evil(redirected from evildoer)
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See R. Taylor, Good and Evil (1970); F. Sontag, The God of Evil (1970); R. Stivers, Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual (1982); D. Parkin, ed., The Anthropology of Evil (1987).
Evil(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth... and God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:1).
So why are things so messed up today? Well, sin entered into the world. That's the point of the whole serpent-and-apple thing in Genesis 3 (see Adam and Eve).
But that doesn't really answer the question. If evil entered the world through Adam and Eve's sin, it doesn't account for the devil. And if we accept the explanation given in the Hebrew Bible, that "sin was found in [Lucifer]" when five times he declared he would "be like God," there is still the problem of God's part in all this. If God is all powerful, why does he allow sin to hurt so many innocent people? Why does the drunk driver walk away from the accident that kills the innocent child? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is good, why doesn't he stop it? Maybe he can't. But if God is not all powerful, how can he be God?
Genesis even seems to paint a picture of a God who made a mistake: "The Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Genesis 6:6).
If sin is in the world, it must be because God either can't stop it or won't stop it. And God loses both ways. Religion has to solve what is known as the "problem" of evil or it dies on the vine.
Considering the problem of evil, we discover three religious responses, with many variations.
Evil Is Part of Life's Duality
This approach is best explained by the Buddha. Evil is a part of life. No one put it here. It just is. How can there be good without its opposite? Good cannot exist without evil. How can there be a coin with just one side? It's impossible.
The way to handle evil is to accept it, just as we embrace good. Good is not necessarily "better" than evil, it is just more comfortable.
This view made it possible for some of the scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project to live with themselves after viewing the first atomic bomb explosion. The devastation released certainly was going to be a great evil for millions of people. But the end of the war, to say nothing of the perceived benefits of nuclear energy, was seen to be greater good for a greater number of people.
Evil Is Different from Misfortune
Many forms of American Indian religious belief differentiate between evil and misfortune. Misfortune occurs when a tree falls on your house. It isn't anybody's fault, unless you consider that you should have built your house somewhere else.
Evil, however, is caused by malignant spirits that have to be placated by a shaman or medicine person. No one knows how the spirits got that way. Perhaps they were just created evil to keep humans on their toes. The important thing is not so much to figure it all out as it is to take care of the problem. In American Indian and other traditions, there are spells to thwart evil spirits.
Evil Is Somehow a Part of God's Plan
This is where it gets sticky. To accept this view, one has to adopt the position of figuring out how God thinks. One Christian view is described in detail by the apostle Paul (see Devil/Demons). Simply put, the devil was allowed to sin because God gave him free choice, and he chose evil. In order to show the other angels the consequences of evil, God is allowing an experiment to continue for a short time on Earth that will prove once and for all what happens when free beings choose evil.
A variation on this theme transfers the blame squarely to humans: "Every inclination of [man's] heart is evil from childhood" (Genesis 8:21).
But both views lead to a philosophical quagmire. If created beings are free to choose evil, then the entity of evil must exist. God knew all about it, but neither the angels nor humans did. The mere fact that they were innocent, that they didn't know evil existed, however, does not deny its reality. If evil existed at all, even if God was the only one who knew about it, how did it get there? And why is it so important for God to go to such elaborate lengths to show its danger? Why didn't God just close the door and throw away the key? (Evil still would have existed, but at least only the philosophers and God would have had to worry about it.)
Many have wondered: Is evil so big that God cannot destroy it? If good cannot exist without its wicked twin, have we found a chink in God's all-powerful armor? Is there something God can't do?
Compare evil and rude.