“As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.”
“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”
-Robert F. Kennedy
Does Evil Exist?
Ask a Christian and the answer will be “of course it does.” And if you tell them that you're an atheist, they'll be happy to define you as part of it.
However the religious Christian defines evil as a metaphysical reality. Evil is like one of the two teams that we can choose to be on. And evil and good are in a constant struggle, the two teams being led by God and Satan respectively. Or is that Satan and God? Yes, that’s it. I get them mixed up sometimes.
Not being a Christian one might think that therefore I’d be likely to say that evil does not exist. And if one were talking about the above metaphysical variety as understood by Christians, you’d be correct. I don’t believe in God or Satan or the conflict between the two, so how could I believe in that definition of evil? To me that definition of evil is itself evil!
(Because it vastly oversimplifies the idea so that those who follow it and believe in it are likely to make errors of judgment that hurt others.)
I use the term evil often in my writings. However not as a metaphysical concept. I use it because it’s a useful word to describe what I would define as human behavior patterns that are harmful or deleterious to other people or to one’s self. These types of behavior patterns are the result (I think) of the person having a basic imbalance within themselves, within their psyche.
So I relate the idea of evil to an internal imbalance.
Now, how do I mean that?
Well, if a person is not properly balanced between their logical/rational side and their emotional/intuitive side, then their behavior will reflect that. Too much or not enough of either side, and the person is incapable of correctly judging reality, and by misjudging it can thereby easily make decisions that others would consider “evil.” But of course it’s not quite that simple. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Everyone has an emotional side and a rational side. But the rational side must be developed (and constantly updated as well) in order to be accurate, and the emotional side also must be developed *beyond the point of self-centeredness* in order to be intuitive or to have access to the higher modalities of emotional function such as agape-type love of others. Mere underdeveloped (self-focused) emotionality with insufficient logic to moderate it is almost always both powerful and very counterproductive, and all logic with no higher emotion to regulate it is either stagnant or tends toward the pursuit of personal power, since where else would such a person derive their motivations from with no higher emotional desires?
As a person matures and hopefully starts to integrate their two sides and seek a balance, both of their “sides” start to come into tune with each other, and cause each other to develop in unison by mutual interaction. Higher feelings such as true selflessness, empathy, and agape-style love do not happen in the person that has not gone through such a process of self-rectification between all elements of the two polarities of the psyche.
Through such an *integration.*
An integration of the Yang and the Yin.
Of Masculine and Feminine sides of one’s own personality.
Of Logic and Intuition
Reason and Emotion
Descrimination and Loving Kindness
Thoughts and Beliefs
And so on, basically forever…
Here’s a very old alchemical maxim that relates to this process and the hoped-for results:
The word, which used to refer to certain solvent acids and is usually used today only to refer to verbal (acerbic) anger, was used long ago as an acronym and mnemonic by the medieval alchemists for the very process of attaining enlightenment itself.
Thus in Latin, we have Visita Interiore Terrae, Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.
In English this reads, “Visit the Interior of the Earth, There, by *rectification* you will find the Hidden Stone.” In modern English without the symbolic frills this means “Go within yourself, and by making things “right” and balancing (rectifying) what is there within yourself, you will attain enlightenment.”
So if Ultimate Balance leads to the light, perhaps then Ultimate Imbalance leads to the darkness.
We are, let’s recall, discussing Evil and not Enlightenment here.
The person that does evil never realizes that they are doing evil. They just think of it in some other way, since if it were evil *to them* they wouldn’t do it in the first place. Most if not all of them believe that they’re doing good and not evil.
Do you think Hitler knew that he was evil?
Of course not. Hitler thought that he was doing the highest good, even possibly that he was doing God’s work for Him…
How could Hitler lie to himself like that?
No internal balance whatsoever. Everything skewed toward the logical/rational side, since his higher emotional/intuitive side was underdeveloped, stunted even. Most of us have at least some development of our higher emotional side, but Hitler didn’t seem to. Powerful primitive emotions like anger and hatred and fear were all there, but not their higher counterparts such as empathy and love.
Such a person can’t even tell when they’re lying to themselves. And there would be no check to his ego; nothing to stand against his logical side when it informed his emotional/desire side, which only desired to “better mankind,” that it “had a plan…”
There was nothing within him to feel the horror and revulsion that he should have felt. It had either never developed, or had been excised. So all his emotional side could answer was “Why not?”
Now the interesting thing is, we all are motivated by our emotional side. Really, all motivation comes from there, no matter how logical we think that we are. We are creatures of emotion, even those of us who deny that to ourselves. That part of our brain, the emotional part, is much older than the rational part. Many of us make the decision to trust our logical sides more than our emotional sides, but even that is ultimately based in emotional desire, the desire to not be wrong all the time. The logical side is a newer acquisition, much more recent evolutionarily speaking. It’s so “new” that it’s almost like a tool that we can choose to use or not to, and not “really” as much a part of our very identity as our emotional side is, and therefore many of us choose to not use it to its best advantage, thinking perhaps that it’s less important, since we don’t really “feel” it. We should try to recall in such instances that after all, it is what differentiates us from the “lower orders.” For properly used, the logical side can shape and mold the emotional side so that it evolves to the point where it can feel the higher, selfless emotions, just as in the process the emotional side in return provides a constant flow of desire to attain a more balanced state and so regulates the logical side so that it conforms to the emotional side’s ever-changing (evolving) desired ideals... all while the logical side in turn is still shaping the emotional side and helping to direct it’s evolution, and so on. It’s a mutual process that is simultaneous and any one part of it is hard to even define without also describing at the same time all of the actions of the other parts. I think of it like a pendulum, or an oscillation back and forth between the two sides, each constantly checking the other.
So this is how I think of evil. A psychological imbalance, and perhaps also a spiritual one as well. Nothing to do with religion, however.
So what of Biblical Evil then? What of Satan, the Adversary? The Eternal Struggle?
I cannot begin to believe in some dark deity and a whole system of demons and subordinate demons and various mechanisms that was put in place to tempt us all to stray from the path of righteousness, all decreed somehow by a supposedly loving God. To me, that is by far more nonsensical than anything from the Brothers Grimm.
I’m afraid that I can see this Biblical Evil thing as no more than an elaborate story that was concocted for the poor, ignorant people so as to make them properly fearful and to assure that they forever remain properly ignorant, and thus obedient. I can see that this story of Satan and the Horrors of Hell and Damnation was carefully constructed so as to be the stick in a system of so-called carrot-and-stick conditioning that has sucessfully warped the minds of the multitudes. Warped their minds so as to believe that all the world’s problems are due to this deep dark fearful tangible external EVIL that is some orchestrated metaphysical reality decreed by God and executed by Satan so as to both test and tempt us while we’re alive and to punish us eternally after we die, so we’d all better be really faithful in God and not think of the details too much.
Evil exists, yes. But not the external openly horrific evil of some demonic Satan who wishes to torment us with his hell full of fire and eternal pain. That’s an evil mirage constructed by evil people so as to lead the good astray into their evil fear-based belief system. I see real evil in the internal imbalance of one’s own mind, thereby causing it to misjudge both itself and the outside world enough to do real harm, all the while honestly believing that it is doing the exact opposite.