I was thinking about something the other day, and had a bit of an epiphany. As a student of spirituality who has read numerous different religious, spiritual, philosophical texts, I have come to find that there are certain ones that are special – perhaps more “sacred” than others, sacred here meaning closer to Truth. What is it that makes those writings special? For me, it’s the fact that there seem to be many different ‘levels’ to them; I will read something and come away with a certain interpretation. I will read that same thing again 1, 5, 10 years later, and come away with a completely different one – something I didn’t see when I read it earlier. The really good ones – that cycle can repeat 2, 3 times, maybe more.
One such text that definitely displays those characteristics, or I should say part of a text, is the New Testament in the Bible. And to be more specific, the Gospels, where the life and (supposed) words of Christ are detailed. Much of the Bible, some would say, is allegorical, and there are questions whether or not anything mentioned in it actually happened. Archeological excavations have provided proof of some of the locations and people in the Bible, so I think a portion of it could be factual. And when it comes to the words of Christ, while I’m sure (I know) there are misquotations, missing text, edits, etc, I do think a lot of it is attributable to some Higher Being or Intelligence, as evidenced by some of that “layering” I mentioned earlier.
So the other day, I was thinking about the age old conundrum of evil – why (an argument that is often made), if God exists and is so loving, would He/She allow evil to exist? The argument goes on to state that there definitely is evil, that there are people and beings who are evil, and so on. For some reason, my mind jumped to the story of Christ going into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist. Here it is, from Matthew 4:
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I think it’s safe to say that most people, myself included, came away from that story after first reading it with a lesson in morality, about not being materialistic, about temptation, and what was really important in life; and about the goodness of Christ, that he couldn’t be tempted.
But going back and thinking about this, I realized something, and came up with a question –
If evil/Satan/the devil is a force to be vanquished, something that needs to be destroyed or banished, then why didn’t Christ simply put the smackdown right then and there on the evil one, and rid the world of it for once and for all? And why did Spirit lead Christ out there to be tempted? Why does it end saying just that the devil left him and the angels came to him? Why did Christ not take care of business when he had the chance?
And so it was that I came away with a whole new insight into this story. The answers to those questions is something I have come to understand within myself, but never realized how well it was illustrated in that tale. It’s the necessity of, and not the “evil” of, the shadow. The fact is, in my belief, Christ didn’t ‘kill’ the devil, because the devil isn’t evil. Or to put it more clearly, Christ didn’t SEE the devil as evil; Christ was not afraid of him/it; and Christ realized that the shadow/Satan/the devil has his purpose, as do all things.
Now this concept gets people worked up, because they say, “But surely, Hitler was evil! Or what about child killers? They are evil! Or what about…” You get the point. And to be absolutely clear, I am not saying there aren’t bad people out there who do terrible things, because there most certainly are. And stating that there is no real evil doesn’t go down well with someone who has suffered an atrocity at the hands of others – I understand that. What I am saying is that evil, I believe, is a human construct, something we created, a “power,” an egregore we constructed to push everything bad onto so we could have something to hate, something to loathe, to avoid, to be afraid of. And I’m not saying you, or I, or anyone we know did this – I’m talking on a species-wide, collective unconscious level.
See, the thing is, the church and other control systems have used – and were probably instrumental in – creating the concept of “evil,” as it is GREAT for inducing fear, which we all know is one of, if not THE best motivators in the human manipulation arsenal. Think back to the Hitler thing. I can either think that Hitler was a SEVERLY messed up, psychotic, delusional, murderous person, which puts it on him, OR, I can think he was evil, which suggests that there is some sinister outside ‘force’ that he was under the spell of that caused him to do those things. Because in essence, isn’t that what evil is? Evil is not the opposite of good – that would be ‘bad,’ and evil is WAY worse than just bad. So what is evil the opposite of?
One of the definitions of evil says this:
profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force. (Oxford dictionary)
That little bit there at the end – the whole “supernatural force.”
And what about ‘wicked?”
evil or morally wrong (Oxford)
So we have immorality in both, but a bit of circular referencing on the ‘evil’ and ‘wicked.’ Which means we use one to define the other – and both are, in reality, associated ultimately with some supernatural force that (my suggestion here) opposes God. Isn’t that really what wicked or evil mean to most people?
Go back to the Bible story. Christ allowed Spirit to take him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and afterwards, basically said, “Peace out – later dude” to the devil and went on with his ministry. Does that make any sense? Well, it makes about as much sense as praying for those who persecute you, or loving your enemies, or turning the other cheek. See, the thing is, Christ never preached about evil; he never described anyone as evil; and when given the chance, he never banished, conquered, jailed, killed anyone in the Bible whom might have been considered to be evil – including the old goat himself!
Why is all this important? This is all important because if we don’t move beyond the concept of “evil,” I don’t see us ever getting past the divisiveness, war, famine, income inequality, senseless violence, greed, selfishness, etc that plagues our world. As long as there is evil – some ‘force’ out there, just waiting to get us, to turn people bad – how can we expect to progress as a species? See, we have a lot of shadow work to do. There are parts of human consciousness and the collective unconscious that we are afraid to look at, afraid to confront, because we see it as “bad,” as “evil,” and we think the only thing we are supposed to do is defeat it, vanquish it, kill it.
Thing is, we CAN’T. Christ couldn’t – wouldn’t – even do it, because it is a part of us, whether we like it or not. So we see ourselves as at least a little evil, whether consciously or not. And that brings a whole host of psycho-spiritual, mental, and emotional issues expressed individually, and as a species. But we are NOT evil – none of us. Because evil, as most people think of it, simply does not exist. The worst of us – like Hitler – are some very harmful, destructive, terrifying, misled, ignorant, sociopathic, etc people. But not evil. And is there any doubt that, and I KNOW this will make a lot of people upset or stick in their craws, but ask yourself honestly – is there any doubt that Christ would say we need to forgive Hitler? That’s not to say we approve of, condone, don’t care, etc about what he did – not saying that. But did Christ single anyone out, and say “love your enemies, except this guy.” No. Ask yourself honestly. The answer is uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
This has all kinds of ramifications, coming to a realization like this, and changing your view to remove the concept of evil, at least as we currently see it. And contrary to what many think, it doesn’t mean that we are easier on people who did horrible things – no, quite the opposite. Because now, there is no outside force, no devil directing them, no demon leading them astray to blame – they did those things, they alone shoulder the responsibility. Of course there is mental illness to consider too, but that’s another subject for another day.
If you stop believing in evil, if you stop seeing it, and instead see profound ignorance, or selfishness, or psycopathy, or something else, how might your view of the world… of others… of history… of yourself, change?
3 thoughts on “About evil – ask yourself a question”
Great job! Michelle Burden here love this. I may not have the exact facts here, but I was recently told that lucifer, or satan is FEAR. that’s it. Fear. which I see as the opposite of Love. That puts Jesus’ trip into the wilderness in a new light, doesn’t it? If there is no evil, only as you said, psychopathy etc, and there is no Devil, only fear, that changes the meaning of everything! It does put responsibility for our actions on us alone. Which I see as a good thing. We don’t need a scapegoat, or at least shouldn’t need one! Great post! would you be interested in guest blogging some time? you can get back to me on Twitter if you like
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A well written read that was captivating the whole way through. I loved the explorations, arguments and considerations for evil. I’m still mulling it over cause it made me take pause. All I know is that I feel in my gut that love wins, cooperation wins, unity wins. Thanks for the thought provoking read!
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Thank you so much for the feedback, I really appreciate it!