing or displeasing to their own senses or purposes is easy and it is often done. A mother protecting her children from invading fire ants might consider them evil. A farmer watching his crops wither under the scorching heat and sun of drought conditions might consider the sun evil, while another farmer watching his crops drown under inundating rains might consider the sun good.
In the moment, subject to the whims of life as they occur, our emotions range along the scale between happiness and sadness and our mental chatter does the same. Since happiness equals good and sadness equals bad, all input leading to the cultivation of either emotional state correspondingly becomes good or bad with barely a thought. Since this is so simple and clear an association, it is often an unconscious process of passive acceptance when we hear people we’re supposed to be able to trust use the terms good and bad – often substituting the word evil for bad – meaning, of course, extra, extra bad – and think that they’re talking about Good and Evil. For individuals with a spiritual background, who are used to interpreting life from that focus, good and bad are different from Good and Evil. But saying something is bad is a lot different from saying something is evil.
How is the jump made, from bad to evil? Usually without us being consciously aware of it. From understanding that different people have different goals, different lifestyles have different outcomes, different nations have different ways of life, to believing that another person, lifestyle or nation is bad is part and parcel of the human condition, of prejudices held against those we perceive as different from us, be it cultural, ethnic, racial or, as is more prevalent, the entire trifecta. Human xenophobia is based upon fear of difference and such a basic human response is easily exacerbated by power-brokers seeking to divide populations for their own purposes.
The questions then arise, how does one define Evil when moral relativism rules the day? When the normal, day to day interactions between people, cultures and nations include power plays that bring differences to the surface in a manner that almost begs for conflict that, in fact, seems to see conflict as the only way to solve these differences? Does bad become evil when it suits the purposes of individuals, groups, cultures and nations to define others, their actions or beliefs as such?
Here in the United States, we have a long tradition of debate and conflict stemming from our earliest beginnings as a democratic nation. The pluralistic nature of the nation and the very mechanisms of representative democracy require a healthy form of debate and difference, and our political system has evolved based upon that core understanding. The nature of debate, requiring oppositional sides, of necessity incorporates elements of exaggeration that seek to portray the opposition in the worst possible light and the evolution of the system has resulted in the political back-biting and mud-wrestling that we see before us every two years, in city, state and national elections. Words are used to exacerbate difference and draw diverse populations to political and social causes that pit one constituency against another, and those who do not fit comfortably within either camp are disenfranchised and left shouting in the wings while the main stage is taken by demagogues of oppositional stripes, spouting slogans and catch-phrases designed to arouse emotion and subdue the intellect, at least for the short period of time it takes to make it through the election cycle. The result is the institutionalization of sound-bite politics and the cooptation of the political system by talking heads that represent powers and principalities that hide in the shadows, feeding political machines with an endless stream of capital while the lumpen proletariat continues to labor beneath the remorseless wheels of capitalism, trying to keep from falling.
Organized religion is also notorious for highlighting difference in order to draw their congregations further into the fold. Religious systems like Christianity and Islam, both of which have an aggressive history of indoctrination-by-force, actively decry the validity of other religious systems. The language used reflects the foundational cosmology of their teachings, casting the war between cultures as the war between Good and Evil. Unscrupulous men across the centuries have taken advantage of this formation by applying these terms according to their own needs and purposes, guiding the construction of Empireaccording to their own self-serving interpretations of Scripture. This is not to deny the underlying spiritual core of these religions, in fact, quite the opposite. The monotheistic religions encapsulate and corroborate ancient spiritual ideals that archeologists, linguists and historians are only now recognizing in civilizations as diverse as middle America (Olmec, Mayan, etc.), Africa (Egyptian, Nubian, etc.) and India (Dravidian). Many of the tales of the Old Testament (Pentateuch) seem to have their beginnings in older myths stemming from southern, to middle and near eastern sources. The employment of celestial language serves to marshal the troops against the forces ofEvil, with each side acting, of course, for the forces of Good.
The distaste that many have for using such simple terms comes honestly, it’s sad to say, from experience and education. Even a cursory knowledge of history reveals the uses that the terms Good and Evil have been put to, and the, yes, Evil, that has resulted from the desultory application of spiritual principles to worldly events. The only way that these terms can be understood and applied accurately seems to be if they are carefully cast in terms of spiritual realities rather than worldly realities. That is, if a consistent and encompassing understanding of Good and Evil is applied that incorporates a considered rendition of facts and events whose outcome corresponds to the characteristics generally recognized as Good and Evil. When that Politico talks about the Axis of Evil, do his actions place him firmly in the Forces for the Greater Good?When the mother calls the ants evil, is she recognizing the basic instinct for survival and natural right of insects to live and prosper on the same Earth as Humans? When that farmer is cursing the sun, is he truly cursing the outcome of the drought upon his material condition? Are these instances example of things that are bad due to personal circumstances, or evil due to greater, spiritual concerns? The answers to that question are, perhaps, as diverse as people born into this life. Or, perhaps not.
The gift of language has been a boon and a burden for Humanity. In Jewish, Christian and Islamic theology, when humans built the Tower of Babel that reached unto the sky and threatened the Heavens, their punishment was the destruction of the tower and the imposition of multiple languages. G-d segregated humankind so that they could never again challenge His supremacy. Through language, humanity has been able to split the atom and write peace treaties, express love, hate, write amazing literature and sing heart-rending songs. The very essence of life is revealed through shared experience that is passed from person to person in writing or through the spoken word. The separation of the material from the spiritual, of necessity, results in a failure to communicate clearly. An impossibility of communicating clearly, without the effects of cultural biases coming into play, as well as the individual ability to interpret information, words, according to her or his own personal knowledge base. Interpreting these words in the context of their usage becomes paramount. Who is using the term? Who or what are they applying it to? Are they speaking to greater spiritual concerns, or the outcome of worldly power plays? Do the personal or collective characteristics of those claiming to be on the side of Good correspond to the generally accepted ideals of what is good? Or are they of a different, and more base sort:
Matthew, 7:15-23 A Tree and Its Fruit
15 – Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
16 – You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
17 – So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 – A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
19 – Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 – So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 – Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 – Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 – And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
And while this passage is from a specific religious belief system, and speaks in the language of a specific time and place, the truth that it encompasses is multiversal in nature. The lesson, in this case, speaks to the close attention to actions rather than words. To outcome, rather than intention.Words and intentions can be falsified, while actions and outcomes can be seen clearly. Good and Evil exist and find their expression in every aspect of human incarnation. To deny the validity of the terminology is to fall prey to the purposes of those who wish to hide the results of their words in confusion and vague interpretations. In the language of moral relativity and nationalistic fervor. Every cause has an effect, every word is intention manifest, every action leads to an equal and opposite reaction.
I think that, by the time that, in the Star Wars Prequel ending,Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker murdered his wife, Padme, and faced his old Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was well aware that his good intentions had fallen by the wayside long before. The results of his actions did not correspond to the beauty and lawfulness of his words. Rhetoric serves well until the resultant actions bear visible and undeniable fruit. Simplicity then, in such instances, is the result of complex forces brought to bear through all aspects of creation at the micro and macro scale. It is in the analysis, though, that this complexity must be interpreted through a spiritual lens and the resultant interpretation made.
If the road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions, then the road to Heaven must be littered with bad intentions blown to the side by celestial winds, transmogrified and elevated by the synchronistic effect of experience and growth. Religious and colloquial myths and tales are filled with stories of bad girls gone good, evil men turned to the Priesthood and entire eras transformed by the aftereffects of traumatic and desperate events. There is always the hope that people transcend their limitations, and that their words do indeed forecast the outcome of their actions.